This Manchester derby could impact on the clubs' next three years
21:30 GMT, 28 April 2012
Authority: a person or a group of people holding power; confidence resulting from great expertise and experience; the ability to influence and control others.
On Monday night a football match takes place. It is a fixture that has taken place 162 times before. It is a fixture that has always had local pride at stake. But on Monday night this fixture is about an awful lot more than that. This can be more than a match.
I was a United player for 18 years but I never took part in a domestic game of this magnitude. Yes, I played in title deciders many times but never in one that was a derby game.
The big one: Monday night's Manchester derby is arguably the most important ever
This is the most intense Manchester derby there has been and possibly the biggest Premier League match in its 20-year history.
On one level, it is the title decider. This is the game that people will look back on in 20 years when they talk about the extraordinary 2011-2012 Premier League season. There have been many twists and turns but this is the game that will define the destination of the title.
There might still be big matches to play but surely, even in this craziest season, the winner of this match will go on and win the title
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But I wonder if it’s even more important than that. Because for me it’s all about authority: authority in Manchester, authority in the Premier League and authority in English football.
Imagine what it would mean to Manchester City if they could win and go on to win the league It would give the club and their players the sense of entitlement, confidence and belief that only comes with winning a title. Doing so against United would only add to that renewed sense of authority in the city and in the Premier League.
They would have a hardness and toughness from staying the course over 38 games that would be added to their undoubted ability. And that would serve them well in the future.
We’ve seen it with Arsenal and then Chelsea. Once you win one title, you often go on to win another.
But imagine if they lost. Imagine if, having got back into the title race, they see United win the title at their own ground. That would only reinforce United’s sense of superiority and City’s feeling that they might never get one over their old rivals.
With the financial backing they have, City will keep coming at United, of course. But psychologically it could be a telling blow.
How will that group of players react How will City’s owner react if they don’t win Will the owner feel he has to change the manager Will the club feel they have to make major changes to the squad Will this group of players even be around to have another go at United And for those who do stay, do they have the will to start all over again next season
They might feel the chance will never come their way again. That’s how I felt in 1994-95, when United couldn’t win at West Ham and lost the title to Blackburn. I remember thinking: ‘I might never be here again.’ I was devastated.
Memories: Sportsmail's Gary Neville has plenty of memories, mostly happy, from his clashes with City down the years
There’s nothing worse in your professional life than regrets. I was lucky to have experienced players and a manager around me who had been there and who could tell me we could be back.
I know the clubs are playing for three points on Monday but the effect of the result could impact on the clubs for the next three years.
It is difficult to explain the magnitude of the occasion within Manchester. Speaking to people in the city this week, it is clear that Manchester, collectively, has lost its nerve.
Sir Alex Ferguson spoke about it being a game for masochists and one City fan said to me: ‘I’m a wreck, I’m a wreck, I’m really a wreck.’
I’ve never known United fans so excited yet so anxious about a game. City fans are the same. The thought of beating United and wresting the title from them is something that was unthinkable a few years ago and now is in touching distance. But the thought of their greatest rivals winning the league at their ground is almost too much to bear.
For United fans, the thought of Carlos Tevez scoring the winner in the last minute or, the alternative, the thought of seeing Paul Scholes crash one in from 30 yards, means that as a fan, you veer in your mind from the unthinkable to the wonderful.
It has been made worse by the big run-up to this game, with eight days of worrying time. If you ’re United, you’ll be thinking: ‘What if we’d beaten Blackburn at home, what if we’d kept our 4-2 lead against Everton’ If you’re City it will be: ‘What if we had just beaten Sunderland at home, or not dropped stupid points at Swansea and Stoke’
Keep your discipline: Vincent Kompany and Jonny Evans have both seen red in this fixture this season
As a player, you have to remove all those thoughts from your mind but as a fan it’s impossible.
United have taken the players away to Wales for a few days before the game, to get them out of the city, away from families, to prepare and relax quietly and in a focused way, like they did before the recent Blackburn game at Ewood Park, when they went to St Andrews in Scotland. City have stayed in Manchester with their normal routine.
Which is the best way We won’t know until after the game but we do know there won’t be a minute that passes when the players, managers and coaching staff aren’t thinking about this game.
Preparing for a match like this is almost like an out-of-body experience. You don’t remember whether your wife has told you that the washing machine has broken or whether your kid has a cold. All you’re thinking is about your job, the match, the outcome. And trying to make sure the positive thoughts – the goal, the reward, the success – outweigh the negative.
Because of the long build-up, tactically both teams will be prepared to the last detail of where they should be at all times. It means the ultimate result will come down to authority on the pitch. That’s what I’ll be looking for.
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What if United have opened the door to their rivals after some sloppy displays
We’ve seen the two most recent Manchester derbies massively affected by sending-offs this season, with Jonny Evans at Old Trafford and Vincent Kompany in the FA Cup. Whatever you do, do not lose your discipline.
John Terry might have got away with it on Tuesday night, in that his team still went through, but, believe me, that is a freak of nature. Get sent off early on in this game and you’ll probably cost your team the title.
Lastly , players: do not let this moment pass you by. You have to grab opportunities like this with both hands. There will be casualties. If you cannot be trusted in these matches, you don’t belong at this level and will be released.
That’s why these players earn the money they do and play for their countries and the biggest clubs: to deliver in these moments, under pressure. That’s how you become considered a great player.
When the talking has finished and the worrying about what might happen is over, which players will seize control of the game Which players will have the willpower, the determination and the nerve to demonstrate their authority tomorrow night
That will be the key to the outcome of the match, the destination of the title and the immediate future of these clubs.