While Manchester United fans would love to erase Oct. 23, 2011 from their collective consciousness, it’s a date that will live long in the memories of Manchester City supporters and all followers of the Premier League.
This weekend marks 10 years since City trounced United 6-1 in front of 75,000 awestruck fans at Old Trafford, inflicting their rivals’ heaviest and most embarrassing home defeat since February 1955 when, coincidentally, City had won 5-0 in their neighbours’ backyard.
The score was only 1-0 to the away side at half-time, thanks to Mario Balotelli’s goal (complete with a memorable celebration), but a red card for Jonny Evans soon after the restart led to a spectacular capitulation from Sir Alex Ferguson’s United, who conceded five more goals in the final half-hour.
United were reigning Premier League champions at the time, which made the reverberations of City’s emphatic victory all the more portentous as Roberto Mancini’s City side ended the day five points clear at the top of the table. Sure enough, City went on to clinch the Premier League title, their first in 44 years, pipping United on goal difference to take the trophy thanks to Sergio Aguero’s famous final-day, final-second heroics.
It proved to be a tipping point in Premier League fortunes as City emerged as a dominant force in English football while United, despite winning the title the following season (2012-13), have slowly but surely fallen behind their crosstown rivals.
It’s a day that none of those involved will ever forget, but what has happened to the players in this match in the decade since?
De Gea, playing in his first season in England at the time of the City drubbing, is still at United and the club’s first-choice goalkeeper. The Spain international did see his No. 1 status come under threat last term, due to a loss of form and the emergence of Dean Henderson as a dependable option. However, the 30-year-old has started all eight of United Premier League games so far this season.
Despite being a regular in defence during his decade-long stint at Old Trafford, Smalling decided to pursue a new adventure overseas with AS Roma in 2019. A season-long loan was turned into a permanent deal in October 2020, though the versatile former England international has since found his involvement under new Giallorossi coach (and former United boss) Jose Mourinho stymied by a troublesome hamstring injury.
Ferdinand played on with United for a while longer before leaving as a highly decorated veteran at the end of the 2013-14 season. Aged 35, he then joined Queens Park Rangers on a free transfer and managed to eke out another year before retiring to forge ahead with a successful career in media work and punditry.
The fall guy on that fateful day against City due to his red card, Evans reluctantly left United at the end of the 2014-15 season and signed for West Bromwich Albion, reuniting with former teammate Darren Fletcher at The Hawthorns. Upon the Baggies’ relegation from the top flight, the Northern Ireland international signed for Leicester City in the summer of 2018 and the 33-year-old is a staple of the Foxes’ first-team setup, helping the Foxes win the FA Cup last season.
A United mainstay in the mid-to-late-2000s, Evra spent nine seasons at United and collected a huge haul of trophies along the way, including five Premier League titles and the Champions League. Stints at Juventus and Marseille followed his departure in 2014, with the French left-back’s professional career coming to a close in 2018 with five utterly forgettable appearances for West Ham United. Still very much in love with the game, these days Evra works as a TV analyst as well as producing entertainingly odd content across his various social media accounts.
With his first-team career at United clearly over, Nani signed for boyhood club Sporting CP on loan for the 2014-15 season. He then joined a string of sides around Europe without making much of an impression, moving between Fenerbahce, Valencia, Lazio and Sporting (again) before moving a little further afield in order to extend his career. The ex-Portugal winger has found a new lease of life at MLS side Orlando City SC, who he joined in 2019.
Once one of the most highly rated young box-to-box midfielders in world football, Anderson showed only the briefest glimpses of such latent potential at United and quickly ran out of steam. The former Golden Boy award winner played 153 times in all competitions for United in his eight years at Old Trafford, scoring five goals for the club. The Brazilian was sent out on loan to Fiorentina in 2014 but failed to gain much traction before returning to Brazil with Internacional on a permanent deal the following year. Similarly unremarkable, injury-plagued periods at Coritiba and Adana Demirspor came and went before Anderson officially announced his retirement from football in 2019, aged just 31.
One of United’s most humble servants, Fletcher was a stalwart who played his part in five league title wins, an FA Cup triumph and glory in the 2007-08 Champions League. Chronic illness curtailed his career at Old Trafford but the dependable Scotland midfielder played on for five more seasons after his United departure, three in the Premier League with West Brom and two with Stoke City, with whom he was relegated from the top tier in 2017-18. Fletcher left Stoke at the end of the 2018-19, during which he made just 11 league appearances. The 37-year-old has since returned to United, first as a club ambassador and then as part of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s coaching staff in January 2021.
