21 years to the Treble and that promise to myself

League and FA Cup double having won in 1993-94 and 1995-96 the European quest remained elusive after having lost to unfancied Monaco on away goals rule and Borussia Dortmund in the previous two seasons in quarter and semi-final stage. Failure to add a continental striker once again raised doubts about Manchester United's chances and the toughest of draws made it near impossible. Gabriel Batistuta, Marcelo Salas, Patrick Kluivert were the coveted players who turned down Ferguson's plea, and instead late into August United had to pay a hefty #12 million to Aston Villa for Dwight Yorke that sounded like an emergency.

Jaap Stam reinstated the leadership in defense that was missing after departure of Steve Bruce following the 1996 FA Cup win in which he was surprisingly dropped from match day squad. Gary Pallister, David May, Ronnie Johnsen, Henning Berg all tried but did not succeed consistently. Stam later published the details of his record transfer from PSV and how he was tapped up by Sir Alex Ferguson who furiously let go of his top defender after only three seasons in which United won the league three times in a row! United's greatest ever goal keeper Peter Schmeichel had announced he would leave for Sporting Lisbon at the end of the season after eight glorious yet hectic trophy laden seasons and the break in January did wonders to regain focus as United remained unbeaten thereafter. United lost the curtain raiser Charity Shield 0-3 to Arsenal and started the league campaign with two draws while had to qualify for Champions' League by beating LKS Lodz.

Season began after the 1998 World Cup where England had lost to Argentina on penalties in round of 16 after David Beckham was sent-off in the 47th minute for reacting to Diego Simeone's challenge that resulted in him and United to a certain extent facing a backlash from England fans. Ferguson used the fallout positively to create a siege mentality to unite his team by refusing to talk to media after West Ham fans who booed every touch of Beckham in a 0-0 draw at Upton Park. United beat former manager Ron Atkinson's Nottingham Forest 1-8 where Solskjaer came from the bench to score four goals to create that super-sub aura. United winning the league on the final game of the season by beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 was the first televised match in India on ESPN with John Dykes as presenter. Eleven days before United drew with Liverpool in Ferguson's 500th game in charge to hand the initiative to Arsenal who next lost to Leeds that tilted the balance back in our favour. From 1990 I was following the English League from BBC on short wave radio frequency of 15.31 MHz with Jimmy Armfield and Mark Pougatch, and later 5 Live from 1994. Markings of that frequency on my radio are still visible.
My National Panasonic Radio with markings on frequencies of BBC.



My notes of final league table and results of MUFC matches.


Ryan Giggs scored the goal of the millennium in the FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal at Villa Park in extra time by intercepting a wayward pass from Patrick Viera and running past several defenders before shooting from left into the roof of the net beating David Seamen. Before this breadth-taking goal United had to suffer a second yellow to Roy Keane from uncompromising referee David Elleray who had sent him off four times in total and Peter Schmeichel saved a penalty in normal time from Dennis Bergkamp. United had beaten Liverpool in 4th round and Chelsea in 6th round. Newcastle United and Alan Shearer were in their second successive final and lost both.


Having emerged from the group of death at the expense of Barcelona (Rivaldo, Luis Figo, Kluivert, Guardiola, Luis Enrique, de Boer et al), United beat Inter Milan (Ronaldo, Zamorano, Pirlo, Baggio, Simeone, Zanetti et al) and Juventus (Zidane, Del Piero, Inzaghi, Davids, Conte, Deschamps et al) in quarter and semi-finals. For the Sunday Times newspaper its two veterans Hugh McIlvanney and Brian Glanville provided two opposite viewpoints for and against United which was a scintillating read justified with logic. In the second leg of semi-final at Turin, United needed a win or get a 2-2 draw to progress on away goals rule but a Inzaghi double left them reeling 0-2 inside 11 minutes then Roy Keane became a colossus to not only score a goal back, rally the team and in doing so picked up a second yellow to miss the final. Yorke and Cole scored to win the match outright 3-2, duo scored 53 goals that season. Ryan Giggs was injured & Paul Scholes rested to avoid a second yellow but was brought on in second half and got booked for a two-footed lunge to miss the final. The Sportstar from Hindu group was every fans favourite magazine in India who had syndicated Telegraph's articles that still make me read that paper everyday especially Henry Winter who now works for the Times.

