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Manchester United’s return to Moscow brings back good memories

Manchester United take on CSKA Moscow on Wednesday evening in the second group stage match of the UEFA Champions League. The match takes place in the familiar territory of Moscow, nine years after United’s emphatic Champions League victory against Chelsea in the Russian capital.

Moscow is not a location unfamiliar to many Manchester United fans. When people hear the word ‘Moscow’, it instantly sends shivers down the spine. It brings back the image of Edwin van der Sar saving Nicholas Anelka’s penalty. It brings back the image of Cristiano Ronaldo is tears, lying in the centre circle.

Moscow is a place of nostalgia to many United supporters. It takes us back to a time when United would cruise to a league title, go on a cup run every season, and compete in Europe. How times have changed.

The attacking fluidity of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, and Carlos Tevez combined with the experience of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs is something United have yet to replicate since. The 2007/08 team was arguably the most dominant team Sir Alex Ferguson built during his time at Old Trafford, and the difference between the club then and now, is astonishing.

Since the final in 2008, United have gone on and lost another two Champions League finals, both to Barcelona in 2009 and 2011, respectively. Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, the furthest United have advanced in the competition is the quarter-finals, under David Moyes. Again, how times have changed. It’s a completely different story had United won those two finals because three Champions League titles in four years is a pretty remarkable feat. Domestically, United’s last league title was 2013 but cup silverware has been achieved in winning the FA Cup and EFL (now Carabao) Cup in the past two seasons.

I used to take pride on United competing in Europe because English clubs are notoriously bad in Europe. Every season, I believe the favourites for the Champions League are Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich because you can never rule them out, as all three clubs make the semi-final near enough every season. In terms of size, United are on par with those clubs, easily. I’d even say United and Real Madrid are bigger than Bayern Munich and Barcelona, but it is subjective to opinion.

However, United are nowhere near good enough to be competing with those clubs in Europe and the sad thing is, I believe they used to be. Around the 2007-10 era, I think United had a squad good enough to be making the semi-finals, near enough every year like those three clubs do, and the fact United only won one Champions League trophy during that time is borderline criminal. And, I believe that Sir Alex would tell every single fan one of his biggest regrets is not winning more than two Champions League titles because he was certainly capable and so were the squads that he built.

9 years on from that famous night in Moscow, and United are no longer that juggernaut. United no longer posses the best player in the world at that time in Cristiano Ronaldo, and let’s be honest haven’t had anyone of his caliber since he left in 2009. There is certainly world class potential at United at the minute but in my eyes, in terms of pure ability, the Portuguese superstar is the best player ever to don the red shirt of Manchester United.

However, United does seem to be on the right path under Jose Mourinho who has won two Champions League titles himself at Porto and Inter Milan. He is certainly guiding the club back towards where they should be. Will Mourinho be here for the long-term? Who knows. He has stated his desire to be here for 10-15 years but that yet remains to be seen. And I must admit, the team he has built is full of pace and power and actually excites me, and I haven’t been able to say that about a United team for a long time. I feel as though Mourinho understands better than anyone how dominant United used to be and he yearns as much as the fans do, to take us back to the pinnacle of club football.

So nine years on after that victory in Moscow, United fans will collectively remember the good times but it’s easy to look back on the past. On Wednesday night, United need to remind the fans that nights like the one in Moscow in 2008 can be achieved again, we just need to be patience and have faith.

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