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Anyone but United… or Barcelona

With smug United playing the equally smug Barca, it’s just a shame there can’t be two losers in the Champions League final.

Rob Lyons
Columnist

Topics Politics

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And now the end is near, and so I face the final (of the Champions League).

I’m sure that’s what Ol’ Blue Eyes would be singing about now. While there is still a weekend of excitement ahead of us – Man United against Barcelona for the Big Cup, plus three Football League playoff finals – that will be that. No more proper footie till mid-August. We’ll be scavenging on such meagre morsels as the European Under-21 championships or desperately diving on any little bit of transfer gossip like pigeons on a chip.

Still, a stand-in football columnist must make do with the matters in hand, even if the supporters of 85 English teams now have nothing worthwhile to cheer about. Which brings us to events at Wembley on Saturday.

The big question is: who should the independent fan support? In yesterday’s Sun, Ian Wright – retired striker and patriotic gobshite – is unequivocal: ‘As a proud Englishman, my heart says that I HAVE to support Manchester United on Saturday’. He claims that with the likes of Rooney, Ferdinand and Carrick on show, it will feel like ‘a mini-England squad heading out at Wembley’. In that spirit, presumably Rooney will get sent off and United will lose on penalties.

Bizarrely, former Barcelona player Steve Archibald’s reasoning for saying we should all back his former club harks back to General Franco and the oppression of the Catalans after the Spanish civil war. But he does say there is ‘never any arrogance’ and they play pretty football, too. Here’s a man who has totally bought Barcelona’s ‘more than a club’ myth.

Hmmm… I’m not impressed by the standard of debate on display there. Here’s my thinking. On the one hand, you have Manchester United, aka The Evil Empire, who have been sickeningly full of themselves since being crowned The Least Worst Team in England in the weakest Premier League for many years. While the relative return to form of Wayne Rooney is something that England fans will warmly welcome, I suspect that most members of English football’s largest armchair football fan organisation – Anyone But United – will be hoping to see the blood vessels bursting out of Fergie’s face as his team get hammered, before cheerily getting hammered themselves to celebrate.

So, it’s a no-brainer, then: Barca all the way, right? Well, no. While I can appreciate that the current squad are among the best teams to have kicked a ball – with Xavi, Iniesta and Villa all brilliant foils to the maestro, Messi – I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking the boys from the Nou Camp are just getting a bit full of themselves. Despite what Archibald claims, there is some definite looking down the nose at other teams from stripy-shirted Catalans. That’s fine when you’re Jose Mourinho and you have a certain bigheaded charm, but that’s not the Barcelona way.

And the pass, pass, pass, pass mode of football may be beautifully executed, but f**k me if doesn’t get a bit tedious at times. They should be made to earn that cup, not expect to waltz in to collect it as if it were their personal property that they sometimes loan out for a year to some plucky little up-and-coming side like Inter Milan.

On this evidence, it’s a shame there can only be one loser in this game. However, Barca are just a bunch of continental types who don’t really bother us, week in, week out. And they are very talented, aren’t they? United, on the other hand, are in desperate need of being ‘knocked off their f**ing perch’, as an elderly Scotsman once said in different circumstances. Smug Spaniards I can live with.

Still, I’ll be missing the football season come Tuesday. I’ll be missing the final-day excitement in the Premier League, where one minute Wolves, the next minute Birmingham, are going down while Wigan, who’ve been asking for it all season, get away with it. I’ll be missing the warm glow of optimism around Anfield inspired by a team actually scoring goals and, you know, winning matches. Heck, I’ll even be missing Ian Holloway, provider of some of the best monologues since his dear old dad, Stanley.

One thing I won’t be missing is the endless superinjunction debate about what one footballer or another is up to. It’s wrong to have judges telling us what we can or cannot read. We should be able to decide for ourselves what is or is not a matter of interest. On the other hand, it’s none of my business what people get up to in the privacy of their own homes/hotel rooms. (That said, it was quite amusing to read about the homesick United player who enjoys travelling with the team but does Miss Wales occasionally.) We should keep this kind of tawdry affair out of the newspapers and put it back where it belongs: as the inspiration for terrace abuse.

So there it is. One final fling, then a long, probably not-very-hot summer of sports that get buggered up by the weather, like cricket and tennis. Thankfully, all the disappointments of the past few months, all the miserable failures, are forgotten on Saturday 13 August. One joy of football is that there’s always another chance for redemption next season.

Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.

Duleep Allirajah is away.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics

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