The concept of a Pyrrhic victory is familiar to most of us: where the cost of the victory is so great as to negate the win itself. However, it is the opposite of this concept that I am interested in; a defeat where the potential benefits of the loss may outweigh it. Although I was unable to find a name for such an outcome, it can basically be presented as “losing the battle but winning the war”, and it is in this context that I view the upcoming derby against City on Saturday.
Manchester City have been champions-elect for months now; any semblance of a title race had long since faded away. However, the moment of their coronation has been predicted with considerable interest, as sewing up the league would allow Pep Guardiola and his players to focus on European ambitions. Football has an inherent sense of drama, though, because how else do you explain the fact that City’s crowning moment could come against Manchester United, the team against whom the blue half of Manchester has been judged and compared to for all its existence? Ever since the 2008 transformation of the club, it has been United who have provided the benchmark for City’s progress. It was United who were defeated in a Wembley semi-final en route to City’s first trophy in 35 years, although they were upstaged on that day as well, with United winning their 19th title a few hours before City won the FA Cup. City’s first Premier League title, secured by that Sergio Aguero goal, was all the more sweet because of the team who had missed out on it by the skin of their teeth: United. So it comes as no surprise to hear a few of the City players already talking about how it would be a “dream” for them to secure the league against United; it would be exactly the same sentiment were the shoe on the other foot.
However, while the buildup to this game will go into overdrive later this week, especially once City and Liverpool are done with the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final joust, it is my opinion that a loss in the derby on Saturday, while extremely painful in the short-term, may not be the horror scenario which will undoubtedly be painted in the media. For starters, from a United fan’s point of view, the worst scenario would probably have been City winning the title at Old Trafford, not at the Etihad. But, location notwithstanding, even a victory for the Red Devils would only delay the inevitable, and while denying the “noisy neighbours” the joy of rubbing it in is important, I would look at the larger picture. Cast your mind back to that 2012 season, and amidst all the drama and wild swings of fortune on the final day of that season, I clearly remember how the Sunderland fans had delighted in the United players’ misery, even performing the Poznan celebration, the City faithful’s calling card that year, once events at the Etihad had filtered through to the Stadium of Light. I am not the only one who remembers that, for almost all of the players on the pitch that day have spoken about how the Sunderland fans’ taunting had emboldened them to make sure the title headed to Old Trafford the next season, while Sir Alex Ferguson quite literally asked them to “remember this day”, and use it as burning motivation to ensure that such scenes could not occur again. It did have the desired effect, as a Robin van Persie-inspired United cantered to the summit next season.
While this may seem like an unnecessarily sadistic way of inspiring footballers, I believe that if City were to win on Saturday, thereby forcing the United lot to endure the sight of their celebrations, it could act as a similar catalyst to a title charge next season. Jose Mourinho is a similar operator to Sir Alex, and while he will look to shut down the game and avoid defeat and the ignominy to follow, one can be sure that in the event of a title coronation at the Etihad, he will use the events of that day to ensure that his side go into the next campaign with a burning sense of wanting to put things right. Such a result would be painful for the United faithful present in the stadium, as they would be mocked and taunted from all four corners of the ground, but the potential benefit it could bring outweigh a night of embarrassment.
To reiterate, I am not for one second suggesting that United throw the game; the players need to ensure they put in maximum effort and secure a result. However, as mentioned previously, my only point is that a defeat need not be all doom and gloom. It could be that a title triumph next season has its first shoots in the humiliation and annoyance of watching one of your most hated rivals win it against you, as long as the emotions are channelled properly. Expect Jose to do just that, in case United falter on Saturday.