As John Terry walked towards the penalty spot last Wednesday, everything I’d been hoping for the past nine years, particularly this past season, seemed to be rapidly slipping away.
Aside from wanting to the win the European Cup for the typical reasons any fan wants to see their team win it, we felt as though we were owed one by our players. After royally fucking up the Munich memorial match against the bitters back in February, our lads desperately needed to redeem themselves.
The City game was painful in ways I’ve never experienced. Seeing our team put out such a gutless performance, on such an important day, against that opposition, with pathetic excuses of “the occasion getting to them”, was almost too much to bear.
So here we were, one kick away from screwing it all up again, and it was agony. Why were we in this position? Cristiano Ronaldo, and in hindsight, that was brilliant.
Had United lost the European Cup, representatives from the club would have been quick to remind us all of the things he’s contributed to our season, and they’d be right to. When looking at just the Champions League alone, Ronaldo scored 8 goals for United, making him the highest scorer in the competition. He also scored our only goal of the game, the goal that took us to a penalty shoot out in the first place. If there was any United player who could be forgiven for missing a penalty, it is him.
Fortunately, he had no need to ask for our forgiveness, as John Terry bottled it, shooting wide before falling on his arse, and United went on to win in sudden death. But for a moment there, everyone who cared about United, from the manager to the players, the backroom staff to the fans, felt a taste of defeat. That feeling of dread washed over us and Ronaldo will have felt it stronger than anyone else. It was his penalty miss that could cost United the European Cup in the 50th anniversary year of Munich.
However, in a season where Ronaldo has won the PFA and Footballer Writers’ Player of the Year award, for the second season running, has been named the highest scorer in the Premiership and the Champions League, has a total of 42 goals in 48 games, is tipped to be crowned European and World Footballer of the Year, he needed something to keep him on his toes.
Rumours of his departure are rife and are aided by Ronaldo’s clear reluctance to categorically say he will be at the club next season. Whilst I’d prefer him to happily commit himself, rather than keep banging out “I am very happy here…but the future, who knows?”, there’s little doubt in my mind that he’ll be a United player next season. His head seems to be in the right place and I can’t imagine him getting complacent. He appears to be eager to keep improving and developing. However, missing that penalty might just give him the extra incentive we need.
Had he scored that penalty, what else would Ronaldo have to prove? Can we honestly expect him to improve on 42 goals in 48 games? He’s won the league for the past two seasons, now has his first Champions League medal aged 23, after scoring our only goal of the game, what more could he ask for? Because of that penalty miss, as well as the penalty miss against Barcelona in the semi-finals, his season isn’t entirely unblemished. There are still some flaws to his game which should inspire him to push himself further and harder to improve.
It felt like the end of the World at the time, but now we’ve got the European Cup back in Manchester, Ronaldo missing the penalty could mean even better things for next season…