The morning after the night before

I’VE just spoken to a journalist friend who has been covering the Champions League final in Moscow. His flight home has been “rescheduled”.

In other words, there are so many people trying to fly from Moscow to Manchester that the authorities have started filling up any available plane with fans – including the one my friend was supposed to be on.

Still, as Bill Bryson once wrote when he was holed up in a particularly unsalubrious B&B in Llanadudno: One day, this will be 20 years ago.

If Manchester United’s victory over Bayern Munich in 1999 was more dramatic, last night’s win over Chelsea may turn out to be more satisfying in the long run.

It was certainly a better game, played to a much higher standard, than that victory in the Nou Camp nine years ago. Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have provided enough drama for a whole season in those famous three minutes of stoppage time, but the 90 minutes beforehand had produced one of the most ordinary European finals ever.

This time, the drama was spread out across the full 120 minutes; from Cristiano Ronaldo’s first-half header, through Frank Lampard’s equaliser, several near-misses and a rush of blood to Didier Drogba’s head to a penalty shoot-out which pulled the carpet from under John Terry’s feet when he had one hand on the trophy.

For all Ronaldo’s brilliance this season, I don’t think this United side have been quite as free-spirited as the Class Of 99. But they are much more solid. Nemanja Vidic has been a mountain alongside the classy Rio Ferdinand in central defence this season. As a result, United conceded just six goals in 13 games en route to beconming Champions of Europe.

It has taken a long time for Sir Alex Ferguson to find the right formula to repeat the 1999 success. But with a defence which can hold firm – as United did in the face of Chelsea’s second-half dominance last night – married to the midfield guile and steel of Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves, the power of Carlos Tevez and the magic of Ronaldo, Ferguson’s men have the look of a team who can win the Champions League again next season.

The potential to repeat that success is, I believe, what sets the 2008 team apart from the 1999 side, for whom the Treble seemed as much a case of ‘right place, right time’ as it was down to the undoubted ability of the side. For that reason, those who follow United should savour this European triumph more than the last one.

And by the sound of it, they will have plenty of time to do that as they try to find their way back from Moscow.

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