Monday, May 30, 2016

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Madrid Win Madrid Lose

Only the most wide-eyed of apologists would deem the 2016 finale to European club football as anything other than fairly forgettable -

For the third time in as many weeks my son and I sat down to watch a cup final. To the women in the house it is a taster of what lies ahead with the European championships fast approaching.





He didn’t get his fiver from last week but nevertheless managed to swindle me out of a tenner for Saturday night’s game or at least he thinks he has. He asked would I put a party on for him and his friend who would be having a sleep over and I told him of course. I did not tell him that it came out of his bottle where he is saving towards some new FIFA game for his Play Station. A row postponed.

Last year, with the same friend, he had a sleep over, although for Ronan it was an away fixture: his first night outside the home without family chaperoning. Then they had watched the Juventus-Barcelona final in Conor’s home. My son asked me to get him a Juventus top for the occasion but at the price they were looking I suggested a Newcastle one from the charity shop: he only wanted it for a night and besides, no one would know the difference. Seriously, a Juve top would cost around
80 whereas Newcastle tops would be giveaways. Who apart from masochists and circus clowns would want them? Other than his friend’s family nobody would even see him snugly cocooned in his black and white in front of the TV. Unlike my turning up at a Glens game in a red and black hat and scarf, Manchester City’s old away kit, and some suspicious giant asking if I was a Crusaders man. Ronan was aghast, having none of it. There are just some things even a ten-year-old has the cop on not to go near. 
Saturday evening’s Champions League final was in Milan but the great Milanese sides, AC and Inter, both past winners of the coveted premier European club silverware, were nowhere to be seen. Just as it was in Lisbon two years back Madrid would take the trophy, either Real or Atlético. Despite a fall from international grace courtesy of a lacklustre World Cup outing last time around, Spanish soccer is far from being offside and is still very much in the game. That said, these two Madrid giants fought it out as finalists in 2014 only for the national side to fold lamentably in Brazil. The upcoming Euros will take the tide out and then we will see who is really naked.

Madrid is a great city, the first piece of Spanish soil that my feet ever touched. Later my wife and I had the joy of hanging out in it for almost a week when she was pregnant with our first child. The restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels were a world removed from Belfast. Today it will be awash with the victorious colours of Real, although the game was not a spectacle anyone would remember for its soccer. In Madrid it gives bragging rights, probably more important that scintillating skills in a capital city derby clash.

My son, just as he had two years ago, went for Atlético, even having his hair cut during the week so that it would resemble the style of Antoine Griezmann. He asked me what French international I thought he looked like. Waxing both puzzled and pensive for a while, my answer, Kurt Zouma, was not quite what he was looking for. After Griezmann’s penalty miss just as the second half started, I suggested a skinhead. “You don’t want to be Antoine Greasy Toe”. He threatened not to have his photo taken with me. 

I opted for Atlético as well. I once had an interest in Real but only when the coach was Bernd Schuster, the erstwhile German midfielder of immense ability who steadfastly refused to play for the national team after the age of twenty-four despite the undoubted prominence it would have brought him. 

Atletico Madrid are a tough side. Unlike Liverpool, whose top I wore for the game, they are very capable in defence. The only goal they conceded in real time was offside, an indictment of the referee not the players. A sure sign that Anfield needed Simeone not Klopp.

It was a match that many will struggle to remember in a year or two’s time. On the night the great were far from good. I have watched quite a lot of soccer maestros over the years and despite all the hype and his undoubted knack for finding the back of the net, Ronaldo is not in the top flight five. On Saturday night he was sluggish. For the past three decades until the arrival of Lionel Messi, in my mind there only four players who merited soccer canonisation: Pele, Cryuff, Beckenbauer and Maradona. Messi is better than them all. The notion that at that level Ronaldo can compete does not compute.

