So, Manchester United are out of the Champions League, and in all likelihood Tottenham Hotspur
will not be joining them in the last 32 of Europe’s second tier competition, the much maligned
And it is difficult to arrive at any other conclusion other than, it bloody serves them both right.
Both United and Spurs paid the ultimate price for attempting to ‘sleepwalk’ through the group
stages of their respective competitions, massively underestimating- and one could argue outright
disrespecting- the opposition they had to face. That is certainly the case for United, and Sir Alex
Ferguson could justifiably be criticised for wildly overestimating the depth and quality of his squad to
get the job done.
It is impossible for a non-United fan not to gloat at their richly deserved failure, particularly given
the triumphant Cheshire cat smile on chief executive David Gill’s face upon hearing of the draw in
“I got a text from Sir Alex and he is happy, we have a new Romanian team, congratulations to them
and we look forward to going there. They are the new boys and we are happy to get that draw. We
are comfortable with the draw we’ve been given,” beamed Gill.
There is no doubt United were given the most favourable looking of Champions League draws, not
just for this year’s competition but in recent memory. I remember many decrying United being given
a ‘bye’ to the next round yet again, and merely just had to turn up to go through.
And that is exactly what they did. Just turned up. Expecting to breeze through what they saw as a
group of also-rans without breaking so much as a sweat. And that conviction/arrogance went all the
way from the chief executive down through the manager and to the United players.
Massively altered line ups, casually thrown away two-goal leads, a failure to beat anyone but the
hapless Otelul Galati, United’s campaign was an embarrassment from start to finish.
And it was surely fitting that United left the field in Switzerland humbled and humiliated by a team
that put everything they had into the six group games. All their collective effort and no little talent
into progressing to the next stage. And the story of FC Basel in the UEFA Champions League 2011/12
is a great victory for football in my eyes.
But despite their humiliation, there is no doubt that United wanted to progress out of Group C and
continue on to their “assumed right” of the competition’s latter stages. Tottenham however, and in
particular manager Harry Redknapp, could not seemingly decide whether they really wanted to be in
the Europa League at all. Was it worth the hassle, with them doing so well in the league and looking
good for a quick return to the top table next year? Couldn’t they just play a mix of youngsters and
squad players until the business end was in sight? Well, Spurs look to have got their answers to the
last two questions posed. And it is a euphoric No. And how satisfying that the talented Rubin Kazan
and PAOK Salonika sides that certainly do want to be in the competition have put them on the brink
Now, Spurs have been tremendous this season in the Premier League. I have enjoyed watching
them play as much as any team. The scintillating football of one of the best midfields in the league
has been something to behold. Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Rafael Van Der Vaart and Aaron Lennon-
pace to burn, no little skill, finesse or goalscoring ability. And Emmanuel Adebayor has been a
revelation (as I expected someone of his quality would be in an already enviable side). They appear
to have a decent enough shot at the title, and their emergence at the top end as a consistent force
is only good for English football (not least with the likes of Defoe, Scott Parker, Lennon and Tom
Huddlestone in their ranks).
But in Europe this season, Tottenham has carried the look of a slightly too cool and self-important
club, that is only slumming it with the guttersnipes of the Europa League on a temporary basis.
That the competition is a bit beneath them and their standards, but they’ll just about put up with
it for now, and try and squeak through to the bit where there’s a (slightly) fancy final in sight. And
thankfully, their umming and ahhing and general half-heartedness in the competition has- almost
certainly- gotten the result it has merited. Elimination.
And they almost got away with it too, with that preposterous red card and penalty lifeline against
Salonika, who had played them, and the rusty William Gallas and Vedran Corluka in particular- off
the park with some brilliant passing football before half time. But Salonika held firm, and rode a bit
of luck of their own in the Second Half. But it was no more than what they deserved. They wanted it,
and wanted it badly.
Though football is oftentimes a cruel game and a sense of injustice hangs high in the air for some
time, sometimes it provides sweet justice that seems like it has to have been ordained by a higher
power. When I think of this, I immediately think of poor Barry Ferguson and the cowardly and
disrespectful rubbing and pushing of a distraught Laurent Koscielny’s head after Birmingham’s shock
late Carling Cup Final winner against Arsenal. Not too long after though, his own tears would be
dribbling to the turf, as the most boring Premier League team in history took their rightful place back
in the Championship following last day defeat at White Hart Lane and results going against them.
Add to that delightful comeuppance the abovementioned Spurs and United European campaign
of 2011/12. Arrogance, complacency and self-entitlement personified. Kudos again to the football
- Roberto Mancini targets two trophies this season (independent.co.uk)
- Manchester City news: Roberto Mancini wants at least two trophies this term (thesun.co.uk)
- Ferguson Mulls Europa League ‘Penalty’ After Exit (nytimes.com)