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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
He may not have been there in person, but His presence hung around Wembley Stadium on Sunday like an over-tanned spectre. It lurked in every corridor, loomed over every conversation and sometimes, if you listened very, very carefully to a frequency only just on the cusp of human hearing, you could occasionally hear the thud of Him tumbling to the floor for no reason. But while His shadow remains, He Himself has gone and it leaves Manchester United fans with some serious questions. Where will all those goals come from? Who will supply the magic now?

Nani certainly did his best to fill his compatriot's boots, whipping home a splendid opening goal, aided admittedly by Petr Cech's reticence to catch and John Terry's hesitation to clear. For the first half at least, the young Portuguese gave Branislav Ivanovich such a roasting that the only question at half-time was whether Carlo Ancelotti would choose to substitute him or simply take him out back and shoot him. Fortunately for Mrs Ivanovic, he chose the former. A dislocated shoulder put a painful and premature end to Nani's afternoon but Ferguson was suitably impressed. As Arsenal discovered in 2007, the wake of a departing superstar can bring all kinds of wonderful things bubbling up to the surface. Antonio Valencia will be another player looking to fill that void, though there was little in his brief cameo to suggest that he will be successful.

More annoying for Ferguson was his side's inability to make the best of those barnstorming openening exchanges.

"I'm disappointed in losing the game," he growled afterwards. We controlled the first half and we should have put it to bed really."

Would He have put it to bed? Would He have taken those chances? Somewhere, in a vast and freshly refurbished villa in Madrid, only He knows.