By Ollie Jackson
There have been many magical European nights at Old Trafford but few compare with this one from back in 2007. A potent Manchester United decimated a shell shocked Roma on an evening when everything Rooney, Ronaldo et al tried seemed to end up in the back of the net. You can follow Ollie on Twitter @myfootballblog and read more from him and his team at Our Beautiful Game.
‘La Roma non si discute, si ama’. For those of you not familiar with the club from the Eternal City, AS Roma are a football team who pride themselves on adhering to the aforementioned expression, which when translated, reads as follows; Roma is not to be questioned, it is to be loved. Upon interpretation, this is a statement that is designed to ensure that even the most ardent of supporters do not lose faith in their beloved side. For Roma’s Italian supporters remaining devoted is an important quality to possess and no more so than on the 10th April 2007 when the then Roma manger, Luciano Spalletti and his side travelled to Old Trafford, buoyant after conquering the English giants just one week earlier at the Stadio Olympico, in their Champions League quarter final tie.
The highly charged first leg meeting between Roma and Manchester United was witnessed by a capacity crowd of 77,000, who saw their team put two past Sir Alex Ferguson’s men courtesy of Rodrigo Taddei and Mirko Vucinic. Wayne Rooney’s priceless away goal helped ensure the tie remained alive for the second leg which would not involve Paul Scholes after the accomplished midfielder saw red in Rome for two rash tackles.
Despite returning to Manchester defeated, United remained defiant that they could overturn the one goal deficit and secure a place in the Champions League Semi Final.
Frequent visitors to Old Trafford will know that on a European night under the floodlights, the atmosphere can be so intense, so exhilarating, so emotionally overwhelming that any sign of weakness from the traveling opponents, will be quickly exposed. The United faithful are capable of producing an atmosphere so intimidating that even the most hardened of professionals can quickly be engulfed by the unrepentant waves of vocal support that time and time again inspires the home side to victory.
Prior to the second leg tie on April the 10th 2007, Roma’s notorious supporters clashed with Manchester United fans outside of Old Trafford. It is fair to say that Roma’s fans are not the most popular amongst English supporters, just ask Arsenal, Liverpool and even Middlesborough fans who have all been targeted by Roma’s Ultras, a well known group of fans intent on causing disruption be it through violence, racist propaganda or political ideologies.
Despite the rising animosity between Manchester United and AS Roma fans prior to kick off, the unrest only served to spur the home support on in a bid to extinguish any confidence that the Italian club might hold heading into the game.
As a devoted Manchester United season ticket holder, I travelled to the game with a great deal of anticipation, knowing that I along with 70,000 home supporters would be needed in order to inspire the team. So, with my scarf in hand I took my seat in the North Stand and unbeknown to me at that moment, I was about to witness one of the finest English displays in Europe.
Knowing that an early goal would unsettle Spaelletti’s side, United began with such intent that many were struggling to keep pace with the action. Much maligned midfielder Michael Carrick opened his Champions League account, scoring with a stunning effort after taking up possession following Cristiano Ronaldo’s infield pass. Upon scoring the first goal there was a real sense of belief amongst the capacity crowd that United would overcome the Italian side. So when Gabriel Heinze proceeded to slip the ball to the feet of Ryan Giggs who in turn produced a wonderfully lofted first time cross to Alan Smith who slotted in United’s second of the game, Old Trafford was in raptures, the sound of unparalleled joy echoed around the stadium. “Magical Manchester United” were the words used by ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley as Wayne Rooney made it 3-0 inside 20 minutes. Safe in the knowledge that his side were going to progress, Sir Alex Ferguson looked on as his side scored another four goals. Ronaldo followed Rooney’s effort with two goals either side of half time, the first of which was a sublime solo effort that beat the helpless Doni at his near post. His second of the game came courtesy of Ryan Giggs who played a magnificent ball that alluded the Roma defence and allowed Ronaldo to secure United’s fifth. Manchester United’s sixth goal was scored by Carrick who surpassed his earlier effort with a quite incredible strike from a distance.