Munich had giants in Effenberg, Scholl, Matthaus, Babbel, and Kahn. They missed their pivot in Elber and even though they scored early through a Mario Basler free-kick were unable to convert their dominance into goals while Schmeichel was massive that made two shots hit the post and rebound. United lineup was patchy with Butt and Beckham in midfield where he had played well in the FA Cup final four days before, Giggs playing on the right not his preferred wing and Blomqvist on the left. Sheringham despite his impressive display in FA Cup final was on the bench. At half-time Ferguson reminded the team of the opportunity that might never come their way if they lost "You will be six feet away from the European Cup but you won't be able to touch it." As the match wore on United through tireless running of Beckham and intelligence of Giggs, later Sheringham gained confidence. Time was running out I switched on my lucky radio from 70th minute and heard the goal scored first just after 90th minute and later in television - a Beckham corner with Schmeichel coming up leaving United goal empty, a shot gently placed by Sheringham past Kahn. Voice from the radio again celebrated, anxiously watched on as a another corner by Beckham headed from near to far post by Sheringham where another substitute Solskjaer's lunge hit the top of the netting to script an incredible comeback. It was also Sir Matt Busby's birthday and Peter Schmeichel in his last game lifted the trophy.



That incredible joy of winning all major honours might never be possible again I thought and promised to support my club in its tough times. Due to work pressure had stopped making notes of every match in my diary from 2006 and got back to it in 2012. Post Ferguson follow and support them evermore till they win back the league again. Even now feel grateful for the most amazing moments and memories of that season where as a team United overcame every obstacle to win it all inspired by one and only Sir Alex Ferguson.

Time running out for Gomes

Story of Angel Gomes is like a dream. Coming through the youth ranks and finally making his debut in May, 2017 to become the youngest player to play for the first team in 64 years since Duncan Edwards the greatest. Part of England squad that won the U17 FIFA World Cup held in India where team played all their games except one at the country's football capital Kolkata. Gomes started in only 2 games scoring a goal apiece against Chile and Iraq. He was brought on as a sub late in the final after a stunning comeback from 0-2 down was confirmed to finally beat Spain 5-2. Since then much has been heard about his colleagues from that group Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, Rhian Brewster, Callum Hudson-Odoi not Angel Gomes. Is this tweet from MUFC another attempt to urge Gomes to sign a new contract before his present one expires on 30, June?
Of all positions to emerge from and settle successfully in the first team midfield is the most challenging where the player is most dependent on others. This season forward Mason Greenwood, left-back Brandon Williams have broken through to first team and done admirably while being younger than Gomes. Competition in midfield is hotting up from James Garner and Dylan Levitt. Levitt was not part of the summer tour last season but his consistent good performances have earned a call from Wales senior squad managed by former United legend Ryan Giggs. Height should not be an issue though Gomes is even smaller than either Nobby Stiles or Paul Scholes who as per Sir Alex Ferguson's autobiography had no chance of making it being dubbed "Too small."

In march Tahith Chong signed a new contract ending speculation about his future after his potential suitors Inter Milan suggested to loan him out next season. He has played in Cup matches since and registered two assists but did miss an easy opportunity to score against Astana in Europa league. In contrast Gomes has also played in Europa league but other appearances have dried up owing to stand-off over his contract while he was being touted all over Europe by his father who is also his agent.

Solskjaer denied Gomes an opportunity to be loaned last January after he took over as United were short of numbers in midfield but was involved in only two games. This year too in January he was denied the chance rightly as his contract negotiation had not concluded. Loan without contract could have only benefited Gomes not the club. Lack of progress under Mourinho after he gave Gomes the dream debut was a greater cause for slump in his progress.

