United and Madrid fans nervously anticipating proceedings, and basking in the build-up were to find that the theatrics commenced before the kick-off, with the unexpected omission of Wayne Rooney from United’s starting 11, catching more or less everyone by surprise.
The watching world was to then bear spectacle to a truly inspired performance from a Rooney-less Man U side, that competently stifled Madrid to the point where victory was appearing to be justly heading in Manchester United’s direction.
The production of the red card which saw Nani leave the field of play will never be forgotten as it was, by and large, unwarranted and resulted in the balance of the tie swinging in Madrid’s favour, but as horrific as the red card was, the question that will be asked from this point is whether Alex Ferguson allowed his temperament to get the better of him at a time when it would have been better served assessing what to do next.
In the meantime, while the cameras were focused on an incandescent Ferguson shoving a member of his back room staff to the side of the dugout, before quickly negotiating the steps down to the pitch, as well as a 73 year old can do, Mourinho was busy seizing the initiative.
He struck in typical opportunist fashion. The introduction of Modric was reminiscent of a chess player taking the final moves toward victory after just nabbing the Queen. Mourinho was quick and lethally decisive amidst the furore, and once the game resumed it didn’t take long for him to have the loot in the bag and be away with the prize.
Naturally, many people’s attentions at the time were still on what had just happened with Nani’s sending off, but if there was one person who’s attention should still have been on the plan it was Ferguson’s. Many will question his decision to introduce Rooney when perhaps another defender would have helped to park the bus. The questions will be asked: Did Fergie bring Rooney on because he had initially left him out and had promised him game time?
Did Fergie bring Rooney on in the romantic hope he could rescue the situation single-handedly? Why when Modric was introduced, a known playmaker and penetrating menace, was he left to drift in between Man United’s midfield and backline virtually unchecked?
Indeed, being a respected and renowned tactician is not a trait that Alex Ferguson is widely recognised for and he has been at fault with some of his choices and selections in major matches before, the Roma 2009 final when he played Rooney on the left wing is an example.
Ferguson’s strengths lie in his passion and the ability to motivate players to be successful rather than to be a professor of football strategy where you win games by making the right choices at the right time, all the time. This is what Mourinho is so good at and he’s not a bad motivator either.
Where and when Ferguson has failed, he has always come back a better person. A 12 point margin at the summit of the Premier League, and surely another title in the bag, will be proof of that, but at 73 years of age you do wonder if being out-foxed in your own back yard, as charming as it was, is the kind of thing you want Sir Alex Ferguson to have to endure again.
image: © marcel sigg