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Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for 100M will conclude transfer window masterplan by Daniel Levy for Spurs to challenge for EPL title

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Real Madrid reserved No.11 shirt for Gareth Bale

Real Madrid reserved No.11 shirt for Gareth Bale

BY JOHN GUBBA

It is safe to say that the introduction of UEFA’s Final Fair Play rules has not curbed the spending of Europe’s top clubs. By the time the 2013 summer transfer window closes, at 23:00 BST on Monday September 2, it is almost certain that several records will be shattered.

While English Premier League clubs are set to smash the previous high of £500M spent in the 2008 window, Spanish giants Real Madrid are hellbent on splashing a world record amount to capture Tottenham’s wonder kid Gareth Bale.

We can argue all day about whether or not one player can ever be worth £100M, but two facts are emerging that make this a golden deal for both Spurs and Madrid.

Madrid believe their mammoth spending will be self-financed by shirts sales and other commercial considerations, in much the same way they have brokered many previous eye-watering deals including the signings of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, currently the world’s most expensive player at £80M.

Tottenham, meanwhile, under the stewardship of British football’s most astute chairman Daniel Levy have turned the negative of inevitably losing their best player into a bold and ambitious masterplan to challenge the elite.

While neighbours Arsenal have failed to make any impact in the market, Levy has been busy showing everyone how to close a deal with a string of ambitious buys that will make Spurs stronger in the upcoming race for the Premier League title, with or without Bale.

Spurs –  already boosted by a cash windfall from the sales of Scott Parker, Tom Huddlestone, Steven Caulker and Clint Dempsey for a combined £23M – have spent well. The North Londoners have upgraded by adding four new signings totalling almost £60M to the squad available to Andre Villas-Boas, including Valencia striker Roberto Soldado (signed for a club-record £26M), midfielder Paulinho (£17M), winger Nacer Chadli (£7M) and defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue (£9M).

Chelsea’s hijacking of their £30M bid to sign Anzhi Makachkala’s Brazilian midfielder Willian was a setback for North London’s bid spenders and that only suggests more activity at White Hart Lane before the deadline. 

All that makes Arsenal’s feeble transfer activity look embarrassing. Arsène Wenger has long made his distaste for spiralling wages and transfer fees plain and he may argue that it is “a joke” that Madrid – estimated to be 590M Euros in debt –  are able to spend so much in the same season FFP is introduced. But the Gunners boss is starting to sound like a broken record. And it is time to face reality. Real are backed by a Spanish TV deal that bankrolls them and rivals Barcelona at the expense of the rest of La Ligua. Spurs do not have that luxury, yet they have still managed to do some outstanding business.

Levy and his technical director Franco Baldini have worked the market stealthily, in the knowledge that Madrid will pay whatever it takes to land the signature of Bale. So effectively, in fact, that even if the Spaniards back out of the deal Spurs have not spent beyond their means. But that is not going to happen because Bale has set his heart on a switch to the Bernabeu where his  No.11 shirt has already been reserved.

What will be fascinating will be to see how the transfer merry-go-round speeds up in the final days before the window shuts when Bale does complete the move that will almost certainly be concluded in the coming days. The only doubt appears to be over the size of the fee which Levy will do his absolute best to force over the £100M mark. 

Becks retirement: Iconic football legend David Beckham deserves his special place in history of the beautiful game

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BY JOHN GUBBA

There is no player in the history of the game who has done more to promote English football than David Beckham. And his retirement at the age of 38 will trigger tributes from around the world because his contribution to the sport has been unique.

Icon, celebrity, legend, superstar, ambassador. No one can bend it like Beckham. And no-one has given back so much to the beautiful game.

He may not be the greatest footballer who ever played the game. But Becks represents something special. Throughout his career he has made the most of his incredible talent, consistently revelled in proving the critics wrong when they have tried to write him off and brought glamour, dignity and pride to representing his country and a glittering array of the world’s most famous football clubs.

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At Old Trafford he starred in the team that won an unprecedented Treble in 1999. But when Manchester United sold him to Real Madrid in 2003 after his infamous fall-out with his mentor and father-figure Sir Alex Ferguson, Becks was being outshone by a galaxy of stars.

