1. I want my iTV – So another Champions League week, another Wayne Rooney header, another English team comfortably through, another chance for the media to roll out page after page on David Beckham whilst simultaneously claiming it’s all his fault, and another week to wait for this round to finish thanks to UEFA’s brilliantly annoying decision to split the games up by a fortnight for no logical reason at all. iTV seem to have somehow found a way to fit 2 advertising breaks into a 15 minute introduction segment, but at least that spared us the “thoughts” of Andy Townsend and Marcel Desailly, who inexplicably seemed to be wearing two shirts on top of each other. Punditry was a low priority however, as this segment was entirely taken up by Beckham montages anyway before it was time for more words from our sponsors, just in case there was anyone left alive who didn’t already hate the Go Compare jingle by now. It was then back to the action to follow the teams out of the tunnel, which presented the cameramen with an annoying dilemma, since as Beckham wasn’t starting, they couldn’t follow him out last as they wanted to, and in the way they usually follow out important people like Ronaldo, or Cantona, or any other players who stand at the back in tunnels so the camera can follow them out with a hero shot just before they cut to another annoying commercial break. Obvious panic ensued in the studio, where it was quickly decided they should go to a wide shot, wait for him to jog out in a tracksuit a good minute behind everyone else, and then follow him out anyway as planned. It was then time to rile up the viewing public’s hatred of Italian stereotypes and price comparison websites further, where after Jim Rosenthal – failing to grow out of his startling similarity to the Count from Sesame Street in his older years – welcomed us back from wondering why you’d want to win a chance to “watch the world cup in Brazil” when it’s being held in South Africa, just in time to tell us Milan needed to score first if they were to have chance of Progressing
2. And which is more, You’ll beat Milan my son – And they tried to score. Any assumption that this tie, both home and away, was a walk in the park for United is a bit of a misnomer. Milan had chances here, just as they had in the San Siro, to make it an uncomfortable evening for the hosts. The passing early on was sloppy from the reds, with Rooney taking the idea of filling Ronaldo’s shoes a bit too literally by trying a series of little flicks and failing miserably at each one, whilst Nani seemed to have decided it’d be better for the aesthetic of the game if he kept passing the ball to Milan. Both Ronaldinho, and particularly Huntelaar, could have given the visitors the spring board they needed within the first 10 minutes, but as at the San Siro the Dutchman seemed to find the penalty area a dauntingly terrifying place to be and possibly realizing that Beckham would never get his hero’s reception if the home crowd were a little anxious, the noble thing to do was to be rubbish. The difference, again, was Wayne Rooney’s shiny head. As so often this season, United had the knack of converting most of their chances on goal through the clinicalness of Rooney and today was a prime example as he notched his 3rd brace against the 7 times winners in his last 4 games against them. Even as the match wore on and United became more and more comfortable, Milan continued to spurn easy opportunities as David Beckham found creating chances at Old Trafford again was just like riding an old bike.
3. There’s no Dinho in Team – Milan’s main problem, apart from arthritis, was that certain players – * cough * Ronaldinho *cough * – didn’t seem to feel the other half of the pitch was in anyway a significant area at all. The former World Player of the Year treats most games like a playground kick about, which is often seen as a good thing, but is actually an incredibly bad thing at any level above an actual playground. Defending isn’t a part of the game that interests him at all, and as such, it’s much better to leave it to the unpopular kids who were picked last, who’s sole responsibility from then on is to pass it to him whenever they’re done with whatever it is they do. During the build up to United’s opener, he did actually think about tracking Gary Neville back, and got as far as a third of the way into his own half. He then clearly realized that that goal wasn’t actually the goal he was supposed to be attacking – if he was aware there was a goal there at all – and after some confusion, realized this, stopped and turned around again whilst a completely unchallenged Neville dropped the ball onto Rooney’s head and rendered the tie as dead as a Dildo.
4. Drawing inspiration – Further stretching the idea that certain Milan players would’ve liked to have been on a playground, AC’s captain’s armband seemed to consist of a piece of bandage with a C drawn on it in marker pen. Welcome to the knock out stages of the biggest show in club football ladies and gentlemen.
5. Sing when you’re winning – After that, the first half suddenly became incredibly dull as United sat back in contentness, and Milan creaked forward at the pace of a slug in a vague attempt to increase their possession stats. So comfortable it became that the United faithful could even afford to get the party started early and wheeled out “There’s only one David Beckham” and “Fergie Fergie sign him up” before the match had reached 40 minutes whilst the camera cut to Roberto Mancini in the crowd, who was presumably praying for some kind of natural disaster to wipe both teams off the face of the earth for good.
