Galatasaray, Braga and Cluj – three words buzzing around every Manchester United fan’s head. Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax — five words for Blues to savour ahead in the Champions League’s toughest group.Tough, but magical – for as the Blue who texted me after the draw said: “I’ve dreamed of City playing teams like this since I was a kid.”
City have got three of football’s great citadels to visit, the best being Real Madrid’s Bernabau. I’ve been fortunate to watch football in over 90 countries and I’ve yet to visit a stadium as grand at the Bernabau, which shades the bigger Camp Nou and Milan’s louder San Siro. Cristiano Ronaldo’s home stadium stands on the capital’s grandest street, its 80,000 seats rising steeply over five tiers. Away fans are placed at the top, so take your binoculars and get there earlier to avoid the crushes at turnstiles.
Dortmund doesn’t have much to keep the tourists busy, but it does have two big selling points: superb beer and another 80,000 capacity venue which boasts Europe’s biggest terrace. In European games, that area becomes seated and the capacity reduced to 65,700, but the noise level is usually far in excess of anything heard at an English ground.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson hints at Spurs move for Dimitar Berbatov
Scott Sinclair completes move to Manchester City
The noise in the 55,000 capacity Amsterdam ArenA is something to behold too, with Ajax’s F-Side Ultras responsible for one of the most melodic terrace efforts heard this year, Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. Amsterdam’s not bad either, with plenty of attractions like Anne Frank’s house and the Van Gogh museum.
United fans have the pleasure of visiting the only stadium in the competition with two stands – that’s in Braga. The spectacular arena overlooks Portugal’s third biggest city and holds 30,155. And United will play in the only stadium with three stands, the 23,500 capacity home of Romanian champions CFR Cluj. It’s difficult to get to as the nearest major airports are 200 miles away in Bucharest, Budapest and Belgrade, but there’s a budget airline option from Luton to Cluj-Napoca.
United players and fans who visited Galatasaray in 1993 and 1994 still maintain it was the loudest ground they’ve ever been to. Galatasaray moved into a new 51,567 seater home in 2011. Istanbul is the only one of United’s three venues where there are direct flights from Manchester.
Sometimes these draws are not what they may seem. On the face of it, United have a much easier group but the teams they will be playing will be unknowns and up for it. It will not be as easy a scouting mission and all three teams will treat it as their cup final.
City won’t have that same problem and the likes of Madrid won’t see them as a big threat so they may get lucky. Madrid tend to stutter through the group stages and don’t have a great record in the last few years. Too many attacking players and not enough defensive guile.
Dortmund have just lost their best player and they are relatively inexperienced in the Champions League since winning it in 1997 when Paul Lambert played for them.
Ajax too are far from a force to be reckoned with these days, the Dutch league is no better than the Scottish league so there you go.
Having said that, playing against big teams should provide massive occasions for City fans who have never done so before. I hope the fans enjoy it and that City do well because it’s good for our city if both teams do well.
United are used to playing against Europe’s premier club, we have more experience of this than any other club in the tournament. Last year was a blip. This year will be transitional as we bed in new players, new formations and tactics but we won’t go into any game fearing the opposition regardless of whom they are. You don’t get to three finals in 5 years without being a decent side!
Lets just hope the dutch and turkish thug elements don’t mar the footballing feasts on show in their respective cities!