It ended in one of the most ridiculous draws we’re likely to see, the 5-5 at the Hawthorns against West Brom. It would have been more befitting if it ended this Saturday at Wembley, the modern game waving goodbye to one of the greatest managers we’ve known as he hoists the European Cup above his head. Something about variety being the spice of life for the ‘neutral’ supporter, or one of those clichés. But wouldn’t it just have felt right if Alex Ferguson’s final act and parting gift to Manchester United was the Champions League?
United’s celebrations around their 20th league title wasn’t too dissimilar to what we’ve seen on the continent. Not so much ending on a whimper, but subdued celebrations certainly. Like in Spain with Barcelona, United had this one wrapped up long before the season came to an end. Prior to the announcement of Ferguson’s retirement it didn’t really matter. This past season could have been the step forward to one final triumph in Europe and his third European Cup. And it’s clear to see that there was intent.
Last summer, Ferguson went ahead and signed off on the deal to bring 29-year-old Robin van Persie to Old Trafford. It was deemed, by both Ferguson and onlookers, to be the signing that would swing the title back towards United and just out of reach of Manchester City. Just as United had come up short the season prior, they now had the vital piece to ensure this season’s title was theirs.
But it wasn’t enough. Not enough was done on the whole to mend the team’s deficiencies to compete adequately in Europe. The Real Madrid/Nani sending off incident is a pointless argument, as even if United did advance, either Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich would have been too much to overcome. This current squad was good enough to wrestle the Premier League title back, but it was short of doing the same in Europe.
Well before the announcement of retirement came about we heard stories linking United with Robert Lewandowski and Radamel Falcao. There was surely going to be additions in defence with the ageing and injury prone Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic no longer the team’s core at the back. With those further acquisitions to supplement the scoring and creativity of van Persie and Shinji Kagawa, there likely would have been room to retain the domestic title and push on in the Champions League.
It really shouldn’t just be about rivalries and the whole thing of seeing United fail where they would have liked to advance. For many, Ferguson has been in place at United all their lives. There’s an importance to him in this sport that transcends rivalries and vendettas. How many times has he got one over on your team? That should be pushed to the side for now. Another European Cup would have been the grandest way to say goodbye, and for United fans it would have been the ultimate stage to signal the end of an era. Wembley Stadium; it doesn’t get much more appropriate.
The joy here and way from Ferguson is that we’re being offered a different Champions League final and a dimension that we haven’t seen in years, in fact coincidently since United beat Chelsea in Moscow. But the Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund rivalry, especially added to with the recent transfer stories and title races of the past few seasons, is something different and wholly exciting.
But like many great endings in sport, you would have liked to be able to put together something a little more high profile than a 5-5 draw in a largely unimportant domestic game. Not to take anything away from West Brom, perhaps that game did do enough to mark a memorable goodbye. But for someone like Alex Ferguson, the occasion called for just one more go in the Champions League. It didn’t even need revenge against Barcelona for the finals in Rome and London, yet no one could deny the spectacle, emotion and deserving reward for a phenomenal career than a third Champions League crown.