The two most gripping matches of the season so far for my money were the two Champions League, 2nd leg semis last week. [The City v Utd game this week was tense and fascinating, and came in a close third, but was hardly a ‘great game’.] Yet the narrative drives of both of those matches in Spain were so different from each other.
At the Camp Nou, the game began, as expected, with Barcelona refusing for the most part to give Chelsea a kick. Then ‘Captain Unfantastic’, miles away from play, gratuitously knees Sanchez in the back, and gets himself sent off. You’d think after falling over and missing the penalty that would have won Chelsea their first CL title back in Moscow, 2008, John Terry would have learnt something about screwing up on the big stage. Apparently not.
Consequently, for the following hour or so, the game was played almost entirely in a strip of the pitch about 30metres deep, occupied by the ten remaining Chelsea players, and ten from Barca. The home team only let their opponents out of the defensive lockdown in the final third on condition that Chelsea scored each time. It was a gripping match that will live long in the memory. At last Chelsea got ‘some history’…
The following night at the Bernabeu, Real Madrid v Bayern Munich was a cracker (much better suited to the tastes of the English viewer too); some great players playing end-to-end footie, with the away goals values keeping the whole thing on a knife edge to the (for Real that is) oh so bitter end. Classic Champs League stuff (and not possible of course in a Final where the ‘away’ goals rule cannot work its transformative magic).
Over those two, brief, Iberian evenings, both Spanish clubs – generally thought to be the two best teams in the world right now – got the chop. Many hearts were broken amongst their millions of fans, and many a commercial sponsor (and no doubt a TV exec. or two) wept alongside them, though for very different reasons.
Barcelona v Real Madrid would have been the sexiest Final in the competition’s history – yards deep in tradition, with all that commercial value, and with a Viagra-like potency (other brands are available), it was a sponsor’s joy to behold indeed, at least in prospect. Some sources number the combined total of Real and Barca fans worldwide to be pushing the half billion mark. Imagine: a billion committed eyeballs potentially at your disposal – and the dream crumbles to ashes before your very own pair. There you are, primped and primed, suited and booted, waiting for the two prettiest girls in world football to arrive – and two ‘mingers’ turn up instead.
In the media numbers game, both Bayern and Chelsea aren’t at the same racetrack as the Spanish duo. Bayern is a global brand without doubt, sitting at the top table with the other giants (and Chelsea are bouncing around in the ante-room desperate to join them), but when it comes to ‘sexy’…Well, they just haven’t got it.
Just remember the difference in viewing figures between the, Chelsea v Man Utd, Moscow Final, and last year’s at Wembley between Barcelona and Man Utd (another ‘nice pair’, as those naughty commercial boys might say). The Wembley game won on the TV ratings hands down.
Does the wane in Spain mean they’re going down the drain? Well, hardly; we’ll soon see. A blend of Barcelona + Real Madrid (with a dash of Man City), all dressed up as the Spanish national team, will face another severe test in the Euros this summer. Then we’ll get a better chance to judge.
Those faithful readers (both of you) who regularly scan this column may just recall my Leader of 13th October last year, [‘AT THE SUMMIT, THE ONLY WAY IS DOWN’], about the intense pressures of ‘being the best’ by general consent. I predicted then that Spain may win nothing this season, in either the Champs league or the Euros. Life’s like that. I fancied the Germans for both trophies, with Bayern for the CL.
Get yer money on a German double… It’s always a good bet!
Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.
The views of our regular columnists are independent, and as such do not represent those of Leaders in Football.