IAN LADYMAN: Diego Simeone silences tired old monster of Old Trafford

Diego Simeone silences tired old monster of Old Trafford: The iconic stadium’s grandeur fails to intimidate wily Atletico Madrid as they send Man United crashing out of Europe

  • Manchester United were dumped out of Europe by Atletico Madrid on Tuesday
  • During a tense night of football, the Stretford End was as staunchly supportive
  • Tired, rather frayed old monster of Old Trafford retains its grandeur and its aura
  • United are still deciding what to do with their iconic 112-year-old stadium 
  • But there are not many of these old places left in football. Not like this one 

Tied to a railing on Sir Matt Busby Way on Tuesday night was a blanket-sized print of the great man’s 1968 European Cup-winning team.

A squad of 18 red shirts unadorned by sponsorship logos. Eighteen pairs of black boots. Law and Charlton either side of Busby and the trophy on the front row. Best and Crerand immediately behind. Best’s smile almost a smirk.

‘I can name every one of those players,’ said a Manchester United supporter of late middle-age.

‘That was my team – the reason I still support United.’ 

Manchester United fans mingle outside the club’s iconic stadium before a European game

Law and Charlton still make their pilgrimages to this great theatre and so do many thousands who once watched them play. United’s past is glorious but also relatively recent enough to still feel it.

For that reason and others, match day at Old Trafford continues to feel traditional. It has warmth. These days there is a vegan take away outlet two or three down from Lou Macari’s chippy and neon shines from the screens of Hotel Football, built to United’s horror by the Neville brothers just beyond the extremities of the club’s foot print.

But much of it feels like it always has. All that has significantly changed is the quality on the field, something that was again apparent as a United team modestly improved under the German coach Ralf Rangnick failed to last the distance against the fourth best team in Spain.

All of this is in United’s mind as they ponder what to do with their famous stadium. Their supporters deserve to be at the forefront of the conversations as despite the thin gruel served up in the eight-and-half-years since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down as manager, they have stood by their team.

The tired and rather frayed old monster of Old Trafford retains its grandeur and its aura

Here during a tense, gripping night of European football, the Stretford End was as staunchly supportive as Rangnick had asked them to be in the build-up.

Match day experiences across England have changed as modernisation has placed its hand on our stadia. Some clubs – such as Tottenham – have emerged from the process richer in spirit. Others haven’t.

Here in Stretford, a tired, rather frayed old monster retains its grandeur and its aura. It remains an imposing place for opposition footballers to play. If United eventually do decide to knock it down and start again then those are characteristics that must never be traded for the commercial pound or dollar.

Inside the ground on Tuesday night it felt close and intimidating. For a while United’s football threatened to do it justice. As Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and, with a startling pirouette on the Atletico byline, even the Brazilian Fred applied constant early pressure to Diego Simeone’s team, there was a thrum about Old Trafford befitting a really big night of football.

But it failed to intimidate Atletico Madrid, with Renan Lodi (right) scoring the winning goal 

There will be no trophy for United this season and their drought will extend to five years

United’s ground has never carried quite the same cache of somewhere like Anfield when it comes to its ability to directly influence a game’s outcome. Here, though, the home crowd howled when an early decision went against them. 

At half-time the Slovenian referee was booed down the tunnel. United’s enduring love for European football and all it was represents was visceral in a way it rarely is across town at Manchester City or in London at, say, Arsenal.

United’s enduring fallibility ultimately showed itself in the manner they conceded the decisive goal. Rangnick’s team were relatively progressive and for periods sustained the kind of tempo usually beyond them the longer a game goes on.

Strange as it still is to say, though, United lack the necessary street smarts at this level and ultimately were beaten by a slightly better, slightly wiser and uglier team.

Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone was triumphant under the lights at Old Trafford

So there will be no trophy for United this season and their drought will extend to five years. But nobody will have left here feeling worse for the experience. This was a pure football night. It felt real.

Had United managed to score, the roof would have come off a few months before the Glazer family have decided exactly what to do with it.

There are not many of these old places left. Not like this one. Sitting here was to be reminded that any reasons to raze 112 years of history to the ground in the years to come must be very compelling ones indeed.

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