12 March 2010
I played a round of golf yesterday and I can’t begin to tell you how bad I was. The weather was beautiful and the conditions were ideal but I was terrible. Nothing went right and my score was so appalling that I gave up counting. Yet compared to Milan’s level of performance against Manchester United on Wednesday, I was OK. Milan were pants, and that’s being generous.
It happens sometimes that a team is inexplicably poor, and of course United did a job to their manager’s orders. But my goodness Milan were bad. Aside from a couple of sniffs from Ronaldinho and Huntelaar, there was nothing. When United scored the early goal that would have been part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s ideal game plan, it looked like Milan gave up.
Shoulders dropped. It seemed they thought the game was up with 77 minutes left. That betrayed a real lack of character. I exempt David Beckham from that criticism because when he finally got on the pitch for the last 25 minutes I thought he did very well. His deliveries were typically smart, his work-rate was good, he tried to score a spectacular goal. But the game was already up by then.
To credit United, they did what I guess Sir Alex told them. I’ve been in a United dressing room enough times in similar situations to have an idea what he said. It would have been something like: “We’re ahead so an early goal can kill this thing. But our priority is to stay tight because we cannot concede first. So press, press, press, don’t give them room, and take your chances.” And that’s what happened. I’m out of superlatives for Wayne Rooney and that remarkable head of his. Sir Alex has set him a personal target of beating Ronaldo’s 42 goals of two seasons ago, and as I wrote a few weeks ago, there’s no reason he won’t make that now.
It was a decent all-round performance, but Park Ji-sung deserves special mention because of his industry and his coverage of space, and Darren Fletcher for his tenacity.
I wasn’t surprised that Beckham got a fantastic reception. The fans know he gave the club great service, and that he’s a United fan like them. He will also have endeared himself by wearing the green and gold scarf, but I don’t know how political that was. He said after that it wasn’t a statement.
On the whole Red Knights situation, I know there are supporters who aren’t happy with the Glazers and the fans are worried at the amount of debt. And it would be the easiest thing to say that in an ideal world the fans should own the club.
But we don’t live in an ideal world, I don’t have detailed knowledge of how the Red Knights plan will work, and until I know a lot more about the practical workings of their plan, I just don’t feel qualified to comment on whether it can work or not.
That’s not to say I don’t want the best for United. I’m a fan, as everyone knows. They’re my club. But if we’re talking about ownership, isn’t the most feasible future one where some truly mega-rich people buy it? Somebody, or a group of people, who almost wouldn’t miss £10m or £15m, if such people exist? Because at United’s level ownership does seem like a billionaire’s game, certainly on an altogether different level from people who are simply well off or even “just” very rich, with “only” multi-millions lying around.
Having said all that, what good has £200m-ish of transfers done Real Madrid, dumped out of the Champions League again in the last 16 when aiming for the final in their own stadium? Roll on the quarter-final draw.
Paying tribute to a true pioneer
When Macclesfield line up to face Bury at home tomorrow, representatives from the six clubs that Keith Alexander managed in his too-brief life will come together and lay wreaths in his memory. There will also be a minute’s silence for Keith, who died at the age of 53 last week, and I’m sure it will be impeccably observed. I never worked with Keith, and nobody who did has ever made claims on his behalf that he was a coaching genius. He was more important than that. He was one of football’s decent men, and a pioneer. And as a black footballer who hopes one day to make headway as a coach, I’m grateful for many things he did. RIP.
The fee for Andy Cole’s column is donated to Alder Hey hospital and sickle cell anaemia research. He works on charitable projects with the sport and media team at law firm Thomas Eggar
A version of this column has also appeared in The Independent.