Not even a 69th minute goal from Roma talisman Daniele De Rossi could spare the Italians a humiliating night at the hands of the Red Devils. As if to add insult to injury, Patrice Evra, not known for his goal scoring prowess completed the rout and made it Manchester United 7-1 AS Roma.
On a night whereby Europe’s elite looked on in awe as Manchester United demolished any lingering integrity that the unpopular club once held, attention quickly turned to how in just 90 minutes Ferguson’s side had all but erased the reputation of Serie A. Despite failing to progress to the final after being defeated by AC Milan in the semi final, there was growing confidence around the club that United would soon add to the two European Cups previously acquired in 1968 and 1999. That expectation has been proven right as currently, United are in pole position to compete in their third Champions League final in just four years, after claiming the prestigious crown in 2008, one year on from their captivating performance against Roma at Old Trafford.
I leave you with this, and it is in reference to my opening sentence. ‘La Roma non si discute, si ama’ – On that memorable night in Manchester, United single handedly nullified any lasting significance behind Roma’s cherished motto. It is easy to love a football club, but it is nigh on impossible to not question the ability of your side after suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of one of the most successful domestic clubs to have ever of graced the European stage.
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“Communication is the real work of leadership”
I don’t envy Fabio Capello some times. Picking an England captain should be a rudimentary decision. It should also be irrelevant. Yet we seem to hold the title in the highest esteem in this country and so handling it with such colossal thoughtlessness was not Don Fabio’s wisest move.
The armband and title are merely superficial. In fact, were England’s senior players not a collection of wholly uncouth morons, it would probably matter even less. It is just a title to appease the media hoards who want a figurehead to speak to and a scapegoat to hold accountable when, always inevitably in England’s case, the latest crisis rears its head.
The title of captain is one which John Terry clearly relishes. It may in part be egotistical but it’s more that possessing the armband shows that others appreciate his more endearing qualities. Terry is a leader; he is an organiser and a very good one at that. This season he’s performed magnificently at times in what has proven a difficult period for Chelsea. He also has an excellent injury and disciplinary record and is very committed to playing for his country.
Strip away the personality and the misdemeanours and you have a perfectly adequate candidate. Of course, that’s hard to ignore.
But Terry’s biggest faux pas and the reason why he shouldn’t be within a country mile of the captaincy dates back to a press conference he held back in South Africa. What he said on the record (we can only assume that what was said off it was an even more damning indictment of the Capello regime) completely undermined the Italian. He questioned his tactics, his methods, his team selection, all at a time when England needed to rally behind their manager the most.
Handing him back the captaincy is one thing but the manner in which Capello has handled it is a more worrying one which highlights his most underlying flaw. Rio Ferdinand’s continually sporadic England appearances should result in a charging of the guard if not on a permanent basis then at least a temporary one. But instead of a quiet word in Ferdinand’s ear explaining the decision we had Chinese whispers, we had a reportedly disgruntled Ferdinand who was blissfully unaware of Capello’s thoughts. Capello’s biggest drawback was highlighted once again. He is completely distant from his team. He doesn’t communicate with those in the camp frequently enough.
It is not, as some of his naysayers claim, to do with his grasp of the language. There are a growing number of problems Capello has caused himself simply by ignoring one of the most fundamental managerial qualities; communication.
Ferdinand should have heard from Capello, not the media, that he was to lose the armband. The goalkeepers should have been informed of who would start in South Africa well in advance rather than a day before. If he wanted to recruit Paul Scholes, he should, as Scholes alluded to, have called the Manchester United midfielder much earlier. Then there was the awkward Community Shield moment when Michael Carrick, who Capello had presumed unfit, strode past the bewildered Italian to collect his medal.
Communication is vital. It is important not just to gauge the opinions and thoughts of your players but also in commanding respect from all involved.
