"This header's going to get more coverage than Welbeck's even though it's arguably not as good."
We’ve been documenting the decline and shortcomings of ‘modern football’ and its saturation coverage until we’re bluer in the face than a freezing Smurf, so it was refreshing to take in that rarest of spectacles this week: an enjoyable football match. With European ties scarce between Real Madrid and Manchester United in recent years, and those that have occurred remembered fondly – particularly for exhibitions of skill and goalscoring by Ronaldo, Redondo, Beckham et al – it was pretty difficult for any of the usual trumpeting narratives of revenge, vendettas or rivalries to penetrate what looked like an absolute classic from the moment the balls came out of the bag.
As is fairly obvious from the feverish coverage that pours forth from the laptops of journalists every season, there’s nothing sells papers or online subscriptions like a good narrative. By which we mean turning everything into a bloody soap opera. Maybe there wasn’t time for that – after all, there’s not much space to type up Jose Mourinho’s backside – or maybe there just wasn’t enough animosity between the clubs to fuel the usual ‘so-and-so can’t wait to get so-and-so back for the time he did / said / managed / played for such-and-such’. But either way, the spectacle was far better for it, save for Geoff Shreeves continuing to descend into a parody of himself and asking even more inane questions than normal – even, at one point, playing the ludicrous-and-creepy-in-equal-measure talk show host role and opining to Mourinho that ‘are you happy? You don’t look happy’. He’s not happy Geoff because he’s having to talk to YOU.
A moment’s digression here to point out that Mourinho knows EXACTLY what he’s doing. Sky’s constant monitoring of his condition was more like he was a baby hedgehog* on Animal Hospital, with Rolf Stelling continually telling us that he’s not been the same mischievous manager that we (the media) so fell in love with in the Premier League, where as we (the media) all know, he made his name because that was the first time that we (the media) ever realised he existed and we (the media) are suckers for a good dose of panto. Frankly, it was, and is, embarrassing to see an entire nation’s press fawning over a man who quite clearly sees them coming a mile off. Mourinho’s hand must be fucking chewed to bits because they’ve been eating out of it for a LONG time now.
But at least this was affection, not bile. There have been plenty of unedifying spectacles down the years, particularly in Clasicos and in Champions League ties involving Chelsea (Barcelona/Liverpool). There were no endless re-runs of goals from last year, or the year before or the year before that. This was a tie that felt special because it is so rare (watch them meet each other at this stage again three times in the next four years now) and was hyped up for footballing reasons, not personal or reputational. A big hug for Ronaldo from Ferguson. A standing ovation for Giggs from the Bernebau.
HELLO MUTUAL RESPECT. WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN HIDING?
So as thoughts turn to the second leg, it would be sensible to literally ignore Jamie Redknapp’s comments relating to United being in the box seat. They aren’t. Real WILL score at Old Trafford – we’ll stake our reputation (ha) on it. Real have scored in every away game in the Champions League this season to further highlight the point. And if you weren’t privy to such information, they are fairly partial to a cheeky counter attack.
So, then, a genuinely even-pegged, impossible-to-call tie? That might just be enough to stop us slagging off the Big Cup for a while.
*insert ‘still just as spiky’ joke here, because we can’t be bothere… oh