George Best Still Contributed

04/11/2016 12:13

George Best Still Contributed

In the early years of the European Champions` Cup, the winner of the English league gained entry into the competition and, if they won, they`d be afforded the opportunity to play in the Intercontinental Cup against the Champions of South America, winners of the American continent`s equivalent of the European Cup, the Copa Libertadores, or `cup of freedom`, which the giant clubs of South America in Brazil and Argentina competed for against the other countries of the region before gearing up for the Intercontinental Cup Final contest with the Champions of Europe. The inaugural winners of the competition were Spain`s Real Madrid, 5-1, at their Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid against Uruguay`s Peñarol after a draw at the Uruguayans` Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, 0-0. An unsurprising result to the Europeans, because Real Madrid had won the inaugural European Champions` Cup competition in 1956 against France`s Stade De Reims, 4-3, and thereafter in 1957 versus Fiorentina of Italy, 2-0; 1958, versus A. C. Milan of Italy, 3-2; 1959 versus Stade De Reims, 2-0, and 1960 versus Germany`s Eintracht Frankfurt, 7-3. The heart of the team was comprised of foreign talent, for example, French playmaker Raymond Kopa, Uruguayan center back, José Santamaría, Argentine `keeper, Rogelio Domínguez, and striker, Ferenc Puskas of Hungary, whose national side had astonished the soccer world by beating England at home at Wembley for the first time ever, 3-5, in 1953. Although Manchester United perhaps could have beaten the Spanish giants in 1958, or afterwards, the Munich air disaster in which eight of the players, who had just qualified for the 1958 semi-final by drawing 3-3 in Belgrade against Red Star, died in the snow as the plane carrying the team back to Manchester crashed on the German runway during take off. Those who lost their lives would have been the heart of the England side that, along with United`s surviving left wing, Bobby Charlton, eventually won the World Cup at the national stadium, Wembley, London, in 1966, with four goals from West Ham United forwards, Geoff Hurst (3) and Martin Peters, 4-2, against Germany.

 The players who died at Munich were England`s left back and captain, Roger Byrne, and his understudy, Geoff Bent; center half Mark Jones; midfielder Eddie Colman; the play anywhere genius, Duncan Edwards; center forward Tommy Taylor; left winger, David Pegg, and Irish forward, Liam Whelan. England`s right wing, Johnny Berry, and inside forward and sometimes center half, Danny Blanchflower, brother of Ireland`s Jackie, who`d win the English F.A. Cup and League Championship with Spurs in 1961, never played again because of their injuries. England`s story was similar to United`s, who went on to lose the semi-final of the European Cup in 1958 to Italy`s A.C. Milan, 0-4, at the San Siro stadium, after managing to win, 2-1, at their Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, with an 80th minute penalty from Ernie Taylor brought by manager, Matt Busby, from Aston Villa as a quick replacement for lost stars. Two years after England`s World Cup win, Manchester United won the European Cup against Portuguese club, Benfica, 4-1, after extra time when the game had ended 1-1. Bobby Charlton, now playing in a deep lying center forward role, as he had for England in the World Cup in 1966, had scored in the 53rd minute with a rare header, but that had been cancelled out by Benfica`s right half, Jamie Graça, in the 79th minute. A dribbler`s 92nd minute dream goal from Irish superstar, George Best, made it 2-1, and another from England`s 18 year old Brian Kidd in the 94th minute, whose header had been headed back to him by a Benfica defender, but he`d remained calm enough to head it again, and in over the Portuguese defense under the bar it went, 3-1, before a 99th minute lobbed volley from a narrow angle by Charlton secured the 1968 European Champions` Cup for an English team for the first time.

