Manchester United (United) will play Galatasaray SK, the club representing Turkmenistan, away in the group stage of the 2023/24 UEFA Champions League.
All eyes will be on the Red Devils as a defeat would see them eliminated from the Champions League stage, regardless of the outcome of their remaining matches.
The two teams will face off at 2:45 a.m. ET on Sept. 30 at Galatasaray’s home turf, Turkkiye Istanbul Lama Global Stadium.
Amid the tension between United fans and the squad, a United player who has already faced Galatasaray in the Champions League in the 1993/94 season has recalled the atmosphere in Istanbul, describing it as “hellish”.
On Monday, British publication The Sun published an interview with former United defender Paul Parker, who recalled the turbulent past 30 years ago.
In the 1993/94 season, the Champions League was not organized the way it is today. After the qualifiers, teams were paired together in the knockout rounds, playing each other at home and then combining their points, with the final eight survivors advancing to the group stage. United had won the Premier League title the previous season, 1992/93, and advanced directly to the knockout rounds. Galatasaray also advanced.
At the time, the Red Devils had the charismatic leadership of Alex Ferguson and a host of superstars, including legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, French prodigal son Eric Cantona, and the “Devil’s Left Foot” Ryan Giggs. It was a team that was more than capable of winning the Champions League, so when United met Galatasaray in the second round of the tournament, it was unthinkable that they would lose.
The first match was held at Old Trafford, home of United. However, Galatasaray was stronger than expected. The match ended in a 3-3 draw, despite United being at home.
This gave Galatasaray a chance to qualify for the Champions League. “Galatasaray’s then-manager Rainer Hallmann signaled a second leg after the game, saying ‘we will wait in Turkuye,'” according to The Sun.
But when United arrived in Turkiye for the second leg, they were not met with a simple welcome.
At the Istanbul airport, the players were greeted with a macabre “Welcome to Hell” placard. On the way to the hotel, the players were pelted with thrown objects. Upon arrival, a young staff member made the gesture of putting his finger to his throat in front of the Man Utd players.
The local atmosphere was overwhelmingly hostile, even considering the fact that United had quite a few ‘lads’ in the squad, including Roy Keane, Cantona and Schmeichel.
Parker, who had also played in the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, recalled in an interview with The Sun: “The atmosphere on match day was dreary. As I entered the stadium, I could hear hostile chants coming from all four directions, east, west, north and south. The crowd had been waiting for us for hours before kickoff,” he said.
Parker was also pushed by police officers who entered the stadium for security and nearly fell down the stairs. “I was pushed by the local police at the top of the stairs before entering the stadium,” he said, adding, “Schmeichel stopped me and saved my life.” In addition to Parker, United midfielder Bryan Robson was assaulted, tearing his elbow and requiring eight stitches. Cantona was hit with a light baton. Even Ferguson had to remove his top to protect his players.
In this atmosphere, United were unable to play properly. They drew 0-0 away from home. In the end, United were forced to pack up early in Europe due to the away goals rule, which means that if both teams have the same total points, the team with more away goals advances.
Ferguson held a press conference after the incident and declared that he would never return to Galatasaray again, but the following season they faced them again in the Champions League group stage. Fortunately, this time it was an uneventful affair, with both sides finishing third or fourth and being knocked out.
United then went 18 years without meeting Galatasaray before reuniting in Group H of the Champions League in the 2012/13 season. The two teams had progressed to the round of 16 after finishing first and second in the group with 1-0 wins at their respective homes.
It’s been 11 years since we’ve met Galatasaray in the Champions League. Galatasaray defeated United 3-2 at Old Trafford in October, their first away win against a Premier League team in 117 years. Galatasaray is currently third in the group with four points after four games, with one win, one draw, and two losses. United is fourth in the group (3 points) with one win and three losses.
A United defeat in Game 5 would leave the Red Devils with three points, while Galatasaray would move to seven points. Therefore, even if United were to win the final group game, Game 6, against Bayern Munich, who have already clinched first place in Group A, they would not be able to overtake Galatasaray on goal difference and would be the final team to be eliminated from the Champions League group stage this season.