Tuesday, March 13, 2007

United v European XI, the timing could not be worse...

So United are to take on this European XI to celebrate 50 years in European football and the signing of the Treaty of Rome. I'm sure that I'm not the only one who thinks this is a game United could do without right now when they're fighting on three fronts to win silverware - the timing is shall I say, appalling.

No doubt the club may well argue that they wanted the date as near as possible to mark 50 years in European football, but if that is the case the game should have been played in September 2006 and not in March 2007, with European games coming up and the danger of FA Cup replays.

For the record United's first game in the European Cup was on 12th September 1956 against Anderlecht, the Reds had been invited into the competition and in accepting they had to play two preliminary games before entering the competition proper.

This game tonight against this select European XI actually smacks of money grabbing too, because after all it's not as if they'll be letting the fans in for free, is it? Come to that when has the club ever put on a game like this for free for the benefit of the fans, many of which have been supporting the club for decades?

Money grabbing issues aside, this game should have been played in pre-season and not a few days before a local derby especially with so many big games on the horizon. Or was it the case that United's confidence about their European ambitions were such that they fully expected be out of Europe by the time this game came around? I cannot answer that question, but when clubs like United whinge on about fixture congestion and they then pull a stunt like this, the result is any sympathy goes right out of the window.

Regarding the actual celebration of 50 years in European football, how many other big clubs will do likewise? I'm not convinced any of them will to be honest.

Some would argue United's European record has been pretty patchy, certainly Fergie's record in Europe has been largely one of under achieving - all too often falling over against teams that on paper at least anyway should have been beaten.

But under Matt Busby, the Reds really led the way from an English perspective with United having to fight their corner with the football league just to play in European Cup. In 1956, Chelsea won the league title, but were told that they could not enter the European Cup.

Back in '56-' 57 and having accepted the invite to enter the European Cup, the Reds went all the way to the semi-final, in what must still go down as one of the most exciting seasons ever, along the way scoring 24 four goals, ten of them (a club record) against Anderlecht. United had to play that game at Maine Road in front of 70,000 fans, because the floodlights were not ready. In the semi final United met the holders Real Madrid and lost the first leg 1-3 in Spain, with Tommy Taylor scoring. The Reds fought back to draw 2-2 in the return but lost on aggregate. That season was United's first real tilt at the treble. Having won the league title already, United lost in the FA Cup final at Wembley to Aston Villa.

The following season in Europe ended in tragedy in Munich, 6 Feb, 1958, when arguably the best team in Europe was wiped out when eight players died in the never to be forgotten Munich tragedy. United had just beaten Red Star Belgrade 5-4 in the quarter final on aggregate.

United eventually lost 2-5 to AC Milan in the semi final - ironically we could face AC Milan this season, if first we overcome AS Roma.

IF the Reds can go all the way to Athens this season and lift the trophy, then that would be the best and most appropriate way of celebrating 50 years in Europe.

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