James Lawton: Ferguson's spirit feeds off two episodes when Munich shared in the United story

"Tell them about the making of this place, Bobby, what it means to play for this club"
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The Independent Football

Maybe it was just one of those quirks of fate that the most astonishing victory of Manchester United came against a club representing the city with which they will always be linked not in glory but tragedy and despair.

Yet for anyone in the Nou Camp 11 years ago, when United beat Bayern Munich for the Champions League and an unprecedented treble after being thoroughly outplayed for most of the match, and Alex Ferguson ran along the touchline with his arms outstretched, it was not easy to reject the idea that it was something more.

Nothing metaphysical, you understand, but a force, a competitive will, that had certainly touched the freakish on this occasion and now, 11 years on, is still so vigorously evident as United return to Munich for tonight's Champions League quarter-final first leg. That they also happen to be challenging for their fourth straight Premier League title and record-breaking 19th domestic championship, along with their third successive appearance in the European Cup final, only underlines that requirement at Old Trafford which Ferguson has set above all others.

It is that not a single United player ever forgets quite who and what he represents.

You may well sneer at this proposition, say that United have merely ridden the providence of their history while sweeping the transfer market and that Munich, for all its shattering loss, was the single most defining moment in the growth of power and emotion.

But when you do that, you forget the long years of disillusionment which came when Sir Matt Busby retired after delivering the European Cup 10 years after his life hung by a thread in Munich, the void that only began to be filled when Ferguson arrived in 1986.

If Munich had been the well of United's ambition, the repository of the club's most powerful emotion and desire, it is easy to forget the 20-odd years that followed the 1968 triumph over Benfica at Wembley when the tragedy seemed not so much more than a forlorn relic of a surrendered past.

Ferguson sought to change that. He wanted to make the legacy of Munich a moveable force.

Also sometimes lost in the margins, you have to suspect, is his power to motivate someone like Wayne Rooney, who for some time has embodied the most competitive streak in United's personality.

No doubt Rooney's passion to play – and the huge importance that was being placed on his appearance in Munich tonight – has its strongest origins in his own nature but his manager has certainly picked some telling moments to augment the natural process.

One of the most potent came two years ago on the approach of the 50th anniversary of the Munich crash. It suddenly occurred to the manager that one of his young stars, someone like Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo, might any day now be ambushed by a question about the meaning of Munich. What would such a question provoke, perhaps a glassy stare, maybe a mumbled platitude? It wouldn't be good enough.

Ferguson summoned Sir Bobby Charlton, a survivor of Munich and perhaps the supreme player in a story of resurrection.

He had to tell Rooney and Ronaldo, and even a senior player like Gary Neville, what Munich really was, what was lost there and what yearnings were created in the snow and the fire.

Charlton, the United director who, despite his then recent appointment, fought hardest for Ferguson to replace Ron Atkinson in 1986, was given the widest brief. Ferguson said: "Tell them about Munich, Bobby, tell them about the making of this place. Tell them what passed to them so many years ago, before they were born, and what they should represent every time they go out on the field. Tell them what it really means to play for this club."

Charlton told them what it meant to Duncan Edwards, the player who many still believe was the finest ever to pull on a United shirt and who staggered doctors in the Munich hospital with the strength of his attempt to win an impossible fight for life. He talked about Eddie Colman, a snake-hipped natural optimist from Salford, and Liam Whelan, a lean young Dubliner who in a youth tournament in Switzerland impressed the Brazilians so much they wanted to whisk him on to the first plane to Rio de Janeiro.

In a rapt audience Ferguson fought back the tears, not least when his eyes swept the room and settled on one young player who seemed particularly enthralled. It was Rooney, the street footballer from Merseyside who could so easily identify with an earlier generation of players who didn't have mansions and a fleet of luxury cars but, like him, made the game the core of their existence.

It may well be that Bayern will impose their own version of history tonight and not for the first time against United. It is, after all far from negligible with four European Cup wins – one more than United – and two wins and two draws in the four Champions League meetings that followed the stunning episode in Barcelona. In 2001 they won back the crown for the first time in 25 years, brushing aside Valencia with the help of a coltish Owen Hargreaves. Now, no doubt, they will believe that with a fit Franck Ribéry they have the drive and the organisation to claim a little more atonement for what they will always claim to be the outrage of 1999.

But then what happened at the Nou Camp, when the Uefa officials were pinning the Bayern colours to the trophy, wasn't strictly about football. It was most to do with an absolute refusal to accept defeat despite the fact that the German team might easily have been three rather than one up in those last two minutes.

Bayern's full-back Sammy Kuffour, who beat his fists against the ground when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored the winner, concluded that: "Only God knows why this has happened."

God, maybe, and possibly the old warrior Ferguson, who certainly has come to understand the value of remembering at least a little the meaning of the past.

Murray must not let a minor crisis derail major plans

Now new debates swirl around the head of Andy Murray. Does he need a new coach? Or maybe it's a new head?

Such reactions are always a slip or two away from the man who is picked out as potentially Britain's first Wimbledon winner since Fred Perry.

In some quarters his defeat by Mardy Fish in Miami has already provoked speculation about the role of his coaches, the wisdom of having more than one of them, and the effect of his immersion in the controversy over his absence from the shocking Davis Cup defeat in Lithuania. No doubt Fish is a bit of a minnow who should have been swallowed up by Murray, but then even the greatest performers suffer the eddies of mood and form. Even Murray is talking about the need to get mentally "right". You might be forgiven for believing Murray is teetering on the edge of career crisis, that in the game of perspective he is several match points down.

But however the questions are resolved, Murray should remind himself that he is the same tennis player who, with a little more conviction, might already have won his first Grand Slam title. He is in debt only to his own formidable talent. All other expectations have to merge with the babble of the crowd, especially the next time he shows up in South-west 19.

Eriksson sails on in search of fresh treasure

Whatever anyone thinks of Sven Goran Eriksson, no one can say he is easily sunk.

Fired by Mexico and Manchester City, for whom he had the nerve to buy virtually a whole new team by telephone and DVD, and despite selecting the 17-year-old Theo Walcott to play for England in the World Cup without seeing him play a senior game, he sails on.

Such resilience, and optimism, which reached a peak when he agreed to turn Notts County into a major force in a few years, probably come easier when each new misadventure is accompanied by still another pot of gold.

It is a miracle of both survival and retained credibility. However, his latest employers, Ivory Coast, are unlikely to remain enamoured if he fails to lift his performance against their World Cup group opponents Brazil and Portugal from those he put in on behalf of England in the quarter-finals of the World Cup and the European Championship.

Against Brazil's 10 men he was unkindly described as a rabbit caught in the headlights. But let's be fair, he never blinks at a new challenge. Not when the price is so alluringly right.