I don’t often write sports blogs, but tonight I thought Barcelona’s Champions League victory at Wembley over Manchester United, worthy of a special entry.
The Champions League is the best of the best. The World Cup is great, but for a neutral, the Champions League is ridiculously exciting. I guess for Manchester United, to simply relive being masterfully outplayed in 2009, again in 2011, it isn’t that much fun.
Usually football exists like every other subject in my fickle life. I immerse myself in every aspect of the beautiful game, for two or three years, and then decide I’m bored of it for a year. Being a Leicester City fan has that affect. When you’re eleven years old and you see your local side draw 3 – 3 with Arsenal in a classic game, suddenly a 1 – 0 win at Doncaster isn’t all that exciting, twelve years later.
But every so often you see a stroke of genius that reminds you why football is the greatest sport on Earth.
A couple of years ago, watching Ronaldinho for both Brazil and Barcelona was like watching a masterclass in the sport. I just presumed it didn’t get any better than that. I’d watch the slow motion replays of the immense skill he had with a ball, and think “Okay, that’s just not possible”, whilst spending hours out in the garden trying to imitate it.
Tonight, Barcelona proved once again, that their current squad is perhaps the best that has ever existed. The 2010/11 Barcelona team is a team we will be talking about when we are old. I imagine in the same way my dad talks about the Manchester United of the ’60s. The Holy Trinity; Denis Law, Bobby Charlton, George Best Manchester United side. That is the level of brilliance that Barcelona have reached. Their football is so easy on the eye, it’s such a privilege to see. Real Madrid’s years as the Kings of La Liga were great, but nothing in comparison.
In 2010/11 Manchester United are the Champions of England. We may as well say, of the United Kingdom, because Celtic and Rangers really don’t offer much of a challenge in Scotland, other than the challenge that includes sending bullets to the Celtic manager (a man who was fantastic during his playing days at Leicester). A Manchester United squad that can happily sit Berbatov on the bench most weeks, and not even include him in the Champions League final squad; their top scorer, is a team that is always going to be dangerous. That being said, they aren’t the golden team that everyone keeps suggesting. The cry of “this is the best United side i’ve ever seen” is a little bit dubious. They aren’t that great. 2 – 2 at Bolton, 2 – 2 at home to West Brom, 0-0 at Sunderland, 2-1 loss to Wolves. The Manchester United 1998-1999 team were far superior.
Plus, they have become incredibly dirty. Their loss to Wolves, breaking their unbeaten run revealed their nasty side when Giggs decided he’d just start attacking people for no real reason. The refusal to talk to the press afterwards. Tonight, Valencia played dirty, pushing his luck as far as he could, to make up for his impotence on the field. A team that cannot deal with losing, is not a respectable team, regardless of what they win, and the manager who seemingly struggles to discipline his overpaid toddlers having a tantrum whenever they don’t get their own way, is not a great manager, regardless of the amount of titles he has won. Sir Alex Ferguson is a genius. But he’s a prick. I cannot imagine Sir Matt Busby, or Brian Clough, or Bill Shankley would have the nerve to stand on the touch line yelling at the linesman, or pointing at their watch as if managing a top team is equal to managing the entire fucking sport itself. Ferguson has no class, he’s like a child, and he cannot deal well with losing.
The gulf between Manchester United (perhaps the 2nd best team in the World at the moment) and Barcelona, is staggering. Tonights Champion’s League final was like watching the 2002 Brazil World Cup winning team VS the celebrity charity matches Sky One put on every year with Rod Stewart and Ralf Little. United had just one shot on goal, and that was Rooney’s goal. Barcelona had 12 shots on goal. This dominance was reflected in the possession. Barcelona enjoyed 63% of the possession. I had predicted a 3-1 scoreline a couple of weeks before to a few friends, who had insisted it’d be closer than that. I am now smug. To United’s credit, Rooney was a class act again. He seemed frustrated with the lack of support he was getting in the last quarter of the pitch at Wembley. The find of the season, Hernández really had no input in the game, Valencia gave the ball away allowing Messi to exploit the mistake time and time again, Giggs was appalling (can I say that? Will he sue me?) and the massively underrated Park Ji-Sung was hardly noticeable. Barcelona toyed with them. The Messi goal came from nowhere. United seemed to try to close Messi down, leaving space elsewhere, noticing the space, filling in the space, leaving Messi with time to do what he does best.
David Villa’s goal, looked like he was just having fun. Like it was simple. A day at the park with a few friends, rather than against the team who had just won the English Premier League for a record breaking amount of times.
It is incredible for me, as a 25 year old, who likes to kick a ball around on a park with friends, to see the level of brilliance that Messi has acquired at only 23. His movements are very George Best-esque and of the top players that have graced the game during my life time (Zindane, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Henry, Gerrard, Rooney, Figo, Shevchenko, Christiano Ronaldo), they don’t seem to come close to Messi. He is of course complemented by having 10 of the best team mates you’re ever likely to see on a football field, but even in the Argentine side, he shines brighter than the rest. Perhaps i’d be that great, if I had the back up of Iniesta and Xavi. Who knows?
It is going to take a supremely class 2011/12 side in La Liga and the Champions League to stop Barcelona repeating the 2010/11 season.
Give it a couple of years, and Leicester will get the job done.