 Although Manchester United had completed the given format of winning the English league and then the European Cup, the Intercontinental Cup Final against the champions of South America by virtue of that continent`s competing in the Copa Libertadores wasn`t perceived by the English as a part of the format needing to be completed. The Intercontinental Cup was perceived by the English press, and indeed advertised so, as a matter of form, that is, it wasn`t a part of a competition format whereby the winners of the English league had, as their ultimate objective, being crowned as intercontinental champions. It wasn`t until the format of qualification for the European Cup changed from being winners of the league to winners and runners-up that the Intercontinental Cup loomed larger as a part of the format of a much greater soccer vision. Manchester United again won the European Cup in Spain at Barcelona`s Nou Camp stadium in 1999, with two very late goals from England`s Teddy Sheringham and Norway`s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, 2-1, against Bayern Munich. The German team had led since the 6th minute through a low free kick from forward, Mario Basler, which was awarded after United center back, Ronny Johnsen, brought down Carsten Jancker. With his right foot Basler bent the ball around the United wall from just outside the penalty area, and into the net beyond Danish `keeper Peter Schmeichel. The Germans had led until United`s despair ended in a late attacking flourish of the never say die footballing style for which they are justifiably famed. United had a corner, and with little time left `keeper Schmeichel, who`d scored in similar circumstances, ventured up to Bayern's penalty area. Beckham flighted the corner in just over Schmeichel's head, and center forward, Dwight Yorke, 18 goals in the league that season, put the ball back towards the crowded area. Bayern substitute midfielder, Thorsten Fink, had been brought on by Bayern manager, Ottmar Hitzfeld, who`d receive much criticism for it, because Fink replaced sweeper Lothar Matthäus, 37 years of age, and Hitzfeld clearly felt he was a tired risk by the 80th minute, but Fink failed to clear a ball that probably wouldn`t ever have troubled Matthäus, and the ball arrived at the feet of Ryan Giggs, whose shot fortuitously found Sheringham, who latched onto it gleefully to swipe it into the bottom corner of the net with his right boot in the 91st minute. Neither Sheringham nor Solskjaer were chosen to start against Bayern, and as Sheringham was on for left winger, Jesper Blomqvist, in the 67th minute, Solskjaer, who`d scored 12 league goals that season, replaced center forward, Andy Cole (17), in the 81st minute almost immediately after Lothar Matthäus left the fray.

 Sheringham had scored only twice in the league in 1998-99, but had redeemed himself by scoring with a low drive under Newcastle `keeper, Steve Harper, after a through ball from Scholes, in the F.A. Cup Final, which United won, 2-0, and so Sheringham had been picked to be amongst the substitutes. Within 30 seconds of the restart after Sheringham`s substitute`s strike, another Beckham corner found his head, and he nodded the ball down across the face of goal to where Solskjær, reacting quickly, stuck out his boot and poked the ball into the roof of the Bayern net in the 93rd minute. Matthäus` departure had ultimately sunk Bayern, and Hitzfelt was blamed, but United`s never say die attitude had won through for them again and the European Cup was theirs for only the second time in the club`s history since Benfica were beaten, 4-1, at London`s Wembley stadium in 1968. Despite winning the 1999 European Cup, the team had qualified for the competition without winning the league, and so the 1999 Intercontinental Cup Final against Palmeiras of Brazil, which United won, 1-0, on neutral ground at the National Stadium, Tokyo, with a goal from Irish midfield dynamo and captain, Roy Keane, who appeared at the far post to steer in a left wing cross from Welsh winger, Ryan Giggs in the 35th minute, loomed on the club`s horizon as a part of the format of the competition that had been taken on by the club in competing for the European Cup. In the Intercontinental Cup Final of 1968, Manchester United had lost to Estudiantes of Argentina, 0-1, away, and on aggregate overall, 2-1, after being only able to manage a draw at Old Trafford thanks to a late 90th minute goal from Scots` winger, Willie Morgan, bought that season to replace John Connelly, who`d arrived from Burnley himself. Morgan, who in 1974-75 would captain United out of the second tier of English soccer, whence they`d been relegated in 1973-74, had been seen at Turf Moor as a more than adequate replacement for England`s Connelly, where the team performed as well with Morgan, if not better, than it had with Connelly, who won the league title with Manchester United in 1966-67.

Because Manchester United had to win the English title to enter the European Cup competition, the format was seen as winning the European Cup after winning the league, whereas the later application form that had to be completed was of a qualifying position in the English league to gain entrance to the European Cup competition and, by winning it, qualify to compete in the Intercontinental Cup Final against the winners of the South American Copa Libertadores. Consequently, the application form shifted the format from winning the English league to winning the Intercontinental Cup, which was the true importance attached to the winning of the European Cup, that is, the chance to win the Intercontinental Cup. That had always been seen as the goal by the South American teams because their format was international competition, so the Intercontinental Cup was the zenith, whereas the English teams were conditioned to believe it was a formal friendly without any competition merit. In short, English clubs were encouraged not to compete on the world`s stage, because the clubs would become bigger than the country, which happens in the United States of America; for example, in Major League Soccer (MLS), where United`s pioneering Irish wing legend, George Best, saw out much of his playing career after leaving United in their relegation season, 1973-74, saying he wouldn`t play in any division other than England`s premier. Best played for California`s San Jose Earthquakes in 1979-80, and was second highest goalscorer with 8 after Steve David`s 14. In 1980-1 George was the top scorer with 13 for the Earthquakes, who finished a creditable fourth in the Western Conference of the North American Soccer League in each of those successive seasons he played there. By 1982-83 the US` experiment with soccer had produced the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL), but although George scored 32 goals overall during his MISL career with the Earthquakes, their highest place in the Western Conference was third during his sojourning there. Best was followed to the US by, amongst others, Manchester United and England captain, right winger, David Beckham, who also helped to enhance the profile of the MLS and make the North American and Europe Intercontinental Champions Cup a significant prize in world football terms when, after winning the European Cup with Manchester United in 1999, he went on to win the Spanish title in 2006-07 with Real Madrid, and then the MLS Cup with the Los Angeles Galaxy in consecutive seasons; 2011 and 2012.

