Amid all the sounds of champagne corks popping at Old Trafford yesterday, a toast should be made to a certain Frenchman, and we are not talking about Eric Cantona, whose boldness of spirit still beats within Red hearts. Manchester United fans should raise a glass of France's finest to Napoleon Bonaparte, whose leadership principles have stirred Sir Alex Ferguson this season.
Napoleon's maxim that "a leader is a dealer in hope'' has echoed within Ferguson, the last emperor of English dug-outs. One of life's natural optimists, and a master at using adversity to forge dressing-room mettle, Ferguson has again been a beacon of belief to his players. All Chelsea's might and money could not live with the sense of mission Ferguson instilled in Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and company.
United's darkest hours have come only on the rare occasions when Ferguson has questioned himself, when briefly announcing his retirement six years ago and after that traumatic loss to Benfica 17 months ago. Usually the driven Scot has been the embodiment of conviction, truly a "dealer in hope.''