With Manchester United celebrating the 50th anniversary of their involvement in UEFA competition and the continent of Europe in general celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, it was decided by all parties that an exhibition football match would be and excellent way to commemorate the two landmarks in unison.
So, in mid-March 2007, United played host as a select XI of Europe’s biggest names formed an opposition for the ‘UEFA Celebration Match’ at Old Trafford.
Managed by Marcelo Lippi, the glittering European XI consisted of some real heavyweight names: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Henrik Larsson, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Dejan Stefanovic (then of Portsmouth), Philippe Christanval (Fulham), Stelios Giannakopoulos (Bolton), El Hadji Diouf (also Bolton), etc, etc.
Returning hero David Beckham was supposed to be the headline attraction for Europe, but the Real Madrid star succumbed to a sprained knee a few days prior and had to sit the whole thing out.
The United squad was also laced with A-listers, with Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Kieran Richardson, Alan Smith, Chris Eagles, Dong Fangzhuo and a 36-year-old Andy Cole all involved to varying degrees.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s mob won 4-3, with two goals from Rooney, a Wes Brown special and a truly excellent 30-yard set-piece from Ronaldo.
Gearing up in familiar fashion, the Portuguese prodigy pumped his laces through the ball with a leg as straight as a truncheon, swerving a shot one way, then t’other, then into the top corner leaving a bamboozled Santiago Canizares rooted to the spot…
On the rare occasion he gets them past the wall, Ronaldo’s ‘knuckleball’ freekicks tend to be a thing of beauty. Aerodynamically unstable in the air and hit like a howitzer (and straight into the shins of some putz 99% of the time).
Indeed, the United winger was in his element showing off to a receptive home crowd, spooling through his repertoire of circus tricks and all in the name of the Treaty of Rome.
That said, quite what went on in this line-up is anybody’s guess…
Here’s Ron’s highlight reel from the night in question, as in every single touch of the ball he managed in the 45 minutes he spent on the pitch…
Isn’t it fascinating to re-watch the Ronaldo of old – all superfluous flounce and full-throttle nonsense – and see how he refined himself into a continent-conquering super-goliath he became in subsequent years.