Champion's League Final - Barcelona 3 Manchester United 1
I remember a couple of nights ago watching Alex Ferguson saying at a press conference that this game could be the greatest Champions League final of the past decade and thinking to myself only if you get possession of the ball Alex,
how do you propose to do that?
Football is indeed the beautiful game but how cruel it can be. After the opening 10 mns. United's four man midfield of Valencia, Carrick, Giggs and Park Ji-Sung became rabbits caught in the headlights of the fabulously interchangeable Barcelona carousel as it came at them with lights, baubles, bells, and flamenco music blaring. The six man (midfield / forward) blend of Busquets: Iniesta: Pedro: Xavi and Villa all orchestrated by the maestro with the baton Lionel Messi took command. The diminutive Argentinean complete with pace courage skill and the rest of his sublime conjuring kit was transcendent. Barca. did nothing unusual they simply played the uplifting way they always do and that makes them very scary indeed because they don't try to surprise their opponents that's because they don't need to, it must be exasperating to know what your opponent is going to do and not be able to do anything about it. For me this was cruelly displayed in a little cameo played out between two players. Park Ji-Sung and Messi. Ji-Sung is a terrific player and a soldier, not glamorous but effective and a shining star for United this season. In the first quarter of the match he faced Messi one on one on 4 almost identical occasions with Messi approaching him with the ball at his feet not moving fast but enticing the little Korean to tackle him which he did, and on 4 identical occasions Messi left him for dead, this reflected what was happening all over the pitch and it must have been chilling for United and their fans.
Commentators in rugby are fond of telling us the comparative weights of opposing packs, had this been done here the game would have been called off such was the Manchester United players advantage. You half expected the field to tilt in United's direction as both teams moved to their separate ends prior to kick off. happily this was not rugby, this was the beautiful game where the Spanish matadors despite facing much more powerful opponents danced and stung in a mazy exhibition of elegance and speed bewildering their opponents before taking pity on them and inflicting the 'coup de grace' it's a sobering thought for United and any other challengers that the second most influential player here on the night after Messi did not play; the brilliant combative Barcelona Captain Puyol who got two or three minutes at the end due to injury. Make no mistake this was no show piece final; you need two teams of equal ability to produce that and this was a mismatch. How cruel is it that this Final might have brought an end to the careers of Van Der Sar Giggs and Scholes, great players getting the run around by even greater and of course younger players, careers ending as TS Elliot would have it "not with a bang but with a whimper"
We can look at the game and reflect on the gap between Barca. And United who are one of the world's biggest clubs and hope that football will try to follow the example of the great Catalans who "grow their own" players, is this the way forward? After all when United had one of their best ever teams a couple of years ago they had about 6/7 home grown players in it; Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, the Nevilles etc. and bear in mind Messi cost zilch, those last three words are mind boggling aren't they. After the match I reflected again for the umpteenth time on the great players I have been fortunate to see play in the flesh, Di Stefano: Puskas: Cruyff: Maradona: Pele: Best: Masopust: Charlton: Beckenbaur: Law: Baresi etc. etc. Once I got over fearing him as an opponent I have clung to the choice of Bobby Charlton as the greatest player I have ever seen until now. Messi is the man and still only 23 with pace, skill and courage, able to slalom past great defenders at speed and see a pass with eyesight like a "poorhouse rat" he takes kicks trips and elbows and gets back up right away, he never feigns injury and never waves an imaginary card and he scores sublime goals, what would he be like if he was two footed? I suppose one foot is plenty if its Lionel Messi's left one, they say he can open a can of peas with his left foot. Here is another thought to cheer up other teams he is as I said 23 and he is in competition with at least 2 other Barca players for the title of best player in the world and they are similar in age, despite what we seen last night they will get better.