As the scarcely believable ending to the 1999 European Cup final was unfolding, Sir Alex Ferguson - "Football, bloody hell!" - was understandably not thinking of longer-term benefits to Manchester United. Yet just as an earlier generation fell under the club's spell after the Munich air disaster of 1958, so hearts, minds and feet were won all over the world during the 60 seconds that Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored in the Nou Camp.
In Zrenjanin, Serbia, where youngsters' thoughts still tended to be dominated by the recent war, a 12 year-old called Zoran Tosic watched the final at home with friends and "from that moment I was a United fan". Shortly afterwards, looking at a dressing-room photograph of the Serbian national team, he told his coach: "I am going to stand there one day and I am going to be a Manchester United player, those are my two wishes."
Determinedly ambitious or not, it was still too much to expect that ten years later he would not only have been blessed with both wishes but that the same Solskjaer, now United's reserve team manager, would be showing him the ropes on the steep climb towards becoming established as a Premier League player.
For most boys of his age, any dream would do; the Serbian one was achieved at Under-21 level in 2007, then with the first of 13 full caps after joining Partizan Belgrade as a tricky little winger. Last autumn came the news that United were keen to sign him. "I was very, very excited," he recalled at the lovely old hotel near Helsingborg that Serbia are using during the European Under-21 Championship. "I heard a few games before the championship in Serbia was finished. I tried not to think about Manchester United and do my best in those few games but to be honest all the time I was thinking about that really."
Waiting for a move to sunnier climes in Italy or Spain was never a consideration; what had been good enough for Nemanja Vidic, already a colleague in the Serbian team, was more than sufficient for a United fanatic: "All the people told me the weather is terrible, it's boring, blah blah blah, but for me it's good. Every day I come to the training ground, train, come home, rest. Nemanja lives near me, maybe five minutes. Of course we spend a lot of time together and his wife and my girlfriend are together all the time."
Manchester weather proved less of shock than the football: "In a few games for the reserves, the players kick me and I was wondering what is going on. I am going home, I cannot play here, then I get through that, and now it's normal for me." From signing in January until the end of the season there were three first-team appearances as a substitute, the first of them at home to Tottenham in the FA Cup: "That was the best moment of my life when I came on."
A total of 33 minutes' playing time in five months nevertheless suggests that United's coaching staff believe there is considerable improvement to be made, which Tosic accepts. "This first six months was for me to prepare, to get stronger. In the next six months it's important to try to break into the team and prove that I'm a United player." As a result of a recent £80m transfer, there is, of course, a vacancy for a winger at Old Trafford, and a No.7 shirt going spare. Tosic's quick feet are planted firmly enough on the Carrington ground not to push himself as the new Ronaldo: "To be honest, I think that probably Cristiano was the best player in the team and so someone will come [to the club] to take his place. I think the people from Manchester think I can play better on the left side. I agree, but I can play on the right. These few games [in Sweden] are very important for me and then when we go on tour I hope I'm gonna get a chance and I'm ready."
When a chance comes, as Solskjaer has already shown him, you have to take it.Reuse content