The Champions League final can often produce a bore where the result is all. The auguries were not good when a well organised side like Juventus play a more expressive team like Barcelona. I was even more apprehensive when Phil Neville, a mediocre analyist, predicted an exciting game. For once Phil was right and I was wrong as this was a treat: an absorbing match of ebb and flow, of contrasting styles in which Juventus put up a stirring fight.
John Pargiter texted me pre-match for tips. He was already quids in with his 28-1 each way bet laid some months ago. I said that in the absence of Chielini, Juve’s best defender they would lose so he should lay off on Barcelona the expectation that he would cash in on each way Juve as finalists and the victory of Barca.
I decided to watch it on SKY and listen to the build up on radio 5. The tv adverts, opening ceremony and bland punditry tend to irritate more than anticipate. I was annoyed with Phil Neville who defended the decision of Sir Alex to part with Paul Pogba, blaming his agent. He should have mentioned that there were 2 other players on the pitch Sir Alex had discarded – Gerard Pique and Caelos Tevez – with whose presence Manchester United would have fared better. Sir Alex is rarely criticised. That is why he is the greatest manager ever of the greatest league ever that did not produce one semi finalist in either European competition. Neville told us Italian football is in decline even those they produced 3 (Juve and Napoli and Fiorentina).
I cannot take Cole Tydesley’s verbiage nor Andy Townsend’s grammar so I went with experienced Martin Tyler and Alan Smith who is better on tactics. I did see a minor flaw in Tyler’s commentaries – he tends to leave the match for some additional provision of information. You can do this in cricket or golf where there are natural pauses but he was telling a story during an important counterattack. Juve played ruggedly and Vidal could have been sent off as he ‘lost it’ in the first 20 minutes. In fact there was low booking count which only adds to the spectacle.
One of the sadnesses for me of modern commentary is the triumph of hype over historical actuality. It is often asserted that Lionel Messi is the greatest player ever and to support this is that he the leading European scorer with 77 goals in 98 appearances. In fact Alfredo de Stefano had the better record with 48 in 58 a strike ratio of 85% to Messis’s 79%. De Stefano starred for the Real Madrid team who won the trophy for its first 5 years and the game recalled some of those great finals not the duller contest of recent years.