Rebuild under Solskjaer is progressing well but was late to offer Ander Herrera a chance to stay. Same isn't the case for Gomes who has an offer from United for quite some time. In the first part of this season where United struggled with different players in midfield all options were evaluated starting from seniors to juniors in the squad owing to the pressure of gaining points in ultra competitive Premier League. Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira were ahead of Gomes that probably upset some fans but the proportion could have been varied to give Gomes slightly more game time. Consistent run of games given to Fred has resurrected his career and hope Gomes sees this positive influence of Solskjaer that has also turned around Luke Shaw and Nemanja Matic whose United future was in doubt. Arrival of Bruno Fernandes and return of Paul Pogba will mean he needs to deliver at any given opportunity which can only happen if hard work in training and right attitude is never compromised. Eventually when Pogba leaves United can have a home made replacement in Gomes.

Stats do not tell the complete picture though in the 6 senior appearances Gomes could not score nor produce an assist. He took the free-kick against Astana which was superbly saved by their keeper. With the reserve team he has 4 goals and 2 assists having missed many games this season as he was with the first team as standby but not part of match day squad limiting his appearances significantly. He has represented England at every level from U16 to U20. Overall for United youth teams in 66 games he has 29 goals and 17 assists which is very impressive and continuing this into the senior setup needs a bit of patience and planning else frustration creeps in.

Paul Pogba left Manchester United at the end of his contract influenced by his agent as outlined by Sir Alex Ferguson and later became clubs record transfer from Juventus a foreign club. Gomes likely destination is United's direct rivals in Chelsea who have been dominating the Youth Cups but under Lampard and Morris aim to promote youth where United's record of blooding a youth player is unbroken for more than 4,000 games stretching back to 1937. This stat alone should sway the decision of Gomes who has been at United since the age of six and if not Solskjaer's teammate who is also his godfather Nani ring to nudge him to continue his development at United. To have made United to wait till the very last moment would have also given them a clear message. Ravel Morrison's career shows talent alone is not enough and there is a long road ahead for Gomes.

Quest for 'new normal' in football

'Project Restart' is in full swing to bring a conclusion to the 2019-20 premier league season for which the remaining 92 games need to be completed. That is dependent on a lot of factors the major one being by early June the curve of infected people with the corona virus would have been flattened in the UK to free the NHS staff to conduct tests twice a week on all football players, limited staff and media for six weeks totaling some 30,000 tests. Olympic village style of facility where all players of different teams stay but individually in separate rooms and travel only to and from the ground to play is being mooted. Location is still being worked out with the bottom six teams mainly located in the south except Villa which might sway the decision as a crowded city like London is likely to be avoided.

Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish made a well balanced case for 'Project Restart' that "sporting integrity" alone demanded the season must be completed and supported UK governments cause to raise morale through football "It has the power to lighten lives; why not see if we can use that power again?" He ended by quoting Spanish La Liga head Javier Tebas "If important economic sectors cannot restart, in a safe and controlled manner, they could end up disappearing. That could happen to professional football." Few clubs like Tottenham, Arsenal, West Ham, Brighton have allowed players to return to training although individually this has started the process of restarting and others including United might follow soon.

Will be interesting to see how following scenarios would be negotiated given that football is a contact sport unlike tennis:
  • What if one of the players test positive during this restart? Will a second XI or reserves team play instead or next match be forfeited or points shared.
  • Will players that have come in contact with the infected player on the pitch be quarantined for 14 days?
  • Will spitting due to constant running or exhaustion invite a yellow or red card offense?
  • Goal celebrations might be muted to limit contact, but can't control the crowded goalmouth while taking a corner.
  • Teams battling relegation will miss their fans vocal home support that acts like the 12th man in crucial matches.
  • Without match-day revenues the top six clubs will be most impacted as they will not be able to fill their large stadiums and perhaps this limited setup might even the monetary imbalance temporarily.
  • Liverpool are so far ahead that they might field their B team and still win the league easily.
  • Few players from each team might decide not play putting the competition in jeopardy.
  • Will be difficult to rule out fans congregating outside the empty stadiums especially for crucial fixtures like Everton-Liverpool derby and other relegation six pointers.
All eyes on German Bundesliga which might return this month. Germany has the best corona virus testing mechanism in the world that resulted in lowest mortality rate that's a testament to the leadership of chancellor Angela Merkel. Luckily DFB is also lead by Christian Seifert since 2005 who has overseen impressive growth in revenues for Bundesliga welcomed the government decision to restart "It is associated with a great responsibility for the clubs and their employees to implement the medical and organizational requirements in a disciplined manner. Games without stadium spectators are not an ideal solution for anyone. In a crisis threatening the very existence of some clubs, however, it is the only way to ensure the continued existence of the leagues in their current form." Authorities have reported 10 positive cases across top two divisions. Borussia Monchengladbach has developed a new means to earn revenue by asking fans to donate cut-outs to fill the stadium. Bundesliga games will be played as usual with home and away format without the need for a neutral venue but without fans.

