With more talking points than an episode of Loose Women, I question how Saturday's early kick-off will be remembered.
A post-match report might say that it began with a handshake or lack thereof. But, of course, it didn’t really; it began on the 15th of October last year. The last time two of England’s biggest clubs met, the game finished as a 1-1 draw but it wasn’t the result for which it will be remembered. It was the day that Luis Suarez, allegedly made racially offensive remarks towards United left-back Patrice Evra, for which he was given an eight-match ban. Saturday afternoon, they met for the first time since, and even after the hype, the game lived up to all expectations.
As the players proceeded with the customary pre-match handshakes, Suarez simply walked past Evra’s outstretched hand, much to the annoyance of the Frenchman. How pre-meditated Suarez’s actions were remains a mystery, however. Evra wasn’t the only one who took offence to the Uruguayan international’s decision; at just two spots along the line, Rio Ferdinand watched the incident that he later claimed made him ‘lose all respect for the guy [Suarez]’ and, in turn, refused Suarez’s hand. The tie was well and truly on.
It took just 21 seconds for the tone to be set as Evra attempted to go in viciously two-footed on Suarez only to collide with teammate, Ferdinand. In footballing terms, meanwhile, Liverpool started the brighter of the two sides but it was the hosts who had the first chance of note, with Ryan Giggs’s cross finding an unmarked Paul Scholes on the edge of the six-yard box; and had the ensuing header gone anywhere but straight at a grateful Pepe Reina, the United faithful would surely have taken the lead.
Reports came through thick and fast when, during halftime, there was a spat in the tunnel between two people that I don’t think I need to name by now, and about which I’m sure more details will become clear imminently.
After the break, Wayne Rooney bagged himself a brace thanks to a well-timed volley and then, a cool finish through the legs of the Liverpool stopper. Suarez’s headline-making day was not over, however, as he seized upon some questionable United defending to poke past the helpless David de Gea.
The entire day, though, football played second fiddle to a rivalry which has the whole country talking. With the final whistle still ringing in everyone’s ears, Patrice Evra drew his own share of controversy when he commenced a celebratory lap of honour around Old Trafford. The initial camera angle showed the United captain run over to the home support with arms aloft, revelling in the glory of a hard-fought victory. The next, however, revealed that there was much more to the seemingly innocent story; Evra cutting across his rival, rejoicing as close as he could get to the former Ajax forward.
Evidently, the issue needs to have the sternest of lines drawn underneath it, but where can they go from here? How can this bridge be rebuilt before some serious damage is done to at least one of these historic clubs? Personally, I was impressed with the professionalism of some of the players throughout the match and in post-match interviews, particularly Wayne Rooney. The England striker not only picked up the man of the match award, but also showed his maturity in his handling of media questions when he insisted that we ‘focus on the game’ and ‘it’s not our [the players] job to sort it’. Sir Alex Ferguson, on the other hand, was less shrewd in his opinions claiming that Liverpool ‘should sell Suarez’ and that he doesn’t deserve to play again for the Anfield outfit.
This, for me, is Ferguson out of line. It’s not his place to be saying how another club should or shouldn’t be dealing with matters on or off the field, and it will be up to the managers of the two clubs to ensure that future derbies are remembered for their football and less for ‘the wrong reasons’. Regardless of how these issues become resolved, I, as a neutral, am certainly enticed by the prospect of the two clubs’ future meetings.