Nineteen years ago — in 1993 — United manager Alex Ferguson was asked if he was glad to return from Turkey to Manchester.
“You bet,” he said before adding, “I’m never getting back.”
That was after Galatasaray knocked them out of the 1993-94 Champions League second round on away goals (3-3 at Old Trafford and 0-0 in Turkey). However, he returned to Istanbul next season to a 0-0 draw — a result which would eventually halt United’s progress from the Group Stage.
Manchester United can confidently say they don’t have fond memories of a city which has the best and worst of both Asia and Europe.
If Ferguson had secretly vowed he would never return again, then football has tricked him one more time as he readies a young team for one of the most hostile receptions in world football.
“WELCOME TO HELL” is probably the mildest banner you’ll see unfurl at the Turk Telecom Arena on Tuesday night. You can add death threats at the airport, fans stoning the team bus, streets lined with men clad in bright red and yellow with rambo-style bandanas, incessant co-ordinated singing which borders at hair-raising and riot police constantly deployed to protect players from various things thrown at them.
Top that with an enviable world record — Galatasaray fans broke the “loudest crowd roar at a sport stadium” record early in 2011 after a peak reading of 131.76 dBA was recorded.
Their own fans are proud of their arena called ’Cehennem’ — hell and it’s a no-brainer why it’s called that.
If tonight is a meaningless match for the visitors, it’s quite crucial for the Turks. They are level on four points with CFR Cluj and only one of them will go through after two games. They need a win.
If the games are important, then passion burns stronger. Turkish football has a history peppered with violence. Galatasaray’s title win in May 2012 ended with rival club Fenerbahce’s fans setting ablaze two police cars and stabbing a fan.
In 2000, a couple of Leeds United fans were stabbed to death by Galatasaray fans and these are just two of examples of what can happen in Turkey.
Maybe it won’t be as bad this time around, but facts like these, coupled with the mental pressure of seeing fires burning through the terraces while fans barrage drums with their war chants could easily unsettle a group of players who represent the world’s most famous club.
However, the competitive edge could also be lesser. The team which made the trip in the 90s consisted of hot-headed genius Eric Cantona, Paul Ince, Peter Schmeichel and the promising group of David Beckham, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and co.
This time, the result has no consequences for the Red Devils. They have already mapped their path to the Last 16 of the Champions League after winning all their matches.
Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Patrice Evra and David de Gea have all been left out of the squad.
But history always takes its toll. The police actually handed out a few smacks to United’s players for violent behaviour in 1993 — they were not Manchester United stars for them. They were just players.
There is no way to prepare for such an atmosphere… it is too overpowering.
For Manchester United, they just have to face the truth — this is hell.
And Galatasaray welcome ya’all to it.