A large photograph of Tony Twain was below the caption, his head slightly tilted up, mouth open, and one hand aloft, arrogance undisguised on his face.
The photograph was not taken of Twain at the press conference the day before. The reporters selected it from photographs previously taken of Twain to complement the caption. The effect was just right.
Many football fans stood in line for admission outside the noisy Old Trafford, and almost all of the Forest fans had a copy of the newspaper.
They loved to see Tony Twain's arrogance. Especially in the face of the well-known team, Manchester United, he was so arrogant. It made them feel steady before the game.
It was unknown if the Nottingham Forest players had the same idea.
The Nottingham Forest players were warming up on the field as the steady stream of fans entering the stadium made Old Trafford more raucous.
Tony Twain did not wait in the locker room this time. He stood on the sidelines and watched the Manchester United team warm up with interest. The other coaches led the Forest players in their warm-up.
Twain rarely came out when the team warmed up. He generally prepared himself in the locker room and would choose to rest there even if there was nothing to do. But he wanted to see Old Trafford before the game and observe Manchester United and Ferguson in pa.s.sing.
Ferguson was in front of the home team's technical area. Like Twain, he had his hands in his pockets as he watched the players warm up on the field.
Intuition told him that someone was watching him. He turned his head to find Tony Twain looking at him.
The two men's line of sight collided, and neither wanted to be the first to avert their eyes. They eventually looked away at the same time because it felt weird to look face to face continuously...
Kerslake came off from the field and walked up to get a drink of water beside Twain.
"There are so many people." He found that Twain was looking at the grandstand.
"With a capacity of sixty thousand people, it's really much larger than the City Ground stadium..." Twain offhandedly added. It was not the first time they had come to Old Trafford to play, so there was no need to be so surprised.
Kerslake turned to return to the field.
Twain turned to walk back to the locker room. Judging from his observation, Cristiano Ronaldo's form was as good as ever. It was going to be a big problem in the game.
Portugal's Ronaldo had already scored thirty goals in the league tournament this season. With only the final round left in the league tournament, he was mostly set to win the Premier League's top goalscorer of the season.
This season, Ferguson transformed Cristiano Ronaldo's success to become the core of the team's offense. Even Wayne Rooney had to make sacrifices for it. But Rooney had learned how to a.s.sist his teammates and was not as solitary as he used to be.
Manchester United had been incredibly strong and could have created better results than they did. Pity...
Twain had just returned to the locker room when he heard footsteps sound from outside. The players had finished their warm-up.
He straightened his back.
The door was pushed open. George Wood was the first to walk in, and the others streamed in behind him.
The last one to come in was Dunn, who closed the door.
As soon as the players came in, they began to change their jerseys. Everyone was focused on taking care of their own matters, and Twain was not in a hurry to speak.
When he saw that everyone was close to done taking care of their things, he got up and pressed his hands downwards. "Quiet, guys. I have something to say to you."
The locker room gradually quieted down. Everyone looked at their boss standing by the door.
"In ninety minutes, this season's league tournament will be over. We have worked hard for a season. These ninety minutes will show us what we will gain. Our team, regrettably, has yet to win the league t.i.tle. Now is our opportunity." Twain pointed to the door.
"Yesterday I said the Forest team's goal this season was the Double, which shocked a lot of people. They thought I was bragging again, because our opponents in league's final round and Champions League's finals are strong teams. But I think this is nothing. If the opponents are not strong enough, maybe I'm not up to it."
The players burst into laughter.
"When the opponents are strong enough, there's more meaning to winning the t.i.tles... I mean, does the Double target scare you?" He looked at his players.
"What's so scary about it?" Eastwood stood up. "We'll all be laughed at when it gets out that we are intimidated by the number of champions.h.i.+p t.i.tles."
"Yes, yes, the Double is exactly what we have been fighting for. How can we be frightened?" The others echoed along.
Hearing the answers, Twain laughed. "We are truly a team! When I said I wanted to take the Double, people out there said 'Tony Twain is crazy. If not crazy, then he's stupid.' They don't believe it... No, it's not that they don't believe, they're scared..." Twain pulled his lips back.
"What are they afraid of? Afraid that if we really take the two champions.h.i.+ps, it makes them look bad. It must be the end of the world for them to have such an arrogant man like me to take the Double."
The players laughed upon hearing his remarks.
Tony Twain never hid his arrogance, whether he faced the press or his players. The players smiled knowingly when he said he was an arrogant man. The boss was really arrogant, but if they stood by his side in battle, then they felt that his arrogance was a ma.s.sive dose of stimulant.
"Whether you can take the two champions.h.i.+ps t.i.tles, today's game is the key. If we take the Double, it's going to scare some people... Let them be afraid!"
"That's right, boss!" They became excited, like a pack of wolves. The league t.i.tle was their only regret. They were so close to the target and could not let go.
"I don't know what the future holds! Maybe we'll win a lot of champions.h.i.+ps together in the future, but that's for the future. Now, since the league t.i.tle is only ninety minutes away from us, we have no reason to let it go. Grab it tightly. If other people want to come and s.n.a.t.c.h it away? Let them pay the price!"
"I definitely won't accept a home defeat." In Manchester United's locker room, Ferguson mobilized his players for the last time before the game. "It is not up for discussion. We lost too many important games during the final stages of the league tournament. Otherwise, we could have considered the Double. What's lost is lost, but we must not lose this game! You know what it means for us to lose this game?"
