Excuse the extended absence, but my internet service conveniently decided to start having some technical difficulties on Saturday morning.
Alas, that proved to be the start of what was a forgettable day, to say the least.
I wish it wasn’t so, and it’s not exactly easy to think about or write about, but sometimes you just have to see things for what they are. For all that your biases might do to try to steer you otherwise, facts are facts.
And the fact is, underneath all of the theatrics that marred their semifinal win over Real Madrid, Barcelona are a great team with some great individual talents, and there might not have been anything Manchester United or anyone else could have done to change the eventual outcome of Saturday’s Champions League final at Wembley (making live football betting nearly useless).
As was the case in Rome two years ago, United started positively, but as was also the case in Rome, Barcelona drew first blood to put us in an unfavorable position. But falling behind early at Wembley didn’t break our spirit as it did at the Stadio Olimpico, and not only did we weather the storm for the remainder of the first half, we ended it with hope running on high and on level terms thanks to Wayne Rooney’s quick reply following Pedro’s opener.
Unfortunately, that was the lone truly positive moment of the evening, as it just wasn’t meant to be for United. Barcelona’s class came to the fore in the final 45 minutes to cruelly crush our double dream and end our season, and the careers of Edwin van der Sar and Paul Scholes, on a sad note.
You have a tiny margin for error against a team the caliber of Barcelona, and we didn’t aid our cause in that respect. But despite the disappointment of falling at the final hurdle to Barcelona for the second time in three seasons, we can, or should at least, applaud the effort that our boys displayed, because in the end, there’s on shame in losing to a great team when you know they laid it all on the line on Saturday and all season long.
And on that note, the disappointment also shouldn’t diminish the fact that United accomplished more this season than many expected. As I said in my Champions League final preview, we went into Saturday with a chance to turn a very good season into a great one, and we indeed fell short of that, but a record-breaking Premier League title and a Champions League final appearance are nothing to scoff at.
It remains to be seen how much longer the Fergie era will last, but there are few whose competitive juices run like his do, and it’s a certainty that he’s determined as can be to do more than just be ‘very good’.
Considering all that went on this season, with injuries and player and team inconsistency, the excellent managerial job he did this season – one of his finest, no doubt – can’t be understated. At the same time though, it begs the question, “Well if we overcame this, this, and this to do all of this, then why can’t we do even better when those things are eliminated from the equation, and the right improvements are made?”.
Simply put, you don’t become the best by resting on the laurels of ‘very good’ and hoping that the rest works itself out.
Second things first, even before the final defeat, all indications were that this summer will be the busiest for United in recent years, with a new #1 keeper guaranteed to come in and some midfield strengthening expected, at the very least. If anything, the defeat should only serve to cement the need and want to hit the market hard this summer. If there’s one good thing that comes out of losing, it’s that it puts your flaws and shortcomings into focus. This isn’t to say that Fergie and the staff didn’t already know what areas needed to be improved, but this could hasten the speed with which deals that were already in the works get done. And could we see even more spending than we expect, in regards to higher-profile targets and more areas being tended to with short and long-term needs in mind? It’s a legitimate question to ask, given the sizable transfer funds that are supposedly at Fergie’s disposal.
With the right additions, United will be well-positioned for the near future, with the solid core that’s already in place. Rooney and Chicharito developed quite the partnership over the latter half of the season, and it will only get better over the coming seasons. Nani took a huge leap this season, and provided he doesn’t get the wandering eye, he’ll be creating chances for those two for a while, and so will Antonio Valencia. At the back, it remains to be seen how long Rio Ferdinand’s body can hold up, but for the time being, we still have one of the best, if not the best, center back pairing in the world in he and Nemanja Vidic, and Chris Smalling already looks ready for the big-time. Last but not least, I don’t think we have anything to worry about when it comes to left and right back, as Fabio and Rafael look to be capable of manning those positions for the next decade. All of those that had a role this season, or could have a role in the future, must share the manager’s determination to do their best, to be the best. Do so, and we’re in safe hands.
Part of being Manchester United is having that ability to bounce back after heartbreak, to overcome adversity, to continually strive to be the best. So, as painful as Saturday’s defeat was, it’s not the end of the world.