Seeing as though I’m significantly more sober than I was the last time I posted about our epic Champions League win, I guess now I can actually offer some insight on the story-lines that unfolded last evening in the Russian rain.
Who doesn’t show up in the big games? Well, he kinda shows up. Ronaldo scoring the opener was massive and he was the architect of the Tevez/Carrick attempt that should have put us 2-0 up and pretty much sealed the deal. While we could go on and on about his penalty miss, I won’t because it’s already been done. I personally think it was just a lousy shot, and if you bang in as many as he does you’re bound to miss a few. I don’t have a problem with the stutter step, I just don’t think he got ahold of the ball the way he wanted to. Either way, the most telling plotline of the evening was Ronaldo’s reaction after Van Der Sar made that save (simultaneously solidifying his place as this game’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer).
You’ll notice that when the save was made, the team all start yelling and running forward, Ronaldo takes two steps and then collapses in a sobbing, predictable heap around the 30 yard line. Tears of joy and vindication with a realization that he can’t really leave now and that’s what I think he was sobbing about. Think about it, why would he leave United? Because he would feel as though he became bigger than the team this year and required a new challenge. If he had of hit his penalty, that may very well have been the case… But he missed it, and he dropped the ball- big time. A ball drop so big that many players careers simply wouldn’t recover from an epic miss like that (Mr. Terry, looking in your direction) but what happened instead was a little piece of Manchester United voodoo. Ronaldo screwed up, but his team picked up the slack and spared him the blame we all knew would be coming. He came through for us all season and when he couldn’t perform last night, we stepped up for him. You can tell from his body language during the shoot-out that he realized that maybe he doesn’t have it all figured out and he’s still a young guy in his early 20s playing under one of the greatest managers in the game for one of the most storied sports clubs in the history of the human race. He will stay. Mark my words.
Anderson & Nani
These two played a much bigger role during the shootout than anybody thought they would. They were brought on in the late stages of extra time with seemingly one thing in mind- penalties. These two youngsters, the highest profile young signings to arrive at the club since Rooney & Ronaldo, proved their worth and class on the biggest stage in football. First off, regular readers will know my thoughts on Nani, in the closing games of the season I thought we got a glimpse of Nani’s darker side. Petulance, showboating and ball-hogging were his defining traits during the season’s denouement but when he hammered home the fifth penalty (the one that Terry couldn’t take) he proved his mettle and showed guile that I haven’t seen from the kid yet. He stepped up and took his chance better than his Sporting compatriot. Next year is his breakout year.
Anderson scored his first “goal” for United by converting that oh-so-necessary penalty that swung momentum back in our favor and put the Chavs back under the gun. He powered it almost straight at the keeper and showed such verve that he sprinted after the ball and fired it back in for good measure. His war cry galvanized the crowd and the players. This kid and his ridiculous dancing are hallmarks of the future of this United team. This kid is the total package at such a young age and he adds such an interesting element to the side whenever he plays. I truly think he’s a joy to watch.
These kids took penalties that millions of us can only dream about taking and they converted. The biggest stage saw their best performance and that’s the calling card of a world-class footballer.
Chelsea are the masters of winning ugly (and petulantly) but we proved last night that you can buy pretty much anything in football, but the cruel mistress that our sport calls penalties knows the value of no currency. Abramovich is figuring that out finally.
By the way, nobody else seems to have mentioned it yet, but somewhere a man named Jose Mourinho can’t stop smiling.