Days after Manchester United put themselves in position to win the English Premier League championship with a 2-1 victory over rivals Chelsea, James Lawton of the Independent writes of the evolution of the game of soccer, and how Manchester United and Chelsea have (or have not) changed with the times.
How could it be? Within hours United, with massive help from 37-year old Ryan Giggs, had not only dismantled piece by piece the dreams of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich yet again, they had also taken us back to the origins of their particular species, which is to say serial winners.
It wasn't so much another triumph as a lesson, chalked on a blackboard and available to anyone with enough wit to absorb the message.
Unfortunately, for the freshly shell-shocked supporters of Chelsea their patron was absent when United manager Sir Alex Ferguson performed his genuflection to his own fans on whom he has lavished such riches for so long. But then who could argue seriously that, in terms not just of some basic intellectual capacity to deal with the peculiar challenges of a football club but even a smattering of bog-standard common sense, Abramovich hasn't been an absent landlord ever since he decided he knew better than Jose Mourinho?
This probably isn't the best time to cite the wisdom of the Special One. However, in between winning the Champions League for Porto and Internazionale, he did lay down some of the working necessities of a winning team, delivering two straight Premier League titles and overwhelming evidence that he knew how to create a fierce desire for success among key players.
Abramovich wanted prettier football but then, as Neville would no doubt tell him at some length, this might have, well, evolved.
Someone once said, and was frequently quoted by one of the game's ultimate pragmatists, John Giles, that football may be a simple game but it takes a hell of a lot of hard work to make it so. Darwin's evolution had to be traced back over eons. Ferguson's at Old Trafford is a mere 25 years old.
On Sunday it left Chelsea, for all their wealth, for all their parade of haunted managers, back in Jurassic Park.
It left Carlo Ancelotti, a man of superb football credentials and, whatever the circumstances, most enduring charm, in the same place as Avram Grant, who despite the slimmest possible credentials was eased into Mourinho's chair. This is to say it rendered him desperately exposed to the worst the game can do, a lonely figure who was defended by Ferguson before the game with some force but little prospect of altering the quick-fix follies of a club fed billions of roubles but starved of anything resembling a long-term grasp of what quite was required. United have evolution, Chelsea have revolutions you could almost set your clock by.
On Sunday the comparison was cruel even before you weighed the difficulties of a United season which may yet gather in a second Champions League title from three final appearances in four seasons.
There was the spending restraint imposed by the club's madcap financial structure, an allocation which many, including Wayne Rooney's agent, considered utterly inadequate for the task of replacing Cristiano Ronaldo – a proposition somewhat challenged by the brilliant signings of Javier Hernandez, Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling and the Da Silva boys. There was the green-and-gold unrest of the terraces. There was Rooney's cynical rebellion, unhelpfully accompanied by a total loss of form. There was Rooney's boneheaded suspension, then Ferguson's banishment from the touchline.
Enough, you might have imagined to disrupt the best-laid evolution, but then you looked at hollowed out, broken Chelsea, you saw the despair of their fans and still the most shocking reality of all – Fernando Torres, a £50m cure-all who still looks unfit for purpose.
Where do Chelsea go now? They have to remake their team, plainly, and they also have to create something else that for them would be new. It is a basic understanding of how you make success, how you create an ambience that persuades players of the quality of Giggs, Paul Scholes and Neville that they have everything they need in a certain place for the longest possible time.
United had an impressive cast list of heroes in their latest triumph. Park Ji-sung and Valencia were phenomenal in their application – and their effect; Rio Ferdinand rescued a little more from his injury-devastated season; Nemanja Vidic underlined the oddity that he didn't land one of the awards for player of the year. Yet the essence of United, again, was one of their players of the ages, Giggs.
There is, inevitably, the persistent worry that, like some great, ageing fighter, Giggs will one day find himself in the ring with hardly the remnants of his old power. Yet, all available evidence suggests, it is our worry, not his.
His latest performance against Chelsea, as it was in the Champions League quarter-final games, was beautiful. The work that gave Vidic his chance to score the second goal was a piece of timeless craft. It made him, when you thought about it, more than United's player of this season and many others. He was, as Gary Neville might say, nothing less than the poster boy for football evolution.