It has been the same in Madrid, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris and during his long and illustrious England career. But there is no footballer who has worked harder to make the most of his god given talent, to defy the critics who regularly tried to write him off or to win over the fans who did not always love him.

There is no greater measure of the man than the way he turned around the obscene hatred he endured after being sent off in the 1998 World Cup for petulantly kicking out in that epic quarter-final defeat by Argentina.

The way he singled-handedly dragged England to the 2002 World Cup with an unbelievable performance in the decisive qualifying match against Greece was the stuff of legend, crowned by his remarkable injury time free-kick that completed the journey from villain of 98 to glorious hero.

Born on 2 May 1975, David Robert Joseph Beckham made his name playing for his boyhood heroes Manchester United. As a youngster he attended one of Bobby Charlton’s football schools in Manchester and won the chance to take part in a training session at FC Barcelona. After trials with Leyton Orient, Norwich City and Tottenham Hotspur, he became part of a famous group of youngsters who won the FA Youth Cup for Manchester United in May 1992.

He went on loan to Preston in 1994/95 before returning to Old Trafford and making his Premier League debut for Manchester United in a goal-less draw against Leeds United on 2 April 1995. At United he went on to win six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the European Champions League with United in that famous Treble-winning year of 1999.

In 2003 he signed for Real Madrid where he spent four years winning the La Liga championship in his final season before joining LA Galaxy. His five-year spell in America included a mid-season loan spell with AC Milan in 2009. He finally left the States to join Paris Saint-Germain in 2013 where he bows out at the top after winning the French League.

Beckham’s international career saw him win 115 caps for England between 1996 and 2009, including six years as captain. Twice runner-up for the FIFA World Player of the Year, he was the world’s highest-paid footballer in 2004 when his commercial earnings boosted his salary at Real Madrid.

Fergie’s mind games work whether he means it or not

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BY JOHN GUBBA

Is it any coincidence that Manchester City’s title challenge was dealt a huge blow at Southampton, just a few hours after Sir Alex Ferguson promised TV viewers that his side would not throw away points like they did in the title run-in last year against Wigan and Everton?

When Fergie told BBC interviewer Dan Walker “That mind games thing is definitely overrated. It’s a bit of a myth” I must admit I thought the Boss meant what he said. But after City self-destructed with a defensive horror show to crash 3-1 at St Mary’s, I’m not so sure.

There was certainly no doubt Sir Alex believes the 1-0 defeat at Wigan and the 4-4 draw against Everton last April were the fatal blows to United’s quest for their 20th League title when he declared: “We didn’t anticipate the unexpected at Wigan. That was a mistake. And when we played at Everton at home, 4-2 up with seven minutes to go, we didn’t anticipate a reaction from Everton coming back at us that way. That won’t happen this year.”

And just in case anyone missed what he said Fergie repeated his promise that “It won’t happen again – trust me!”

Whether or not this was a statement designed to put pressure on the champions, City crumbled at Southampton and it is hard to believe that any player does not listen to pre-match comments.

Roberto Mancini was surely playing mind games when he confidently announced yesterday that it will be “easy” for his side to bridge the nine-point gap behind United at the top. “If we can recover eight points in six games, I think to recover nine points in 13 games will be easy,” announced the Italian. But I am sure he will feel a lot less confident should City trail by 12 points should United beat Everton on Sunday. That would mean a 12 point lead with 12 to play.

The challenge for United is complicated by the showdown with Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League tie that follows on Wednesday. Hence Fergie’s admission: “I’ve got to make sure I pick the right team. That’s the biggest challenge. We know their obvious strengths. The atmosphere will be absolutely fantastic. They don’t lose many games at the Bernabeu.”