Was there any uproar and upheaval when Rio lost the captain’s armband to Nemanja Vidic? No, because Alex Ferguson communicates with his players. As a result they respect him and they respect his decisions.
The England captaincy shouldn’t have been an issue but the cloak and dagger stuff that has surrounded Terry’s reappointment has soured what should have been a positive week for England. I think that people are overly critical of Capello but he has to start communicating better with his players to ensure he doesn’t contribute to his own downfall any more.
This is a classic example. Moreover, how can Capello expect to command the respect and discipline he yearns for when he promotes the one man who so publically challenged his methods? By handing Terry the captain’s armband, Capello has handed over the keys of the asylum to the lunatics.
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“The key to success is often the ability to adapt”
This weekend provided an intriguing insight into the possible future of the England team under Fabio Capello. The retirements of Paul Robinson and Wes Brown were both bizarre and untimely. They may have little impact on Capello’s team selection but they were further examples of the communication problems emanating from the England camp. Capello’s face will have turned a shade of scarlet after these premature retirements but he would have been even more frustrated at the Wembley snubs from both Ashley Cole and Michael Carrick.
When facing the music this afternoon, Capello admitted that he needed to improve the mindsets of the players. The withdrawals of Robinson and Brown, coupled with the chilly receptions from Cole and Carrick have simply reaffirmed this. The problem is, Capello stated he simply doesn’t know how to. It is a massive admission from a man who commands £6 million a year to concede that he sees no way to improve the attitudes of his own players.
He should begin by looking squarely in the mirror. What was painstakingly obvious from this summer’s debacle was that Capello had lost his own dressing room. When he accepted the England manager’s job we were led to believe he was a disciplinarian. He would command the respect of this country’s elite and was supposedly a breath of fresh air after Steve McClaren who was more of a mate than a manager.
The initial signs were positive. A highly successful qualifying campaign brought back the lofty expectations that come around every two years. But as soon as the squad came together in South Africa things started to turn sour. The players were isolated, bored and unhappy; this manifested itself onto the pitch where England embarrassed themselves continually. The most poignant moment was a John Terry press conference where he called for immediate changes; Capello was being undermined.
For the record, I don’t believe Capello is to blame for England’s pitiful showing in South Africa. Any post-mortem should focus on the absence of a winter break. It was not just England’s players but the majority of the Premier League’s finest who toiled away in South Africa. The entire England squad faced a rigorous year in the Premier League whilst the majority of their counterparts enjoyed lengthy breaks midway through the year.
For now Capello can do nothing but lament the current schedule and hope a change comes soon enough. In hindsight, he should have lobbied harder for a mid-season break when he signed his initial deal. No doubt the large sums on offer were enough to dissuade him from pushing the issue further.
Aside from the scheduling concerns, Capello must address the internal problems. In this situation, if he wants his students to change, the teacher himself must adapt also. Players like Terry enjoy far more leverage at club level and more than likely they had more sway under McClaren and Sven Goran Eriksson too. The laid-back style of these two previous English coaches may have failed but it appears Capello’s head teacher-like style isn’t paying dividends either. Capello needs to discover a happy medium.
If he doesn’t, expect another repeat of this summer’s abysmal showing because if the players don’t want to play for their manager there is no chance success will come. Although it is certainly a more extreme case, one can’t help but look at the mess that erupted on the other side of the Channel. France’s Raymond Domenech didn’t command an ounce of respect from his players and the effects were mortifying. The French team is stacked with talent but without any motivation, they were merely a laughing stock. Brian Clough is another case in point. Clough remains one of the finest to have ever managed but even he was primed for nothing but disaster the moment he walked into that Leeds United dressing room back in 1974.
Capello’s relationship with his players is not as strained as these examples but it is also far from perfect. The man who was once held in such high regard has become an outcast. Unless he changes his ways and regains that respect, Capello will continue to fail with this group of players.