Manchester’s football landscape was very different during Andrei Kanchelskis' two separate spells in the city.
When he left a dissolving Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic for a room in Sale’s Amblehurst hotel back in 1991, he did not know he was about to become a major part of English football’s next dominant force.
Two league titles, two domestic cups, a derby hat-trick and several speeding tickets followed for him in his three full seasons on the right flank of Sir Alex Ferguson’s first great Manchester United side; “real tough bastards”, as the Scot called them, who had silk and steel in equal measure.
In 1995, Kanchelskis eventually left Old Trafford for Everton amid controversial and well-documented circumstances involving a hernia operation, a samovar stuffed with banknotes and the rise of one talented youngster named David Beckham.
Six years later though, he returned to Manchester when Joe Royle, the man who had taken him away from United, brought him to Manchester City on loan. This time, of course, there would be no spell of almost-unbroken success.
“We were bottom of the league and in the international break we went to Marbella,” Kanchelskis recalls, thinking back to his six-month, 11-game stay at Maine Road. “Marbella! Bottom of the league and we go to Marbella! Smoking, drink, celebrate! Mamma mia! I don’t know why we went! Don’t ask me why. It was terrible!
“I was surprised. This wasn’t professional. It was bad management. The team needed more concentration, more training, more tactics. It was very bad, very poor! But that was City at that time.”
City at that time but certainly not City now. Instead, ahead of this weekend’s Manchester derby, Kanchelskis sees the once-romantically amateurish club that he suffered relegation with at the top of the table, eight points clear of their old superiors.
“It is a different City now and a different United,” he says. “When I played for City, they were not the biggest club. They were just OK and in the derby we would fight hard because United were the dominant team at the time. Now, there is a big change. City have a new stadium and new players, new management, and you see what is happening now.”
Kanchelskis still very much favours the red side of Manchester to the blue, but as a passionate advocate of the wide, attacking football his own game was based upon, he cannot help but admire Pep Guardiola's work and compare it unfavourably with that of Jose Mourinho
“At the moment City look a bit better, a higher level than United… City are making a better demonstration of football,” he says. “Some [United] games I am not happy. It is not like we played under Ferguson. We always played with wingers. Now it is City who play with wingers and you can see City are scoring a lot of goals.
“Mourinho plays more defensively. When I played during my period, we played to enjoy games,” Kanchelskis adds. “There would be improvisation, sometimes we would play in a different way. Cantona, Giggsy, myself, Mark Hughes. Now, for me, you're looking at one or two good players. Rashford is good but De Gea is the best player. If not for De Gea, United would not be in second position but fifth or sixth.”
Would he prefer to have seen Guardiola at Old Trafford, with a more expansive, expressive style, rather than the pragmatism of Mourinho? “At the moment, yes,” he says.
“Mourinho worked with Bobby Robson, a great coach, and came straight in and very soon took on a great team at Porto. They had big names, big players and dominated. Mourinho was lucky. He knew he would never dominate in small teams, second teams.
“Porto were lucky to beat Manchester United by scoring the last minute equaliser at Old Trafford,” the Russian adds, referencing the 1-1 draw in March 2004, when Costinha’s late goal eliminated Ferguson’s United on the away goals rule and Mourinho ran the length of touchline in a memorable celebration.
“I remember that game – that referee – where there was a free kick and Tim Howard made a mistake. So then it was all Mourinho, Mourinho, Mourinho. It was easy for Porto against Monaco in the final, then he takes over at Chelsea: good money, good players. It was just easy work, you know?
“Milan – working for [Massimo] Moratti – great, a lot of money and good players again. Real Madrid – only one season was good but the next two seasons there were problems. Then back to Chelsea where there were problems as well. He’s a great coach, but that was an important season for Mourinho at Porto. Look at it and see what happened.”
Still, come the derby, he will very much be in Mourinho’s camp, wanting his first and favourite Manchester club to hold off any anticipated ‘power shift’. “I hope United win,” he says. “But if they lose on Sunday, it is finished. There will be no chance. It will be 11 points – it is not possible. 11 points is too much.”
Russian Winters, the autobiography of Andrei Kanchelskis (deCoubertin), is available now from the following link: www.decoubertin.co.uk/Kanchelskis