"One of the great qualities of a coach is patience," mused Sir Alex Ferguson when asked how Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been faring on the United coaching staff since injury ended his career. "Ole's got that."
The United manager could have been speaking for himself. It is nine years since he last reached the final of the UEFA Champions League, and judging by his ebullient mood on Tuesday as he prepared to take on Chelsea FC, the wait, though long, has been worth it. It required patience before Sir Alex, seven years into the job at Old Trafford, won his first league title for United, and more patience still to finally lift the European Champion Clubs' Cup.
The longest wait of all, though, came at Camp Nou nine years ago when, with United staring defeat in the face, injury-time strikes from substitutes Teddy Sheringham and that man Solskjær, tore the trophy from FC Bayern München's grasp. Good things come to those who wait was the lesson then, and substitutions were again at the forefront of Sir Alex's mind here. Last year United ran out of steam against Chelsea FC in the FA Cup final as they chased the double. This year United's boss believes his squad are capable of riding out any storm.
"Last year we had played so many games with the same eleven, 12 players and we had no real reserves to change the game in the final," said the Scot. "This year we have. That will make the difference. The substitutes you make have got to have an impact, which is why I have to give a lot of consideration to the type of player I want on the bench. If I have to use them I hope they make an impact and in '99, the two substitutes won it for me."
There was no sign of nerves from Sir Alex in his pre-match press conference; instead he was enjoying the moment, playing to the packed auditorium inside the Luzhniki Stadium. "She's a nosy bugger, isn't she?" he joked with one particularly persistent questioner. Admitting he has taken it upon himself to relax the squad ahead of what, for many, is the biggest game of their career, the 66-year-old added: "I've got the players to do the job – I trust that and will stick by that. We may not have the overall experience of Chelsea in terms of age, but they've got the nerve, they've got the courage and I think that will make some difference."
With the conference winding to a close, he was asked if he had any final words to say. Looking at the gathered throng, he stretched out his arms and bellowed: "I love you all!" As his audience howled with laughter, he added: "I've come to spread peace." With that Sir Alex was gone, loud applause ringing in his ears. Show over, now it is the turn of his English champions to perform.
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