Four pots, bucket seats and go faster stripes!
I’m sitting here on the eve of the Champions League Final. Half of me is appreciative of the fact that an English team is competing in the final and that that team is Liverpool. The Reds have flown the flag for the nations football and have been denied their rightful place at the top of the game for 15 years. Their fans are true fans who have had more triumph and more disaster than almost any other and still contribute inimitable good humour, knowledge and raw passion that it is hard for any other group of supporters to match. Just the Djimi Traore song based on “Don’t blame on the sunshine” was enough for me. You have to hand it to them.
The other half of me is sick to my stomach. Liverpool are 30 odd points off of the league title and yet have already gone further in the greatest club football tournament in the world than we have finishing top two in the league for 7 seasons in a row. They have done so at the consecutive expense of the league winners of both England and Italy – two of the three top leagues in Europe. And they have done so by demonstrating an enviable resolve, discipline and organisation. Above all they have shown great patience.
In England we have a technical area. The Pearce’s, the Walrus’s and the Redknapps use this to bellow exhortations at any player who appears to be saving a drop of fuel for a complicated knot of his Gucci tie rather than donating it to the cause. In Europe you get a row of Recaro seats to hold the management team in secure comfort. From here they can enjoy the high speed cornering and handbrake turns of two teams probing thoughtfully, and sometimes boringly, at the serried ranks of the opposition defence. As Wenger has developed as a manager, on the touchline at any rate, he is now more animated than ever before. I think we have spoiled him. Benitez is showing the kind of calm contemplation of tactics that I think our glorious leader needs to return to.
Actually my despair is lifted a little by our own performance in the FA Cup final. Some seem to be suggesting we played badly in that game. In fact we played as well as Liverpool have in three of their last four Champions League matches; as well as Milan in much of their CL campaign; as well as Chelsea in a considerable number of the matches that handed them the title. We didn’t concede.
What it took on that day to not fade away is exactly the kind of collective effort and tactical discipline that has been missing from so many European nights. To translate this; you need a five man midfield and all hands to the pumps. It’s not pretty. But defences are winning games these days when there is nothing to choose between attacking forces (or even, in our case, when there is a clear superiority up front).
United’s attacking verve last weekend was exceptional – even by their high standards. The Vegetable on the right flank and the chinless Sock Puppet on the left gave our full backs a torrid time. Even David Mamet plays have fewer “what the fuck?” moments. They consistently latched on to cross-field passes that met their feet with unerring regularity (I suspect Rooney’s boots have electromagnets in them). They are (I have to say this) talented enough already without Ralph and Ash giving them 5 yard starts. The Diving Horse kept two centre halves busy on his own. And Ginger Twat, Felcher and Real Madrid’s favourite goal-scoring midfielder could fill in the spaces between Paddy and Gilberto. It looked for all the world like a tactics board. Fergie just put the black discs between the red discs. And it so nearly worked.
We didn’t play for penalties, as Fergie contended. There wasn’t a moment to think that far ahead. But the fact that we slotted five of ‘em, batting second, in front of a wall of filth, shows the admirable aplomb in front of goal that has been the biggest difference between the two rival sides all season. We are seasoned porn stars who can deliver the juice on demand. They are hopeful muscle-mary gym freaks with surgical enhancements. They had all the equipment, but couldn’t produce the goods when the director needed it. See Ronaldo sobbing? There’s the “money shot”.
I can’t put it ALL down to Phillipe Senderos and a rejuvenated Lehman. But there is now an accord between them, no doubt about it. I think Sol and Kolo are fighting for the second berth. And that’s astonishing. Jens really is good enough. He just needed to feel that we thought so. These are fragile characters, as we often forget. Witness Jose’s appreciation that the Gooners didn’t rip the shit out of him after the phone hoax. Instead we clasped the little lad to our bosom. Jens is harder to love – prickly, obsessive, self-righteous. But now he has won us a trophy, Lehman is a Gooner! I’ll defend him to the bitter end now.
There were two other trophies contested this year of course. The mighty Carling Cup was Chelsea’s first trophy of the season. They went for it with all the commitment one would expect of a team still not entirely convinced, despite their lavish riches, that they were actually any good. We still use it as an advanced youth team competition. That’s all I’ll say about it.
Watching Frank and Eidur showing off the Premiership trophy to the Shed End meatheads is a different matter. “That’s not football, that’s shopping”, I said to the Missus. I stick by that opinion today as Chelsea prepare to splash £10m on the full back, Del Horno (great name). One thing I can tell you for certain is that we rarely spend £10m on anyone, but if we did, a great deal more thought would have to go into it. Chelsea remind me of the people you see on ad breaks on the Discovery channel. Two fat butts squeezed into a hideous brand new sofa saying “We didn’t know where to turn. And then someone suggested we try “Abramovich Line”. He was so helpful over the phone. It was such a relief to get out of debt. And we had enough money left over to buy this sofa, a powerboat and a holiday in the Seychelles”. You know (and for the sake of your sanity, you have to hope as well) that it’s going to end really badly. When the bailiffs do come, I just hope Arjen Robben isn’t too crocked.
We will have to put up with them for a few more years; until that great day comes when Kenyon unlocks the boardroom to find it mysteriously filled with chickens unpacking their suitcases. What I would not like to see is Arsenal succumbing to the logic that we have to speculate on the transfer market to keep pace with them. Everything I see about the talent we have in the club (on the pitch and in the back room) points to a steady progression and stability. What I would like to see is the flinty-eyed parsimony of last Saturday whenever we disembark from a ferry next term. I think, with Henry up front – given that the collection of midfielders we have are better than any of our rivals, we have a keeper from the nation who practically invented the patient game, three outstanding centre halves and at least one world class full back – we can hold off the top teams in Europe and he can pounce on any minor mistake they make, and punish the living shit out of it. On the home front? Business as usual, with one exception. We go up to old Trafford and mug them rotten.