Wednesday, February 28, 2024
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Man United plays for Bobby

MANCHESTER, England (AP) – If gaining much-needed Champions League points wasn’t motivation enough, Manchester United’s players are sure to be driven by the memory of Bobby Charlton on what will be an emotional night at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

The match against FC Copenhagen will be the first at United’s stadium since the death of Charlton, the England great who for so long was the club’s top scorer and is considered by many to be the best player in its illustrious history.

A minute’s silence will be observed before kick-off while players will likely wear black armbands. A wreath is expected to be laid on the field.

United’s players paid similar respects to Charlton before the Premier League match at Sheffield United on Saturday — only hours after his death was announced — and captain Bruno Fernandes was among those who dedicated the 2-1 victory at Bramall Lane to Charlton and his family.

Fernandes and United manager Erik ten Hag were at Old Trafford to sign a book of condolence on Sunday. It was a scene of mourning and commemoration for not only a great player but a highly respected person, too — “a true gentleman, family man and truly a national hero,” in the words of David Beckham.

Ten Hag said Monday he wants his players to use the emotions stirred by the memory of Charlton “in the right way.”

“Bobby was a legend, a giant, not only for Manchester United but for the world of football,” he said at a news conference at United’s training complex, before which there was a minute’s silence in honour of Charlton.

“His legacy — what he left — were the high standards we have to live every day. First of all, our thoughts are with his family, wife, children and grandchildren. And what he meant to Manchester United, the importance to Manchester United, the standards he set, they were emphasised.”

The players and Ten Hag will not lose sight of the importance of the match against Copenhagen itself, however.

United has lost its opening two games in Group A — at Bayern Munich and then, more surprisingly, at home against Galatasaray — to make its double-header against the Danish champions critical to its chances of advancing.

“If you see the group, if you lose the first two games, definitely you have to win the next game,” Ten Hag said.

Manchester United players observe a minute of silence in honour of late English soccer legend Bobby Charlton and for the victims of the Israeli-Hamas war before the English Premier League soccer match between Sheffield United and Manchester United at Bramall Lane in Sheffield, England on Saturday. PHOTO: AP

To do that, United might be relying on more goals from Rasmus Højlund, the striker who left Copenhagen in January 2022 to join Austrian club Sturm Graz for about USD2 million and saw his value increase 40-fold two months ago when signing for United from Atalanta in a transfer worth USD80 million.

The 20-year-old Højlund has scored three of United’s five goals in group play.

Copenhagen is his boyhood club where his younger brothers, Emil and Oscar, still play.

“You know it’s a special game for him,” Ten Hag said. “He grew up at the club and you know he will be highly motivated. It’s for me, for the team, but especially, of course, for him to use that in the right direction, the right balance.”

Ten Hag said left back Sergio Reguilon could return to the team after missing the match against Sheffield United because of an illness.

A boy lays flowers in memory of Bobby Charlton by The United Trinity statue at Old Trafford, in Manchester, England on Sunday. PHOTO: AP