So here we are again. A record breaking title in the bag and a Champions League final to look forward to against the mighty Barcelona. It’s hard to feel a case of deja vu from 2009. That year we won our 18th title with a game to go and faced threats of a fine if we fielded a weakened team for the final fixture against a relegation threatened club, lost in the semi-finals of the F.A Cup and reached the Champions League final as the ‘away’ team to play Barcelona. Of course on that occasion we lost, and I know I’m not the only one praying for a different result this time.
It’s been a strange couple of weeks building up to tomorrow’s game, we had the carefree game against Blackpool with the trophy celebrations, the F.A Youth Cup final against Sheffield United to enjoy and of course to say goodbye to a true Manchester United legend – Gary Neville. So unlike 09, I haven’t been very nervous at all to be honest for the majority of the week to be honest. Yes in the last day or two they’ve been slowly creeping up on me and I can only assume the same for most of you, but that nagging doubt deep in my stomach that we were going to lose back in 2009 isn’t there this time. As I watched countless Reds being interviewed pre-game at Rome and watching every single one of them write Barcelona off, I worried that we may be overconfident. I mean how could people write off a team that contained the likes of Messi, Henry, Eto’o, Iniesta and Xavi? Your always supposed to be confident in your own team, but this was sheer full blown arrogance. Even the majority of pundits from England and Spain were backing us. I feared for the worst.
It seemed though as the game began my fears were unfounded as Ronaldo started off in confident mood, and as we came close to scoring on a few occasions I wondered whether it was myself who was foolish to doubt these lads? However, Barcelona despite being totally outplayed early on managed to throw a sucker punch and take a one-nil lead, and the confidence of Cristiano Ronaldo soon became into a full blown obsession to win the match single handedly. Much of the discussion pre-match was about the face off between the two best players on the planet – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Our boy Ronny hadn’t enjoyed the best of terms by his glorious standards as it was obvious he was still aggrieved at being denied a move to Real Madrid the previous summer, but his majestic performance against Arsenal in the semi-final second leg showed he was still a force to be reckoned with. Sadly for United, Cristiano continuously neglected his team mates and when he tried a shot from the half way line after Samuel Eto’o opener it was clear Ronaldo was a man on a mission…a sole mission. However, in his quest to prove he was still the best player in the world his obsession handed the crown to Lionel Messi. A crown he has failed to recapture since he’s move to Real Madrid.
The summer after we lost the game was straining for every United fan. The brilliance of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi ripped apart our midfield and caused people for the first time to question the likes of Carrick and Anderson with Carrick to this day still being doubted. We lost the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. While many fans dreamed of Ribery and Benzema as replacements we ended up with Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia for the combined fee of 18 million pounds. People starting to question the financial future of the club as our noisy neighbors spent over 100 million pounds and Real Madrid purchased the likes of Benzema, Kaka, Alonso and our boy Ronaldo, sp it was no surprise that the doomsday stories about the end of the United empire reared their ugly head again. Being honest, I had my own fears. I had watched our team for the previous three seasons rip everyone else apart and win trophy after trophy and I feared that I might have taken it all for granted. I worried that we like Liverpool would be stranded on 18 and it might be a while yet before we got to see no.19. So two years on from Rome to be sitting here after having watched United win their 19th crown and to be in their 3rd Champions League final in four seasons is incredible.
Sir Alex has been slowly building a team for the future in the last few years. As people drooled over the ability of Ronaldo and Tevez and then subsequently moaned when they felt they weren’t adequately replaced, our commander in chief has been slowly creating the team for the future. Antonio Valencia despite many doubts from myself included has been a revelation, Luis Nani has proved his own doubters wrong, while the likes of Da Silva twins, Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans look to be the future of United’s defense with soon to be new United keeper David De Gea who is set to replace Edwin Van Der Sar to play behind them. The youth team success in the cup and the progress of the likes of Paul Pogba, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Ravel Morrison will surely wield them a chance in the Carling Cup next season. Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck have impressed on loan to warrant a chance next season while the rumored signings of Ashley Young, Raphael Varane and so on could give United a much different look to that off the past few years.
