For some years there has been an amusing little parlour game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
The premise is that the 54-year-old Philadelphia-born actor has been so ubiquitous (64 films since 1978) that it will only ever take a maximum six links in the chain from any other actor to return to Kevin Bacon.
So, for example, you start with Robert De Niro and say: "Who starred in Midnight Run?" which had Billiy Smith as Best Boy, who also worked on Lake Placid, which starred Oliver Platt, who worked on Frost/Nixon. Within two shakes of a lamb's tail it's Kevin Bacon time – if butchers will forgive me the mixed meat metaphor.
There is a significant flavour of Six Degrees to the impending UEFA Champions League last-16 contest between two regal European clubs – Manchester United FC and Real Madrid CF. The links between Madrid, Manchester, Sir Alex Ferguson, José Mourinho and this trophy are repetitive, attractive and firm parts of the tie's magical fabric.
Sir Alex owes something of his utter devotion to football to having been at the historic European Champion Clubs' Cup final between Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt at Hampden Park in 1960. It took place in his native city, and Glasgow felt like the centre of the world as Ferenc Puskás, Alfredo Di Stéfano and Erwin Stein (nine goals between them) ran riot – young Ferguson, there with brother Martin, was hooked.
We are also within touching distance of the exact 30th anniversary of Ferguson's Aberdeen FC defeating Madrid, under the tutelage of Di Stéfano in his managerial era, in the European Cup Winners' Cup final on 11 May 1983.
Without that quite immense feat it is a reasonable argument that Sir Alex might never have been offered the Old Trafford job. While his determination to nudge Liverpool from the winners' podium (or words to that effect) was a central motor of his early years at United, it is of course a drive to win the 'Cup With The Big Ears' which inspires everyone associated with that club.
Madrid were perhaps United's most thorny opponents in 1968 when Sir Matt Busby followed Celtic FC's triumph the previous year to make the Red Devils England's first European champions.
One-nil, thanks to George Best, and 3-3 were the semi-final scorelines. But the tales from both sets of players about how epic their knockout contest was still echo down the generations and will hover over the Santiago Bernabéu and Old Trafford in the coming weeks.
Then, if you want to skip forward in time a little, which match is partly responsible for the rise and rise of José Mourinho, one of only three men – with Ottmar Hitzfeld and Ernst Happel – to lift the European Cup with two different clubs?
Whether or not it is apocryphal, the story goes that Roman Abramovich was a guest at the epic Manchester United 4-3 Real Madrid UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg at Old Trafford on 23 April 2003.
The Russian, like everyone else privileged enough to observe Ronaldo's sensational hat-trick that night, was totally enthralled and seduced. He was sold on the game just as the young Ferguson had been 42 years before at Hampden, when the same white shirts swamped Eintracht like confetti covers the heroes of a tickertape parade on New York's Lower Broadway.
Within a few months he was Chelsea FC owner, the next summer Mourinho – fresh from winning the 2004 trophy following his FC Porto side's shock elimination of United, one of several remarkable jousts with Sir Alex's teams – was hired and then he eventually emerged at Madrid.
Of course no one should forget that the Merengues also went to Old Trafford and beat Sir Alex's United 3-2 some 13 years ago at a time when, rather like the present, they had slipped way behind the Liga leaders (then RC Deportivo La Coruña). Yet that season of 1999/2000 brought a change of coach from John Toshack to Vicente Del Bosque, and in due course a thrilling victory in the Paris UEFA Champions League final.
The magic of the UEFA Champions League – nothing to do with Kevin Bacon but just as romantic and intoxicating as anything Hollywood ever produced.
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