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On Munich 1958, Manchester United and England



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Image courtesy of ManUtd.com.

Today is an emotional day for Manchester United fans – and as a United fan myself, I share the feelings and the sense of loss. You only have to read (not even hear, just read) about Sir Bobby Charlton talking about Duncan Edwards to realise what Manchester United and England lost that day Since MUTV is free for today, you can listen / watch Charlton and all other coverage commemorating Munich).

But while everyone is focused on the past and what United and England have lost, I feel that we are missing something and that in the misty-eyed tributes a great opportunity might be lost.

Two things strike me as most poignant about the Munich disaster:

One, that despite the loss, that generation of England players went on to win the World Cup in 1966, and that accounts for the nation’s natural pool of talent if nothing else.

Two, in memory of that disaster, we might lose focus on a fascinating title race as Manchester United bid to keep pressure on Arsenal ahead of their trips to Old Trafford (FA Cup and Premier League) and also on the start of Fabio Capello’s career as England manager.

We talk a lot about how the ‘natural pool’ of England players is drying up because of the influx of foreigners. Fabio Capello talked about it himself when he mentioned that 38% of Premier League players are eligible to play for England – a percentage that is far higher in Serie A and La Liga. While I’d like to see numbers for the diversity of domestic-based players selected for Spain and Italy squads and compare them with England, I have a feeling that they’d point to the same thing – despite the greater number of players available for selection, roughly the same number of players are considered in all 3 countries because of the quality of those players (do correct me if I’m wrong).

England have naturally talented footballers just like any other country – the challenge is in nurturing and properly developing that talent. England can learn from the Italians, they can learn from Brazilians, but at the end of the day they need to work harder and smarter at developing young talent. The players in England’s U-21 are quite good, to be honest, and long may that trend continue.

And do we, as England fans, really want the players to be focused on ANYTHING else but the destruction of the Swiss (football team)? Another reason why I’m happy that Fabio Capello is in charge of England instead of Steve McClaren – Macca would have talked about Munich and its significance and how the squad would be aware of it. Under Capello, the only focus is on winning tonight’s game, and that’s all that counts. Munich was a tragedy, and worthy of a nation’s attention, but that time is 60 seconds before the game starts. Capello will have the players focused on the 90 minutes after that, and that’s where England will win (hopefully in style).

And, as Manchester United fans, when the squad lines up to play at Old Trafford on the weekend, do we want our players to be focused on the past or the present? Sir Alex Ferguson’s stewardship is a blessing in this case – where a Keegan would have succumbed to emotions and led his team down the same path (then again, maybe not, as Keegan seems unable to inspire his current charges), Ferguson knows the value of laser-sharp focus. When Giggs / Rio / Neville (you never know) leads the squad out on that day, they will be focused on beating City, not on the club’s loss.

It is a time for remembering those who are no longer with us – but more than that it is a time to prove, for England and for Manchester United, that memories are not all we are. Both face considerable challenges in the near future, and at the very least, they owe it to the occasion to rise beyond the sentiments and deliver commanding wins.

In parting, I leave you with the words of Harold Hardman (Manchester United chairman, 1951-1965):

United will rise again.

So say we all…