Thursday, 28 May 2009

Luck of the Draw

Football cup matches are always a bit of a sham, including and morning’s European Champions League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United. In a league competition teams are tested over a long stretch of time, thus providing a wider range of statistical observations with which to assess the qualities of each participant; a cup match, on the other hand, is much more susceptible to minor and unpredictable events, meaning that “luck” plays a strong factor. If you are a good team, you should prefer to play a league tournament; cups are good for the lesser teams whose luck just might shine on a given day and balance their lacking skills.
Today’s cup final was a bit of an exception as far as cup finals are concerned: the wide consensus was that indeed this cup final pitted the two best teams in the world this year. Not only are they the best, they are also two teams renowned for playing attractive football (unlike Chelsea, whom I was very glad to see out of the tournament, regardless of whether that did them justice). Another consensus, at least amongst the neutral supporters, or at least within me (to be on the safer side) was that the winner of today’s match was not necessarily the better team; the two teams are so good yet different in their approach it seems clear that in twenty matches between them you will get many wins for each side and many matches that proceed in significantly different ways.
Real life, however, has provided us with only one opportunity for these two best teams in the world to meet this year, so I took it with great pleasure and got up at a very AM 4:40 to watch the live broadcast on SBS. And hooray, Barcelona has won the day!
Indeed, Barcelona was a worthy winner, playing a very attractive passing game. But there is more to that in Barcelona that makes them really worthy of their win in my book. I particularly like the way in which the club is owned by its fans: Barcelona has some 150,000 members, all with voting rights (used to elect a club president, who then – at least on paper – is supposed to execute voters’ will). There is no billionaire from Russia who is behind everything, just the fans and their elected president. More than that, Barcelona has refused to take money from major commercial sponsors; after years of with no shirt sponsor (the cynic in me adds “other than Nike”), they finally went ahead with UNICEF. It is pretty obvious the club loses a lot of money there.
A win for Barcelona is a win for the better aspects of contemporary football culture.

Praise to Barcelona aside, I will not deny that I actually wanted Manchester United to win this morning’s match.
I can point at two reasons. The first one is the fuss around Barcelona’s Leo Messi, who most people point at as the best footballer in the world this year. Granted, he is good; but I think United’s Ronaldo is better. The difference is that Ronaldo is playing a much tougher league that makes it harder for him to look good.
Second, and more importantly, I wanted Manchester United to win because of Alex Ferguson. Granted, I doubt Alex and I would make good friends; but the guy has been the face of Manchester United for 23 years now, and that has to count for something. Say what you say about Manchester United’s role in making football succumb to the evils of capitalism, a club that maintains the same manager for so long and allows the manager to build the club in his own [admirable] image is a club to be admired.
The world of sane and beautiful football needs characters such as Ferguson and his only other true compatriot, Arsene Wenger. Otherwise, there won’t be anyone to show us how clubs can and should run.
When Barcelona has a Ferguson of its own at the helm, they’ll get my vote of support.

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