Even though I’m an Arsenal supporter and have witnessed some big games following them, my pinnacle match-up is Man United and Barcelona, the world’s two finest sides.
I’m proud of England’s football heritage, and see United as a consistent component of that. They play an almost ambassadorial role at times, because to millions of people worldwide the English football shirt isn’t seen with Three Lions on. No, there’s a red devil on it.
In this regard, it’s a mystery why our national team is so sh*te. Just look at Spain. They’ve built their team around Barcelona players. They prove that England need to sculpt a team out of Man United’s fledgling English stars.
There’s a great respect between Barcelona and United’s players. Paul Scholes, who was arguably more admired on the continent than he was in England, had Andres Iniesta running over to swap shirts with him at the end of last season’s Champions League final [pictured].
You’d think that night at Wembley would have been a fitting end to Scholes’ career, but the match told a different story. The Catalan side’s pressing and movement off the ball was relentless. No one was shocked when David Villa put them ahead. I was delighted when United staged a fightback as Wayne Rooney smacked in a great curling effort. But, almost inevitably, a crushing blow came with two more goals, courtesy of Villa and that magical little man Lionel Messi.
I often watch Barcelona play on YouTube to pause and rewind footage of Messi to see his feet going. His turn of pace is frightening — he’s the most incredible footballer I’ve ever seen.
A few weeks later, both teams met in the US for a friendly match in Washington’s 80,000 capacity FedEx Field. United wanted revenge, yet the build-up became more of a marketing war between the brands over who could sell the most shirts — a test of worldwide pulling power. United won the match and the battle for seats, too. They might be behind in European trophies of late, but they can console themselves when it comes to merchandise sales.
The Sea Of Memories is out now