Do Manchester United want Real Madrid in the Champions League?

My, my. I note today that Sir Alex, with typically shrewd and devious application of more torque than a spin-bowler’s or curveball pitcher’s, has said that a draw with Real would be “a nice party–tea and biscuits with Ramon Calderon.” Now does that mean he does or doesn’t desire such a draw? Hmm.

I can’t help recalling–and who that saw them could ever forget–the knockout fixtures between United and Real in the springtime of 2003. Last night I saw that Ronaldo–the one who so terrorized and mesmerized United back then–now back in Sao Paulo and rather sadly struggling to regain fitness so as to play for Corinthians, sweating on the workout machines and looking about as close to his best form as, oh, Muhammad Ali is looking these days. So let’s admit, that was then, this is now.

Back then, certainly, Real were no opponent to be dispelled with mind games. But have things really changed that drastically? One can but wonder. And for that matter, with the extra incentive provided them by a good deal of recent embarrassment, amplified now by the Ramos appointment, one also can’t help feeling that by February Real may come to represent an altogether more formidable opponent than they’ve seemed of late.

Given the history, then, I feel that for anybody connected with United to suggest Real would represent a desirable draw would be a definite case of tempting fate. What if it turns out that Rooney gets himself suspended today for having succumbed to red-mist-itis against Aalborg? He is the heart and the engine, and without him United are not the same club.

Their present Ronaldo is the world’s fanciest show-pony, but his temperamental flaws may represent an even greater danger than Rooney’s–since even at the worst of times, Rooney is all about pulling his club through on his back, whereas C. Ronaldo, I am sorry to have to say, has never really been about anything but himself.

The soul of the “old” United, I always felt, was Keane, and without a presence of that proportion (keeping in mind that not even Keane, actually outplayed by Makelele in those fixtures, was enough to singlehandedly conquer Real by sheer force of will back in ’03 as he’d done a few years earlier against Juve), as well as now perhaps also without Rooney,

I would not fancy United’s chances rolling into the casa of the old–or for that matter the new–Real. So if I were a United fan, I would worry that asking the heavens for a knockout draw with Real Madrid might turn out to be case of wishing for something that comes back to haunt. Though, like any United fan I suppose, I’d also hope to hell I was wrong about that anxiety…were I a United fan, that is!

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