Halfway through my third cup of tea tonight and my iTunes appropriately shuffles to Led Zeppelin’s Ten Years Gone. As the story goes, the lyrics were inspired by a girl who asked Robert Plant to choose between her and ‘his fans’ – presumably this all happened before he made his recording debut, about the time when The Beatles thought they were bigger than Jesus. When the song was recorded Led Zeppelin was about to cement its status as the face of 20th century music. Ten years is a long time.
In 2003, Brazil, world champions, had a team featuring several of the world’s best players, Julius Aghahowa was the most wanted spreadsheet on Football Manager and Manchester City enjoyed a respectable return to top flight football. By contrast, then as now, Manchester United and Real Madrid were among the world’s richest, most successful, most ambitious clubs, about to clash in the Champions League.
I was a pale-faced teenager staring at a 27” tube TV in the middle of the night when Ronaldo silenced Old Trafford on three occasions. It was a football feast, something worthy of an encore, but there was nothing missing from the set list that night. Any chants of ‘Free Bird’ would be asking too much; that performance delivered on the hype, which was substantial. The Pepsi advertisement, the beginning of the David Beckham soap opera, the world’s best footballers living up to their reputations. Most of all, two teams committed to playing football: put the ball in the goal.
If I am to stick with the music parallels, then this coming tie should be more like a reunion than a new album tour. We can hope that it will be more Rolling Stones than Guns N’ Roses, but don’t hold your breath. The match fixing scandal has put a dampener on fans’ enthusiasm as far as I can tell and the hype surrounding next week’s fixture has nothing on the lavish anticipation of ten years ago.
For one thing, Mourinho and the Ferguson of late are a bit cautious when it comes to Champions League matches and conceding goals. Flood the midfield, sneak an away goal, but keep the clean sheet. Cue: chess match. In fairness duels between the two were hardly ever exciting – remember that FA Cup final a few years ago. Neither do I. And again, the quality of the players does not mirror the 2003 clash: Keane, van Nistelrooy, Giggs, Ronaldo, Zidane, Figo, Raul, Carlos, O’Shea. OK, stop. The Galacticos II, led by Ronaldo are struggling to keep pace with the front runners in La Liga, the glitter is taken off by infighting and ‘upset’ stars and fans.
The new Manchester United is an incredibly successful team, rivalled only by Barcelona over the past ten years in terms of trophy haul, but this success is not built on a brand of football that makes the purists purr. There aren’t many ‘sparkle’ players in the squad. No Beckham, Ronaldo, Keane or Young Giggs or Ferdinand. The team, the success is built on attitude, tactics and players that are almost good enough to rub shoulders with the company they keep.
So, as much as I would like to pine over Ronaldo’s ‘re-union’ (a bit like Joe Perry being played a song on his guitar) or the possibility of another seven goal thriller, and even though for the past few days I’ve been so jittery that I can hardly hold my tea. Even though I’ve booked the day off and made careful preparations for the match, I expect to be disappointed. Maybe I won’t be as excited for the return leg.
Bwin have two tickets up for grabs for the tie’s second leg at Old Traffod on March 5. Fans will need to use one of the designated hashtags when tweeting about the game to enter the prize draw, and the winner will be selected at random and contacted directly via Twitter. Simply head to the competition site for all the details.