T's good to be me. Being part of the biggest football club in the world, Manchester United, earning fifty thousand pounds a week, having good friends and star footballers around me, having scored a massive forty eight goals last season and thirty six the year before and working under the best manager in the world, Alex Ferguson, I couldn't ask for more. All was well until one day.... the day I missed. The season had kicked off well. Wins in our first three games put us on top of the table.
The young prodigy, Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been signed by Ferguson for twelve million really sparked the United midfield after the departure of David Beckham and Juan S Veron. Critics accused Fergie (Ferguson) of his reckless spending on an eighteen year old. But his thirty-minute cameo in the first game exposed his devilish delivery from out wide, when his cross was met by my team-mate, Paul Scholes' head and found the ball in the back of the net. We won that match a comfortable four to zero and our morales were high.
At the end of the match, the usual echo of the crowd chanting the Manchester United song brought memories back of last season. I thought that this season would be as glorious, little did I know what was in store for me. Our next match was against archrivals Newcastle United. The personnel may change, but Manchester United's powers of recovery don't. A goal down to one of their title rivals and with their manager banished to the bench, an eight-month unbeaten record in the Premiership was under threat. But we kept our cool and it paid off.
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At fifty nine minutes, I achieved my personal landmark of fifty premiership goals in just above two seasons was when I netted my skipper, Roy Keane's delivery from the right flank. This incidently was a record. Scholes ended the match, full of controversy and rancour by scoring the second from close distance again from a Roy Keane cross. This match witnessed something out of the ordinary when my manager was shown a red card for his persistent protesting with the referee concerning a foul. Scholes' goal secured the win and three points as we jumped to the top of the table.
After the match I realised that I had scored in eleven consecutive matches, a new record. My fame grew more and more. The headlines constantly had my name imprinted. I began to feel invincible! I trained relentlessly, passing up a lot of entertainment and not forgetting the dates I could have had. I had left those days behind. I was enjoying my football a lot. My dream was to be the greatest footballer the world has ever seen. After all I have grown up on the books of the legendary Pele and the all time great Maradonna. I had no pop idols, my idols were them. Football was my life, being the best in it was my aspiration.
The most awaited game of the season, Manchester United versus Arsenal was next. The premiership's biggest clubs were about to battle it out at the stadium of dreams, Old Trafford, Manchester. Though the training sessions and preparations that went into this match was gruelling, deep in our hearts each one of us knew that we had a Herculean task ahead, as any game between these two archrivals brings out the best and worst in us. Tempers always flare and red cards flash persistently. And the fans spurring us from the sidelines pump in more adrenaline making us perform even better.
This game has always brought about a brutal and gory encounter before and no on expected any thing else this time and as the game dawned closer, the players and myself grew increasingly excited about the explosive encounter. September twenty first, the D-day arrived. I woke up with a nagging feeling, as if I knew something was about to go wrong. I dispelled all my fears, blared the music louder as if to drown the growing anxiety. I even tried dancing while shaving! I realised that I was acting foolish and told myself "I am the best footballer in the world, I will not lose my focus.
I will go into the match and play as I have always played for Manchester. I will make my fans proud and my manager proud. " I put on my kit and said a quick prayer, which gave me solace and seemed to lighten my fears. The stadium of Old Trafford was full. 67639 roaring fans each carrying flags, idols, shirts or anything else that represented either Manchester United or Arsenal. The weather couldn't have been better and the pitch was in great condition. The teams came out of their dressing rooms followed by the cheering of the fans, all geared up for this colossal encounter between England's biggest rivals.
The referee blew the whistle and the match kicked off. Harsh tackles, many attempts on goal, fouls were prominent in the first half. Cristiano Ronaldo, with his drag-backs and pirouettes was making a fool of Arsenal defender Ashley Cole. The first major opportunity knocked when Giggs put a Cristiano Ronaldo cross over the bar. Arsenal immediately responded when Thiery Henry sent a swirling ball just wide. The first half saw very little of the goalkeepers as solid defence denied the strikers to pounce on any opportunities. The second half had other surprises waiting.
After 89 minutes of evenly contested and absorbing football, the contest exploded with Vieira lashing out at me, earning his second yellow card in two minutes and his eighth dismissal as a Gunner. The ball had been sent high by the goalkeeper and I agree that my aerial challenge on Arsenal skipper Patrick Vieira deserved punishment but what followed shocked me. As I reached out a hand to help him up, he deliberately lashed out with his foot in an attempt to injure me. The referee arrived straight on the scene and immediately raised the red card to Vieira and then I realized that he was pointing to the penalty spot.
Anger surged through me and being only human I wanted to retaliate, tit for tat, but as if God was on my side I envisaged a red card and controlled myself. I knew I could harm them even more by scoring this penalty so I kept my cool. Players from both the teams had gathered around as the referee endeavoured to bring some peace to the situation. But the decision was made, the penalty was given. Steve Bennett, whose performance in the previous games between these two giants between was equally controversial, will be scrutinized again, yet he was given little option but to award a penalty.
