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United and Spurs should have known better

So, the dust has settled but the harsh facts remain. Manchester United are out of the Champions League and Tottenham Hotspur will not be joining them in the last 32 of Europe’s second tier competition, the much maligned Europa League.

And after some consideration, it is difficult to arrive at any other conclusion other than, it serves them both right.

Both clubs paid the ultimate price for attempting to sleepwalk through the group stages of their respective competitions, massively underestimating - and one could argue outright disrespecting - the opposition they had to face.

That is certainly the case for United, and Sir Alex Ferguson could justifiably be criticised for wildly overestimating the depth and quality of his squad to get the job done.

It is impossible for a non-United fan not to gloat at their richly deserved failure, particularly given the triumphant Cheshire cat smile on chief executive David Gill’s face upon hearing of the draw in August 2011.

The danger signs were there...

“I got a text from Sir Alex and he is happy. We have a new Romanian team, congratulations to them and we look forward to going there. They are the new boys and we are happy to get that draw. We are comfortable with the draw we’ve been given,” beamed Gill.

There is no doubt United were given the most favourable looking of Champions League draws, not just for this year’s competition but in recent memory. I remember many decrying United being given a ‘bye’ to the next round yet again, and merely just had to turn up to go through.

And that is exactly what they did, merely turned up, expecting to breeze through what they saw as a group of also-rans without breaking so much as a sweat. And that conviction/arrogance went all the way from the chief executive down through the manager and to the United players.

Massively altered line ups, casually thrown away two-goal leads, comedy own goals, a failure to beat anyone but the hapless Otelul Galati, United’s campaign was an embarrassment from start to finish.

And it was surely fitting that United left the field in Switzerland humbled and humiliated by a team that put everything it had into the six group games.

Great victory for football

All their effort and no little talent into progressing to the next stage of the competition. And the story of FC Basel in the UEFA Champions League 2011/12 is a great victory for football in my eyes.

But despite their humiliation, there is no doubt that United wanted to progress out of Group C and continue on to their “assumed right” of the competition’s latter stages.

Tottenham however, and in particular manager Harry Redknapp, could not seemingly decide whether they really wanted to be in the Europa League at all. Was it worth the hassle, with them doing so well in the league and looking good for a quick return to the top table next year?

Couldn’t they just play a mix of youngsters and squad players until the business end was in sight? Well, Spurs look to have got their answer to the last question posed. And it is a euphoric no.

And how satisfying that the talented Rubin Kazan and PAOK Salonika sides that certainly do want to be in the competition have combined forces to eliminate them.

Tremendous

Now, Spurs have been tremendous this season in the Premier League. I have enjoyed watching them play as much as any team.

The scintillating football of one of the best midfields in the league has been something to behold. Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Rafael Van Der Vaart and Aaron Lennon - between them all there is pace to burn, no little skill, finesse or goalscoring ability.

And Emmanuel Adebayor has been a revelation (as I expected someone of his quality would be in an already enviable side).

With their newfound consistency they appear to have a decent shot at the title, and their emergence at the top end as a real force is only good for English football (not least with the likes of Defoe, Scott Parker, Lennon and Tom Huddlestone in their ranks).

But in Europe this season, Tottenham has carried the look of a slightly too cool and self-important club, that is only slumming it with the guttersnipes of the Europa League on a temporary basis. That the competition is a bit beneath them and their standards, but they’ll just about put up with it for now, and try and squeak through to the bit where there’s a slightly fancy final in sight.

Got what they deserved

And thankfully, their umming and ahhing and general half-heartedness in the competition has gotten the result it has merited. Elimination.

And they almost got away with it too, twice. Firstly, with that preposterous red card and penalty lifeline against Salonika, who had played them, and the rusty William Gallas and Vedran Corluka in particular, off the park with some brilliant passing football before half time.

But Salonika held firm, and rode a bit of luck of their own in the Second Half. It was no more than they deserved. They wanted it, and wanted it badly. Spurs, it seems, didn't.

And the London almost sneaked through on the last matchday with an thumping victory over the hapless Shamrock Rovers in Ireland, but Rubin Kazan's equaliser in Greece ensured Spurs got their just desserts for their lax attitude earlier in the competition.

Though football is oftentimes a cruel game and a sense of injustice hangs high in the air for some time, sometimes it provides sweet justice that seems like it has to have been ordained by a higher power.

Cowardly and disrespectful

When I think of this, I immediately think of Barry Ferguson, and the cowardly, disrespectful rubbing and pushing of a distraught Laurent Koscielny’s head after Birmingham’s shock late Carling Cup final winner against Arsenal.

Ferguson showed no class whatsoever in rubbing the Frenchman’s nose in it after Birmingham’s last gasp win, but thankfully his shameful actions would come back to haunt him. 

As just three months later, his own tears would be dribbling onto the turf at the end of a match, as the most boring Premier League team in history took their rightful place back in the Championship following their last day defeat at White Hart Lane, and other results going against them.

Poor Barry found himself back in the league more fitting for his extremely modest talents, joining relegated Blackpool soon after.

Add to that delightful comeuppance the abovementioned Spurs and United European campaign of 2011/12. Arrogance, complacency and self-entitlement personified.

Kudos again to the football gods.

By William Wilson


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