One of only five of the United starting XI to still be an active player, Young is playing Premier League football for Aston Villa once again this season after rejoining his former side from Inter Milan over the summer. Having fallen out of favour at United, Young left to sign for Inter in January 2020 and promptly became only the third English player to win the Serie A title during his 18 months with the Nerazzurri.
With both his powers and his output beginning to wane, Rooney left United at the end of the 2016-17 season as a five-time Premier League champion, as well as bowing out as the club’s all-time record goal scorer. An emotional return to boyhood club Everton was next on the agenda — Rooney even claimed he’d slept in Everton
Welbeck lasted until transfer deadline day in September 2014, when he joined Arsenal in a £16 million transfer that took many by surprise — not least because the last thing the Gunners needed was another injury-ridden passenger on a long-term contract. In fairness, the striker played his way back into England contention during his first season at the Emirates, even returning to haunt United by scoring the goal that knocked his former team out of the FA Cup in the quarterfinals. However, just weeks later Welbeck was ruled out for the rest of the season with an injury that ultimately saw him miss out on playing in the Gunners’ FA Cup final victory. After misfiring at Watford, the 30-year-old forward is now at Brighton & Hove Albion where he has made four Premier League appearances so far this season, scoring one goal without completing a single 90 minutes.
Jones is still at United, though the 29-year-old hasn’t made a competitive appearance for the club since scoring in a 6-0 victory over Tranmere in the fourth round of the FA Cup in January 2020. The defender has been out of contention for roughly 20 months as he has struggled to recover from injury, though it does appear he might be close to making a comeback having played in last month’s U23 game against Arsenal.
He left United for a loan spell at Real Madrid in 2014-15, before moving to Bayer Leverkusen permanently upon his return to Old Trafford. He spent two years at West Ham, and one with Sevilla, before heading for MLS.
Hart was a mainstay at City for many years before he instantly tumbled down the pecking order following the arrival of Pep Guardiola in 2016. Loans to Torino (2016-17) and West Ham (2017-18) came about in successive seasons before Hart was allowed to join Burnley on a permanent basis in the summer of 2018. However, Hart failed to regain first-choice status and left the Clarets after two uneventful seasons providing auxiliary back-up to sign for Tottenham Hotspur on a free transfer.
He made a grand total of zero Premier League appearances for Spurs (his involvement limited to a handful of games in the early rounds of the Europa League and FA Cup) before being moved on by new coach Nuno Espirito Santos ahead of the 2021-22 campaign. The 34-year-old former England No. 1 is now enjoying regular football once again at Celtic, though a couple of early high-profile handling errors have left some uneasy fans wondering why.
Richards left City in 2015 after making just nine league appearances in his final three seasons at the Etihad, the last of which he spent on loan at Fiorentina. The defender joined Aston Villa but suffered Premier League relegation in his debut season before failing to play a single competitive game for the club in the two Championship campaigns that followed. He retired in August 2019 at the age of 31 and can now be found (or more accurately heard) proving a seemingly endless barrage of hearty laughter in the punditry studio.
One of City’s all-time greats, “Captain Kompany” spent 11 years at the Etihad and proved to be a constant, reassuring presence in the various teams that came to dominate the Premier League scene over the course of that decade. Only two statues stand outside City’s stadium and the Belgian centre-back, who won four league titles and two FA Cups with the club, can claim to have one of them. Departing as an undisputed hero, Kompany was named player-manager of Anderlecht in August 2019, but after the club endured their worst start to a league campaign for over 20 years he relinquished coaching duties to concentrate on playing. He finally took over as head coach full-time on the very same day he retired from football in August 2020.
Lescott left City in the summer of 2014 to sign for West Brom before then joining local rivals Aston Villa just a year later — much to the chagrin of both sets of fans. The centre-back failed to win the Villa faithful over and well and truly fell out of favour when he appeared to post pictures of luxury cars on social media in the aftermath of a humiliating 6-0 home defeat against Liverpool. Bottom of the league at the time, the 2015-16 campaign ended with Villa getting relegated.
Three months later, Lescott signed for AEK Athens but was forced to leave just weeks later when a knee injury brought his time in Greece to an end after just four appearances. The defender returned to England and signed for Sunderland on a short-term contract but made just two appearances for the Black Cats before retiring from football in June 2017 at the age of 35. He has since embarked on a coaching career and is part of the England under-21 staff.
ESPN’s Rob Dawson spoke to Lescott about that fateful day in which City were simply too good for their cross-town rivals.
“It changed the perspective for both [teams]. We realised that if we can beat United in a semifinal — at that time, they didn’t lose many semifinals, especially under Sir Alex Ferguson — then we are genuine contenders. Also it made them realise that we weren’t just hopefuls or the ‘noisy neighbours,’ which was the tag. They respected us more and realised we were genuine contenders after the FA Cup win.
