- The Guardian,
- Thursday May 22 2008
It was the night that Manchester United reminded the world they yield to nobody as producers of drama. Cristiano Ronaldo buried his face in the turf and screamed with joy. Ryan Giggs wiped tears from his face and, in the midst of all the bedlam, a 66-year-old man could be seen dancing in the rain, kicking out his legs in uncoordinated little circles.
Sir Alex Ferguson, it must be said, did not have the grace of Gene Kelly, but his face was suffused with the kind of smile that might be a permanent fixture this summer. "I'm so proud of my players," he said, his hair stuck to his forehead at the end of a night when the rain was almost as incessant as the tension. "We deserved it. With the history of this club we deserved to get this trophy tonight."
The last time we saw Ferguson in this state of ecstasy was nine years earlier at the Nou Camp when, in the space of one crazy minute, they had gone from 1-0 down against Bayern Munich to winning the European Cup. Last night was another reminder, as John Terry's haunted expression made clear, that, as far as Manchester United are concerned, it is never over until the fat lady has had a heart attack.
"I think the first half we were fantastic," said Ferguson. "We should have been three or four up by half-time. Second half, I thought they were the better team. Extra time, we got better again. Then that's the first penalty shoot-out I have ever won in a big game. I won the Charity Shield that way, but that doesn't really count. The European Cup? The FA Cup? The Scottish cups? Never. I've lost three with Aberdeen and three with United, so seventh time lucky — magnificent."
The party at United's hotel was scheduled to go on until 7.30am local time and Cristiano Ronaldo was determined to add to the sense of celebration. "I'm going to stay," he said — four words that will go down like a lead balloon at Real Madrid. "How could I leave after that?"
When Edwin van der Sar pushed away Nicolas Anelka's penalty, Ronaldo was the one player who did not rush to the scrum of celebration. Instead he collapsed to the turf and covered his face with his hands, a private moment in a very public scene. "I thought we would lose when I missed my penalty," he said. "I thought it would be the worst day of my life. Now it's the happiest day of my life."
It would be difficult to find a more exhilarating night in Giggs's career. "I couldn't have done it on a better night," said Giggs, having broken Sir Bobby Charlton's appearances record. "To play that many games for this club is brilliant but it's about winning trophies. I have been fortunate to win a lot. Hopefully I will have more. We've won it three times now but we want to win it more."
Ferguson identified Edwin van der Sar for special acclaim, presenting him with a plaque as Uefa's man-of-the-match, and going on to compare him with Peter Schmeichel. "That penalty save was no accident," said Ferguson. "I have to say I thought it was over when Cristiano missed his penalty. But the slip by John Terry gave us an opening. Maybe it was fate, him missing his kick like that. I really think fate has played its hand."
By that, he was referring to a team-talk in which he had reminded his players it was the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster. "I said that we wouldn't let down the memory of the Busby Babes," he said. "We had a cause and that was very important because people with causes are very difficult for people to barter against. So I'm very, very proud. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself but the thing about me is that I don't get carried away. Tomorrow morning I will be thinking about next season. It drains away very quickly — that drug, that final moment, that save, it vanishes for me. I will be thinking about the future and looking into the players' eyes to make sure their hunger is still there. I won't be retiring."