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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“Today, watching TV often means fighting, violence and foul language – and that’s just deciding who gets to hold the remote control”
This blog isn’t a defence of Wayne Rooney. Discussing his decision to adopt an angry and bitter tone is also not the issue here. Rather, this post is one big exasperated sigh at the reaction to swearing on a football field.
Sport invokes emotion, it invokes feeling. At the highest level, where the margins between winning and losing are so small yet their value is so great, it creates an intense pressure. So if you choose to shove a camera in someone’s face, especially a volatile character like Rooney, don’t be shocked at the results.
Rooney shouldn’t be using that type of vile language they cried, it’ll set a bad example to kids. Now were these same kids subjected to the sights and sounds of any football ground on a Saturday afternoon they’d soon realise Rooney’s verbal repertoire is far from outlandish.
But here lies the problem. This generation is the TV generation. They consume football through a rectangular shaped box, in high pixelated glory and with Martin Tyler narrating the performance they see before them. So footballers in turn are expected to adhere to the 9 o’clock watershed and perform as though they were extras on a soap opera.
The reality of what the atmosphere at a football ground is really like passes most people by. They are blissfully unaware of the verbal jousting between opposition fans and of players’ use of choice language at almost every moment in play. They have never witnessed the one ardent supporter (every club has one) who will spew outrageous statements about a player’s other half or fans’ nocturnal habits involving incest. It’s a rather different education to the one Martin Tyler offers.
Will it make kids swear more? Possibly, but then if they have strong parents who disapprove of such language, they’ll soon stop. I’ve blogged already on how I think elevating footballers into role models is wrong. If a parent or a peer regularly swears that kid is more likely to copy, if they don’t, they won’t. Whether Wayne Rooney does it or not is ultimately inconsequential.
This was not a case of Rooney disrespecting anyone so to drag up the importance of the Respect campaign is wrong. He was, most probably, addressing his critics. His choice of medium and language were bizarre. That he had just scored a hat-trick of utmost importance said far more.
But this is not about Wayne Rooney; this is about the TV generation who believe they can make judgements from the sanctuary of their sofas. Bringing football to the masses with multiple camera angles, in HD and in 3D is a wonderful thing. But we must remember this is a game. A game played for many years by millions of people. It is not a television drama; it is played by real people not actors. Television records the action, it should not dictate it.
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“I love playing football but I think I am like everyone else, I hate losing and love winning. And if the time comes when I am not disappointed when things are not going right, that’s when people should worry”
The fallout from last night’s pulsating clash between Chelsea and Manchester United centred on the actions of David Luiz, Chris Smalling and Yuri Zhirkov. But it was the manner of the brash and bold performance of Wayne Rooney which really stood out.
Rooney had been the subject of considerable debate before the game after his callous elbow against Wigan went unpunished. He could consider himself very fortunate to be playing against Chelsea but his performance, particularly in the first period didn’t disappoint.
Rooney looked sharp and hungry. He drove at defenders with the ball, he brought others into play and with Javier Hernandez playing further ahead of him he dropped into some excellent positions. But it was Rooney’s attitude which was even more encouraging.
The passion and the fire were clearly evident. Remonstrating with referees, harrying defenders and becoming exasperated at colleagues, this was the Rooney of old.
If one moment summarised exactly that it was during the second half when he over-hit a crucial pass to Hernandez. Two or three months ago Rooney would have turned around, shoulders slumped and disappeared. But this time the frustration was visible, Sir Alex Ferguson himself probably afforded himself a wry smile.
It’s been a difficult year for Rooney and he has ultimately contributed to his own downfall but Ferguson’s decision to stick by his striker shows how important he remains.
Strikers can dip in and out of form more than most players due to a heavy reliance on goals. But Rooney’s always had more in his locker than just hitting the back of the net. That’s what made his slump in form all the more alarming.
Take Fernando Torres another striker suffering a difficult time. He currently plays with a demeanor which suggests the world is weighing him down. But even he’s at his electrifying best, Torres can drift in and out of games showing little in the way of emotion. He doesn’t radiate the same passion that characterises Rooney’s game.
Many thought the magnificent strike against Manchester City would mark the turning point in Rooney’s fortunes and certainly his form seems to have picked up as a result.
The goals may be slowly returning but it’s the fire inside of him which will really determine if Rooney is getting out of this lengthy rut. Amid all the disappointment and finger pointing which United will no doubt indulge in, Rooney’s performance could be a shining light. A reinvigorated Rooney will be pivotal to United’s final push this season. And next up for the fired up scouser, it’s Liverpool.