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Manchester United: 50 years of European Glory

It has been 50 years since Manchester United won the European Cup in 1968. The club has come a long way since then, winning numerous trophies en route to become one of the most successful clubs in Europe. They went on to conquer Europe’s top competition two more times (1999and 2008), but the triumph of 1968 has a special place in the history of the club.

By the dawn of 1950s, Sir Matt Busby had already announced his prowess in the English top flight. He was a visionary who set United on the way to a brighter future. He handed Manchester United their second FA Cup in 1948 and their third League Division One Title in 1952, almost four decades after their last silverware. And this was just the start.

He often proved the critics wrong with his vision and innovation. He won two consecutive titles in 1956 and 1957 with a team of very young players developed at the club, a feat that was deemed impossible for the players averaging just 21 years of age. The team earned many plaudits and also a nickname, ‘The Busby Babes’.

But he wasn’t satisfied with just the conquest of English Football. A European competition featuring the league champions of UEFA member nations had just started in 1955, and Sir Matt Busby had his sights set on it. He wanted to pit the champions of England against the best in Europe. He envisioned the prospect of money to be made by the club, along with the chance for a healthy European challenge.

In spite of resistance from the English League, Manchester United became the first English team to enter the European Cup. They lost in the semi-final of their first attempt in 1956-57. They qualified for the event again by winning English League in 1957 and reached the semi-final again.

The team was confident of going all the way to European glory. But they were stopped in their tracks by the infamous ‘Munich Air Disaster’, which took lives of 23 members of United contingent, including eight players of the first team. Sir Matt Busby survived the crash. A golden generation of players was lost. Dreams were crushed.

But Busby wasn’t the man to give in. He went on to reconstruct the team, slowly building a new generation of Busby Babes, working towards the same vision, but with a lot more intensity. As before, he started by winning the FA Cup in 1963, and then the Title in 1965 and then 1967. Now, the eyes were back on the European prize.

United had found a formidable attacking trio of George Best, Denis Law, and Sir Bobby Charlton. Each of them was a great player of the era, all being awarded the prestigious Ballon d’Or award (Law in 1964, Charlton in 1966, and Best in 1968). They qualified for the Final in Wembley, London against the Portuguese champions Benfica, who had already won the competition in 1961 and 1962.

But it was only fateful that 10 years after they had lost almost everything, Manchester United won the Champions Cup with Bill Foulkes and Sir Bobby Charlton in the starting eleven, two of the three first team players that survived the Munich Air Disaster, with Charlton captaining the side. They defeated Benfica 4-1, with Best and Charlton both scoring in extra time.

The trio of Best, Law, and Charlton were called The United Trinity for leading Manchester United to becoming the first English team to win the Champions Cup. Sir Matt Busby’s dream was realised and United had reached the heights which he had always visualised this club to be at.

This victory was a tribute to the ones who got lost on the way to reach here. The Holy Trinity went into the history books. In 2008, the club honoured the trio by erecting their statue outside the ‘The Theatre of Dreams’, for fulfilling the dreams which had been shattered.

Written by Divyanshu Ranjan

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