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Durban – Since Tuesday, online forums and social media have been awash with Manchester United fans lamenting a Turkish ref – and fans of anyone but United rejoicing in their misery.
It’s funny that, especially when you consider that United represented the last realistic chance for an English club to win the European Cup. And, more than that, the collective failure of English clubs this term may have dire consequences for the also-rans in the future.
For the last few years, England has had the privilege of four clubs in the Champions League. Finishing in fourth spot in the Premiership has become more important than winning any other trophy.
It guarantees millions in television revenue and attracts star players.
But, just imagine for a second if Uefa took one of those slots away, and Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea were scrambling for just one more spot, instead of the priceless two still on the table. Somehow, United’s failure wouldn’t be quite as funny then.
José Mourinho called Tuesday’s clash at Old Trafford the match that would stop the world. Well, it didn’t quite do that, but it certainly stopped Sir Alex Ferguson’s march towards a possible, second treble. Now, he will have to try again next year.
While it would be easy to blame the dismissal of Nani for United’s loss, the truth of the matter was that Ferguson was too busy trying to stoke up the crowd and forgot to do his real job. As soon as Nani was sent off, Mourinho threw on Luka Modric, and changed the game.
For whatever reason, Ferguson didn’t react to that and he paid the ultimate price. As furious as he may have been at the officials, he should have been savvy enough to put a man on Modric, whose ability he knows only too well.
While United bleated to the football gods, Mourinho was left to reflect on a quite stunning week. Ten days ago, there was talk that he wouldn’t see out the season at the Bernabeu. Home draws to Barcelona and United had put them on the back foot in the cup competitions, while the league race is already over for his galacticos.
If he had lost to Barcelona and failed to advance on Tuesday, his season would be as good as over, and his successor already in the reception.
But, they don’t call him “Special” for nothing. Suddenly, they were singing his name at the Bernabeu again, after months of cat-whistles.
His tactics against Barcelona were spot on and his shrewd reading of the Nani situation was just as vital as Cristiano Ronaldo’s winner at Old Trafford.
And he was on fire off the field, too. To concede that United deserved to win was a cheeky PR move, with one eye on replacing Ferguson on the touchline one day.
If, and when he does get there, he may find that Wayne Rooney has moved on. Rooney was a spectator for most of what was United’s biggest game of the season.
It is ironic that Rooney threatened to leave Old Trafford for their lack of ambition in the transfer market a few years ago. Now, suddenly, with Robin van Persie the biggest star in Manchester, he has been reduced to a bit-part player.
How he reacts between now and the end of the season will be telling. He can sulk, roll up his sleeves and fight back. But he will have to do it quickly.
As Real Madrid showed, there is just no time for sentiment in football. – Sunday Tribune