You Are Boss Of This Team Until You Quit!

Rapidly on the way to becoming a global trademark, Turkish Airlines became sponsor of another great team, Manchester United, following its sponsorship agreement with FC Barcelona.

It’s May 26, 1999. Barcelona’s Nou Camp Stadium is packed. World football’s two giants are facing off in the European Champions League final. Bayern Münich is ahead by 1-0 with Bassler’s goal in the sixth minute, and it is only seconds to the end of normal playing time.

Seated in the VIP stand, UEFA President Johansson and Prime Minister Şenes Erzik are getting ready to head down to the ground for the cup ceremony. By the time they get there, the last whistle has been blown and the match is over. “Those who should have been sad are happy, those who should have been happy sad,” says Johansson to Erzik. “What happened?’  In one of the most memorable finals in football history, Manchester United is European Champion with two goals, one in the 90th and one in the 92nd minute, by Solkskjær and Sheringam, who entered the game late. Manchester United has joined the ranks of Europe’s giants, and Alex Ferguson is knighted by the queen. The fate of a team is changed in two minutes, and United becomes a household word in countries from the U.S. and China to Turkey and Africa as one of the world’s strongest teams.

This sudden transformation is actually the result of an enormous stability. Two minutes preceded by thirteen years. Replacing Ron Atkinson in 1986, Ferguson stayed on, without interference, for exactly seven years despite not being able to make his team a champ. And despite being a Scot! The rest is history. Nine Premier League Championships in twelve years. The distinction of being the only team to collect all the cups in a single year. A technical manager who could get a group world football stars like Cantona, Giggs, C. Ronaldo, Rooney, Neville, Backham, Scholes, Ferdinand, Van der Saar, and Van Nistelrooy to play together as a team. When Manchester United was incorporated, it was bought out by two American businessmen, Joel and Avram Glazer, who gave Ferguson a blank check: “You’re boss of this team until you decide to quit!”

Manchester United was formed in 1878 as a workingmen’s team by the name of Newton Heath. In 1902 it was bought by a businessman and renamed Manchester United. Dubbed the ‘Red Devils’ following its enormous success, it suffered a tragic setback when it lost eight players from the team that had been champion two years in a row, 1956 and ’57, in a plane crash in Munich, Germany that left the better part of the team’s other players injured.  Despite this tragedy, Manchester twice grabbed the English championship with a young team formed by Sir Matt Busby, and went on to become the first English team to capture the European Championship in 1968.

A football fanatic, I was in Moscow for the European Champions League final in Moscow the night of May 21st, 2008. There was a thrilling atmosphere in the stands. Following two goals, first by Ronaldo, then by Drogba, the match went into overtime. When the goalkeeper blocked Ronaldo’s kick during the penalty shots, the Chelsea fans went wild thinking the Championship was theirs. But when Anelka surrendered the ball to the goalie and Terry’s foot slipped on the last kick, Manchester United was once again the greatest in Europe after a gap of ten years.
After that match I was with the Manchester United fans in a Japanese restaurant on Red Square until morning. They went bananas when I gave them the official team lists I’d been sent as a journalist.  They loved all the stars on the team, but Cantona, even though he had given up soccer years before, still had a special place in their hearts.

And now, years later, Manchester have again chosen a Turkish company, Turkish Airlines, to fly them to even greater goals. I’m a half-Barca, half-Manchester fan now. I’m going to be in Madrid on May 22nd. And I hope both teams will be in the finals. But the winner is going to be us, before the whistle is even blown!