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.
“Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air”
After three months of being a trainee journalist, I’m beginning to realise that the ‘j’ word invokes a wide range of emotions in ordinary people. There appears to be a theory pedalled around that journalists are conceited, heartless individuals compelled to feed you all a pack of lies.
Sports journalists are often tarred with this brush. Journalists are supposed to retain objectivity and refuse to show bias but in the partisan world of football, that is something most fans can’t comprehend.
And perhaps this is what drove the anger of many fans when they turned on the outlets that broke two of the recent big sports stories.
When The Sunday Times and Panorama warned us that the forthcoming World Cup bid was corrupt, we told them to shut up. Did they want us to have a World Cup? Why then would they seek to destroy it? We had the best bid and believed the only thing that could ruin that was our all too intrusive media. Instead we were supposed to continue with the preening, the pampering and the pandering so we didn’t upset the decision makers.
When Russia and Qatar were the surprise winners, we all cried corruption. Perhaps The Sunday Times and Panorama were onto something. By then, it was too little, too late.
Then yesterday, when News of the World journalist Neil Ashton broke the news that Carlos Tevez had handed in a transfer request he was met with a tirade of abuse.
The focus of fans’ venom wasn’t their temperamental Argentinian captain nor was it his puppet master agent Kia Joorabchian but the man who’d informed them of the news. So why shoot the messenger? Because it’s easier.
In our well developed, democratic system; corruption is something that happens elsewhere. We didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that FIFA votes may have been up for sale. We cannot fathom how despite clearly offering the best package and pulling out all the stops, we were outdone.
We cannot understand how club legends can suddenly abandon everything they seem to stand for. Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney are thought of as relics to a bygone era. They love football; they feed on the passion streaming down from the terraces. More than most, you get the impression they would play for free. We don’t want to believe that they too are merely pawns in their agents’ games.
The press shouldn’t be painted as saintly figures and there are occasions when they go too far. I could not and still see no possible benefit to The Mail on Sunday’s set-up which cost Lord Triesman his job. There is a difference between investigative journalism and a tabloid sting and on this occasion the newspaper veered into the latter.
But instead of threatening sources and lamenting the media isn’t it about time we faced up to reality? The fact Sepp Blatter believes he can bag himself a Nobel Peace Prize with his cavalier attitude tells you FIFA operates as a purely political vehicle these days. And the idea of loyalty, even in the most fervent footballers like Tevez and Rooney, has been replaced by greed.
So when The Sunday Times, the BBC and Neil Ashton expose these flaws and break these stories they should be praised rather than disparaged. After all, it’s not like you send death threats to your postman after he’s brought the latest phone bill, is it?
“He’s definitely being looked after by the right club and the right manager and with the right people around him,” David Beckham (12/09/10)
Perhaps it’s one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s shortcomings. If you look past the trophies, the medals and the glory, you’ll find there are plenty of messy divorces at Old Trafford. Not all are enamoured with his hairdryer and not all believe in his methods. Just look at how he ruthlessly disposed of Paul Ince, Jaap Stam, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane. Ferguson thrives on the notion that no one man is bigger than the club.
And he’s usually right of course. Ince fluttered around but never enjoyed similar success, Keane’s career was virtually over, Beckham only won one league winner’s medal in Madrid and without van Nistelrooy, United revolutionised behind a new, more fluid system. Only Jaap Stam, a man Ferguson regrets jettisoning, enjoyed plenty of highs after United.
So the latest bust-up between Wayne Rooney and Ferguson isn’t all together surprising. But these are different circumstances and different times. United no longer have a stranglehold on the English game. If they cut off a limb, there is no guarantee it will simply grow back again in a different guise.
Ferguson is currently fighting battles on multiple fronts and this is simply a headache he doesn’t require. On the field, his porous defence has never looked so vulnerable, there’s a lack of depth in midfield and the quandary of what happens when Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes retire looms menacingly. Off the field, Ferguson continues to shroud himself in a cloud of mystery by ignoring the media’s every inquisition. His defence of the Glazers becomes increasingly tiresome whilst his insistence that there is no value in the market has been ridiculed by Rafael van der Vaart, Adam Johnson and Mesut Özil amongst others.
Meanwhile, Rooney lurches from one disaster to another. This year, he has been stalled by persistent injury problems and a lack of form. The youthful exuberance which once characterised England’s great hope has been replaced by apathy and reluctance. He has rolled out of a dismal World Cup straight into an off-field scandal jeopardising his new family. So if anyone needs to take a step back, attempt to fly under the radar for a while and allow his football to do the talking, it’s Rooney. You would think he’s in the perfect environment too. He’s at a club where he’s adored by the fans and his manager is an expert at deflecting attention away. But Rooney wants out.
Whether he is being badly advised or whether there’s more going on under the iron curtain than we know about is unclear. But neither side stands to benefit from this bizarre affair.
Both Rooney and Ferguson have a myriad of problems. But both are strong-willed, both are fighters and both are ultimately winners. This was meant to be the glue that held them together not the trigger to tear them apart.
This has the potential to be Ferguson’s messiest divorce yet but no deal can be made until January at the earliest and right now, Manchester United and Wayne Rooney appear to be in desperate need of each other.
“There is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life”
Earlier this year, around the time of the John Terry-Wayne Bridge scandal, Wayne Rooney was cast as the voice of reason when he spoke of the benefit family life had brought him:
“It changes with age, I made that decision myself. I got into a few things that I shouldn’t have and I tried to change that.”
The country was impressed. We had accepted his previous misdemeanours as par for the course. Like Rooney, we put it down to immaturity. The frivolous antics of a child star; boys will be boys after all.