Ed Woodward was pragmatic about the future as well as cognizant about the present situation when he said that big money transfers are ignoring the realities that face the sport. This raised questions about Jadon Sancho being lured with iconic number 7 jersey to Manchester United. Sancho was the first player across the big five leagues to have double digit goals and assists this season. New reality might dry up potential suitors for Paul Pogba who has yet to discuss his future which may include a new deal to extend his stay at Old Trafford or use the proceeds from his sale to complete the squad re-build. David de Gea is a year away from completing 10 years and said "I hope I can be here for many more years." which will auger well with fans.

United hierarchy would be busy pre-planning the work usually done at the end of season like deciding on new jersey, refurbishing Old Trafford facilities and relaying the pitch, possible postponement of summer tour which was to Asia this time, tweaking pre-season training and fitness regime, prospective new shirt sponsors as deal with Chevrolet comes to an end in 2021, finalizing new player recruits. Trafford Council gave approval to barrier seating idea mooted by Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) and Fans Forum for initial 1,500 seats while the atmosphere section at Stretford End is being extended to south-west corner.

Extended time off during this lock down would have turned United's attention to the next stars like Ferran Torres for Jadon Sancho, Matheus Pereira for Jack Grealish, Sandro Tonali for James Maddison, Kalvin Phillips for Wilfred Ndidi, Kai Havertz for Danny van de Beek, Odsonne Edourad for Moussa Dembele, Dayot Upamecano for Kalidou Koulibaly while experience criterion might force Luis Alberto for Saul Niguez and Mauro Icardi for Timo Werner. United remain in contention to sign Jude Bellingham from Birmingham and trying their best to retain Angel Gomes who holds record for being the youngest debutant breaking Duncan Edwards record that stood for 64 years in May, 2017.

To show solidarity with the NHS the clubs name in front of Old Trafford was only lit with letters in capitals "maNcHeSter united" demonstrating original thinking supporting the noble cause. Among the many initiatives during this pandemic that earned genuine praise from fans the best one is from former players calling out old and devoted season ticket holders to enquire about their health.

Threat of litigation from bottom clubs who might be relegated is forcing the Premier League to play the remaining matches to determine the final league table. For such an unprecedented event like this pandemic the ideal response would have been to freeze the table as is with no relegation but promotion from Championship, and in the next three years get back to normal 20 teams from 23. This would mean playing 44 games in a league season not 38 putting more pressure on already crowded calendar and necessitate the removal of League Cup introduced by Alan Hardaker the secretary of Football League in 1960 - a competition which lost its relevance long time ago. The inaugural Premier League season in 1992 had 22 teams which was brought down to 20 in 1995. Euro's postponing to next year will make national team games important in the run up to the competition and the governing body UEFA might not like distraction of an overcrowded schedule before the event.

Second wave of the last Pandemic the Spanish flu in 1918 caused the maximum fatalities compared to the first and third wave. Science back then wasn't as advanced as it is now to enable different simultaneous approach's being tried all around the world for a vaccine. Co-ordination on a global scale remains a challenge thus expect a few start, stop and restart's. This remains the most challenging situation facing the world since the second world war, though football in front of human lives fades in comparison its role to restore public morale during and after the last great war amid strict rations in UK and Europe can never be ruled out.

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