As Man United build up to their crunch last 16 tie against PSG, I peered back at the history books to see what insight we could glean going into the game.
The answer was absolutely f*ck all, with the Red Devils and PSG crossing paths for the very first time at Old Trafford tonight.
If that seems surprising, there are a couple of factors – Le Parisiens weren’t formed until 1970 and were nothing special for much of their existence. Before being flooded with Middle Eastern oil money in 2012 they had only ever actually won two league titles.
My delve into Uniteds French past wasn’t all wasted effort, mind. In traipsing through the annals I stumbled across this peach of a goal from one of football’s more polarising ‘characters’*.
*Arseholes. He was a career arsehole.
Long before achieving the remarkable feat of being unpopular with every single football fan in London, Billy Gallas was the architect of Man United’s first ever defeat to French opposition.
Facing Marseille in the group stage, this bold young defender stunned reigning champs United with a marauding goal on his Champions League debut.
There’s plenty to enjoy here, with Roy Keane committing the dual crime of not closing down a man ambling through the middle of the pitch in possession then failing to track Gallas’ run once he’d popped the ball off to former Spurs misfit Stephane Dalmat.
Secondly, there’s the finish. Unaware of what to do and short of time to do it, Gallas produces as panicked a toe punt as you’re ever likely to see. Whatever such strikes lack in finesse, they make up for in genuinely terrifying power. I once took a toe-bunt straight to the gullet at close range and genuinely felt like I’d been punched into a parallel dimension –the world’s worst DMT trip sparked by a sodden Mitre Ultimax.
Finally, watch and laugh as we see United legend, Mark Bosnich, eschew everything is predecessor was famous for. The Aussie nose-beer enthusiast chose to make himself as small as possible when one on one, before snapping his own head off in a bid to avoid such a deathly bullet of a shot.
Based on this effort, the fact that Billy Gallas received the No.10 shirt recenty vacated by Dennis Bergkamp when signing for Arsenal makes complete sense and not the single worst lapse of judgement in 22 years at the club by Wenger.
BONUS ARCHIVE FOOTAGE:
Andy Cole slapping home a bikey in the return fixture.
Anyway, back to tonight. The good news is United have a pretty proud record against French outfits to protect – they’ve lost just twice in 24 games against Gallic opposition, the other being a shock loss to Lille in 2005.
Crucially though, United have never lost a knockout game to Ligue 1’s finest. With Neymar and Edinson Cavani both out crocked, tonight represents as good an opportunity as they’ll get to maintain that record against a side otherwise littered with exceptional talent.