According to reports it is very possible that six of the eleven that started in Moscow back in 2008 could have left the club. Ronaldo, Tevez of course moved on in 2009. Owen Hargreaves and Van Der Sar are leaving the club this summer and with question marks over the future of Paul Scholes and Wes Brown we are well and truly witnessing the building of a new United team. It wouldn’t be too outlandish to say with the fitness of Rio Ferdinand always in question that the likes of Chris Smalling, Johnny Evans and possible Raphael Varane could all be taking the place of our defender from Peckham. So an argument could be made that this the last game that this team will play together. So it’s another reason I’m desperate to see our boys succeed.
This is why Sir Alex Ferguson has achieved so much success, while our 2008 opponents Chelsea have failed to reconstruct they are now facing a summer of some drastic changes with a new manager first needed to be appointed. A few hours after clinching the nineteenth title SAF said he will be signing 2-3 players while bringing back the likes of Cleverley and Welbeck. He’s ensured that the recent transitional period our team has gone through has still been a very successful one. Unlike the dark times of 03-06. SAF has certainly been the star of the show this season for United. The way he turned the Rooney situation right on Wazza to sign a new contract was genius. Be honest, when Wayne Rooney announced he wanted to leave did many of you honestly believe we would have achieved so much so far this season. How he created the feeling that the world was against after the Chelsea and Liverpool games back in March to propel the lads to win seven games on the trot was simple masterful, and when a journalist asked him a pretty innocuous question about Ryan Giggs on tuesday he had the journalist banned and instead of everyone focusing on our Welch Wizard everyone has been having a go at Ferguson, which was exactly his plan. He’s the best manager the world has ever seen in my opinion, and I truly dread the day he decides to retire.
Now to our opponents, Barcelona. It’s fair to say the media proclaimed ‘best team ever’ is not as much loved as it has been in past times. The disgraceful semi-final between the Catalans and their bitter rivals Real Madrid recently has tarnished the face of the beautiful game. However, people shouldn’t have been surprised. Last year, Sergio Busquets was the villain once again as he’s playacting got Motta of Inter Milan sent off and midfielder therefore missed his chance to play on the grandest occasion in club football. Also while Inter Milan celebrated on the famous turf of the Nou Camp, the sprinklers came on in an attempt to curtail the Italians and particularly Mourinho’s celebrations. This year they’ve been accused of racism on the field and diving was everywhere to be seen before a little genius named Lionel Messi stole the show and score two brilliant goals.
When you have Ronaldo and Adebayor complaining about the other team playacting you know there’s something very wrong. However, it would downright idiotic to think that this is all Barcelona is about. The majority of this side also plays for the Spanish national team who have recently just won the European Championships and World Cup in the last few years. This Barcelona team also have won three titles on the trot and if victorious tomorrow night will have won there third European cup in five years. So despite the fact they have recently acquired a new group of haters, those haters will quickly turn into lovers if Barcelona produce their A-game against United.
It’s weird going into a final being the underdogs, and make no question of it we are the underdogs. However, most fans seem to be enjoying the treated as the underdog and judging by Pep Guaridola’s recent press conferences he is trying to rid of any overconfidence that his side may have.
It’s amazing to think considering Real Madrid’s nine titles, AC Milan’s seven titles and Liverpool’s five titles in this competition that Manchester United the greatest club in the world only has a mere three. There’s no doubt it would be more if it wasn’t for the tragic event in Munich on the 6th of February 1958. However, that tragedy has made the club into what it is today. It’s has made us stick to our traditions and when people put on the famous red jersey we expect them to do the club proud. Like many have said, this side is the true definition of a team. A team that will work all day and night for each other, theres no prima-donnas in this squad, no snood-wearing complaining strikers are allowed here. You have to earn your place, and if you complain about it like a certain Argentian then you can leave.
Maybe it’s the fact that this side is such more of a team that has made me feel much more confident about tomorrow night. The fact that we can finally see Wayne Rooney in the role he loves instead of being wasted on the left like the previous two finals excites me. Wouldn’t it be fitting that the man who has been the cause of so much frustration for himself and for us in the past year scores the winning goal in a European Cup final? Finally shutting up all those who doubt his ability to do it on a world stage. Or could it be Hernandez who last year in comparison has been nothing short of magical who wins the Cup like a certain former United striker? Or could on his last appearance ever in professional football could Edwin Van Der Sar once again be the hero and repeat his heroics of 2008?
Whatever happens tomorrow I pray that our lads unlike Rome a couple of years ago come off the field knowing they gave it their all. So best of luck lads, we all B.E.L.I.E.VE in you!