6. You’ve got to fight, for your right, to Paaaarty – After a few punditry breaks during the half time advertising analysis, United came storming out of the traps and Nani and Rooney (with the feet he remembered he still had) combined to shovel more earth on top of Milan by scoring a lovely goal within 56 seconds of the re-start. Nani then became incredibly good for the remainder of the match, after spending the majority of the first half loosing the ball in precarious situations whilst not being passed to be Rooney – presumably through a combination of mistrust and revenge for bad service in the first leg. Park Ji Sung continued to look like he was going to fall over at every opportunity, and did so frequently to great effect, slipping twice to score the third, and then again – in what was possibly a brilliant diversionary dummy tactic – to allow Rafael to loop in the cross for Fletcher to make it 4. It was now officially party time, and Old Trafford burst into raucous song and celebration and waited for the return of the prodigal in a sea of green and gold and spirited protest signing, a bit like what the civil rights movement in the Mississippi Delta would’ve been like if the protagonists had been mainly white, not oppressed and all paying upwards of £25 for the right to do so. So in fact not at all like it, but with the connecting theme of rich Americans being the villains.
7. United We Stand – The Green and Yellow ‘till the club is mellow campaign has now reached fever pitch. The abundance of it at Wembley for the Carling Cup final seemed like the zenith, but it was positively dwarfed by the show of support it received last night. The audio visual assault of scarves and songs was immense and the banners hung proudly from the terrace while the stewards admitted their inevitable defeat in the knowledge no one was going to let them ruin the party. As Beckham threw his green and golden balls behind the campaign – ensuring it reached the front pages as well as back – there’s surely no doubt he was aware it would increase his already bulging respect from the fans. But only the most embittered and cynical would care, because now it’s been done, nothing but a groveling retraction of support could remove the image of him adorned in it from the history of the campaign. For United fans, last night was quite simply a victory for Manchester United in every possible way it could have been.
8. The future’s Orange – In all the hullabaloo, one of the most astounding events of the evening was overlooked. So well was everything going for United that Paul Scholes actually won a tackle. More than one in fact. It was quite astounding; I almost fell off my chair, except that I was on a sofa.
9. You probably think this game is about you – All that was left was to revel in the Beckham circus – as the more cynical will no doubt call it…again – and so on he came, to possibly the loudest cheer of the night so far, until Ferguson wisely decided to take off Rooney just to remind the crowd where their priorities currently lay and encourage another standing ovation just as everyone had just begun to sit down again. In the unfortunate position of having to play a football match whilst trying not to burst into tears, Beckham actually contrived to be Milan’s best player in his 20-minute cameo, though since the tie was so far out of reach it was as distant a possibility as Ronaldinho breaking a sweat, it was pretty irrelevant anyway. Had he scored with a sweetly taken volley that drew the hardest work of the night out of Edwin Van Der Sar – despite him not actually having to move – the oddest scene of the night might of transpired, as Old Trafford was so loved up by that point that they most likely would have cheered it. But it wasn’t to be, and Beckham had to settle for picking up a scarf and crying in the post match interview instead. An interview in which he ranked it as one of his greatest nights in football, which will surely go down well in Milan, as they cry in the corner with Roma over the ignominy of being trashed by a 5 goal aggregate margin in Europe.
10. Back to Life, Back to ‘REAL’ity – A quick word on the Decepticons as they crashed out at the 1/8 stage for the 5th (or possibly 6th) year running much to the mirth of every other football fan on the planet. Oh to be a fly on the wall as Cristiano Ronaldo heard his former club had battered Milan on their way to the Quarter Finals as his disjointed star studded bunch were dumped out by Lyon. Madrid had the best of the first half, quite ridiculously so in fact, but so un-team like do they look that it failed to matter. Higuain was the main culprit, which is a shame considering his non-Galactical status, but he provided the microcosm of the night when he fluffed his 2nd easy chance of the game. With Ronaldo – sporting some kind of lacquered plastic hair – square of him and in an infinitely better position, he failed to pass, and instead weakly tapped it at goal. It’s far too easy to call them a selfish team of disjointed preening stars unconcerned about team ethic or graft, assembled by a shallow man with no concept of football beyond status and appearances and a weak, farcical concept that destiny and grandeur are all that’s needed – especially given their sterling domestic fight back at the weekend – but screw it, I’m going to do it anyway. Lyon could’ve even won the game itself after the slowest counter attack in football history, but one was enough, and the thought of Barcelona or United winning the CL in the Bernabeu is so rich with such delicious schadenfreude that it’s actually making me quite full just thinking about it.
You can follow Oscar on Twitter at; http://twitter.com/oscarpyejeary, where you can tell him that wearing thermal trousers IS in fact just like wearing tights.