 In 2006 the Earthquakes moved to Houston, Texas, to become the Houston Dynamo, because of greater financial opportunities. Although the USA is a single nation, and the Houston Dynamo still played in the Western Conference, despite being a state other than California, where the Earthquakes originally hailed from, the states does provide a model of how England`s Football Association restricts clubs from becoming financially more lucrative in global terms; for example, by devaluing the Intercontinental Cup teams are kept from moving away from Europe in order to be more successful. Ignoring prejudice against spreading their wings to become a greater world force, Manchester United won the 2014 North America and Europe International Champions` Cup in the Sun Life Stadium, Miami, although Liverpool were 1-0 after an early 14th minute penalty from Liverpool`s captain, Steven Gerard, which was awarded for a trip on Raheem Sterling by United defender, Phil  Jones. After an equalizing goal from England`s center forward, Wayne Rooney, meeting Mexican striker Javier Hernandez’s arrowing cross in the 55th minute with a neat left-foot volley, two minutes later came a goal from Spain`s inside right, Juan Mata, whose shot was deflected off Mamadou Sakho in the 57th minute, 2-1. A third followed in the 88th minute from England left winger, Jessie Lingard, who`d come on as a substitute after the second United goal. Controlling a cross from England`s Ashley Young, who`d begun on the left, but had moved over to the right wing after injury to Antonio Valenica. Lingard half-volleyed low from the edge of the box beyond Liverpool `keeper, Mignolet. Although United celebrated with the trophy, it was a further instance of an international competition that didn`t receive national recognition at home in England. However, the subsequent inauguration of International Champions` Cup competitions in China and Australia gave warning to nation states that clubs might abandon localized fan bases for greater financial success. Manchester United had canvassed China for the organizers of the International Champions Cup through tours, and with the American business family, the Glazers, determining the board`s strategy, it couldn`t have come as much of a surprise that the International Champions Cup of North America and Europe should have been won by the team in 2014 whether the English F.A. thought it important or otherwise, and that the International Champions Cup of China and Australia should have been won by Real Madrid in 2015 suggests that perhaps Europe is becoming too parochial for its soccer giants who, adopting the approach of Major League Soccer in the USA, might seek to relocate for greater financial rewards and appreciation from a global fan base.

 Manchester United won the European Cup again in 2008 at the Luzhniki stadium, Moscow, against English rivals, Chelsea, on penalties, 6-5, after extra time, when the final score had been 1-1 in normal time through a 26th minute headed goal from Manchester United`s Portuguese right winger, Cristiano Ronaldo, from a right wing cross from right full back Wes Brown`s left foot, which was equalized by a typical surging 45th minute midfield run and strike from Chelsea`s Frank Lampard. After their success in the European Cup the club were invited to take part in the World Club Championship. In the 28th minute of the semi-final victory against Japanese side, Gamba Osaka, United`s Serbian central defender, Nemanja Vidić, from a Ryan Giggs’ corner, out-jumped Gamba captain, Satoshi Yamaguchi, to power home a header past `keeper, Yosuke Fujigaya, from 12 yards, 1-0. Portuguese right winger, Cristiano Ronaldo, put United 2-0 up in first-half injury time. Again the ball came from a Giggs` corner, and again the Japanese struggled to cope with the aerial threat. Myojin was out-jumped as Ronaldo directed a powerful header past `keeper, Fujigay. United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, didn`t bring on his star striker, England`s Wayne Rooney, until the 74th minute, but Gamba Osaka immediately pulled the score back to 2-1, courtesy of striker, Masato Yamakazi, with a shot from the right well outside the penalty area. A minute later, however, Rooney finished well, after a long ball from Scots` central midfielder, Darren Fletcher, split open the Japanese defence, 3-1. Fletcher then headed in French left back Patrice Evra`s cross, 4-1. In the 78th minute, and after linking up well with left-winger, Giggs, Rooney made it 5-1 a minute later. United conceded a penalty, 2-5, when United`s England right back, Gary Neville, was adjudged to have handled a cross from the left wing, and in the 85th minute Yasuhito Endō calmly scored from the spot, 2-5. Hideo Hashimoto scored in second half injury time in a way almost identical to Yamakazi`s first half effort, 1-2. From the right and well outside the penalty area, Hashimoto struck the ball past Dutch `keeper, Edwin Van Der Sar, 3-5, but United were through to the World Club Cup Final against LDU Quito of Ecuador.