But United have a formidable squad, arguably their strongest ever in Sir Alex’s 26 year dynasty at Old Trafford, and the painful memory of how the title slipped from their grasp in the corresponding match last season will be all the motivation needed this time round. Not to mention the manager has given his word that United will not repeat last season’s mistakes.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MANCHESTER UNITED AND ARSENAL

Asked by Dan Walker if he would feel the pressure if United went five years without winning a trophy, Sir Alex Ferguson sounded shocked at the suggestion. “It wouldn’t happen. Simple as that. No chance.” No wonder Arsenal’s most biased fan Piers Morgan announced on Twitter: “Watching Sir Alex on Football Focus. Wish he was Arsenal manager. There, I’ve said it.”             Sir Alex on Football Focus

Dan Walker's Football Focus interview with Sir Alex Ferguson

Dan Walker's Football Focus chat with Sir Alex Ferguson - click link above to listen to full interview

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Usain Bolt will play for Manchester United because Sir Alex Ferguson wants him to pull on the famous red shirt

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On top of the world - and dreaming of playing for Manchester United

On top of the world - and dreaming of playing for Manchester United

BY JOHN GUBBA

Maybe I was too hasty last month when I wrote off Usain Bolt’s chances of playing for Manchester United . . . because the hot news from Old Trafford is that Sir Alex Ferguson is lining up the world’s fastest man to pull on the famous red shirt against Real Madrid.

To be fair, I was talking about Bolt’s chances of playing for the Reds in the Premier League. And Sir Alex is only suggesting a charity match appearance when Manchester United Legends play Real Madrid Legends again next summer.

Alex Ferguson and Usain Bolt share some banter at Old Trafford when United beat Fulham

Let's do it . . . Alex Ferguson and Usain Bolt share some banter at Old Trafford on the day United beat Fulham. Photo: Twitter

But there is no doubt The Boss can see the benefits of The Bolt teaming up with the United squad on a more regular basis.

As Sir Alex told MUTV, the Jamaican has already given some tips to players in training at Carrington “and he did help Cristiano Ronaldo wiith his sprinting” when “he took him aside one day.”

A huge fan and a guest of honour at the season’s opening win against Fulham when he paraded his medals, Bolt has made no secret of his desire to play for United. He has even engaged in banter with Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney on twitter about getting signed up.

What is now clear is that Sir Alex is a huge fan and the pair clearly enjoyed each other’s company when they chatted behind the scenes at Old Trafford after the Fulham match. Fergie was able to thank him personally for enabling him to cash in on his triple gold medal haul.

“I must thank him because that was my biggest bet,” said Sir Alex.

The world’s fastest man Usain Bolt wants to play football for Manchester United – but he’s more likely to take a jump

Why Cristiano Ronaldo would love to return to Manchester United

Revenge? Roberto Di Matteo has restored lost pride – but Barcelona too good for Chelsea . . . and so are Real Madrid & Bayern Munich!

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Blues skipper John Terry is still launted by Barca's injury time winner in 2009

Blues skipper John Terry is still haunted by Barca's injury time winner from Andres Iniesta in 2009

BY JOHN GUBBA

Winning the Champions League has become an obsession for Roman Abramovich and Roberto Di Matteo has kept the Russian’s dream alive against all the odds by guiding Chelsea into a semi-final showdown with defending champions Barcelona. But the harsh reality is that the Blues are unlikely to feature in next season’s competition unless they go on to win the tournament – and in the final four they are the rank outsiders.

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich all have a touch of class a cut above the men from Stamford Bridge. Barca, in the semi-finals for the fifth successive season, are bidding to become the first side to successfully defend the European Cup since AC Milan in 1990 – and if they achieve that goal it will add weight to the argument that this is the greatest club side the beautiful game has ever seen.

But the beauty of the world’s most popular sport is you can never take anything for granted. And that is what makes Chelsea’s semi-final with the favourites so fascinating. It is a scenario that suits interim manager Di Matteo because the experts all agree they are the weakest team left in the competition, despite beating Benfica in both legs of their quarter-final.

http://youtu.be/FCGRyOJB6Ms

No one expects Chelsea to go any further and that is what gives  them a fighter’s chance of pulling off a shock because they have nothing to lose. The Blues will also remember how they took Barca to the brink the last time they met at this stage in 2009 and the Catalans were rescued by a last gasp winner after surviving a remarkable number of strong penalty appeals.

I still expect Lionel Messi and his team-mates to progress to the final. But do not be surprised if  Di Matteo’s men push Barcelona all the way in their two-legged contest for the right to play Real or Bayern in the Final in Munich’s Allianz Arena on 19 May.

