Grace in Defeat: Of Knights and Knaves

Grace in Defeat: Of Knights and Knaves

The image of Wayne Rooney crying at the end of Saturday’s Champions League final is one that I will remember forever. But it won’t be for the tears. I will remember, and always respect, Rooney for the gesture that accompanied his tears: he was applauding.

Rooney’s gesture typified the United response to the match all around the world, and at all levels of discussion. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, never one to bite his tongue for the cameras, praised the Barcelona performance and vowed to do better next season. “They’re the best in Europe, no question about that. In my time as a manager, I would say they’re the best team we’ve faced. Everyone acknowledges that and I accept that. It’s not easy when you’ve been well beaten like that to think another way. No one has given us a hiding like that. It’s a great moment for them. They deserve it because they play the right way and enjoy their football.”

United players were equally magnanimous in defeat, acknowledging that the better team on the night had won the contest. The English press, in near unanimity, hailed this Barcelona squad, with Paul Hayward in particular comparing their performance to the best historical displays in Europe. Hayward concludes: “there is a not a club side anywhere on the globe who could have coped with the Catalán compound of zealous defending, relentless ball circulation and flourishes of individual brilliance.”

Even at the level of the individual message boards that I frequent, I was impressed by the post-match goodwill of the United supporters, and the generally civil dialogue that had preceded it. I think I speak for all Barcelona fans in myself applauding the example set here by the United manager, players and supporters; I feel a new-found sense of respect for a club that I had never particularly enjoyed in the past.

But there’s more to this story than a simple group hug. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this, but it’s a point that demands to be made. The class and dignity of Alex Ferguson in defeat lies in amazingly stark contrast to the reactions of another manager who was recently put to the sword by this Barcelona squad.

After suffering a grim 0-2 home defeat at the hands of the Catalans, despite his team’s premeditated thuggery on the pitch, Jose Mourinho’s sheer vitriol and megalomania reached an apex in his post-match press conference: “[Guardiola] has won one Champions League and that is one that would embarrass me. I would be ashamed to have won it with the scandal of Stamford Bridge and if he wins it this year it will be with the scandal of the Bernabéu. One day I would like to see Josep Guardiola win this championship properly.”

Mourinho’s personal condemnation of Guardiola was merely the nadir of a season-long effort to unsettle the Barcelona squad that was preceded by allegations of conspiracy and favoritism, and followed by even uglier claims of cheating and racism. These claims, in the wake of Guardiola’s shining victory on Saturday, must come into even sharper focus for tarnishing the image of his club and the sport it represents.

It is an open secret that Mourinho aspires one day to manage Manchester United. If recent events are any indication, the man still has a a lot to learn before he will even begin to match the humility and class of the club’s current manager.

Image Credits: Getty Images