Old Trafford – arena of the proud red empire celebrated its hundredth anniversary not so long ago. Over the years, the hallowed turf has been graced by many individuals who have left an everlasting impression by their contributions on this grand stage. Athletes at the peak of their powers have captured the imagination of the ever so passionate Manchester crowd and become instant cult heroes, demigods and football icons. After enthralling the supporters with their craft, there has to come a time when both the individual and the club have to part ways, there has to be a good-bye.
Bowing out in style is never that easy. Do the fans who once worshipped the stars applaud them off into the sunset with gratitude or will they be bidding good-riddance to them? Akin to marriage, in football the relationship flourishes till both parties have a common agenda, a common goal, and a common binding factor. When both can’t see eye to eye, it’s better to move on.
The name that comes straight to mind is of a certain Carlos Tevez. He was loved and adored by United fans all over the world for wearing his heart on his sleeve, his work ethic and chasing of the football like his life depended on it.
Fans fought his case with the supreme power; “Fergie sign him up” chants were echoing at all United matches towards the end of the last campaign. Offers from rivals were pouring in; our hero stated he won’t wear the red of Liverpool. ‘That’ divide he won’t ever cross.
Well to be fair to him, he didn’t. He signed for our bitter foe Manchester City. Money wasn’t the motive he stated, as if the OT faithful live in the stone age. He said he wanted to pull on the red shirt of United but he didn’t feel loved here. Clearly, he assumed seventy thousand fans chanting “Argentina” in ear splitting volume week-in week-out was for the Argentine national team. Being a mercenary isn’t a crime, pretending to be loyal may be one.
For all his misadventures by joining City Tevez could yet have been just another fallen hero, but incidents since then have ensured his place as the one who won’t be forgotten and certainly never forgiven. The souring of relationships has been such that even the most benevolent of hearts have been filled with antipathy, animosity and utter disgust. This world seems small for both to abide, same city might be a task too unconceivable.
Fallen hero/ The Dark Knight
Leslie Mark Hughes, nicknamed Sparky, one of the finest forwards this club has seen – which in itself is a major compliment to his ability. Sparky was one of the most loved characters to put on the prestigious red shirt and became an instant hit – scoring on his debut. He had two love affairs with United, both spanning more than six years at the famous Theatre of Dreams. Unsuccessful stints in between, for other European giants Barcelona and Bayern Munich were long forgotten as Hughes kept knocking goals in for fun. Trophies, awards and personal accolades – he had it all here. A place in United folklore beckoned, a place in history, a chance for immortality. What could possibly be worth putting that on the line?
Hughes ended his playing career after having played for the likes of Chelsea, Southampton, Everton and Rovers. Hughes started his managerial career by taking on the reigns at his beloved Wales national team. Five topsy-turvy years as the Welsh head coach were followed by his appointment as the manager of Blackburn Rovers where he lead them to the comforts of mid-table. He would return to Old trafford and get a rousing reception as all returning heroes get, yet he yearned for something more.
In June 2008, Hughes made the fatal decision of accepting the managerial post at Manchester City, rubbing his old employers and his worshippers the wrong way. The blue revolution in the other half of Manchester was in full swing, with a never ending supply of money being pumped in by the new regime. Hughes rode the blue wave and challenged the established order in the city of Manchester, further putting his old good will in jeopardy. However sparky’s joy was short lived and after his adopted club sacked him without notice and with the insult of knowing his replacement was already watching him from the stands. United fans have just one question to ask – Was it all worth it?
After money, fame and such trivial things have been put aside; a sportsman craves for just one honour – respect. There are times when certain relationships reach their expiry date, and fixing it doesn’t help much. Separation on mutual consent with amicable terms is the best settlement to such issues. David Beckham and Manchester united have always been synonymous in many ways, both are the biggest brands in their own ways, but when both couldn’t coexist something had to give and it did.
Beckham moved to Madrid in a high profile mega-buck transfer that caught everyone’s attention. There was discontent among certain section of United fans. Beckham had long been a fans favourite and in certain ways the most identifiable face in the club. But many felt he got too big for the club and after the much publicised Ferguson-boot-Beckham bust up, becks days were numbered.
After completing his move to the Spanish giants, Beckham played his heart out in the white of Real with scant success. He then moved to Yankee land and plied his trade with the LA Galaxy in the MLS. In the mean time, his former club captured one trophy after another reminiscent of years gone by when Beckham himself was part of the United juggernaut. He always spoke about his unconditional love for the club, the fans and the gaffer even after he left the English shores. To be fair, the guy served three major clubs since his OT days and served them all with distinction and pride. Thoroughly professional and classy one can say. He set an example for others to emulate and ponder upon. Leaving with grace and maintaining the respect an athlete earned might not be high on agenda , but after its all said and done, after all the smoke has cleared and the dust settled, this might be your most cherished possession.
The decision to be remembered, revered and loved remains mostly in the hands of players. Being a hero isn’t a cup of cake, but maintaining the position is even tougher. Sacrifices might be needed and egos need taming but it might be worth the pain. Judas, a fallen hero or a fan favourite – to each his own.
However, there is a fourth category too and it belongs to Dennis Law. He came, he conquered, he left, he returned in a City shirt and he scored against United that ensured the club’s relegation. Still to this date he remains a legend and testimony to this fact is his statue standing aloft outside Old Trafford with the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton and George Best. Lawman – The original ‘KING’ of Old Trafford – has that place solely carved out for himself…