Manchester United’s Ángel di María will pause in the tunnel on Sunday and warmly greet his Argentinian friends in the Manchester City side before trying to tear them apart.
Manchester plays host to one of the most intense rivalries in English football but in three villages to the south of the city a small group of reds and blues mix, rather than collide.
Prestbury, Hale and Alderley Edge are among some of the most quintessential English country villages in the north of England but, thanks to an influx of five amigos from Argentina, they now have a Latin American feel to them too.
Di María and Marcos Rojo walk around in the red of Manchester United while Pablo Zabaleta, Martín Demichelis and Sergio Agüero wear City blue.
On Friday Zabaleta, Di María and Rojo came together to take part in a Premier League Kicks session with local children at Manchester College in Ardwick.
Socially the quintet and their families meet regularly too. For Zabaleta, there is nothing more enjoyable than reminding his compatriots of home by cooking slabs of Argentinian meat over a grill. “I am thinking of opening an Argentinian restaurant,” the City right-back said.
Di María, for the first few weeks following his £59.7m transfer to Old Trafford, lived in a hotel in central Manchester. Now he has a house of his own away from the city and he too loves meeting his fellow Argentinians.
“We’ve got good friendships over the years and no matter what the colour of your shirt, you still see each other socially,” the former Real Madrid winger said.
Roy Keane, who famously became engulfed in a feisty spat with Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira prior to kick-off in 2005, recently criticised players for hugging each other in the tunnel as they prepare to go out on to the pitch.
Di María sees nothing wrong with the now almost common practice and it looks as if he will embrace his compatriots from City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday lunch time.
“I think it’s right to say ‘Hi’ and greet each other – whether it’s an ex-team-mate or a good friend. I think that’s normal,” the United midfielder said when asked about the debate regarding affection in the tunnel.
Di María says his friendship with Zabaleta and co will not lessen his desire to defeat them on Sunday, though. “There are no friendships out on the pitch,” Di María added. “Once you’re on the field, you forget all that. Everyone, no matter which side you are on, is fighting for the shirt. You are defending the pride of your colours.”
United could field five Manchester derby debutants on Sunday but they will all know about the importance of the match as they have been given a talk by Ryan Giggs in the build-up.
“We know it’s a very important match for United. We also know it’s a very important match for the city,” Di María said. “We will be doing our absolute best to make sure the red half of the city is happy at the end of the game.”
Di María could have been playing for City this weekend had things gone differently this summer – the World Cup runner-up was reportedly offered to City twice before he moved to United.
Di María claims United were the only serious bidders for his signature but Manuel Pellegrini hinted on Friday the only reason he did not sign the 26-year-old was because of Financial Fair Play penalties.
“We had important restrictions on the amount of players we can have this year and also the amount of money we can spend,” the City manager said.
Di María knows he will get some stick off City fans and their Argentinian contingent if United lose on Sunday but he knows all about the shame of losing a big derby.
He had the unpleasant experience of losing against Newell’s Old Boys when he was on the books of Rosario Central. The fixture, known as El Clásico Rosario, is one of the most fiercely contested matches in South America.
“Derby games can be a nightmare over there. If you lost it would be a case of being not able to go out – not just for two or three days – but two or three weeks until you got it out of your system,” Di María said.
“Everyone would really suffer if you lost and didn’t want to show their faces to the fans.” Press Association