Manchester United will rise again
Like a phoenix, Manchester United has a habit of rising from the ashes. As has been seen throughout the club’s history, United have always played their way out of sticky situations and tight corners with utmost ease. United are at one such sticky situation at this point in time. Scars of the defeat to Real Madrid in the round of 16 of the Champions League will remain for some time to come. The wounds of the defeat will heal as United win the Premier League, but the scars will remain. As Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at United comes to an end, so do his opportunities to achieve a Treble of successes on the grandest stage in club football – the Champions League.
After British European Airways Flight 609 crashed on that fateful day of 6 February, 1958, Manchester United were down and out, but not beaten. The ‘Busby Babes’, as the team managed by Sir Matt Busby was called, were destined to be the first English team ever to win the Treble – the Champions League, the Premier League and the FA Cup. The young and charismatic team were well on their way to achieving this unprecedented feat as they were 6 points ahead of Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League, in the fifth round of the FA Cup and in their second successive Champions League semi-final. They were destined to be the team that finally knocked the then-domineers, Real Madrid, off their European perch. They were destined to be the team to make history. Alas, it wasn’t to be. After two failed attempts to take-off on the slush covered runway, Flight 609 got clearance from Air Traffic Control to take-off at 15:04 pm. The third attempt was the fateful mistake that cost the lives of 20 people on-board and 3 lives subsequently. The plane skidded off the end of the runway and, out of control, crashed into the fence surrounding the airport.
Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Liam Whelan died instantly. Duncan Edwards survived the crash and fought for his life until he passed away 15 days later in a Munich hospital. Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower were both injured so severely that they never played again while Sir Matt Busby spent the next two months in hospital. The incident was one of the worst tragedies to affect the world of sport. United ended the Premier League season in ninth place. They fought to reach the FA Cup final, only to be beaten by Bolton Wanderers and even managed to beat Milan at Old Trafford, only to be subsequently thrashed at the San Siro. Eventual Champions League winners Real Madrid suggested that United be awarded the trophy, but the gracious offer never went through.
There was speculation after the disaster that United would fold and waste away into the pages of history, but it was not to be. Sir Matt Busby returned the next season to rebuild a second generation of ‘Busby Babes’, including George Best and Denis Law. United finally achieved their dream of winning the Champions League in the 1967-68 season. 92, 225 people at the Wembley Stadium looked on as the team that was once destined to win the Cup a decade previously, redeemed their pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but substantially. As United beat Benefica 4-1, the dream that had been shattered, came alive once more. The tragedy of 1958 led to the glory of 1968.
“What makes Manchester United strong is not history, not trophies, not our squad. But, our passion and loyalty.” - Edwin van der Sar, former United goalkeeper.
As Sir Alex Ferguson took over the Manchester United reigns, a breath of fresh air swept across Old Trafford as a host of silverware poured in from all directions. The 1996-97 team was labelled the team that would conquer the world. Again, it wasn’t to be. One of the worst Champions League nights for Sir Alex was the semi-final against Dortmund in 1997. The defeat at the hands of the German giants was what led the charismatic Eric Cantona to consider retirement. United missed a large number of decent chances after going behind early in the second leg, and Dortmund progressed to the final, where they tamed Juventus to win the trophy. Media speculation once again took over stating that Sir Alex had missed his opportunity to go for glory. As United looked to Bobby Charlton for inspiration in 1968, the Red Devils found a new leader in the form of Roy Keane who led them to the unprecedented Treble of the 1998-99 season. ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ became the ‘Busby Babes’ of the late 1990′s as United scaled new heights of success in response to that terrible night in 1997.
The 2011-12 Premier League season, better known as the year the ‘Blue Moon Rose’, was another setback for Manchester United as the ‘Noisy Neighbors’ – Manchester City, stole the Mancunian thunder on the last day of the season, with the last kick of the season, on goal difference. Sir Alex retaliated tactically by bringing in the in-form Robin van Persie to reinforce his troops. The transfer of the former Arsenal striker turned out to be one of the transfers of the season as the ‘Flying Dutchman’ has top scored for United with 19 Premier League goals, leaving United at the top of the table with a 12 point lead over the reigning champions.
The 2012-13 season was supposed to be United’s year to shine. United were supposed to celebrate their second Treble in the club’s history as the world watched and marveled at the team that had done it once again under the Godfather of club football. But a certain trigger-happy Turkish referee, whose name has been mentioned far too many times under negative headlines, put an end to the dream. As is the case throughout United’s history, tragedies and setbacks are abundant, but the reactions to the misfortunes are the stuff of legends. The famous comeback of the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich is just one of the many incidences throughout United’s history that have demonstrated the club’s never-say-die attitude, self-belief, tenacity, resilience and defiance of the dreaded final whistle.
Nani‘s sending-off against Real Madrid evoked a series of furious responses in the form of tweets, newspaper articles and statements. But the onus is upon the man who has pulled United through so many times in his vast career – Sir Alex Ferguson, to retaliate. He will be the man to watch out for in the next couple of seasons as United return stronger than ever to Europe and go all the way on the grandest stage in club football. It is said that a wounded animal is a dangerous animal, which is the case with the current United side. The squad, filled with the perfect mix of young talent and experienced wisdom, will be a force to reckon with in the years to come and will bring abundant glory to Old Trafford and Sir Alex Ferguson. The premature Champions League exit leaves Sir Alex’s side with the Premier League and the FA Cup to fight for as the Gaffer will look to inspire his players to dig deep and bring home the domestic Double.
“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. Football. Bloody hell.” – Sir Alex Ferguson, after the 1999 UEFA Champions League final.
Manchester United will rise again.