On collision course: Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola prepare charges for the most expensive game in Premier League history
The first Manchester derby of the season promises goals, skills, controversies and memories with over £670 million (HK$6.9 billion) worth of talent set to step onto the pitch at Old Trafford
Here it comes, then. The Big One, a football supernova hyped so much that when it explodes, it should dazzle with goals, skills, controversies and memories to last a billion years of sports history.
The most expensive game in Premier League history kicks off on Saturday, a duel between two egos so large they would demand the pitch dimensions of Old Trafford, the Etihad, the Bernabeu and the Nou Camp combined in which to strut.
As it is, arch-rivals Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola will have to make do with just the one turf – Old Trafford – in the first instalment of this new era of Manchester derbies.
The face-off not only pits two of the most decorated managers in Europe against each other, but also 22 players worth over £670 million (HK$6.9 billion) in transfer fees, including the world’s most expensive player.
Paul Pogba, who returned to Old Trafford this summer for £93.25 million from Juventus, will be among the likely starting United XI which cost a staggering £350.55 million.
The hosts are also likely to field Anthony Martial (£57.6 million) and Luke Shaw (£28 million); both broke the record for the world’s most expensive teenager when they were signed.
Then there’s Juan Mata (£37.1 million), Eric Bailly (£30 million) Marouane Fellaini (£27.5 million) and captain Wayne Rooney (£27 million).
We, the underpaid, overworked supporters, take cold comfort in star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic; he was signed for free in the summer, after the Swede left Paris Saint-Germain at the end of his contract.
The Manchester City predicted line-up cost the club £321.85 million to assemble, with Kevin de Bruyne (£54.5 million), John Stones (£50 million), Raheem Sterling (£49 million) and Leroy Sane (£37 million) among their most expensive additions over the past two years, with many thanks from added Chinese millions to top-up the bottomless Arabian pot.
The unbelievable total figure takes into account the value of the respective men on both benches, including £26 million United winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
It’s worth noting too that the suspended Aguero, who cost £38 million, would have been a certain starter had he been available.
Pundits believe the previous most expensive game was played in November 2015’s El Clasico, when Barcelona walloped Real Madrid 4-0 at the Bernabeu.
Among the glitterati on show that day were Gareth Bale (£85.3 million), Cristiano Ronaldo (£80 million), Luis Suarez (£75 million), James Rodriguez (£63m) and Neymar (£48.6 million), with the combined transfer totals coming to £562 million.
Real’s team of Galacticos cost £20 million more than the cost of the team United are expected to field this weekend, ringing in at £370.45 million.
But between them, the two Manchester clubs are set to break and make a record or two.
There could be fireworks off the pitch too; in the technical areas between the brooding managers, on the terraces and around TV sets across the five continents.
That’s why the 400 police officers on duty have been briefed on the rivalry between the feuding duo that dates back to their days managing Real and Barcelona.
Mourinho is under the most pressure during their first meeting on English soil. When the managers first met in La Liga six years ago, Mourinho was hopeful of a triumphant return to the Nou Camp.
Mourinho vs Guardiola: Pep holds the upper hand, but can Jose’s United defence stuff out a City attack minus Sergio Aguero?
Instead, he suffered the ultimate humiliation at the hands of Guardiola’s blistering Barcelona, suffering the biggest and bitterest defeat of his career – a 5-0 thrashing in front of an estimated global audience of 400 million.
Real hardly touched the ball, and though there are bigger games in football, the “feeling of the feeling of superiority was incredible” according to Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez, who this week revealed the players were so impressed with their own performance that day they gave themselves a minute’s round of applause.
The visitors’ changing room at the Nou Camp was too far away for Mourinho to hear the clapping then, but the rooms are a great deal closer at Old Trafford, and every heartbeat of this most hyped and most expensive hullabaloo will be heard across the continents.
Mourinho had blinked first in the first battle of the protracted war of wills between these two masters tacticians.
Will he do so again, by focusing as he did back then by setting out his chess pieces defensively, a plan rendered useless inside the first 20 minutes following goals from Xavi and Pedro? Guardiola had set-up Barcelona up to beat Real.
English football is a very different warfare, however.
So this is it, then. Premier League history in the making. Will it mark Mourinho’s revenge or confirm Guardiola’s superiority? Whatever the outcome, it just better be worth all the money.