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Main » 2013 » March » 1 » Once bitten by Sir Alex, twice shy

Once bitten by Sir Alex, twice shy

fergussonIn the Real Madrid CF side beaten by Sir Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen FC in 1983, Francisco Bonet is concerned for his old club ahead of their trip to Manchester United FC.

On Tuesday night there will be a special guest at the Peňa Madridista – or Real Madrid CF supporters' club – in the small town of Cox in the Alicante region of Spain. His name is Francisco Bonet, and his presence in the club on the evening Madrid take on Manchester United FC in the deciding leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 contest at Old Trafford should provide the perfect antidote to any over-optimism among the Madridistas in his midst.

True, José Mourinho's men will travel to Manchester buoyed by an impressive 3-1 Copa del Rey victory at FC Barcelona. And yes, the history books show that Madrid have won their two previous two-legged encounters with Sir Alex Ferguson's United in the UEFA Champions League. Yet Bonet knows just how dangerous any team managed by the Scot can be – after all he was in the Real Madrid side beaten by Sir Alex's Aberdeen FC in the 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup final.
©Getty Images 

Sir Alex Ferguson and Archie Knox with the trophy

That 2-1 extra-time triumph by the Scottish underdogs on a rain-soaked night in Gothenburg remains the only occasion Sir Alex has got the better of the Spanish giants and it is an event that Bonet, a defender in that Madrid team, has not forgotten. He admits that Alfrédo Di Stefano's Madrid were taken back by the quality of an Aberdeen side playing their first European final.

"Back then you didn't analyse the opposition like today, people didn't have the same resources, the videos to find out about the opposition," the 53-year-old says. "In Spain we'd always heard about the same three or four teams in British football so they did surprise us – we didn't think they would be so competitive. They were very strong physically and also technically gifted. Ferguson's teams are based on physical power but they also have great players – he knows football and brings together players with great quality."

Aberdeen also had – he adds ruefully – the weather in their favour that night on Sweden's west coast: "Two or three hours before the game it started pouring down and that didn't help us one bit." On a heavy pitch, the Scots emerged deserved winners with Eric Black and John Hewitt scoring either side of Juanito's penalty for Madrid.
©AFP/Getty Images 

Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney

van persie rooneyThirty years on, Bonet is less concerned about the prospect of a Manchester downpour than he is about the attacking threat Sir Alex's current charges carry. "In [Robin] Van Persie and [Wayne] Rooney, they have players who are very quick and technically very strong. United don't have to dominate a game to win it. Even if they have little of the ball, with their quick players on the counter, they can decide a game with two or three plays."

Yet if that is a worry for Madrid, Bonet reckons the same applies at the other end of the field. "Madrid have a similar football style," he notes. "They play quite tight and hit you on the counterattack. Madrid will use [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Ángel] Di María, [Mesut] Özil. Whoever scores first will have a big chance of getting through. The opposition will have to come out and both teams, Madrid and United, use the counter very well."

Another key factor he cites will be the "attitude" of a Madrid outfit who have had some turbulent moments this term. "If this is right, then they can beat anybody," believes Bonet, who still works for the club in a fans' liaison role. "Madrid have the ability to win anywhere but this season they've been inconsistent. It always helps when you have a big win against a rival like Barcelona. It's good for morale, it brings more confidence at a time when they're facing a big game, but they have Manchester United ahead of them, it's not just any team."

Indeed it isn't – it is Sir Alex Ferguson's team and Bonet, as he will surely remind the Peňa Madridista members in Cox, knows all about the damage one of those can do.
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