They have all been through it and now one of them must do it again. Year after year, either Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United have been ejected from European competition – often in cruel manner – only to respond by becoming champions of England. The difference this time is that all three, having suffered their disappointment a little earlier than usual, are still in contention for what would be a more highly prized consolation than ever.
Thus it was that within minutes of suffering the hammer blow inflicted by Bayern Munich, and specifically Arjen Robben, at Old Trafford on Wednesday, United were setting their sights anew, on what in their case would be a piece of history. Who better to encourage them from the heart of the dressing room than Ryan Giggs?
As with just about everything, good and bad, that has befallen the club in recent times, Giggs has been there before. Half-a-dozen times he has seen them recover from the disappointment of Champions' League elimination to win the Premier League. In this case, as has been well recorded, even the Welshman would be breaking new ground if United were to finish top for the fourth successive season.
"Of course we can rescue the season, even though it was a disappointing night," he said in the aftermath of Bayern's success on the away-goals rule. "There are so many positives and we have five games to go and we have to win them all. It won't be easy but we are capable of doing it. Hopefully Chelsea and Arsenal will slip up but that is what we will be aiming to do."
The complication, of course, as the chase resumes with United's visit to Blackburn this afternoon, is that Chelsea are currently two points in front after their deserved victory at Old Trafford last weekend, and Arsenal are just a single point behind. It is tempting to suggest that the eventual champions will be the team who deal best with their most dangerous away matches, namely Chelsea's two games at Tottenham and Liverpool, United's derby at Eastlands and Arsenal's visit to White Hart Lane on Wednesday. As has happened before, however, a draw or even defeat against unexpectedly inspired or defiant opposition could be the result that undermines a whole campaign.
Blackburn away today could be such a game, but Giggs will have been pleased to hear Sir Alex Ferguson say: "We will have to depend on experience.It is a game for Giggs and [Paul] Scholes and probably Gary Neville. Blackburn is never an easy place to go to. The pitch is not very good, it is bare and lively now the weather has turned. I am stronger squadwise than I've ever been. The test is as much mental and physical but they have to go for it."
Giggs was adamant that the sense of regret over Wednesday must be quickly overcome and used as a spur by the younger players who, he felt – generously in the case of Rafael da Silva – distinguished themselves against Bayern. "Learning from these disappointments for young players is what being a Manchester United player is all about. When I was 18 or 19, I had loads of disappointments. I had a lot of success as well but it can help you in the long run and you remember these nights and don't want to feel like this again, so you try and do something about it. You have to take knocks in your career but it's how you come back that makes you into a United player."