Manchester United. Barcelona. The Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy.
You’re a fan, you know the deal. The two best football teams line up today to go mano-a-mano in the Champions League final after winning their respective leagues. Both teams, the one from Manchester and the one from Barcelona, have unfathomable footballing talent, not the least of which are probably the two best players in the world, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
It gets better. These are not conservative nor negative teams, rather they are both teams that love to attack, that love to express themselves on the pitch with creativity, brilliant skill, and panache. Even the coaches are suggesting this might be a truly brilliant and entertaining match.
Suddenly you smell something amiss. Two managers being complimentary of each other’s teams. The players talking about respect for the opposing players. A whole lot of respect and even humility amongst the, rightly, biggest egos in football. You smell flowers instead of blood on the turf. Is this for real?
Are we about to see a soccer match, or 22 athletes singing around a campfire?
One suspects it is all BS, worse yet, a way of making defeat look more acceptable to their fans worldwide. ”We put in a valiant effort, but the other team ia great, and we could not prevail,” they might say post match. Oh for Cruyff’s sake, spare us.
We expect a beautiful war, but nonetheless a war; we demand it. Whether we cheer for Barcelona or Manchester, we demand nothing less than complete victory.
One suspects Sir Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola, away from the press, see it much that way themselves. Neither has a taste nor tolerance for defeat. They will demand victory, they will architect victory at any cost to style. The situation and even history demand it
The win isn’t likely to be pretty after all, even if these sides have unsurpassed abilities to please the eye.
Manchester United are unlikely to play as Real Madrid did, allowing Barcelona easy opportunity to get behind the defenders. Barcelona is unlikely to allow Manchester United the lion’s share of possession in the midfield that United is used to.
It is likely to be a game of strategy and tactics with a single error determining the winner, if it does not go to extra time and penalties. Each team will need to shut down some of the most talented players in the world and will have a plan to do so. Open play will be difficult.
We will hope for goals, but demand victory, and that’s what we’ll get.
Victory for whom? It’s a bookie’s nightmare.