At the time of writing, there remains a chance that 2016/17 will end with European glory for Manchester United. Or, at least, the low-rent glory-adjacent success that the Europa League would represent.
This would be analogous to the joyous achievement of the 1991 Cup Winners Cup, which, of course, happened before we all got spoiled by the two decades of success that followed.
1999 and 2008, of course, were the peak of United’s experiences in continental competition, but here at TOP FIVE towers, we thought we’d take a look at some of the times when United did not win the big pot, but experienced some good moments along the way. And not just in games which we won either…
Incidentally, this is my final TOP FIVE after three seasons at the helm. I hope they have brought you some entertainment, and the archive can be found here. Anyway, enough of that. Here’s this month’s collection:
Claro Ronaldo tears Old Trafford to pieces, United give him a standing O.
It might seem a bit grim to start with a tie in which United lost, but honestly, this was an unforgettable game, played in unforgettable spirit. Ronaldo (the proper one, not “our” one) put in an unforgettable performance and was given an unforgettable reaction.
It is one of very few times an opposition player has been given a standing ovation when he was substituted at Old Trafford—not counting the odd applause break for an ex-United player like Robin van Persie when he scored for Fenerbahce earlier this season.
There was a weird vibe for that game, befitting a 4-3 win which was not enough to progress. Post-match reports focussed on David Beckham, who arrived late in the game and made a big positive impact, but who was clearly just about off by this point.
But none of that really mattered compared to the respect that United showed a legend of the game. In a knock-down drag out heavyweight fight, the emerging champion was honoured in a fitting tribute. United were not good enough that day, though they gave it a really good go, but even in disappointment showed a good deal of class. It was quite a moment.
Danny Welbeck scores in the Bernabeu
Look, he’s gone now and loads of United fans hated him anyway but for those of us who didn’t, Danny Welbeck’s goal at the Bernabeu in 2012/13 was really, really special.
It lives on in memory as a bittersweet what-might-have-been—both in terms of Welbeck’s United career, and career in general, and United’s potential in the Champions League that season. While we pretty much all expected to get smashed by Real Madrid, United instead matched them blow-for-blow and in the return leg it was an unjust red card which swung proceedings back in Madrid’s favour. The other Ronaldo, “our” one, was given a hero’s welcome back at Old Trafford and the electric atmosphere conveyed itself into our players’ legs. They were first to every ball, and before Nani was sent off there was only going to be one winner.
Sir Alex didn’t do any press after the game. He knew how close he had been to getting within striking distance of a third Champions League trophy in what pretty much only he knew would be his final season.
When Welbeck scored in the Bernabeu, anything seemed possible.
Peter Schmeichel scoring in the UEFA Cup.
He’s a goalkeeper, right….and get this…he scored a goal!
United were dead and buried in the 1995/96 UEFA Cup, a competition which Fergie clearly did not care much about. After a 0-0 draw in Volgograd, Rotor did a number on United at Old Trafford. Big Pete’s 89th minute equaliser preserved their unbeaten record at Old Trafford in Europe—remember that?—but was not enough to keep them in the competition.
But, the thing is, right…he was a goalie…and he scored! What’s better than that? [Winning stuff is better than that. But still. It was good.]
Patrice Evra in Munich
We all know the goal, so let’s here from the man himself, courtesy of United’s website.
“It was an emotional day, the day before the game. Everyone had been to the Munich memorial, where the plane had crashed with the Busby Babes. It was amazing. I was talking with a young player like Adnan Januzaj and telling him, ‘These people were like us, they were on a plane going to play a football game.’ And at the end they never see their families again.
I always pray before games, I pray every day – to save my family, I even sometimes pray for my enemy. But I asked, ‘Can I give something for the Busby Babes’. I didn’t say a goal, but just to make sure we played for them in that game. That’s why when I scored that goal, you can see I was really emotional, I was angry. I couldn’t believe it. That’s my little secret – and now everyone knows that secret. In the end we went out of the competition and that is why I was really disappointed, but it was a special moment for me.”
It was a special moment for all of us.
Absolutely decimating Arsenal, May 2009.
As hard as it is to imagine, it was not entirely obvious that United were much, much, much better than Arsenal by this point. There was a residual holdover from the Keane-Vieira rivalry and a sense that Arsenal were still a meaningful threat—a tough semi-final draw.
Instead, United absolutely tore them apart, with the kind of blistering counter-attacking play that is probably the most thrilling football it is possible to watch. Rooney, Ronaldo and Park were electric. United won it at a canter. Between that and the previous season’s Champions League final, they went into the 2009 final feeling pretty confident…
And that’s where this series ends. Thank you to everyone who has read one of these over the past three season. Here’s to United making more moments that would not be allowed on this list because they happen in seasons in which we achieve European glory.