Column: Noisy neighbors blow roof off Old Trafford

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND (AP) - The Alex Ferguson era isn’t over at Manchester United. Still, this did feel like the beginning of the end.

A 6-1 loss. Make that a 6-1 humiliation. To Manchester City, no less.

At Old Trafford.

Ouch.

A hammering this heavy and this rare called for the history books. Not since, wait for it, January 1926 had City inflicted such pain on its crosstown rival in the league at its home ground where so many teams go away empty-handed.

“I’m shattered, I can’t believe it,” said Ferguson, who wasn’t even born the last time the Blues pulled this off. “There’s a lot of embarrassment in that dressing room and quite rightly so.”

So what does this mean, what’s the bigger picture?

Well, despite the astounding scoreline, it doesn’t mean English soccer’s center of gravity has permanently shifted a few miles east to the blue side of Manchester. At least not yet. United still has the bigger global brand, the bigger global following and an Aladdin’s cave full of trophies. City is not even close to taking all of that away.

Still, City looks increasingly likely to make the last few years of Ferguson’s reign at United _ he turns 70 in December, in his 25th year in charge _ very uncomfortable indeed.

City says its aim is to become one of the best teams in Europe. As far as statements of intent go, beating the Premier League champion at home so comprehensively was the soccer equivalent of planting a flag on Everest.

The hundreds of millions of dollars that an Abu Dhabi billionaire has thrown at City in the three years since he bought the No. 2 club in Manchester have turned a weakling into a muscle-bound force that can now call itself United’s equal on the field. Financial doping clearly works.

Sheik Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan generally doesn’t attend City’s matches but his deep pockets are working wonders. The Glazer family, which owns United, was at Sunday’s game but has loaded the club with debt. Is that one of the big differences now separating these sides? Certainly, there was a feeling that not only was United outplayed and outclassed on Sunday, it has been outspent, too.

Yaya Toure, purchased from European champion Barcelona, and David Silva, bought from Valencia, were superb in City’s midfield, making United’s Darren Fletcher and the Brazilian Anderson look as thinly spread as butter on toast. One of United’s greatest strengths in the Ferguson years has been identifying, nurturing and unleashing young talents like defender Chris Smalling and winger Ashley Young, who both played Sunday.

But United needs a Toure- or Silva-like figure in the middle of the field. With each City goal, not signing World Cup finalist Wesley Sneijder from Inter Milan and letting City lure Samir Nasri from Arsenal looked like larger and larger mistakes.

That City would win never looked in doubt after United’s Jonny Evans was sent off for yanking on Mario Balotelli’s arm early in the second half.

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