Six months on and the notion that Rooney has grown up may have been shattered. Whether the latest allegations prove to be true or not, we’re all too familiar with how footballers behave away from the field.
Like it or not (and I don’t), footballers are seen as role models. If you appear in adverts, take companies money and persuade kids what to eat, drink and wear, your private life better be akin to that of the Waltons. Cheating isn’t acceptable regardless of profession but there seems to be particular outrage whenever a footballer is involved.
But with girls eagerly throwing themselves at young men with bucket loads of cash, hours of free time and a familiarity with getting their own way, should we really be that surprised that so many top class footballers are accused of cheating? More importantly, should we even care?
The gossip hungry hoards may disagree, but what footballers get up to in their own time is entirely their own business as long as it doesn’t have an impact on their on-field antics. The trouble is; there increasingly seems to be a direct correlation between the two.
The cheating accusations levelled at Premier League footballers smack of arrogance and a blatant lack of regard for others. These are the same sort of traits we see when Ashley Cole accosts a referee or John Terry conducts a press conference slamming Fabio Capello in South Africa. Believing they are above others and a law unto themselves, players who get away with it away from football circles seem to think they can do the same when representing club or country.
Questions will arise regarding the ethics of tabloid stings but the fact that the News of the World website crashed this morning speaks volumes regarding the public’s desire to consume every nugget of information they can gather on ‘celebrities’. Players of yesteryear were not subjected to the same level of scrutiny but they were also not recipients of huge endorsement deals.
Certain players choose to shun the limelight and avoid all the trimmings that can come with being a world-class player. Others revel in their celebrity status and use the opportunity to take on endorsements. Part of this package is that you become a ‘role model’. It is not for everyone.
Tiger Woods, a media trained robot, was sapped of all personality and eventually craved excitement away from his regimented ways. Players do not need to live up to the ‘role model’ tag, but if they do, they had best make sure their private life is impeccable. Having your cake and eating it is simply not acceptable.
Rooney’s story is particularly worrying because it appeared as though a settled family life and his growing up off the pitch were resulting in maturation on the field. He is now the father, the family man, no longer the moody raging bull that lost his temper all too often. Should the latest allegations prove to be true, it will be interesting to witness just how Rooney responds on a football pitch.
“Many of us believe that wrongs aren’t wrong if they are done by nice people like ourselves”
Every now and again, Sir Alex Ferguson will come out with a piece of pure hypocrisy which surprises me. Usually it will involve the F.A. or referees. This time, it involves transfer fees, wages and the new lofty heights they continue to reach:
“The enormous amounts of money that are paid, not just the transfer fees, but for salaries; I don’t think it rests easy with supporters.”
This truthful titbit comes from the Manchester United boss who has smashed the British transfer fee for Gary Pallister, Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Juan Sebastian Veron and Rio Ferdinand. Add in Wayne Rooney, the world’s most expensive teenager at the time and Dimitar Berbatov, who would be Britain’s most expensive player were it not for Robinho. Last January, Ferguson agreed to pay Fulham £10 million for Chris Smalling who had only made three Premier League appearances at the time of the transfer. Moreover, the biggest winners of inflated prices were the club who profited from the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s most expensive player. That club and the beneficiaries of £80 million were Manchester United.
Ferguson isn’t in a position to complain about escalating fees. More than any other manager in the Premier League era, he has raised the bar for transfer fees and wages. But now with Manchester City, Chelsea and Real Madrid all able to freely spend, Ferguson claims he has been “hamstrung” by the competitive market. What the Scot is experiencing now is a taste of his own brutal medicine. The rest of the Premier League have been continually frustrated when United have ramped up the prices. Roles haven’t entirely reversed but Ferguson certainly feels belittled by City in particular.
Even in a World Cup year, there is a good value to be found in this transfer market. Joe Cole, held in high regard by Ferguson as a teenager, was available on a free. Germany’s young World Cup stars Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira were available on the cheap as both had only one year left on their deals. Khedira may well have rebuffed any approaches from England as soon as Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid threw their hat into the ring. But Özil’s name continues to be linked with a plethora of European giants and the playmaker, who tormented England at the World Cup, is reportedly available at somewhere between £10-£15 million. United need a goal-scoring, creative midfielder along with a dominant holding player and all three of these players would fill voids in Ferguson’s team without breaking the bank. Wesley Sneijder has been linked with a move to Old Trafford but he was superb value 12 months ago and Ferguson missed out. There is a real danger that in a year’s time, Özil could be the next one that got away.
If you can’t keep up with the market, you have to be happy with what you’ve got. This is where Ferguson, an expert at handling the media, comes into his own. He claims he is very happy with his young charges. It would be wrong to question Ferguson’s faith in youth. Nobody has dared attempt to do so since Alan Hansen scoffed humble pie back in 1996. If nothing else, we know these players will have a winning mentality drummed into them. But will this next batch of youngsters reach the same heights as the class of 1992? There have been flashes of brilliance from Danny Welbeck, Gabriel Obertan, Fabio et al, but replacing club legends like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville is a tall order.
Perhaps Ferguson has been stung by his last acquisition to carry a large price tag. I remain a big fan of Dimitar Berbatov but he was grossly over-priced at £30 million particularly considering his age. Perhaps, as most fans believe, Ferguson’s hands are tied by the heavy debts that the Glazer family have burdened the club with. Perhaps Ferguson hides behind the ‘no value in the market’ line to protect his employers. It is a theory which Ferguson frequently rejects much to the fans’ dismay.
Whatever the case, Ferguson’s criticism of inflated transfer fees is hypocritical. He is right to insist that fans are dismayed at transfer fees and wages but this phoney empathy has never stopped him breaking the bank beforehand.