“We had an extra motivation as a group of players because no one was taking us seriously outside the club. We were only together because Man City were throwing money at all of us — that was the perception, but it wasn’t the reality of our motivation. We believed we could challenge and be successful.
“We wanted to win that game to prove to everyone that we were serious about this league. The outcome played out to what we hoped, but there was obviously a period where it was closer and then they were in the lead [in the title race] but we knew if we won that game, everyone was going to take us seriously.”
Already a Premier League winner with Arsenal, Clichy won a further two league titles with City before departing at the end of the 2016-17 season to sign for Istanbul Basaksehir. The French left-back duly helped Basaksehir capture their first-ever Turkish SuperLig title in 2019-20 before moving onto Swiss outfit Servette, where the 36-year-old can be found playing to this very day.
Barry left City at the end of the 2013-14 season and moved to Everton, where he quickly became a solid fan favourite for his unwavering consistency and ever-present nature, finding himself named both the Toffees’ Player of the Season and Players’ Player of the Season in 2015-16. The midfielder played on until after his 39th birthday with both Everton and West Brom and just when many thought it might never happen, he formally brought his 22-year career to an end at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season. Among his other accolades, Barry remains the Premier League’s all-time record appearance maker having played a total of 653 times in the top flight.
Another in the Barry mould, Milner has proven his longevity by continuing to provide faultlessly reliable cover across all manner of different positions for Liverpool since joining from City in 2015. Now aged 35 and showing very few signs of slowing down, the popular no-nonsense veteran has picked up a further Premier League title and a Champions League during his time at Anfield.
The only other player who can claim to have a statue on the concourse outside the Etihad, Silva played his way to sainthood among the City fans over the course of his stellar 10-year stint. The little magician returned to Spain over the summer to sign for Real Sociedad, who are currently soaring at the top of the LaLiga table, three points above Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Coincidence? We think not.
Toure spent eight years at City between 2010 and 2018, during which time he became a pivotal player in the club’s stratospheric drive to success, winning three Premier League titles and an FA Cup. The Ivory Coast midfielder was 34 when he was allowed to leave the Etihad at the end of the 2017-18 campaign after making just seven starts in all competitions for Pep Guardiola’s side.
Toure first re-signed for former club Olympiakos for the 2018-19 season before moving onto China with Qingdao Huanghai in late 2019 and has since moved into coaching. Indeed, he was recently installed as assistant manager at Russian club Akhmat Grozny in June 2021, after fulfilling a similar role at Ukrainian side Olimpik Donetsk for four months earlier in the year.
Another of City’s modern-day legends, Aguero spent the best years of his career at the Etihad and left at the end of the 2020-21 season. With 260 goals to his name, the Argentine striker is also City’s highest goal scorer of all time by some margin (Eric Brook is second on the list with 177 goals scored between 1929 and 1940).
Deemed surplus to requirements by Pep Guardiola, Aguero joined Barcelona on a free transfer in the summer of 2021 with one eye on lining up alongside lifelong friend Lionel Messi at the Camp Nou. The rest, as they say, is all fairly unfortunate.
Many would argue that Balotelli was never destined to burn brightly for very long given his temperamental nature, but the Italian enfant terrible was probably at his ephemeral best during his City days.
Since leaving the Etihad in 2013, the itinerant striker has played for seven clubs in the space of eight years without successfully forging much of a foothold anywhere. It’s been a steady drop down the levels for Balotelli, first playing for AC Milan and Liverpool, and then to Nice, Marseille, Brescia and Monza. The 31-year-old can now be found at Adana Demirspor in the Turkish SuperLig, where he has scored a perfectly decent four goals in his first eight league appearances.
Dzeko came off the bench for the final 20 minutes at Old Trafford and still managed to score two goals, both of which came during the 90th minute and beyond. The Bosnian was a constant source of important goals for City, a knack he has retained since joining AS Roma in 2016 (119 goals in 260 games) and Inter Milan in 2021 (seven goals in 14 games). He might be 35 these days, but Dzeko is just as lethal in front of goal as ever.
The 35-year-old Kolarov’s post-City career has closely mirrored that of Dzeko’s, having first signed for Roma in 2017 before leaving to join Inter in September 2020. In fact, the pair have been teammates almost every season since 2011 onwards.
The less said about Nasri’s fall from grace the better, but since departing City in 2017, the French midfielder has been unable to settle anywhere for very long. The 2016-17 season was spent on loan at Sevilla before subsequent brief and barren stints at Antalyaspor and West Ham United followed. Nasri was last employed by Anderlecht in 2019-20, making just 7 appearances before leaving the club and retiring from football altogether in September 2021.