History. It is the difference between being remembered for only a few years as a “solid team” and sports immortality. A wrong bounce or questionable call is all it takes to upset the balance between the two. The opportunity to leave a legacy behind is a main driver of top-shelf sports performance.
The Manchester United Red Devils signed Dutch striker Robin van Persie for a tremendous £2.4 million during the offseason to bolster an already formidable attack. Many pundits criticized the glamour move, stating that Man U would have been better off spending the money shoring up its porous defense.
Five months into the season and it looked like Manchester United’s formula for success would pay dividends. United was in prime position in the English Premier League, on track to win its record 20th English League title overall and 12th EPL championship. The FA Cup, England’s largest national tournament, looked to be in their grasp. Perhaps the most important factor was their matchup with Real Madrid in the European Champions League. The Spanish titans were the biggest threat to Manchester’s chances at a historic hat trick.
The match would have given Man U a chance to make history by winning the ever-elusive Treble, the title given to the team great enough to win three prestigious trophies in one year. Manchester United is one of few teams that have won an Intercontinental Treble — three trophies with at least one coming from an international tournament — taking home the honor in 1999 and 2008.
It looked like the stars were aligning for the men in red when they took the lead against Real Madrid. However, it just wasn’t in the cards this year, as the game turned on a hugely controversial call, and the reigning Spanish champions advanced with a one-goal advantage.
A double is still a chance to be among the game’s greatest. Once again, though, it wasn’t meant to be. Chelsea scored in the 49th minute to take the lead, and that would be all of the scoring done on the April 1 quarterfinal matchup. United was left the fool of the day as its chance of becoming the only team to ever win three Trebles was vaporized within a three-week span. Now the famously successful team will likely have to settle for an EPL trophy as it still holds a commanding lead of 15 points with only eight games left to play.
A few bounces and calls one way or the other can influence history, and the 2013 Manchester United squad will have to settle for a still-historic 20th EPL title. Fans can take comfort in the fact that being champions of England is no easy feat, and Man U.’s position will earn it a spot in the Champions League next year with another shot at immortality.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 2 print edition. Sebastien van Heyningen is a staff writer. Email him at [email protected]