Death at the San Siro: A post mortem
When the shrill cry of the final whistle was blown on Tuesday in the cauldron that is the San Siro, for Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Alex Ferguson it must have sounded like the hammering of nails in their footballing coffins. Too long have they gone without European success and with each year that passes since that night in Barcelona, greater credence can be given to the argument that Manchester United were lucky in 1999, and lady luck never hangs around for long.
So where has it gone wrong and what can be done?
Personally, this writer agrees with Ferguson in that the present United side is a better team than that in 1999. Player for player, the 2005 side has more skill, adaptability and pace than the 1999 side. But what the 1999 side had in abundance was the belief that they would not be beaten. It is this belief that needs to be instilled into the present side - which is easier said than done. The point goes to the heart of sports psychology and how one goes about altering the the psychological profile of players is beyond this writer. However, there are some areas where I do feel that I have a learned opinion on.
The failure to ever replace Peter Schmeichel has been hanging over Ferguson for some time now. To fail to find an heir after a couple of seasons is unfortunate, but to still be at square one six years after Schmeichel's departure smacks of negligence. Paul Robinson is not the greatest goalkeeper in the world, but he is solid, young and, most importantly, reliable. He must be purchased this summer at any cost.
Mikael Silvestre is not good enough to be a first choice centreback at Old Trafford. Rio Ferdinand has been carrying Silvestre for some time now and he has become a libility. Wes Brown is a more accomplished player and should be trusted to form a partnership with Ferdinand, who was imperious against Milan.
Gennaro Gattuso, is a player I have been following since his cracking goal against England a few years ago. Although Roy Keane has had his best season for years, we need to replace him sooner rather than later and I can see no player more suited to this monumental task than Gattuso. His tenacity, tackling, skill and sheer will-to-win are qualities which are perfectly suited to the English game and to be treasured in European football. Allied to this is the fact that he is comfortable in British conditions having spent a couple of years at Rangers and has made some interesting noises about joining United.
A miracle happened last night. I saw a player that reminded me of Giggs at his brilliant best on the most unlikey of platforms - Channel Five. Douala of Sporting Lisbon was simply electric, a joy to behold. Now I am not saying that United need to sign him right now, but Ferguson should take note. Douala is a gem and will surely be a player to watch out for in the future. Readers - you heard it here first.
There is not a great deal seperating this United side from greatness, but the tiny details become chasms when you are faced with the very best sides in Europe. United, like Arsenal, have found that out yet again this season.