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How Roger Federer helped Manchester United win the 2008 Champions League

  • Perhaps unbeknownst to Roger Federer, the Swiss played a key role in Manchester United's 2008 UCL win over Chelsea.
  • United's assistant coach used clips of Federer's matches to drive home the point that only wins are remembered.
ANALYST
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Modified 21 May 2020, 16:26 IST

Roger Federer
Roger Federer

Roger Federer played an unlikely role in Manchester United's 2008 Champions League final victory, according to former United assistant coach Rene Meulensteen.

Long renowned for his motivational skills, the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson let his assistant do the talking ahead of Manchester United's first Champions League final in over a decade. And Meulensteen used the example of Roger Federer to motivate his players, which paid rich dividends.

What did Meulensteen tell the United players about Roger Federer?

Roger Federer
Roger Federer

Rene Meulensteen has always been an avid tennis follower and has particular fondness for Roger Federer - not just for his elegant play, but also for the way he conducts himself on the court.

“I am a keen tennis fan and I have always admired Roger Federer and the way he controls his emotions,” Meulensteen said.

That led to the Dutchman using Roger Federer as a key element in Manchester United's preparations ahead of their 2008 final against Chelsea. Meulensteen recalled that he selected a few Federer clips to screen before the players, and asked them to observe the way the Swiss reacted to different match situations.

“I selected five clips of Federer for the boys to watch and asked them to write down which tournament he was appearing in, which set it was and which point," Meulensteen said.

The former Dutch international told the boys that no matter how Federer might have fared in the early stages of a match, eventually all that mattered was what he did on the big points.

“The point I made to them was that wherever Federer was playing, he was winning and performing at the highest level when it really mattered."
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Meulensteen tried to drive home the point that maintaining your focus when the stakes are the highest should override everything else. Nobody remembered if Federer trailed in a match as long as he eventually got the win, and the same analogy also held true in football.

“He would win the first set, then lose the second and the third but, by the time the game reached match point, everything which had happened before didn’t matter because he was so focused on winning.”

Sir Alex Ferguson and Rene Meulensteen
Sir Alex Ferguson and Rene Meulensteen

Rene Meulensteen first broached the topic of Roger Federer during a training camp ahead of the Champions League final in Moscow against Chelsea. At that time the Swiss was the World No. 1 and the winner of 12 Grand Slams, having held the entire tour in a vice-like grip over the previous four years.

If any athlete could be used as an inspiration for a team trying to win it all, it was Roger Federer.

Manchester United were also involved in a tussle with the London club for the Premier League title. Following their semifinal win over Barcelona in the Champions League, United lost to Chelsea 2-1 in the domestic league to open up the title race.

However, the team recovered to beat West Ham United and Wigan Athletic in successive games to usurp Chelsea by two points. Meulensteen told Sir Alex Ferguson that even if the Premier League title was done and dusted, the team needed to prepare afresh for the Champions League final.

“I said to the boss after we had won against Barcelona that, even if we beat West Ham and Wigan and are champions, we have to press the restart button ahead of the Champions League final with Chelsea.”

In tennis parlance, that was like a 40-30 moment for Roger Federer on his own serve. Manchester United had momentum with them after beating Chelsea to the Premier League title, and now needed to close out the 'game' against the same opposition in the Champions League final.

“We were 40-30 on our own serve so it was our Federer moment and that is exactly where we needed to be.”

Even though Manchester United's premier goal-scorer Cristiano Ronaldo missed his spot-kick in the shootout, the other penalty takers were clinical and capitalized on John Terry's miss. The Old Trafford club managed to win the '40-30 point' and seal their first Champions League title of the 21st century.


Published 21 May 2020, 16:26 IST
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