FLASHBACK: Arguably Chelsea’s greatest European triumph came against Barcelona in 2005 when  John Terry’s header sealed a 5-4 aggregate win and sent the Blues into the last eight of the Champions League. It was the night. Chelsea raced into a three-goal lead in 19 minutes, with Eidur Gudjohnsen, Frank Lampard and Damien Duff on target for Jose Mourinho’s side. Barca pulled two goals back before half-time, Ronaldinho scoring from the spot after Paolo Ferreira handled. Then Ronaldinho  scored a stunning second. But Terry’s 75th minutes strike made it a decisive 4-2 win on the night.

http://youtu.be/gr2N2A_M_Bo

 

 You’ve got to admire Di Matteo – but success for Abramovich’s sack the manager policy would be bad for football

 

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Why Cristiano Ronaldo would love to return to Manchester United

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BY JOHN GUBBA

When I met Cristiano Ronaldo in Portugal a few weeks ago it was clear that his love for Manchester United still burns brightly –  so, take it from me, a dramatic return to Old Trafford will be no surprise if Real Madrid fans drive him away from the Bernabeu.

While filming his Portuguese team-mate Nani for a documentary I was producing for the Manchester United TV Channel, there were two key moments during our 12 day filming schedule when Ronaldo’s feelings for the Reds shone like a beacon.

The Portugal captain dismissed his national media as ‘freaks’ when they criticised his team for conceding three goals in a 5-3 win over minnows Iceland during their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. But his first  sight of me holding up the MUTV flag on my microphone brought an immediate smile and thumbs up that was genuinely affectionate.

Cristiano Ronaldo would love to return to Manchester united

It's all in the eyes . . . Cristiano Ronaldo would love to return to Manchester United

A couple of days later when I snatched a couple of questions during a press conference before his country’s showdown with Denmark, Ronaldo made it absolutely clear that Manchester United will always have a special place in his heart. It was not what he said but the unmistakable sparkle in his eyes when he spoke about United.

It was so clear that Helder Conduto, the match commentator for state broadcaster RTP Portugal turned to me and said: ” United are in his heart, there’s no question” the moment Ronaldo departed. ” One day he’d love to return to Manchester.”

A couple of weeks later, to mark Sir Alex Ferguson’s 25th anniversary as Manchester United manager, Ronaldo’s passionate tribute to the manager who turned him into a world star left no one in any doubt that he will jump at the chance to return to Old Trafford when the time is right.

The fact that Ronaldo was booed by Real fans despite scoring 108 goals in his first 111 games for Madrid has raised questions about whether or not his time at the club is drawing to an end. It will be a wrench to leave the club he supported as a boy, but no more than it was when he left United in an £80 million pound move in the summer of 2009.

It is a long time since United made a dramatic signing that took the world of football’s breath away. And the obstacles in the way of such a momentous transfer would make Ronaldo’s return one of the biggest transfer stories ever. So let’s be honest it really is a long shot – but if you ask me what I want for Christmas . . .

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BECKHAM V RONALDO: HOW FITTING THAT FOOTBALLING DIVAS GO HEAD TO HEAD IN LOS ANGELES. BUT WHO IS THE GREATEST?

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Comparisons between Ronaldo and Beckham will always be inevitable

Comparisons between Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham have always been inevitable

BY JOHN GUBBA

Both found fame wearing the red No.7 shirt at Manchester United. Both followed the trail to Real Madrid. And both have transcended their sport to become worldwide fashion icons and footballing divas.

But who is the greatest – England’s David Beckham or Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo?

Based on pure talent on the football pitch it is no contest . . .

Ronaldo became the world's most expensive footballer when he joined Real Madrid from Manchester United

Ronaldo became the world's most expensive footballer when he joined Real Madrid

Whether or not Ronaldo is currently the best player in the world can be challenged by Lionel Messi, but he certainly has been the No.1. Cristiano has it all. He can shoot, dribble, score with both feet and is outstanding in the air.

Ask yourself which player at their peak would you prefer in your team and it is not such a one-sided argument.

Becks is arguably the best crosser of the ball we have ever seen. His commitment and passion is never in doubt. He has scored some of the best and most important free-kicks at pivotal moments. And his effectiveness down the right wing was a potent weapon that could win any match in an instant.