After the obligatory delay caused by players contesting the decision, I put the ball on the spot, the spot from which so far in my United career I've never missed from, the spot from where I scored eighteen out of eighteen goals last season. This was the moment ... my moment ... the fan's moment. I knew where I was going to hit it and I took my run up. For that split second I imagined scoring, the crowd erupting like a volcano, I would be the hero again, the saviour. With a look up at the heavens, I unleashed, I shot, I missed! I missed ...
I missed ... I missed! There was profound silence. The last thing I heard was the hard clang of the ball against the crossbar and the crowd's uproar suddenly fading away. I stood, transfixed to the point, watching the crossbar still shaking violently, the net swaying from side to side and the fans ... the fans who a minute ago were absolutely ecstatic, wild and thrilled by the referee's decision were now stunned into absolute silence. The accusatory looks they gave me read, "You have taken away our privelege of celebrating victory.
" The Arsenal player's surrounded me and jeered at me, but I just ignored them. The voice that filled the air in the stadium returned when the referee blew the shrill, high pitched and penetrating final whistle. I was heading back to the dressing room but Arsenal's understandable delight at seeing a point saved from what appeared to be a lost position spilled over into wild and uncontrolled emotion, as Lauren, Keown, Ray Parlour and Ashley Cole set about me. I was pushed, shoved and jostled around. Though my teammates came to my aid, they too shot me venomous looks.
I felt lonely in a packed stadium. It was as if I was standing there in the middle of the pitch, people surrounding me laughing and pointing at me. I couldn't heave my legs just to run and be somewhere, anywhere but Old Trafford. After what felt like months I got my strength and just skipped past all the commotion and hordes of crowd that had filled up the pitch and jogged my way back to the dressing room. I chose to follow my manager's words "In a football game, don't retaliate even when provoked. " The atmosphere in the dressing room was worse. No on spoke! Nowhere to hide!
I plucked up all my courage and said to my teammates "Sorry guys, I let you'll down! " Till this day I'm glad I did it. My teammates understood my agony. They all hugged me and said, "Hey, it's ok! We'll still kick ass and win the championship! " The same old laughter resumed. I had broken the ice but the glacier remained, my manager was unforgiving. Ferguson was obviously furious at the display put up by the Arsenal players and he made his disapproval clear to the Football committees but he was still upset about losing the match, which was within grasping distance.
The next few weeks were the most atrocious and dreadful weeks of my life. Everywhere I went, there was pointing, whispering and mocking. I found myself sitting on the bench match after match. My morale had reached an all time low especially when Ferguson concentrated more on the young Forlan. I felt like a lame horse that wasn't needed anymore, left to watch the other horses thriving in glory and success. I awaited the fatal injection, removal from the team. I was the black sheep but I wanted to be the prodigal son. Life had taken an extravagant and extraordinary twist.
I couldn't believe all of this was happening because of one penalty miss. Joining United had been my boyhood dream. Having the red number ten shirt was my aspiration. I just wanted to go back in time, back to those days where every child knew my name, everyone idolised me. I just wanted to be forgiven. And it happened. Forlan got injured in a match (not that I hoped he would) and since I was the only option, Fergie approached me and said "Go son, show me your mettle. " I could only mouth, "I won't let you down this time! " and I charged to the field, drawn to it like a child to candy.
I was back... back where I belonged. When I received my first touch, I felt different. Something had shot in me, I felt more powerful, energetic and like the renowned striker I had been the previous year. After a few minutes and a dangerous tackle the referee blew the whistle and pointed to the dreaded spot. Penalty! Time stood still. All my teammates turned towards me. I could feel thousands of pairs of eyes staring at me. I was the penalty specialist of the team. Could I do it? Will history repeat itself? All sorts of questions arose in my mind.
My walk towards the penalty spot was no more than a walk towards the guillotine! It was the most intense moment of my life. I shut my eyes, looked up at the heavens and said just two words, "Help me! " There was the familiar profound silence once again. I had flashbacks of the other night. This time I was determined. I stepped up confidently and shot. I scored! The silence was replaced by an uproar as great as roars of thousands of lions. It was as if a volcano had erupted. The stadium was on fire. The fans were yelling, my teammates were yelling, I was yelling.
My eyes sought my manger; his thumbs up said it all... I was forgiven. From this experience I have learnt that in life there is no room for complacency and mistakes and also when opportunity knocks, one must take it. It is human nature to commit mistakes but we must have the intelligence to perceive our faults and learn from them. My one penalty miss cost us three vital points and because of that I was treated like a pariah! I was lucky to have another opportunity to prove myself and I did so, after all in the game of life it is the winner that takes it all!
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