 In the Final in the International Stadium Yokohama, Japan, a single goal against the winners of the Copa Libertadores, South America`s Champions of Ecuador, LDU Quito, scored by England`s center forward, Wayne Rooney, won the game for Manchester United, 1-0. Remaining where he was at the left corner of the LDU Quito area, Wayne played the ball back to left sided Brazilian midfielder, Anderson. He then waited while Anderson played the ball into the path of England right central midfielder, Michael Carrick, in front of the LDU Quito area. Carrick pushed the ball forward to Manchester United right winger, Cristiano Ronaldo, inside the LDU Quito area with two players in attendance. With his back to the goal, Cristiano Ronaldo turned to his right and slipped the ball to Wayne, who was still waiting at the left edge of the LDU Quito area where he`d begun the play. Rooney drove a shot low and right footed into the right corner of the LDU Quito net. Rooney had been lurking on the edge of the Ecuadorians` area after Serbian center back, Nemanja Vidić, had been sent off in the 49th, so causing the Manchester United front players to look for maximum impact, rather than mobility, which those behind them needed to employ to cover for their absent defensive colleague. Rooney`s 73rd minute goal had given the tiring defense a cushion useful enough to frustrate the South Americans and give the English team the World Club Championship.

 Although the club qualified for the European Cup in 2008 as winners of the English league title and were champions again in 2007-08 after which the World Club Championship was played between Manchester United as European Cup winners against Chelsea, 6-5 on penalties after a 1-1 draw, the format had at last been recognized. It wasn`t that the aim was to win the English league in order to win the European Cup, it was to win the World Club Cup by qualifying for the Final by winning the European Cup. Although United qualified for the European Cup by winning the English league, and then winning the European Cup to give them a chance of winning the World Club Cup, it wasn`t necessary to win the English league to qualify for the European Cup, because the aim was to succeed in the new format in which the winners of the European Cup qualified for the World Club Cup Finals, which were the goal of the biggest clubs that had been unrecognized as South America`s. Multiple World Cup wins by Uruguay in 1930 and 1950, Argentina in 1978 and 1986, and Brazil in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002, should have left the English in no doubt as to who to beat to be champions. Although Manchester United won the English championship again in 2008-09, they lost the Final of the European Cup to Spain`s Barcelona, 0-2, at the Stadio Olympica in Rome, Italy, after goals from Cameroon`s Samuel Eto`o in the 10th minute following an exchange of passes between Spanish central midfielder, Andrés Iniesta, and right wing, Lionel Messi, after United`s defense had timorously backed away from Iniesta following an attempted headed clearance from England midfielder, Michael Carrick. Messi played the ball through into the path of Eto`o, who easily stepped inside Nemanja Vidić`s attempts to shepherd him harmlessly to the goal line and out of play, to toe poke the ball past United `keeper, Van Der Sar. Barcelona scored a second through Argentina`s Messi in the 70th minute, after a cross from Spain`s Xavi on the right of the United `keeper`s area, affording the then world`s best player a chance to send a header looping over Van Der Sar and into the far side of the goal to qualify for the World Club Cup semi-final against Mexico`s Atlante.

 The Spaniards beat Atlante, 3-1, after the Mexicans had taken an early lead in the 5th minute through Guillermo Rojas. Estudiantes of Argentina led in the Final, which took place at Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, and were captained by Juan Sebastián Verón, son of Juan Ramón Verón, La Bruja, `the witch`, who`d tormented United in the 1968 Intercontinental Cup Final to score the opening headed goal at Old Trafford in the 6th minute after a free-kick from defender, Raúl Madero, which had left United too much to do, 0-1. Marcus Conigliaro had scored with a header the only goal of the Buenos Aires away leg in the 27th minute from a corner by his striking partner, Filipe Ribaudo. Despite Morgan`s late Old Trafford equalizer, Estudiantes won the Intercontinental Cup of 1968 and Juan Ramón Verón`s son, Juan `Seba`, La Brujita, `the little witch`, who`d won a league championship medal as a central midfielder with United in 2002-03, must have thought the 2009 World Club Cup was going to Estudiantes, `the students`, after a 37th minute headed goal from center forward, Mauro Bosellia, until a very late Pedro equalizer in the 89th minute. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Barcelona center forward, who`d be taken to United from Paris St Germain by United supremo, Jose Mourinho, for the start of the 2016-17 campaign, sent a long ball through to Gerard Piqué, who`d been a young and promising center half at United, and had played 12 times between 2004 and 2008, before going back to his native Spain. Piqué headed it on towards Pedro, whose looping header found the net. Messi gave the Spanish victory in extra time, 2-1, after he chested a 110th minute cross from Brazilian right back, Dani Alves, into the Estudiantes` goal, and the world club game had arrived.