Early Doors

Love spreads in Manchester?

Early Doors

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An event of huge cultural significance took place in Manchester this week with the confirmation that indie heroes the Stone Roses had finally straightened out a 15-year feud to be resurrected in glorious fashion.

Early Doors firmly believes what will follow is a constant stream of wonderful music, coherent performances and expert songwriting - a Take That of comebacks, rather than a Steps. Surely it will, won't it? There's no way this will end horribly, ruining the precious memories of millions of fans.

Anyway, such inevitable concerns aside, the success of Ian Brown and John Squire to put aside their not inconsiderable differences is just more evidence of a troubling trend of reconciliation and maturity in the Republic of Mancunia.

Because ahead of what should in theory be one of the most fiercely fought matches of the season - Sunday's Manchester derby at Old Trafford - it all seems to have gone a bit, well, nice.

That much was demonstrated by the normally volatile figure of Mario Balotelli in an interview conducted with several national newspapers in the build up to the big match.

Last season, you will recall, SuperMario was involved in a contretemps with Rio Ferdinand after City's victory over United in the FA Cup semi-final as he clasped the City badge and firmly merked the England international.

Now, according to the Italian, the two men have dropped any mutual animosity and are approaching friendship status. Presumably high-level peace talks, mediated by PFA bigwig Gordon Taylor, were conducted at a local Nando's, the eatery of choice for your modern footballer.

"I don't have anything against him," said Balotelli of a man who has provided ample reasons to have something against him. "He is a great player. I didn't ever speak to him [at Wembley]. I was just celebrating, but not against them [United supporters]. I showed him the shirt of City and obviously he got angry with me.

"For me, what happened on the pitch stayed on the pitch and now we are friends like before. Or we respect each other anyway. I'm going to give him the handshake before the game like I give to everyone."

Friends? Unless Balotelli is concealing a an electric buzzer in that handshake, this is not what ED expects from a local derby.

Even more troubling is the claim from Balotelli that he is toning down his mad ways and has moved out of town in a bid to enjoy a more secluded and sensible lifestyle.

"This is down to me; it's me that changed my life," he said of an improvement in his behaviour. "I don't live in town any more. I'm outside now so it's more quiet. I try to stay at home more. Maybe I'll stay in now with my family, my brother or girlfriend.

"It's quieter now but also I am growing up. Everything is getting better. If last year I missed home so much, maybe now I miss it a little bit less. I'm okay now, I'm good. I'm happy - the only problem in England is the weather."

What? No more impromptu trips to primary schools to take bullies to task? No more dishing out money to tramps outside casinos? Not even another parking ticket?

That scrabbling noise you can hear is tabloid editors desperately searching for something to fill the Balotelli-sized hole in their newspapers.

And yes, this new monastic life of his will no doubt hit ED hard too. Just imagine how its team of writers will feel when told that lazy darts jokes are now a no-no. There will be an insurrection that only a lifting on the ban of gags about Dick and Cock Jol will mollify.

Balotelli's tone of maturity, so incongruous with what we expect from our Premier League footballers, appears to have infiltrated the managers' offices as well.

Friday's Guardian even reports that Sir Alex Ferguson contacted Roberto Mancini to congratulate him on winning the FA Cup last season, and his rival did likewise with regards the 19th league title.

This is Fergie we are talking about - a man who wages the kind of psychological warfare that has reduced opponents to quivering wrecks. You know something is amiss when he is being generous with his praise for a title rival.

The picture that is being painted is one of 'peace in our time' in Manchester. Admirable? Absolutely. Fun? Not even remotely.

Like the Stone Roses, though, this has the whiff of a temporary truce about it. When those tribal passions kick in on Sunday, and Manchester is divided once again for 90 minutes - plus whatever Fergie has on his watch - it is safe to assume that both teams will revert to type.

Indeed, fissures have been spotted in this friendly veneer on Friday morning, with City defender Micah Richards telling the Manchester Evening News: "United now know, much as they won't say it, that we are a genuine threat to them.

"To get that banner [taunting City for not winning a trophy for 35 years] down is quality - we have got the last laugh. We are not going out and saying we will win this game or that game but they call us the noisy neighbours. I think they're a bit frightened."

Love has spread over Manchester this week, but when it comes to splitting the city along partisan lines and injecting a bit of healthy rivalry, this is the one.

- - -

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COMING UP: The result of our Goal of the Week poll is announced this morning. SPOLIER ALERT: It looks as though a certain Dutchman might be leading the way. We will also have the latest columns from Jim White and Paul Parker ahead of the weekend's action.

The latest instalment of our exclusive chat with Mr Sexy Football himself, Ruud Gullit, should be up at lunch while the Fantasist will be here from 3pm to held guide you through any possible changes to your fantasy side.

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