It was 1996, it was the iconic Wembley Stadium, it was one the biggest sporting rivalries on display, it was Liverpool FC Vs Manchester United FC for the FA Cup Final. It was Roy Evans vs Sir Alex Ferguson. Liverpool wanted to be the thorn in United flesh as they were hell-bent on stopping United perform the double-double.
As our beloved Sherlock Holmes says “The stage is set, the curtain rises, we are ready to begin!”
Despite all the hype surrounding the match. It turned out to be a fairly dull affair. One has to admit that it was a clash between two teams on the opposite ends of their sporting brilliance. Manchester United had won three league title in four years. Liverpool, on the other hand, were going through a rough patch, having not won the league title since 1989–90 and an FA Cup since 1992.
The match involved rare moments of sparkling brilliance. Playmakers Eric Cantona and Steve McManaman, marked and closed out by Jamie Redknapp and John Barnes, and Roy Keane and Nicky Butt respectively. Keane went on to stop virtually every attack the Liverpool midfield threw at United and covering as commentator Peter Brackley described, "covered every blade of grass", to win the man of the match award.
There was a tinge of irony in this game. Football can be a cruel game at times, as Reds legend Ian Rush learned in his last appearance for Liverpool in that match. His sign off was mauled by the fact that his last touch of the ball in Liverpool jersey was when it bounced off his shirt to set Eric Cantona for the all-important strike.
And with just about four minutes to go, Manchester United deliver the deathblow. Knocking the wind out of the declining Liverpool fortunes. The commentary is a United Fan’s delight.
“Extra time looming large but Manchester United have a corner. Gary Pallister calling for it, it comes for Cantonaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. I don’t believe it! You just couldn’t write this script. What a fairy tale moment for Eric Cantona. Manchester United in front! Four minutes to go and Cantona has claimed the crucial goal!
“History has been made by Manchester United. The FA Cup, the league championship side by side for a second time. No club has ever done the double double before. And Eric Cantona is the King Re-crowned!”
Now, for ordinary mortals, it would have been difficult to predict the outcome and near-impossible to say with absolute certainty the final scoreline of the match. But Sir Alex Ferguson doesn’t do normal, especially when he has a chance at immortality, courtesy the Double Double.
Call it his sheer genius, call it his eccentricity, maybe he his psychic, pin it down on his observatory skills but The Boss has already predicted the final score line, a tender margin of 1-0 in favor of his club.
How did he do this? Well, grab your popcorn and cola; we are ready to talk about the psychic powers of Sir Alex Ferguson. In his very own words,
"I said to Brian Kidd '1-0'. Because of that,"
Because of what? Relax, let me break it down for you.
Before the kick-off, Liverpool players were spotted wearing immaculate Emporio Armani Suits at Wembley. Ferguson believed that this behaviour was pompous and overconfident on the part of the Reds as he branded the display as ‘Ridiculous’.
"Christ almighty. Why did they do that? I said to [assistant] Brian Kidd '1-0'. Because of that. I think that's, what would you call it? Arrogance or over-confidence. It was ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. Blue shirt, red and white tie and white suit. And a blue flower. Who designed that? They say it was Armani. I bet his sales went down. I mean Jamie Redknapp's got sunglasses on, but you know the most telling part of it is Roy Evans and Ron Moran had black suits on. I think they were embarrassed.”
Now this is something not very unusual of the United Manager, he does that. He picks up small details to motivate his team. Ryan Giggs testified this
"He would use stuff like that [the white suits]. Have you seen what they're wearing? They think they've won it already", Giggs said.
Not to question the sanctity of his judgment but it did seem to have fire up the United Squad. At the end of the day he got the job done and that is what was important. The attention to details, not merely of his team but also of the opponent had worked.
Sir Alex Ferguson knew the subtle nuances of the game and more importantly knew how to use them for the better of his club. A step ahead indeed.Published 21 Aug 2016, 21:50 IST