To mark the 10th anniversary of RoM, there will be several articles remembering some of the best moments for Manchester United fans over the past decade. Richard Cann has spoken about one of his favourite memories.
The three year period between the Premier League title of 2002-03 and the 2006-07 seasons was a lean time for United. The sale of a number of key players pushed the club as far away from glory as they had been in some time and many of the replacements bought had not come up to scratch.
There was world class promise in Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, but neither had consistently taken a grip of games. The end of the 2005-06 season saw an uplift in performances and results and hinted at a brighter future, but the sale of Ruud van Nistelrooy the following summer and the recruitment of only Michael Carrick had some worried.
A 5-1 defeat of Fulham precipitated a season of excellence in the league, but the early stages of the Champions League were a hard slog. After defeats to Celtic and FC Copenhagen, a final group stage win against Benfica was needed to progress to the knock-out stages.
Lille were then defeated in unremarkable fashion, setting up a quarter final against Roma. The first leg, a 2-1 defeat in Rome after Paul Scholes was sent off hinted little at what was to follow. At Old Trafford the Italians, featuring Daniele Di Rossi and Francesco Totti at their peak, were simply blown away.
Three early goals from Carrick, Smith (who hadn’t scored in eighteen months) and Rooney ended the tie in the first 17 minutes. Then Ronaldo took over, scoring a wonderful solo fourth before half time, adding another after the break and watching Carrick and Evra finish off a rout.
This was one of Italy’s finest sides absolutely destroyed at a time when Serie A was still the pre-eminent footballing force in Europe. The season before United had been eliminated in the group stage of the competition and yet here they were putting in a performance which shook the continent.
Belief flowed from that game as it had from the 3-2 home win over Juventus in 1997-98. If there was a moment when I realised that Fergie had built another great team and that Rooney and Ronaldo had finally hit the big time it was then, on the 10th April 2007, my fondest memory of the last ten years.
Everything that happened subsequently seemed to follow on from that night, even if the Champions League trophy eluded them for another twelve months. I firmly believe that only injuries to Vidic and Ferdinand denied United a semi-final win over a great Milan side and a win over an average Liverpool team in the final. That night remains the single most awe-inspiring performance I’ve ever seen from United at Old Trafford and felt like the genesis of all that followed it. United were truly back and had one of the world’s finest players to boot. How we would love a similar revival right now.