Manchester Utd 4 Newcastle Utd 0
IF ALAN SHEARER is the most costly
individual to walk the turf of legends, Eric Cantona demonstrated at
Wembley yesterday afternoon that he remains the most precious. For,
while Shearer pined for the ball that seldom came, while Manchester
United outpaced, outplayed and outwitted the pretenders from the North
East, it was Cantona one-fifteenth the cost of the £15 million
Shearer who inspired and led the Double-winners to such an emphatic
victory in the FA Charity Shield.
One is tempted to say that here was
an ordinary man, elevated by birthright and by his goals among
Englishmen, competing against one who is extraordinary, who is French,
and who reached yet again the extremes of wonderful touch and vision.
Cantona might also have been sent off when his infamous temper erupted
in the second half, but he received merely a yellow card for a
physical assault on Philippe Albert that prefaced the turn from
sunshine to a glowering late thunderstorm.
But how Manchester United proved
their worth. It was not all about Shearer, and never could be. There
is no point in possessing an idol, indeed in having £16.25 million of
spare talents on the bench, if you are not a team, and from the start,
as Newcastle groped for a pat tern, the other United were first into
their stride, first to flow. They commanded midfield through Keane and
Butt. At the back, May and Pallister stretched stride for stride with
Shearer and Ferdinand.
And then there was Mr Irresistible:
Cantona, a pariah at the beginning of last season, this time raising
the curtain on the English season by shaking hands with Keith Wiseman
and introducing the new Football Association chairman to his
Early on there was potency from
Newcastle's £21 million spearhead: Ferdinand, in particular, bristled
with powerful determination and, in the eighth minute, a delicate
flick would have opened up the Manchester defence, but Shearer was not
yet on that wavelength. He read the invitation rather too late, and
red shirts closed the door. It was scarcely to open again. In the 24th
minute, Giggs, with wonderful insight, passed the ball between
Newcastle's cumbersome centre backs for Cantona. Srnicek came out to
deflect the ball with his legs.
Cantona was denied for 30 seconds.
Like the Pimpernel he reappeared unseen on the other side of the
penalty box and this time, prompted by Beckham, he controlled the ball
at a touch, waited, and then coolly passed the ball beyond the
Cantona was involved again, as was
Beckham, in a second goal four minutes later. The move swept half the
length of the field as the ball flowed from Keane to Giggs and then to
Cantona. He, audaciously, backheeled it to Beckham, whose control on
the chest was polished and whose right foot then struck the ball
across the face of goal for Butt, unmarked, to score with a flying
It was clear that, far from handing
any of the serious silverware to their most ambi tious opponents,
Manchester United did not even have the charity to allow Newcastle to
dream seriously of taking home this shield.
For Shearer, growing more forlorn by
the minute, it may have dawned that he had chosen wrong when he
rejected Old Trafford in favour of St James' Park. Defiantly, he was
to say that Newcastle would be all right, his implication being that
they had lost the rehearsal but that the real season begins at Everton
next Saturday. True enough, but all the euphoria of his chosen
homecoming was to be further undermined when Manchester United came
late with two cruel goals.
Before that, especially when Asprilla
injected some brilliant if unorthodox individual flair to Newcastle,
there had been fractuous interchanges. Not the least of these
blackened Cantona's afternoon. In the 65th minute, Gary Neville had
fouled Albert, and when they squared up, Cantona ran 15 yards to shake
Albert by the back of the neck. Pandemonium. The Geordies were baying
and even Cantona went red around the gills. Alex Ferguson, the
Manchester United manager, feared the worst, but the referee, Paul
Durkin, abdicated responsibility, flourished the yellow card, and
allowed Cantona to remain as man of the match.
Five minutes from the end, Newcastle
also abdicated the art of defence. They stood four square when Beckham
was allowed to bear down on Srnicek and lift the ball artfully over
the goalkeeper. Three minutes later, Poborsky, the frisky Czech
Republic winger, was fouled by Albert. Giggs placed placed the free
kick superbly for Keane, and the Irishman's thunderbolt under
darkening skies was too fierce for Srnicek to hold.
It was that emphatic. Ferguson was
able to say how well he had shopped around looking for summer
bargains, and Newcastle retreated, wounded, to their monied haven in
the North East.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-1-1): P
Schmeichel D Irwin (sub: G Neville, 46min), D May, G Pallister, P
Neville D Beckham, R Keane, N Butt (sub: K Poborsky, 41), R Giggs
E Cantona P Scholes (sub: J Cruyff, 65).
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2): P
Srnicek S Watson, D Peacock, P Albert, J Beresford P Beardsley
(sub: F Asprilla, 75), D Batty, R Lee, D Ginola (sub: K Gillespie, 77)
A Shearer, L Ferdinand.
Referee: P Durkin.