Sir Alex Ferguson will savor a Champions League triumph over Chelsea that has cemented his standing as one of the greatest coaches in European soccer.
But the driven Glaswegian will not spend too long reflecting on a penalty shoot-out victory that secured the fourth European trophy of his managerial career, 25 years after he led Aberdeen to the most unlikely of Cup Winners Cup wins over Real Madrid.
“I feel proud, I feel, very, very proud,” Ferguson admitted in the aftermath of what was a nerve-shredding evening in Moscow. “But I think the great asset I have got is that I don’t get carried away.”
“Tomorrow I will be thinking about next season. It all drains away quickly for me, the euphoria evaporates very quickly,” he said.
Having batted away a suggestion that he might be tempted, at the age of 66, to retire on an unmatchable high, Ferguson went on to express his belief that fate had helped United to secure what was a poignant victory in the year that has seen the club mark the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster.
Edwin van der Sar’s save from Nicolas Anelka proved decisive but United were also fortunate that Chelsea captain John Terry slipped before missing their fifth penalty, which would have given them the trophy.
“I said we would not let the memory of the Busby babes down,” Ferguson said. “If fate has played its hand, then with John Terry slipping, it has certainly been on our side, as it seems to have been all season.”
Ferguson added: “It was my first victory on penalties. I lost three with Aberdeen and three at United, so it is seven times lucky and I’m delighted with that.”
At the end of a gruelling season, the evening’s conclusion was hard on a Chelsea side that hit the woodwork in both regulation and extra-time.
It was particularly painful for Terry, who might not have been taking the fifth penalty had Didier Drogba not been sent off shortly before the end of extra-time for tapping Nemanja Vidic on the face as several players on either side squared up to each other.
United’s early domination had yielded a deserved opener in the form of Ronaldo’s 26th-minute header, the Portuguese winger’s 42nd goal of an extraordinary season.
Ferguson’s men then had the chances to kill the contest before the break but Frank Lampard’s equalizer on the stroke of half-time levelled things up and Chelsea, dominant after the restart, almost claimed a winner when Drogba’s 78th-minute shot came back off the post with van der Sar beaten.
Chelsea struck the woodwork again in the opening period of extra-time, Lampard’s cute shot on the turn bouncing off the bar with United’s goalkeeper once more struggling.
Substitute Ryan Giggs then had a glorious chance to mark his record-breaking 759th appearance for United in style but the veteran winger never really connected with Patrice Evra’s cutback and Terry was able to head the ball to safety.
“We should have been three or four up and they got a lucky break with the equalizer. It gave them an impetus and they were the better team in the second half and I was quite glad to get to extra time,” Ferguson said.
Chelsea boss Avram Grant, whose future will inevitably be subjected to more intense speculation after another near-miss at securing silverware, insisted his side had done enough to lift the trophy.
“It is very hard to lose on penalties. I don’t know what to say, especially after — except for the first 30 minutes — we dominated the game,” Grant said.