Most of the players were silent. Ferguson's moniker as "locker room hairdryer" was not without merit. Everyone was aware that they would have been the first in line in the league to win the t.i.tle and the most promising team to reach the Champions League finals. In the end, they were reduced to competing for the league t.i.tle with Nottingham Forest. Sir Alex Ferguson was in a bad mood, so no one wanted to try their luck.
"Do your best to take down Nottingham Forest! This is our home ground, so there's nothing to worry about. I don't want anyone to think they can take the t.i.tle with a draw. We've played against them more than once. What kind of opponent is Nottingham Forest? I think it should be very clear — remember, you can't give them the slightest chance!"
Ferguson clenched his fists. At sixty-six years old, he did not look old. His face shone, his eyes sparkled, and his movements were wide and powerful.
Speaking to a French radio station late last year, he stated that he might continue for another three years before retiring. Later, it was not known why he denied that he had said such a thing. Recently, after Manchester United was eliminated from the Champions League by Chelsea, he once again mentioned his retirement in an interview. He did not state the exact time. He just said it was possible — could be four years later, could be the next day. He wanted to find the right time to leave, such as for health reasons, or finding a qualified successor, or winning the UEFA Champions League again.
The last condition was most likely due to his disgruntled venting over the recent elimination by Chelsea. No one thought he was going to leave because he won the Champions League t.i.tle once. When Keane was still at Manchester United, it was rumored that he wanted to retire to abdicate to Keane. What was the result? When it came to the year he stated, he suddenly announced that he had renewed his contract with Manchester United to stay on again.
He was reluctant to leave the Manchester United team, so he said he was looking for a qualified successor. Otherwise, he would only consider leaving his position if he was physically unable.
It was normal for a manager to have the idea after more than twenty years in a team.
It was just that he was old. Seeing how worked up he was today, it was enough for people to break out into a cold sweat over the state of his heart.
The stands in "the Theatre of Dreams" Old Trafford set off a thunderous clamor. The starting lineups on both sides were still waiting inside the tunnel. Only the subst.i.tutes and coaches came out.
Ferguson came out impeccably dressed in a suit. When he came out, chewing gum with a flushed face, his appearance drew cheers from tens of thousands of Manchester United fans in the stadium.
Countless world-renowned players performed in "the Theatre of Dreams." Even famous players like Beckham had to eventually bow down in front of this man. He got rid of Paul Ince, Jaap Stam, David Beckham, Roy Keane... None of those things affected his place in the minds of the "Theatre of Dreams" spectators. Because the English fans knew one thing better than other fans — a good manager was more valuable than a good player.
Not to mention Ferguson had worked there for twenty-one years.
For twenty-one years, Manchester United had gone from an inebriated club during the Atkinson era to one of the most famous football clubs in the world. In 1986, when Ferguson had just come to power, the once brilliant Red Devils lacked spirit. The management was in chaos, and even their bus driver was a fan of their same city's nemesis, Manchester City. Now, the Manchester United Football Club had become an operations model of European professional football clubs. Manchester United footprints were seen from the Far East to the Caribbean and around the world. Even when Evan and Allan talked to Twain about the future of Nottingham Forest, their point of reference was the current Manchester United team. To be studied by their opponent was an amazing thing. For the last twenty-one years, the "Red Devils", Manchester United had changed bosses, faced crisis, had star players come and go, but one person's name remained throughout.
The man stood on the sidelines, listening to the cheers for him.
Tony Twain came out slightly behind Ferguson. He had not heard what the cheers were, but he knew they were not for him. No fan would cheer for the enemy who was about to compete against his own team for the league t.i.tle.
Ferguson raised his hands and waved to the surrounding grandstand. He did not make any more stops and headed straight for his own technical area.
Twain did not follow to his own technical area. He stood where he was and turned his head to look at the man's back.
That man had won eighteen trophies of all kinds as the manager of Manchester United, but he would not be soft today because he had won too many times. His Nottingham Forest team wanted to pick up the league t.i.tle trophy for the first time, and it would not be possible to get through the game without working hard. As for the Champions League final in ten days? No one was going to think about that!
After a few years of arduous training and hard work in the circle of professional coaches in England, Twain suddenly discovered that he had set himself the goal of "constant victories and champions.h.i.+p t.i.tles." The target that he should have set was not Brian Clough, who was mentioned all the time, or Arsène Wenger, who had a good relations.h.i.+p with him in private. It was not even Mourinho, his cherished rival, but the old man in front of him, who was not very striking and even had somewhat of a Scottish country b.u.mpkin air to him.
He had won the most champions.h.i.+ps. His team started a ten-year dynasty in English football. He changed the Manchester United Football Club and English football. He was the worthy G.o.dfather of Manchester United.
Could he be such a figure one day?
To win more trophies that he could even count, turn Nottingham Forest from a fallen team to a famous powerhouse, and sweep across the football world everywhere...
At the thought, Twain suddenly felt hot-blooded and impa.s.sioned.
He seemed to see the huge stadium in front of him where the people got up from their seats, stretched out their arms and shouted at his name, "Twain! Twain! Twain! Twain... Don!"
Twain could not help but raise his hands to greet the crowd in the stands.
A shrill boo broke through the illusion and pulled him back to reality.
Looking at the hostile Manchester United fans around him, his interest waned. He pouted as he put his hands down and walked to his seat.
Well, wait until I defeat you in ninety minutes, then we'll see the expressions on your faces. Even if you break your voices from hissing, the trophy will not go back to your side!