Somebody said many years ago that football is a game of inches! No idea as to who it was but how absolutely right that statement proved to be was perfectly illustrated by the elimination of Manchester United at the quarter final stage of the Champions League – by an inch!
One crucial incident amongst the many which were discussed following that 1-2 defeat by Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena was buried underneath all the headlines involving the injury suffered by Wayne Rooney which had the whole of England holding its collective breath.
Yet, it could have been the one incident which in the final reckoning, proved to make all the difference between United awaiting a semi final meeting with Lyon instead of the recriminations and post mortems now being held as to what might have been.
With only a few minutes remaining and the score locked at 1-1, central defender Nemanja Vidic met a United corner kick with a powerful header which sent the ball crashing against the crossbar before being scrambled away to safety.
One inch, that was all that prevented United from taking a 2-1 lead back to Old Trafford because it would have been difficult to imagine Bayern coming back from such a blow to conjure up their own late winner as they eventually did.
What would have that scoreline meant for the second leg? There would almost certainly have been no need for Sir Alex Ferguson to take the risk of playing Rooney. Both Bayern and United would have undoubtedly approached the match with an entirely different game plan and while it’s possible, the vastly different circumstances would have probably meant that it would have been unlikely for us to have seen United produce such a devastating first fourty minute performance.
That’s all pure conjecture of course, no one will ever know but it does highlight the fine line that football managers operate under. Questions have since been raised about Ferguson’s starting line ups, his substitutions, his tactics, even his lack of activity on the transfer market since the summer departure for £80m of Cristiano Ronaldo.
All fair, reasonable and valid points but the question must be asked whether they would have been raised at all had United been successful in getting past the Bayern Munich hurdle and be preparing for a winnable semi final which may see them on the way to a third successive Champions League final.
That scenario is no more than a dream now, it’s Bayern Munich who is looking forward to a big May night in Madrid while United are left to contemplate on how close they came to being there instead. Vidic himself will certainly tell you that they were only within an inch of it and will no doubt agree if you were to suggest that “football is a game of inches”