Crazy times in Manchester

THE morning belonged to City, the evening to United. Sir Alex Ferguson is going to Moscow. Sven-Goran Eriksson is just going.

It’s been a surreal sporting day in Manchester. Eriksson was expecting the morning headlines announcing his likely departure from City after a less-than-fruitful meeting with owner Thaksin Shinawatra at the weekend.

Thaksin wanted a top-10 Premier League finish when he took over at City last summer. He’s guaranteed to get it, but it’s still not enough. Fans and players alike are genuinely baffled.

Something hasn’t been right in the relationship between Thaksin and Eriksson for a while. I suggested in this blog a couple of weeks ago that the owner’s silence on Eriksson’s future was not encouraging.

“If Dr Shinawatra was going to give his ringing support, we would have heard it over the last couple of days,” said his agent Athole Still, who has a far better idea of what’s going on in Eriksson’s head than us journalists.

For me, a Manchester-based journalist who spends a fair amount of his professional life following City, any Eriksson development means one thing – several phone calls from the Swedish media.

The calls began as I arrived in central Manchester this afternoon. As I was being asked for my opinions on where and why it had all gone wrong for Sven, the bars at Castlefield were filling up with Barcelona supporters. It’s easy to get disorientated in those circumstances.

While the Blue half of Manchester was in shock, the red half were a bag of nerves. If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard a United fan say “I’ve just got a feeling Barcelona will score” in the last 24 hours, I might have been able to make a late takeover bid for Rotherham.

Even Paul Scholes’ early goal didn’t calm the nerves.

“Scholes’ goal doesn’t really change very much,” said ITV’s Clive Tyldesley at one point in the first half, a comment which didn’t place much faith in United’s defence. Given the way Wes Brown then clattered into Edwin van der Sar as the keeper flapped at a cross, I could almost see where he was coming from.

The closer United got to the final, the more nervous the performance became. I’m sure it wasn’t like that when they won it in 1999 – it’s almost as if the “we can do it” attitude that saw them through that year has been replaced with a “don’t cock it up” philosophy. Expectation brings its own pressures.

“My neighbour’s from Barcelona,” said Tyldesley with far too long still to go. “I don’t think they’ll be too happy tonight.”

Thierry Henry had a decent headed chance, then a shot from the edge of the box, both saved by van der Sar. In between, Cristiano Ronaldo’s mazy run at the other end finished with a tame shot into the advertising boards. The last 15 minutes felt like 150.

But United, even without Nemanja Vidic, managed to keep a clean sheet. The last non-English team is out of the Champions League. Barcelona’s Frank Rijkaard became the second manager to find his reign effectively ended on a crazy day in Manchester. He’s one of the candidates to take over at City next season. Nothing seems impossible any more.

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