But, as light and comic relief to the jitters and jubilations of the next two weeks, there is also the fact that around now, the rumour mill goes into overdrive. The media, equally to the fabled word-of-mouth – “My mate’s dog saw Wesley Sneijder in the Old Trafford gift shop” – dedicate time and column inches speculating on who might go or who might stay.
As well as the usual transfer sagas – such as the Carlos Tevez episode, which is rivalling the nativity story in terms of being age-old – there are the more quirky stories; the astute-eyed picking up on certain nuances or caveats which may lead to managers having a dabble. It is from this leftfield origin that the curiosity of Manchester United fans was piqued: away from transfers, the Sunday papers were abuzz with talk that, shockingly, Manchester United could be reinstated into the Champions League.
The back story to this unforeseen turn of events is complicated and dates back to August when lowly Swiss outfit FC Sion beat Celtic in their Europa League qualifying bout. A turnout for the books and not an expected outcome for the Hoops, yes, but a long, unconnected way from Stretford. However, during this tie, FC Sion had fielded an ineligible player: the registration of Brian Amofa had not been accepted by the Swiss FA. Like a swaggering school prefect, UEFA soon stepped in to swiftly hand out punishment, leading to Celtic progressing to the group stages at Sion’s expense.
Whilst this may appear harsh, Sion had previous: back in 2008, the club signed Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary but due to the fact that he was still under contract with his previous club, Al-Ahly, FIFA imposed a transfer ban. Although it was meant to last two transfer windows, the aggrieved Swiss team only, in realty, missed out on the winter transfer window of 2010-11.
What’s this got to do with Manchester United and their potential knockout round with Bayern Munich? Nothing … and everything. Because Sion, with both of these previous grievances in mind, have spent the last few months appealing and, in doing so, refusing to let the matter drop. As recently as November, with five of the six group games completed, there was talk of them being reinstated back into the Europa League; even Michel Platini, in his eternal wisdom, would have struggled to make that work.