‘The Crossfire’ is back with a bang for the final and arguably the most important match of this season – the UEFA Champions League Finals – FC Barcelona vs Manchester United to be held at Wembley Stadium on the 28th of May 2011.
As we approach closer to the match day, we often wonder what goes on in the opponent’s head. totalBarça brings our readers face to face with two Manchester United fans – Justin Mottershead and Steve Crabtree – writers at popular Manchester United blog ‘Red Flag Flying High’.
We asked them their opinions regarding the upcoming grand finale. Read on to see what they think.
Note: Let us know what you think in the comments section. However, comments deemed inappropriate by our moderators will be deleted.
totalBarça: Firstly, tell us a little bit about your site.
Justin Mottershead: I’d like to think the site is a fun way to learn the latest news and opinions about Manchester United. We do the usual match previews, news, and reports that you’d find on most sites but we also have spoof articles, nostalgic looks at former players and times, plus pictures and videos that we find funny.
We’ve over 20 writers contributing now so it’s growing and although it’s a serious business being a United fan we don’t always take ourselves too seriously.
Steve Crabtree: I think Justin has covered the site as he’s the boss (and works very hard on it too), but for me it’s a brilliant fan site with a load of us who have differing, but interesting and thought provoking views. It’s well respected by United fans, and the fact that it’s written by supporters who have genuine reasons behind all their opinions make it so well received. Some of the other sites aren’t as well received because their writers seem to just want to write anything to try and be controversial, or just write something for the sake of it…Justin doesn’t allow that to happen, and I’m pleased to be part of it.
tB: Congratulations on winning the 19th League title! How does it feel to hold that record?
J: It feels amazing as when I was young it was almost unthinkable. For years Liverpool bragged about winning more titles than us and now it’s our turn to rub their noses in it. If we could catch them in European Cups one day then that would be even better- it may start next Saturday with a bit of luck.
S: Thank you very much! To hold the record is fantastic. It’s a sign, and proof that we are the most successful domestic side in England, and Manchester United always strive to be the best. 18 years ago, we’d only won the title 7 times, and back then we hadn’t won it for 26 years – so I remember vividly the relief and the jubilation we had when we finally won it again – and didn’t dream I’d see us overtake Liverpool so quickly or even in my whole lifetime! To take that crown off Liverpool is brilliant because they are our traditional rivals. They aren’t a very good team anymore though, so we laugh at taking it off them, rather than worry that they might steal it back off us soon!
tB: The current Man U side, although proficient with its results has been labelled an ‘average’ Manchester United side as compared to Man U teams of the past by some in the media, what do you make of this?
J: I think although the media never give United credit and are quick to try and look for any negatives when it comes to our success, there are some valid points to the argument that it isn’t a vintage United side. Our away record has been poor and we’ve not always played well when we’ve won but the fact is nine points clear at the top of the Premier League, in the Champions League final and having scored loads of goals all season, ‘average’ is a bit harsh.
S: I think the media have made us out to be worse than rubbish! So have a lot of people, even our own fans! But I think that’s quite unfair. What’s more accurate is we haven’t been as entertaining as other United teams. In the past we’ve usually won the title with style, and flair, but this season we’ve not had the flair players. But we’ve been very efficient, used what we’ve got really well, and even though other teams have fallen down throughout the season, I think the players deserve credit for raising their game to finish the season on top. We don’t have a Ronaldo to perform the tricks, but we have Valencia to do a winger’s job very well. We don’t have a Roy Keane to play hard in the midfield, but we have Darren Fletcher, who will hassle the opposition and make our midfield better than our opponents.
tB: What do you think about the current Barcelona side and the laurels of praise that they have received from the footballing world?
J: I think Barcelona’s praise is deserved as they are a joy to watch and seem to actually get better each year. I’ve watched them quite a bit this season and have rarely been disappointed. The recent Busquets incident and some of the theatrics of Mr. Pedro aside, you’re one lucky lad supporting such a great team-almost as lucky as I am.
S: They’re amazing. They’re great to watch, and their brand of football…I don’t know how it’s done, and I can’t imagine any team being able to copy them. They’re rightly called the best side in the world because they’re successful and entertaining as a team and as individuals. But maybe the most important thing is that there seems to be a togetherness with the team, and that’s probably why they play together so well.
tB: There seems to be a mutual respect between Barcelona and United fans. Would you agree?