In the end, Atlético were hard done by. Compact, tough, aggressive, they should have emerged as winners, even if lacking in imagination up front and despite missing a penalty which arguably should not have been awarded. The Real goal that was definitely offside will define how we come to reflect on a most unmemorable match. 

Two high profile finals in a week officiated over by Mark Clattenburg must leave serious questions hovering over the quality of service provision from match officials. How soccer’s governing body had to be dragged over the touchline of goal line technology and its dogged insistence on living in the caves when it comes to video assisted refereeing, displays an attitude of blatter on regardless. In a world of big bucks, where silverware produces a treasure trove of income for clubs, we wonder how market forces in their greed-driven foraging have not yet penetrated the archaic regime which is kept in place while wholly unfit for purpose.

Brexit might not be such a bad idea if it rids Europe of British referees.

10 comments :

DaithiD said...

I think Ronaldo was unfit, and I maybe biased but for me he is a better player than Messi.I think we can agree that we are just blessed to have two such players that usually come along once in a generation.

PS did you photoshop your face into that pic?

Peter said...

I lived in Madrid for 6 wonderful years. Best city in Europe. I had a season ticket for 5 seasons at Atletico and can say that the atmosphere on a Saturday evening is something special, unlike the Bernabeu which resembles a big library full of posh twats. Atletico is very much the working class team of the capital and the club has a reputation of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. For example, they won the double in 96 and then got relegated 2 seasons later. The Madrid fans, or madridistas, call Atletico "Las Pupas" or "the jinxed" and it has happened all over again. 3 finals, 3 defeats, 2 to Real. To say I was sick on Saturday night is an understatement. Football is so cruel sometimes. We beat Barca and Bayern to get there and then wilt in front of the team that can't beat us in the league. It was an forgettable final for the neutral.
The fact that we have won so much under Quique Sanchez Flores and Cholo Simeone is brilliant considering that in my first season there we finished in the bottom half. The next season we signed Aguero and played him up top with Torres and Maxi Rodriguez and managed to get into the UEFA cup via the Inter Toto. The improvement has been steady and we should be proud to have at least reached Europe's top table. But to lose again to THEM hurts bad. Nearly as bad as seeing some crazy Irishman putting an H in Atletico!

larry hughes said...

My abiding memory of that final will be ladyboy Ronaldo having done nothing all night other than hitting a free kick into the defensive wall emerged as the taker of the decisive penalty. How sickening the way he posed before hitting it. I'm surprised he knew where the ball was he spends that much time looking for himself on the big screen. The Fascists Real Madrid as in the civil war, were permitted to win. Tragedy.

AM said...

DaithiD,

did nothing at all with it.

Peter - that would have made a piece in its own right. Atlético spelling corrected. Thanks for that.

Steve Ricardos said...

Never mind the rag yer wearing, what the hell is thon thing on yer napper?

Dixie said...

Having never gotten around to actually supporting a soccer on a full time basis I might opt for Real Madrid. Given that they've won everything going twice as many times as other teams I would certainly have bragging rights above other supporters.

In fact I'll say I've been a Real Madrid supporter all my life, since they won on Saturday Night.

AM said...

Steve,

it's a baseball cap

Peter said...

AM
I blogged about Atletico for 6 or 7 years for various websites. I only stopped when I started my Master's. Maybe you'll let me write an article after I return from my visit to France next month for the Euros?

Larry
Ronaldo is the best player in Real's history by a long way, according to the stats. But the madridistas hate him. His nickname is "El Chulo" or "The Pimp" and he is often booed by his home fans.
Real's legacy from the Franco era remains in that they have their loans guarranteed by the regional govt which is dominated by the right wing Partido Popular, allowing them to fund their scandalous Galacticos policy. They really are Franco's Blancos. Horrible club!

Niall said...

Enjoyed that one also AM.....nice series of football articles.

AM said...

Peter,

would love that piece. The TPQ Euros correspondent!!

Niall,

it makes a change from the dull stuff of politics.