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In 2009, Manchester United lost to Barcelona in the Champions League final and were utterly outclassed, sparking endless debate about how far English football and its most successful exponents had fallen behind Europe's best.
In 2011, Manchester United lost to Barcelona in the Champions League final and were utterly outclassed, sparking endless debate about the failure of English football and its most successful exponents to learn any lessons from 2009.
In 2013, Manchester United have lost to Real Madrid in the Champions League knock-out stages and they can seethe and stew about the decision of a referee. Any debate about English football and its most successful exponents will be silenced by the name of Cuneyt Cukir.
If I were a Manchester United fan, I would be much happier in 2013 than in 2009 or 2011. If you are going to lose the biggest game of your season, you're far, far better being left with a sense of injustice than a sense that you are being left behind.
Prior to kick-off, all discussion centred around Sir Alex Ferguson's team selection - specifically the decision to leave out Wayne Rooney and play Nani and Ryan Giggs in wide roles with Danny Welbeck given responsibility to a) stop Xabi Alonso and b) burst past Robin van Persie.
At that juncture it seemed inevitable that we would be spending the rest of the week talking about the folly or the masterstroke of that selection. After all, history is written entirely by the victors. The exception to the rule is in the case of perceived injustice, when history is written by the aggrieved. Cukir's intervention means those 56 pre-dismissal minutes remain in stasis forever as an unqualified success and Ferguson as the man with the masterplan.
After all, it was working. Welbeck had stopped Alonso and, but for the small matter of being distinctly average in front of goal, could have been rewarded with at least one strike. Giggs was excellent and caused Real problems with his deliveries and dilligence, while it was Nani's persistence that forced Sergio Ramos into the own goal that gave United the lead. They were disciplined without the ball and just about incisive enough when afforded the space to counter-attack.
We will never know whether an 11-man United could have maintained that level of concentration for another 34 minutes. We will never know whether Luka Modric would have always come off the bench and found space to operate. Equally, we will never know whether United - with firepower in reserve - would have always had an answer.
All those questions disappeared in the second Cukir waved an unlikely red card and the 11 or 12 minutes it took Real to score twice against a shellshocked United. It will forever be the famous victory ruined by a referee.
"Irrespective of the decision, the best team lost," said Jose Mourinho after the game. The second you heard those words once, you knew that you would be hearing them many, many times more from the mouths of United fans. Eventually they will taste a whole lot sweeter than any words said after defeats in 2009 or 2011.
Beautifully put. To paraphrase Skakespeare, 'Being shafted is such sweet sorrow'.- giggsaldo