His celebration said it all. "Ouch, it must hurt to get knocked out of the Champions League like that." Robben's stunning edge of the box volley for Bayern at Old Trafford was a sight to behold. And a complete heartbreaker.
Manchester United’s 2009-10 season was memorable for a few reasons. Rooney bagged 34 goals, his powers peaking when he tore Milan to shreds at the San Siro. Owen provided United fans with a reminder that he did actually play for us by scoring deep into Fergie Time to beat City away 4-3. Oh, and we won the League Cup. Whoop.
Other than that, most of the stand-out memories are pretty negative (by United’s standards, that is). Being knocked out of the FA Cup in the third round by Leeds at Old Trafford was something of a stinker (causing the Jemaine Beckford overhype to go into absolute hyperdrive). Then there were Chelsea’s two offside winners against United home and away, culminating in four points that should never have been (in my totally objective, non-bitter opinion). And there was losing out on the league to said team by one measly point- something of a landslide in comparison to City’s triumph last season.
Taking a 2-1 deficit from Munich into the game, this was make or break for Manchester United’s Champions League prospects and momentum for the domestic campaign. Step up Darren Gibson… Wait? Darren Gibson? Yeah, apparently so. Nani then scored a neat brace, making it 3-0 before half-time. United had risen to the occasion. Leading the tie by two goals, and playing in front of 70,000 fans… what could go wrong?
As he did in the Munich fixture, Ivica Olic decided to curl out a fat one all over United’s parade. In the first game he mugged Evra (who totally asked for it- the footballing equivalent of messing around with an iPad in a dark alley in the middle of the night), and in the second, Olic mugged Carrick. United went into half-time at Old Trafford now only one goal ahead, which due to away goals was also one goal away from being knocked out.
Cue Rafael. Nowadays he’s a rock solid, bustling full-back with a handy touch of flair and aggression. But in 2010 he was still an overly aggressive, flair-filled winger who occasionally hung out at right-back. So, soon after the restart he got himself needlessly sent off.
United fans were in for a basically an entire half of squeaky bum time, or as Fergie meant to say, brown-trouser time. Rooney started hobbling around (unsurprisingly, considered he started the match injured), and was replaced by John ‘Sure-Things-Up-In-A-Very-Boring-Way’ O’Shea. Amazingly, it actually looked like we were going to make it. Manchester United actually created some great chances through Nani and Carrick. Although Gomez shaved the bar and Van Der Sar made a decent save from Ribery, buoyed by the home support, United looked to be pulling it together when it was most needed. The defence was holding strong, with Vidic getting his face in the way of anything approaching the penalty area.
Then it happened. 74 minutes. Corner from Ribery. He floated it deep to the edge of the area where a completely unmarked Robben shaped up for a volley for what seemed like a minute. Johnny Evans charged towards him but Robben managed to lace it with such balletic precision that it found the tiny space in the bottom left-hand corner. Oh dear.
I remember the feeling of dread washing over me and the increasingly cold pasta on the living room table I had barely touched. I also remember my policeman housemate getting home after a long shift, collapsing on the sofa and saying ‘What a sh*tty day’, and thinking, with an unadulterated absence of perspective, ‘Don’t talk to me about sh*tty days’.
Robben’s goal was an absolute cracker. Even the ardent United fan in me who thinks every goal scored against us is a complete fluke had to admit it was pretty special. It had looked like Manchester United would, in the words of Eddie Izzard, collapse like a flan in a cupboard in the second half. Instead it took a moment of pure technical brilliance from a world-class player to kick the flan to death, and with it perhaps, Manchester United’s season.
Follow Fabio on Twitter at @Fabzucci