WHEN United played Barcelona a few years ago in the European Cup final at Wembley, there was an air of inevitability about the result before anyone kicked a ball in anger. Many a United supporter had the feeling we’d be destroyed by them and that was one thing, there was also the United fan who sounded almost grateful to be on the same pitch as them and that no matter how United did in the game, it was an honour just to be in the same stadium. How nice of Barcelona to delay collecting the trophy in order to have a kick around with us!
That did not sit well with me, although it was men against boys on the night and a lot of predictions came true, the fact that almost all of the United fans I spoke to had absolutely no belief in anything other than that we were just there to make up the numbers was hard to handle.
The long and short of it is, that game and that night gave us unfinished business in Europe even before last season’s dismal submission. We had unfinished business with the top of the top in European competition and this season it was given to us, Real Madrid. Yes it was Ronaldo’s return, yes the first leg was epic and we did well and yes we’d need a Herculean effort to go through but this time no one who bled red believed we had no chance.
It’s taken a while to get my head around it to be honest because I really think the fallout could be catastrophic if we let it. The fact that United were so close will either drive us on or crush us for a while, I fear it may do the latter.
“To Plateau – To reach a state of little or no change after a time of activity or progress”
We gave everything and it worked for a while. The headlines that seemed to occupy the world weren’t really headline worthy in my opinion. The form of Wayne Rooney has been such that Fergie would have been unsure if our number ten had his head in the game recently, against Norwich he looked somewhere near his form but it’s about the overall objective for the team and not keeping one man, albeit a very talented one when he wants to be, happy. I’ll go further, looking at Ronaldo it’s very easy to see what can happen when you want to build on the talent and the start you have, putting him next to Wayne Rooney there’s a case to be made that Wayne has taken his talent and sat on it. This has been discussed at length this season already, search our archives, but Wayne Rooney was not playing like a happy lad with genius in his football boots. Somewhere along the line he has turned from an exceptional talent on the way up to a very good player finding his plateau.
The inclusion of Nani was something Sir Alex had near enough told everyone about as far back as the Reading game, all those quotes about him being capable of being a match winner, and the ‘he wants to play more but he can decide that with form like this’ all sounded to me like the winger was looking very strongly at his number in the starting line up. He could make an impact and be a key player in key moments for us, we’ve always known he could be and against Real wasn’t he just. Whisper it but he may even have had a decent game before that red card thing.
From there you can only hope that everything went right and it near as damn it went right.At no point were we played off the pitch, one or two players lost their focus as they were expected to do because they are only human but to blame them for any part of the result that night is harsh. Jose brought on a player who turned the game for them, it was more about that than losing because we had ten men.
I took a long time to figure out how I felt about what happened because I didn’t want to write from the we was robbed angle. Nani’s red card was a decision the ref made, Jose’s words about the best team losing were nothing, some have said it was a job interview for when Fergie hangs up his boots but if you really think Jose needs to say anything nice about United to be considered for the manager’s job you are kidding yourself. If he is being considered it’s because he always was being considered, it’s not going to be because he was nice to us on a very difficult night.
It’s not what we have done that bothers me, it’s what we do next that counts.
Eyes on the ball at all times – GTS