Offside, 20 April
With all the major issues settled already, the domestic football season is ending on an anti-climax.
A football season is like making love to a beautiful woman, as Arsene ‘Swiss Toni’ Wenger would no doubt observe. Just when you get to the most exciting part, it’s all over.
In the case of this season, it’s all over a little prematurely. Chelsea have had the Premiership sewn up for ages. Only a run of nine straight victories has kept United in the hunt for so long, and Friday night’s lack lustre performance against woeful Sunderland means they’re properly screwed now.
Liverpool will definitely come third (unless United lose practically every remaining game) with the soon-to-be former European champions potentially racking up their highest points total in the Premiership – and still finishing 15 points behind the winners. Apparently, third feels like warm apple pie but it’s not as good as the real thing.
The only hint of excitement at the top is over who will finish fourth with hordes of fans up and down the country hoping that Spurs edge out Arsenal. Yes, that’s Arsenal – the same ‘Incredibles’ who went a whole season unbeaten a couple of years ago and were straight-facedly considered in a BBC News item among the greatest teams in any sport ever. If any word captures the zeitgeist, it’s schadenfreude.
There’s a three-horse race for who will join Sunderland on the downward slope to Oblivionville (ie, the ‘Championship’). I should be hoping that Birmingham City stay up – I grew up less than a mile from their ground – but my only feelings on the matter are that I don’t care which teams go down so long as one of them is Portsmouth. The drone of football pundits in unison describing the brilliance of Pompey manager Harry Redknapp defies belief. If he was so good a manager, how come they’ve been propping up the league all year?
Elsewhere, the issues in the ‘Championship’ are entirely settled until the playoffs. Celtic have won the Scottish title by a country mile, a sad alternative to last year’s brilliant endeavour in throwing away an entire season’s work in the last five minutes against Motherwell (yes, they have schadenfreude in Scotland, too). North of the border, the only excitement this season is whether Hearts can prevent Gretna (population: 17 plus 5,000 teenagers trying to get married) from completely devaluing the Scottish Cup.
At least this year, we have a 32-nation summer orgy of football coming in Germany. And given reports of mobile brothels being set up in various host cities, that orgy need not be metaphorical for the travelling fan. Yet, even the 2006 FIFA Fussball-Weltmeisterschaft has a little bit of an air of inevitability about it.
England have potentially their best team for 40 years, and their most risk-conscious manager ever. Never has a team looked so inevitably like it will tamely exit in the quarter-finals. France are increasingly superannuated, Spain are always rubbish in tournaments, while Italy have neither the outrageous pool of talent of the South Americans nor the traditional efficiency of the Germans.
Brazil, the holders, with the best player in the world and the only team to have won the Cup outside their own continent, are strong favourites – only Argentina look capable of stopping them.
But back to the Germans. Having won Euro ’96, they had the nerve to pinch our best football song and welcome their victorious team back to a chorus of ‘Football’s Coming Home’. When I was in Montpellier in ’98, the German fans had ghetto blasters (no bad taste intended) blaring it out in the main square as they waited to play Mexico. Now their team are a pale imitation of the great sides of the past, losing 4-1 in a friendly to Italy and with a hopeless manager at the helm.
So, maybe there is something to look forward to. With a bit of luck, they’ll implode completely and go out in the first round. Then perhaps we can sing our own song: ‘Schadenfreude‘s Coming Home’.
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