Walking down Stretford Road on the way to Old Trafford tonight, I had a gut feeling that the game I was about to witness was not going to be a classic. The smell of the doughnut van parked up on the junction of Stretford Road and Chester Road has left a stronger and more pleasant memory than anything I witnessed on the pitch. Halfway through the second half, the 700 or so pre-pubescant kids that were congregated in the L stand were engaged in a chanting competition with the Cluj fans. It was by some distance the most entertaining occurence on a night of football so indescribably bad and on a night so cold that it is believed that Vladimir Lenin was shivering in his Mausoleum. After the full time whistle I felt more inclined to applaud the kids in the L stand than anybody wearing a red shirt on the pitch. Cluj won with a fantastic 25 yard shot from Luis Alberto on 56 minutes but were knocked out of the Champions League due to Galatasaray’s win in Portugal. On 75 minutes, stadium MC Alan Keegan announced a crowd of 71,521 to laughs of derision from all around me. I don’t believe there was any more than 55,000 in Old Trafford tonight. Years ago, in the days of pay on the gate, squeezed in the Stretford Paddock and knowing there was at least 52,000 in the crowd, the crowd was sometimes underestimated to something like 45,000 and you knew somebody at Old Trafford was on a collosal fiddle. Nowadays it’s the other way round. Whoever came up with that crowd figure for tonight must’ve been the same person whom over the summer made the risible claim that United have 659 million fans worldwide. One more thing I learnt tonight was that with United avoiding a draw, it is now, According to Man United magazine columnist Steve Bartram, Uniteds longest run without a draw since 1896 (26 games). I bet that you really wanted to know that.
United side for tonights match
Looking forward to this weekends game at the tripe colony, United are playing opponents fresh from the worst performance by incumbent English league champions in the European Cup since they themselves were knocked out of the preliminary round of the European Cup by Fenerbahce in October 1968. City fans are claiming to be not bothered about being knocked out of the Europa League and history proves them to be (for once) telling the truth. In April 1970 for the final of the European Cup Winners Cup, City beat Górnik Zabrze in the Prater Stadium, Vienna in front of 7,968 spectators, by some distance the lowest crowd ever for a European final. In September 2010, City played two times European Champions Juventus in a Europa League match at home in front of a crowd 35, 212 cakey accented, pure Mancunian, true blues. That’s 10,000 empty seats for the visit of a team who have one less star on their badge than City have, meaning that City are obviously the grander club. It’s fair enough I suppose, Juventus, like United have a turbulent and fabled history but as those sage City fans have never tired of telling us all in the last couple of years, history doesn’t really matter, it’s only the now that’s relevant. Whilst City are the worst performing English champions in Europe for 44 years, Chelsea tonight became the first holders of the European Cup to be knocked out in the group stage since the competition was re-formatted in season 1992/1993. With all the mounting pressure, Rafael Benitez could yet become the shortest reigning Chelsea manager ever. Since Sir Alex Ferguson took over as manager of United, Chelsea have had 17 managers, with Roman Abramovich begining to resemble the infamous and now deceased Athletico Madrid owner Jesús Gil, I advise you get down the bookies forthwith and bet on it being 18 before the season is out. Another manager I believe to be under pressure is the genial and likeable Roberto Mancini at City. Recently, he admitted talking to Monaco as a contingency in the immediate aftermath of City’s defeat at Arsenal on Easter Sunday. I’ve no doubt that United’s implosion in the following four games after last Easter kept Mancini in-situ at City. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such dismal failure from a team that has so much investment as that of Manchester City this season in Europe. In 2003, Real Madrid sacked Vicente del Bosque, a manager who had just won La Liga with them and a manager whom in the preceeding four years had won the European Cup twice and another Spanish title for good measure. Roman Abramovic has in the last three weeks sacked a manager who in the last six months guided Chelsea to the FA cup and European Cup. The revered Jose Mourinho’s begining to feel the pressure at Madrid and he won the title for them last season in competition against one of the best sides I’ve ever seen in Barcelona. It’s not beyond the realms of ridicule that Mancini will now be under similar pressure at City, especially after the ruthless way ex Barcelona player Mark Hughes was sacked by them three years ago. With his European record being what it is at Both City and Inter Milan, if I was him, I’d be on the phone to my accountant and asking him to speak to Monaco again. The weather’s much better there at this time of year and he wouldn’t be paying any tax.
Luis Alberto seizes on a Paul Scholes mistake to win the match for Cluj with this 30 yard shot