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.