The truth is they are two different players with very different qualities. But what they do have in common is the way they have fashioned their images to turn themselves into style icons with massive earning potential and a global following outside football.

Beckham back in the limelight after the birth of his daughter, Harper Seven

Beckham back in the limelight after the birth of his daughter, Harper Seven

It is a marketing man’s dream to see Becks and Ronaldo go head to head in Saturday’s World Football Challenge as the ex-England captain’s Los Angeles Galaxy side play host to his former club Real Madrid.

It is the first time Beckham has come up against Real since making the move from Spain to the United States in 2007.

It is only a friendly. But it is fascinating to see what the American public make of the showdown between the world’s most famous soccer divas.

Beckham’s iconic goal against Greece is a moment that no English fan will ever forget . . .

http://youtu.be/vXy6wHDab-A

 

WEMBLEY IS THE PERFECT STAGE FOR MANCHESTER UNITED AND BARCELONA TO CELEBRATE THE BEAUTIFUL GAME

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Sir Alexander the Great celebrates taking Manchester United to Champions League Final and a Wembley date with Barca

Sir Alexander the Great celebrates taking Manchester United to Champions League Final and a Wembley date with Barca

BY JOHN GUBBA

Watching Sir Alex Ferguson celebrate Manchester United’s imperious Champions League semi-final demolition of Schalke was the defining moment of yet another masterclass from the greatest football manager the world has ever seen.

Forget the over-hyped, sometimes hysterical, mental jousting of Fergie’s good friend Jose Mourinho. The no-nonsense Glaswegian is the real deal.  Not just because he is a tactical genius who knows how to win football matches. But his unquenchable desire to succeed burns as brightly as ever.

As his former midfield general Gordon Strachan concluded after a crushing 6-1 aggregate win over the German outfit that brushed aside defending champions Inter Milan in the previous round: “Sir Alex is the best sports psychologist I’ve ever met in my life.'”

Fergie made an unprecedented nine changes from the semi-final first leg in Schalke eight days ago because he knows his squad is the strongest in Europe. But he is honest enough to admit: “I didn’t sleep last night thinking about it. And I’m glad we’re vindicated.”

Barca boss Pep Guardiola watched in awe from the South Stand as United wrapped up what turned out to be the most one-sided semi-final in Champions League history with a comfortable 4-1 margin on the night to add to last week’s devastating 2-0 win in Germany.

In the year that ends with Fergie celebrating his 70th birthday, it was rejuvenating for the Old Trafford faithful to hear their leader to declare: “I’ve said many times we should have done better in Europe and now we’re getting closer to where we should be.”

There was no mistaking the genuine glee at taking United to their their third final in four seasons. And the Boss clearly relishes the challenge of beating the team many are upholding as the game’s greatest ever club side with arguably the greatest player in Lionel Messi. “It’s a pleasure to watch them play. Their semi-final was unfortunate.”

Intriguingly both United and Barcelona became Champions of Europe for the first time at Wembley – the Catalans in 1992 and the Busby Babes in 1968.  “This club has created destiny many times and we can do it again,” says Fergie. But first the ultimate professional is planning Sunday Premier League crunch contest against defending champions Chelsea at Old Trafford. And we all know that will be a much tougher contest than tonight’s demolition of Schalke.

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THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK – FERGIE THE MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE HAS HIS EYES ON TITLE NUMBER NINETEEN

MAGICAL MESSI THE LONE BEAUTY IN A BEAST OF A MATCH AT THE BERNABEU THAT DESCENDED INTO A STREETBRAWL

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Battle at the Bernabeu resembled a Spanish bullfight without a matedor until magical Messi landed a devastating double that flattened Madrid

Battle at the Bernabeu resembled a Spanish bullfight without a matedor until magical Messi landed a devastating double that flattened Madrid

BY JOHN GUBBA

On a night when the ugly face of Spanish football reared its head at the Bernabeu, the planet’s best footballer Lionel Messi flattened Real Madrid’s 10-men with a devastating double that was out of this world.

But this was a shameful semi-final in stark contrast to the breathtaking display of footballing brilliance by Manchester United in Germany 24 hours earlier.

