Glenn Hoddle and Bryan Robson were not any old players. To all intents and purposes both said goodbye yesterday, one with his boots on and making a belated appearance after Chelsea were two down and fading fast, the other in suit perhaps to start a new job as player-manager of Middlesbrough.
Robson, the Captain Marvel of England teams who never quite reached their destination, and Hoddle, the most talented English footballer of his generation, occasionally played together with the three lions on their chest.
Robson embodied an attitude, a defiance that is at the heart of the English game, even though it is accompanied by a blindness as to how far the world game has progressed - and left England behind.
Despite being excluded from the team, that determination was still evident. 'It was a tragedy that we couldn't put Bryan Robson on the bench but Cantona had some back problems and we needed Brian McClair just in case,' Alex Ferguson, the double-winning manager, said. 'Robson is the best player I've ever had. He knew that I had made the decision for Manchester United and he will have to make that sort of decision for himself some day. I told him on Friday night. I said: 'If you are a manager next week what would you do?' He said: 'I'd play myself.' '
Ferguson added: 'I'm really proud of my team. We got a break with the penalty - it's about time - but they both looked like penalties to me. Once we got the first, Chelsea had to go all out.
'That's when we showed our character and resilience in abundance. Cantona took the penalties like passes. It's a temperament thing - you've either got it or not. But Chelsea didn't give in and they didn't deserve to lose 4-0.'
Hoddle the player found his qualities less appreciated, at least in this country, than Robson's. He lost out again yesterday, this time as a manager as well. 'It all turned on our shot against the cross-bar and then the penalties,' he said. 'We have seen all season that once Manchester United go in front, they are virtually unstoppable.
'We are dejected. We don't like losing but I was pleased with the way we played. Once United were ahead, we were always chasing the game and leaving gaps at the back. United had too much skill to let us get away with that.'Reuse content