The Ajax of Homer’s Iliad is described as being of colossal frame and the strongest of all. The Ajax of Dutch football fit a similar description when compared to other clubs in the Low Countries. However, in terms of European football they are not what they used to be. Even so, after a couple of months that have a left a bitter taste in the mouth, this fixture was certainly one to savour.
Although the Old Trafford accountants are unlikely to agree with me, I am rather glad we are not in the Champions’ League right now; and for several reasons. Firstly, the last few seasons have proven to us that we are not as good as Barcelona and frankly, watching us lose to them in two finals has been rather morale-sapping. At the present stage, I suspect we are not the equals of Madrid either.
That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t welcome a grand Champions’ League match against either of those clubs, I would, but waiting another year isn’t such a bad thing.
Also, people of my age fell in love with a United that didn’t play in the group stages of the revamped European Cup every year. Many of us remember the sumptuous Cup Winner’s Cup tie against Diego Maradona’s Barca and how Bryan Robson bossed the Old Trafford leg. Personally, I have a special fondness for our Cup Winner’s Cup run in 1991. Mark Hughes and Clayton Blackmore remain two of my favourite ever United players.
So, if we have to play in the lesser competition then so what? We get to compete against one of the great European teams in one of the great European stadiums. I fail to see how this is selling ourselves short. And, let’s face it, it’s always great fun when you win.
Our victory on Thursday evening, and indeed in the last few games, can be ascribed to one thing. Sir Alex Ferguson’s half-time team talk. Not for the first time in recent weeks United have put in a turgid first half performance but flown out after the break and scored. The Scotsman is earning his money at the moment.
The UEFA Cup, or Europa league, also happens to be the only trophy he hasn’t won in his career. My old man remains sure that Fergie will retire at the end of the season and it could be a fitting send off. It would be nice, of course, if we could win it and have him back in the dugout next season too. I hope that is to be the case.
Follow Mark on twitter.com/markjpayne