Date:Thursday May 3 2007
Manchester United's Treble dreams were killed off in spectacular fashion and given Chelsea's and our inept performances, one must ask: is a Treble possible in the 21st century?
Last year, Barcelona won the Champions League and the Spanish Primera Liga. Barcelona, where Javier Saviola often did not even have a place on the bench, where Henrik Larsson was only a substitute hero, a team that was in its prime last season.
Otherwise, look at recent years' finalists. Last year, Arsenal went all the way to the final after losing to just about everyone they had met in the first half of the season. Most of their league games were irrelevant as fourth place looked way beyond their reach for a long time. Mentally and physically, they could afford to concentrate fully on the Champions League and it paid off.
2005. Liverpool had important games in the league as they were chasing fourth place and Milan tried to be champions. Their efforts on concentrating on two fronts ultimately resulted in domestic disappointments: Liverpool conceded fourth place while Juventus nicked the title from Milan.
2004. The season of surprises. Arsenal, pulling ahead of everyone in England, were simply out of their depth at home against Chelsea, a team they defeated home and away in the league. Deportivo (also-rans in Spain), Porto (had no real rivals in Portugal) and Monaco (blowing the French title in the process) all got to the semi-finals, eliminating Europe's big names who were involved in very exhausting domestic battles.
The point I try to make is that it's simply too exhausting, either mentally of physically, to challenge for more trophies. The two finalists, Liverpool and Milan play their league games with the knowledge that they have little to lose. The Scousers could be sure that they were good enough to cruise into the top four of the Premiership while Milan, due to the freefall of their rivals, climbed into the top four a month ago. Both played the majority of their league games without any serious pressure on them.
Meanwhile, for Manchester United and Chelsea, every game was vital. Either of them dropped points, there was a debate about whether that had been a turning point. Our battle for the league title and our run in the FA Cup meant the players were under intense pressure for months. Such a burden was too heavy to carry and the bubble was burst when they came up against side that were fresh, confident, motivated and full of energy.
United never had the conviction, the imagination to turn things around yesterday. We had to come back from behind too often this season, we had too many injuries and too many exhausting but vital games. The horrible individual mistakes show just that.
So, behold Barcelona who managed to win both the big prizes in 2006. With an exceptional squad and with tired performances in the knock-out round. And ten-man Arsenal almost beat them in the final where they were distinctly off-colour.
The sad thing about this is not we have lost. That, if you recount all what I had put down, was almost inevitable. It's that all those armchair fans and journalists who really upset me as they sing the praises of Seedorf and Pirlo, damning Giggs, Scholes, Carrick, Ronaldo and co. It does not matter for them that Pirlo and Seedorf were criticised for months for their effortless, ineffective, mediocre performances. No matter that our players had a fantastic season, performed wonderfully week in, week out.
Please, do not believe the media hype. Pirlo and his team-mates, Kaká aside, reserved their energies for these final few games. They went missing for the first six months of the season whereas our lads' were playing at their best since August. Do not think they suddenly turned into punchbags and do not believe that Milan are the demigods they are now painted to be. No, our players are human, they are tired and had a very bad day. It does not mean they are worse players than when they crushed Roma 7-1.
Date:Thursday May 3 2007
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