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An All-English Affair... sort of
by Asa Butcher
2008-05-21 08:04:15
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Tonight in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Manchester United will play against Chelsea in the first-ever all-English club final in the history of the European Cup. As a Newcastle United supporter I naturally have a dislike towards both teams, but for the sake of this article I am prepared to put aside my hope that they both lose and state that I hope Manchester United win their third European Cup, and not only because it is the 40th anniversary year of their first European Cup.

When Manchester United beat S.L. Benfica 4-1 in 1968 their team consisted of nine British citizens - seven Englishman (Alex Stepney, Bill Foulkes, Nobby Stiles, Brian Kidd, Bobby Charlton, David Sadler & John Aston), one Scot (Pat Crerand) and one player from Northern Ireland (George Best) - while the remaining two players were Irish (Shay Brennan & Tony Dunne, plus the manager, Sir Matt Busby, was Scottish.

Now, you may have guessed where I am going with this article, but hold on. 2008 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster in which seven of the eight Manchester United players killed in the crash were English - the eighth was Irish. 2008 is an English year, even though ironically the national squad failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 Championships, and it is only fitting that the team with more English players should win the final of the 16th season of UEFA's premier European club football tournament.

When Manchester United played the two legs of the recent semi-final against Barcelona they fielded 14 different players of which eight were British - six English, one Welshman and one Scot. However, when Chelsea played their two legs against Liverpool (who incidentally only fielded two Englishmen) they only had four English players - of the managers, none were English.

Earlier in the year England played an international friendly against France, which they lost 1-0, but eight of England's players also played in one of those semi-finals which truly boggles the footballing mind as to why we didn't qualify for Euro 2008 or even beat France. England's National Team currently languishes in 11th place in the Official FIFA Rankings, just ahead of Romania and just behind the Netherlands. What has happened?

The last English manager to guide his team to victory in England's top league was Howard Wilkinson with Leeds United in 1991/2 and Howard Kendall was the last English manager to win a European competition, which was when Everton won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1984-85. 14 years and 23 years, respectively, or is the use of the word 'respect' out of place, while it has been seven years since an Englishman (Michael Owen) won the Ballon d'Or (European Footballer of the Year) and an English player has never won FIFA World Player of the Year.

Tonight's final will be England's chance to showcase just what we can do in the right circumstances and I only hope that Manchester United's English players play out of their skin resulting in Englishman Gary Neville, if he plays, to lift the trophy for the third time. If Chelsea has to score then I hope it is a screamer from one of their four English players. England may not be a guest of Switzerland and Austria, but they can at least show everybody what they'll be missing.

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