Just as Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho had predicted, much of the footballing world was glued to the action at Old Trafford where Los Bloncos visited Manchester United to fight for a quarterfinal berth in the Uefa Champions League. With the tie delicately poised at one-all, it was always going to be an attractive fixture given what else was happening on the night.
Of course, there were some sub-plots for the romantics as well ahead of the second leg. Cristiano Ronaldo was returning to the Theatre of Dreams for the first time since his record £80 million transfer in 2009 while Mourinho, touted as one of the potential successors of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, would be having his auditions for one of the most coveted jobs in world football.
If the crowd reaction was anything to go by, however, only Ronaldo would be welcome in Manchester in an instant given the banners and songs that featured on the night. Whether it is his Chelsea connection or something else, Mourinho did not get a similarly warm welcome from the Old Trafford faithful and the message should have been driven home to the Portuguese tactician.
Of course, there was only one thing to talk about after the final whistle — that red card shown to United midfielder Luis Nani. My personal take as someone used to watching the English Premier League is that the foul in question did not merit a card, never mind a red one. This was an infringement that would often earn a free-kick and nothing more in England.
If you watch football on the continent, however, you would not have been entirely surprised with the call the Turkish official made that night because referees outside the British Isles are less tolerant of physical play and one could be hard pressed to fault Cuneyt Cakir’s interpretation of the laws of the game. That said, I fully understand the anger and pain in the United camp.
For those who want to be more philosophical you could say it is moments of such game-changing controversy that give football its glowing reputation as the beautiful game. Obviously as a fan, player or official you never want to be on the wrong end of a contentious call but the reality is that it is going to happen at some point and some teams go through such moments more often than others do.
On which note I come home. Just who is cursing Big Bullets? Since the now-forgotten glory days of Bakili Bullets, every time something positive shows up on the horizon, somebody emerges on the scene to throw spanners in the works. It has happened with such regularity in recent years that you felt the club was definitely headed for relegation on its way to eventual extinction.
That was until the current management team of the club came up with their innovative ideas that have seen it rise again to the point of missing out on the league title only on goal difference. You would think this was the time to consolidate these remarkable gains but what you see is personal interests taking precedence over sanity. This is a situation with no winner and the club risks being the real loser.
Many people are talking about the potential sponsorship from Carlsberg Malawi, but even if that were not a factor, there is no way a club that is busy engaged in bloody internal fights can achieve what clubs of Bullets’ ilk exist for — success on the pitch. The sooner both camps grasped this stark reality the better not only for the club, but also for Malawian football as a whole.