J: Absolutely, there’s a lot of similarities between the two clubs and its fans. We’ve both had to contend with rivals dominating both domestically and in Europe before we’ve put them back in their place. Both teams have always had entertaining sides, plus there’s a similar trait that Barça and United both see ourselves as set apart from the rest of our respective leagues. Barcelona have the fact they come from Catalonia while United always seem to be disliked by the rest of England- but we don’t care. Add to that the history and passion of both clubs and their supporters and you can understand the mutual appreciation.
I remember in 1994 when you came to Old Trafford in the Champions League- a thrilling 3-3 draw and the Barcelona fans painted a massive mural of Romario holding the World Cup which was made out of gold coloured discs, right near the ground. Had any other club’s fans tried something like that, they’d have been stopped straight away. It was then I truly began to appreciate the Barcelona fans.
S: Yes, I think there is. We have a lot in common, and our clubs are similar – the best supported, the success, and the traditions. I think we all recognise that, and I think if United fans were Spanish, Barça would be our team, and if Barça fans were English they’d support United. I holiday in Spain a lot, and waiters, managers, people at the bar…if you talk to them about football the first thing they say is “Manchester United” – and I find myself asking if they support Barcelona…so the respect is there whether we know it or not!
tB: What is your take on the recent allegations by Real Madrid at Barcelona about play-acting and unsporting behaviour?
J: The words ‘pot calling kettle’ come to mind but I do think it was a bit disappointing to see some of the Barcelona players acting like that if I’m honest. When you’ve got a team full of such great players you don’t need to resort to such methods and I think Barcelona took a small bit of glitter off their halo during those games- although it was hardly the travesty Mourinho and others claimed.
S: I watched it on TV and I was very surprised. It wasn’t a Barcelona style of thing to do, and if it had been United players play acting like that I’d have been embarrassed. It did happen, it was plain to see, and Barcelona aren’t normally cheats – they are much better than that. Players diving is bad enough, but pretending to be injured is worse. Football is a man’s sport, and me and you know what challenges would make a man stay down and what wouldn’t. They went down like girls that night, it wasn’t nice to see, and let’s hope Barca don’t lose any of their great reputation by doing it anymore.
tB: What do you think of Pep Guardiola? Do you hold the opinion that he just ‘inherited’ a team from Rijkaard?
J: Not at all, he’s moulded that team into his own and elevated it above the level even Rijkaard achieved. He’s had a remarkable tenure so far and other than the Ibrahimovic-Eto’o debacle, has shown he’s already one of the world’s best. I’m impressed with the fact Barcelona appointed from within and think that’s an idea United could learn from.
S: Whatever he inherited, he took Barcelona to a different level. I really like Guardiola, and the way his side play today is down to him – not Rijkaard or anyone else. The thing I like about him most though, is that he loves Barcelona. He’s not there to get the biggest wage he can, or engineer a move to another club…he handles himself well with the people around him and the media, and he’s just a genuine guy.
tB: Who do you see as the United manager once the illustrious Sir Alex Ferguson steps down?
J: This will go down like a lead balloon with Barcelona fans but many United supporters want Mourinho as he knows how to win and would have an ego big enough to step into Sir Alex’s shoes. I think the answer may lie a little closer to home, if one of the senior players maybe spends a season as Ferguson’s assistant before he retires then moves up to manager it could work better than bringing in someone who’s unfamiliar with the club.
S: You may not like this, but the man I want is Pep Guardiola! For the reasons I highlighted above. A lot of reds talk about Mourinho being our next boss…everyone seems to think that way, but those people are the same ones who have criticised us this season. What they don’t realise is if Mourinho came, we’d be even LESS entertaining!
Another important thing for me is that Guardiola understands running a CLUB. Mourinho just takes charge of the first team. United and Barça both have traditions that their manager protects, both believe in youth and bringing players through, and both are in charge of a club. I think we need a manager who takes on that role, and not just the first team.
Stay tuned for part 2 of our Q & A with the Man U bloggers where Justin and Steve discuss the teams and its most important players along with their predictions for the game.