Someone asked me today if I had ever seen a day like this in my 45 years of watching football across the world, and after thinking for a few seconds, I had to admit that I had. I have to go back to that night at The Nou Camp in 1999 when Man Utd came back from 1-0 down in the last 3 minutes of injury time to beat Bayern Munich 2-1 and grab the Champions League title with goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunner Soljskaer. I remember the totally stunned look on the Bayern players and fans faces as what had just happened gradually sunk in. Today I felt like a Bayern fan.
With five minutes of injury time left at The Etihad Stadium, relegation strugglers QPR were amazingly leading Man City 2-1 with only 10 men on the field after their midfield thug, Joey Barton, had got himself sent off for elbowing Carlos Tevez and then kneeing Sergio Kun Aguero in the back. Over at The Stadium of Light in Sunderland, Man Utd were desperately holding on to a slender 1-0 lead over an engaged Sunderland side with nothing to play for. We all thought that the miracle was about to happen and United were to leapfrog City at the final whistle and snatch the title away. However, in football, we should not be surprised by anything we see, and obviously City had other ideas. As United’s game came to an end with a victory for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, the men in blue managed to unbelievably score twice in the last 3 minutes to snatch the title back from their Manchester rivals.
In my world, the Premier League champions, by definition, are the best team in the League, judged by the excruciatingly intense fixture schedule and competition from within that division, but for a short time today, it appeared that for the first time that I can remember, a team which was clearly second best, would snatch the trophy away. However, sanity prevailed at the end, and a topsy turvy 90 minutes was put to bed with The Blue half of Manchester in ecstasy, and the Red half in abject disbelief. What follows now of course, are the inquests and the why and why nots. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has already fielded questions on transfer possibilities for next season, idiotically presumptuous to say the least, and will City continue to plough hundereds of millions into revamping their powerful squad to provide an even sterner test for the Premier League teams next season ?
Two things are for certain. Firstly, this is not the first time United have lost the title, but it is the first time they’ve lost it to their City rivals in 44 years. Will they now collapse in the face of this new threat? No, they won’t. They’ll re-tool over the summer and come back just as strong. They won’t embark on a spending spree, at least while Sir Alex still manages the club, but they will bring in some experienced talent to help bolster the squad. The larger question for me is whether Man City can now go on to win multiple titles much in the same way that Man Utd and Liverpool have done in previous eras. That is the tough part. As the season unfolded, it became clear that the “derby demolition” at Old Trafford was the crucial difference between the two teams and despite United’s persistence, City were just too good. Both of these sides tore lumps off each other through a grueling campaign and there’s no doubt in my mind that it was a huge factor in both teams failing miserably in Europe. That simply cannot happen next season for either club.
Who woulkd have thought at the start of this season that both Barcelona and Man Utd would both be trophyless at this stage of the season although the Spanish giants do have a shot at changing that in The Copa Del Rey against Athletico Bilbao.
Football. Bloody hell.