With Barca and United now surely destined to meet in the Champions League Final after their respective 2-0 first leg wins at Madrid and Schalke, the purists among us will be hoping for a return to the beautiful game in the Wembley showpiece on May 28  to wipe away the memory of a shocking beast of a match in the Spanish Capital.

With Madrid manager Jose Mourinho sent to the stands and his defensive bruiser Pepe sent to the dressing room for a late tackle in the 61st minute, the home side’s resistence was finally broken by two stunning late strikes from the Catalans’ Argentinian genious. But Messi’s magic apart this was a snarling eyesore of a match so far removed from the beautiful game that FIFA ordered an unprecedented post-match cooling off period before either side was allowed to face the TV cameras.

Messi makes it 2-0 in Madrid

Messi makes it 2-0 in Madrid

Fired up by the pre-match verbal jousting between rival managers  Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, this was a hostile clash laced with pure hatred.

It was a streetfight that simmered from the start and erupted at the interval with players and officials from both sides squaring up in an ugly confrontation around the tunnel that ended with Barca’s reserve keeper Pinto being sent off. Well done FIFA for stepping in after the final whistle to prevent the simmering hostility from continuing in front of the cameras when broadcasters were told there would be no interviews permitted until both camps had time to calm down.

WAYNE ROONEY BACK TO HIS BEST AND THIS MAN UNITED TEAM CAN STILL DELIVER SIR ALEX FERGUSON HIS CROWNING GLORY

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Giggs celebrates United's opener - and becomes oldest goalscorer in Champions League history

Giggs celebrates United's opener - and becomes oldest goalscorer in Champions League history

BY JOHN GUBBA

Sir Alex Ferguson’s biggest regret in football is that his Manchester United side have not dominated Europe the way they have conquered the Premier League – but the way his improving side totally outclassed Schalke to all but book a place in the Champions League Final at Wembley on May 28 surely gave him one of his most satisfying nights.

The genious of Fergie is the way he knows how to bring his side to their peak at the business end of the season. And make no mistake this United side is good enough to rank alongside any of the great sides the master has produced in his 25 years at Old Trafford.

The media have spent all season trying to write off Wayne Rooney following England’s disastrous World Cup in South Africa when United’s marquee player was a pale shadow of his former self. But Rooney is back to his glorious best and adds the priceless touch of a master craftsman to a side bristling with quality in every position.

As Fergie declared after United’s 2-0 demolition of Schalke in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final in Germany “every player was excellent” and the side is “peaking just at the right time”

This was a vintage display by United and whether Read Madrid or Barcelona are destined to be their Wembley opponents, there is no question that there is nothing to fear for a Manchester side hellbent on becoming the club’s fourth champions of Europe.

In the most one-sided Champions League semi-final you will ever see, how the Germans kept United at bay until the 67th minute was a miracle largely down to the incredible performance of goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. But once Rooney unlocked Schalke’s resistence with a delicious Zidane-like set-up that allowed Ryan Giggs to open the scoring and become the oldest player ever to score in this competition, it was only a question of how big the final margin.

Rooney made his mark with the second served up by his outstanding strike partner Javier Hernandez and the Germans – who remember demolished champions Inter Milan 7-3 on aggregate in the previous round – were dead and buried. It was a sign of United’s total domination that Giggs confirmed the team’s disappointment that the margin of victory was not far greater than 2-0. It is never over until the fat lady sings of course, but if United were to fail to  complete the job next week at Old Trafford this would be a turnaround to top any in the latter stages of this elite competition.

For most United fans the big question now is how to get a ticket for the final and what could be Fergie’s crowning glory.

For Sir Alex to triumph at Wembley – scene of United’s historic and emotional first European Cup triumph in 1968, a decade after the tragedy of the Munich air crash – would be yet another incredible high for the 69-year-old Glaswegian. And if he can deliver the Champions League after collecting a record 19th title as champions of England that would be priceless.

The only ray of frustration is that Fergie has been denied the chance to repeat his Treble success of 1999. And the reality is that United would surely still be on for a triple crown if Rooney had not been banned from playing in the FA Cup semi-final defeat by neighbours City.

There is still a lot of hard work to do. And United could still finish the season empty handed. But there is a feeling in the air that this is going to be a special season to rank alongside any in the history of the club.

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