SUPERSTITION in football is an almost endless topic; there’s enough material for a good-sized book.
Never mind thestories about fans with lucky underpants and pre-match playerrituals, the truly superstitious are the managers.
Don Revie believed birds brought bad luck. Carlo Bilardo, Argentina’s World Cup winning manager in 1986, had a thing about chicken — he banned his players from eating it. Former France manager Raymond Domenech notoriously left Robert Pires out of his squad because he had the wrong star sign (Scorpio) while Spain manager Luis Aragones once made his captain Raul remove a jersey he wore to training because he has an aversion to the colour yellow.
So does Alex Ferguson, at least according to Gerard Piqué. who says that while he was with Manchester United he was once obliged into a quick change of some yellow boots that Nike had asked him to try out in training.
“He didn’t like yellow at all. In fact he detested it.
“He said it brought bad luck.
“Wayne Rooney was meant to be the main man in their advertising campaign for those boots and when Ferguson heard about it, he turned them down flat.”
Barcelona sports paper Mundo Deportivo is thus urging fans to wear their 2009 (yellow) tops to Wembley — although maybe Fergie is overcoming his phobia this season, given that Nani has had his best season yet, yellow boots and all.
United’s Number 17 is definitely one of those the Spanish are concerned about, and there is some puzzlement that Nani has not been used more of late.
“Will Ferguson deny himself a footballer of that quality in the final?” asks Spanish football magazine Don Balon.
“Looking at recent matches, it seems that way.
“The Red Devils have been playing some very serious matches with the Portuguese on the bench, but without him, United lose talent and magic... “Nani was one of the best in the team, if not the best, during the first part of the season, producing anendless number of assists anddestabilising opponents. He is a crack player who is quite hard to control and he has the quality to change a match.”
Valencia — dubbed the Ecuadorian Express — is another player who the Spanish pundits believe should start.
“He broke his tibia in September and eight months later he should be first choice at Wembley at least ifFerguson opts for the players who are in the best form.
“Quick and explosive, he causes upset down the right flank as he showed against Schalke.”
Don Balon thinks he would operate more as an inside forward against Barcelona rather than as an out-and-out winger.
“He can stay close to his marker and also supply crosses for Chicharito.”
The Mexican seems to be the player the Spanish respect most, the “heir of Hugogol” — Hugo Sanchez, the striker who played 12 seasons in Spain, most of them at Real Madrid, and was La Liga’s top scorer for five of them.
Chicharito is seen as United’s key weapon partly because of his own speed and finishing but especiallybecause of his natural understanding with Wayne Rooney — in contrast to Dimitar Berbatov.
Maybe it’s because Hugo Sanchez was such a thorn in the side of Barcelona, for both Real Madrid and Atletico, but Spanish fans also think Chicharito can do the damage, at least if Twitter is a guide to opinion.
From the Spanish point of view, United’s quality out wide could be the main tactical influence — not only Nani and Valencia, but also Ryan Giggs, “The Inexhaustible”, “whose legend is growing match by match.”
His flexibility — winger, midfielder, second striker — is what impresses the Spanish pundits, although they expect him to come off the bench, which seems logical after a long season and against a team that switches the ball around as much as Barcelona.
So a lot could fall on Park Ji-Sung and Michael Carrick.
The Korean is “all heart” says Don Balon and “he knows his role toperfection: always involved, multifunctional and dynamic.”
Carrick is the “hidden organiser” and the fundamental player when United bring the ball forward.
“He’s no Xavi, but he plays an important role, making himselfavailable and distributing the ball. He’s one of the first on the counter, sitting in front of the two centre backs and in the last few months he’s also improved the defensive part of his game.”
And his boots are definitely not yellow, but gold.
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