We've covered soccer whimsically, half-assedly, and haphazardly here, especially recently. Now, in a very special guest post, Friend of G:TB Otis gives us the perspective of an honest-to-God footie fan. Take it away, my man.
While most football fans are - understandably - looking anxiously toward South Africa right now, this writer is still contemplating the end of this most recent European club football season. Inter Milan are European champions for the first time in some forty years, and the Special One has put one more notch in his goalpost to bolster his case for his self-appointed status.
There are much smarter observers who can write about how Mourinho has succeeded in three major football leagues, or how the financial management of club football is creating a chasm between a few "haves" and many "have nots" (think about the payroll difference between the now re-relegated Burnley side that beat ManU at the beginning of the season, or look at the points gap between 2d and 3d place in La Liga). However, below are some thoughts on interesting stories to consider at the close of the season. This list is not intended to be a comprehensive overview of the season - just some observations at the close of a terrific campaign. Many are decidedly the ends of things, but some just may be good beginnings, or re-beginnings, as it were:
Wesley Sneijder's return: Getting the boot from Real Madrid was the best thing that ever happened to this guy. What a season he had: he found regular first team football (which he didn't always have even before Galacticos 2.0 arrived at the Bernabeu), and in the process, ended up with the eventual European champions. His confidence cup runneth over sometimes, to the point of acute arrogance (e.g., his straight red at mocking the ref during a Serie A regular season game), but his talent is unquestionable: great vision and passing, a rocket-shot, and dangerous deadball skills. It's too bad Mourinho left Inter for Sneijder's old club, because he fit so well into Jose's system. Hopefully, things work out for him in the next season--he made Inter fun to watch (for me).
David Villa's departure: Well, Valencia finally succumbed to the financial pressure and sold one of the world's least known best strikers to Barcelona. It's a shame, because he was one of half a dozen players that were keeping Valencia within sight of it's former glory. While they lagged well behind Real Madrid at the close of the La Liga season, Valencia finished solidly in third place (again), and Villa, along with David Silva, Juan Mata, Pablo Hernandez, and a few others, were the reason. It's hard to believe that some of these talents will stay now that Villa has gone, and that could lead to an inexorable slide for Los Che, when the vicious circle of financial pressures forces the sale of good players, which leads to lower revenues, which leads to more financial pressures, and on and on. Valencia wouldn't be the first club to fall down this hole, but what a said story it would be. I haven't been following football that long, but one of the first La Liga matches I watched was Valencia v. Villareal--I was hooked. The crisp passing and movement was a joy to watch (plus how cool is that bat logo on their kit?). And don't forget it wasn't that long ago that Valencia was a real challenger in the Champions League: they played in the finals in both 2000 and 2001, losing to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, respectively. It will be terrific for fans, for La Liga, and football in general, if they can hang on to some good players and stay competitive.
Myth of English football dominance: There was a lot of gnashing of teeth the last few years about the dominance of English football, when 3 of the 4 teams in two consecutive semi-finals were English teams (Liverpool, Chelsea, and eventual winners, Manchester United in 2008; Chelsea, Arsenal, and ManU in 2009). However, a closer look shows that this concern is largely unfounded. In the last ten years, English teams have won just twice--the aforementioned ManU victory and Liverpool's "Miracle at Istanbul" in 2005. Spanish teams have won 4 times (Barcelona and Real Madrid with 2 victories a piece), Italians 3 times (2 for AC Milan and 1 for Inter this year), and Porto of Portugal bringing home the trophy once, setting Jose Mourinho on his way. I think the argument is "mute" (as a former Rex would say) ((NOTE: we're deep into inside joke territory here)) until the English bring the Cup home a few more times.
Stay tuned for more of Otis' musings on the beautiful game, in which he waxes rhapsodic about Javier Zanetti and compares Liverpool to the Beatles. I hope Michela Quattrociocche is Yoko.