Tonight I shall settle down on my favourite, well our only, armchair for the final of the European Champions League. I am by no means a fan of this overly bloated competition in which the majority of its participants are not champions at all, but I am a fan tonight because the two teams involved are Barcelona and Juventus and some of the greatest players who have ever lived will be in competition.
I make no apologies for my love of Barcelona. I know there is talk of dodgy governance and dodgy money, but as with the professional wrestling I watched in days gone by, I suspend my sense of disbelief when they play. In the words of Paul Simon, “A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.”
Italian football is in near meltdown. Juventus won Serie A by miles sand it was barely a competition at all. Barcelona won La Liga (and the Copa Del Rey) with something to spare and in any event there are realistically only three teams who can win that league, the two Madrid giants being the other two. So watching Barcelona play, and usually win, is to some people about as interesting as watching Formula One where the final result is almost certainly the same every time. But for all that, I love them. I’ve never seen them ‘live’, in classic armchair supporter fashion, but I watched almost every game they played last season on Mr Murdoch’s TV subscription service. I know their players far better than any of the ones who now play for the first football love of my life Bristol Rovers.
Juventus have in their ranks two of the all time greats of football in the form of the goalkeeper Buffon and the midfield playmaker Pirlo. In the humble opinion of this very humble blogger, both would appear in my all time world eleven to face Mars and there is a strong sentimental case for wanting them to win the cup. But I can’t bring myself to break my glory-hunting attachment to Barcelona.
If Juventus have two of the all time great in their team, I would argue that Barcelona have at least three. The little men, Messi, Iniesta and Xavi were, at their peak, certainties for that world eleven and they are among the best footballers who have ever lived. Xavi, for whom tonight will represent his last game for Barcelona, presumably from the bench, is my favourite player ever. Standing at 5’7″, you wonder at first sight how he would cope in the rough and tumble of international football. He was never blessed with great pace either, but what the man could do, better than anyone else on the planet, was to use the ball. No one passed more often or more accurately than Xavi and I for one will miss his presence more than is healthy for a middle aged man.
Add to those three, the world class talents of Suarez, Neymar, Pique, Mascherano, Alba, Pedro, Alves and the woefully underrated Busquets, the team’s enforcer, I can only see one result.
Under the management of Luis Enrique, the style of the team has slightly evolved and whilst it is still based on the Cruyff and Guardiola principle of possession, they now have a plan b for the rare occasion plan a doesn’t work; a quicker, more direct game that is as surprising as it is effective.
I can see all the arguments about why Barcelona and Real Madrid dominate La Liga and probably always will, but there is something about the Barca style, the footballing culture and the overwhelming sheer decency of their superstars that I find utterly endearing. I love tiki taka, which means touch touch, because only the very best teams can play like that. Barcelona dominate possession but they also do it in the opposition half. In practice, this is almost impossible and usually teams retain possession by knocking the ball around deep lying midfield players and defenders, often ending with a pass back to the goalkeeper or a lump up front. If tiki taka was so easy to do, everyone would play that way, but the truth is only teams blessed with greatness can do it.
So it’s Barcelona all the way for me. I do like Juventus and I am glad that Real Madrid, who due to all manner of irrational reasons I can’t stand, are not in the final in their place, but I can’t see them winning.
The tune I want to hear at the end is the Barcelona anthem:
Blue and scarlet in the wind,
Our cry is bold,
We have a name,
That everyone knows:
Barça, Barça, Barça!