The football season in Europe’s major leagues has drawn to a close. In England, Spain and Italy the final whistle has gone. By far the most accomplished team are the Spanish side Barcelona. And to say they deserve it is an understatement.
With the unprecedented treble of the Spanish Cup, La Liga and European Championship in the bag, Barcelona could not have asked for more. They have been simply and incontrovertibly the best team in Europe this season. And their supporters must justifiably be over the moon. But somewhat bizarrely supporters in Sierra Leone of especially Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea were even happier. Did I not add supporters of AC Milan to the list?
I would have understood if these premiership football fanatics had the beautiful football played by Barca as their primordial reason for supporting the Catalans. But no! You remember the old saying that your enemy’s enemy is your friend? Yes, your rival’s rival is your ally. And the alliance between the Spanish league champions and their newfound fans in Sierra Leone has been the price one pays for success. Manchester United want to win everything, said one Liverpool supporter, looking at me with mockery. With his head shining like a newly peeled onion, he guffawed, adding it was good Man U lost out on this one. That’s his only reason for supporting Barca. Bad heart! No wonder Manchester United or Man U were playing against a renamed side, Barcenalpool, a blend of Barcelona, Arsenal and Liverpool. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Chelsea fans wanted Man U to avenge their dodgy elimination by Barca.
With the unprecedented drop in the price in Sierra Leone of Heineken – the official sponsors of the European Champions League – due to the expiry of its best-before date, I received this SMS from my colleague Edward Kargbo who is an AC Milan fan: “Manchester fodom lek Heineken. From 5,000 to 1,000”. Loosely translated this means Manchester United have dropped in value four-folds.
With inconsistency in referees’ decision when a player is offside or not, Ambrose James, a passive Arsenal supporter applied the game-rule to me when he SMSed thus: “Una osh ya, every game get winner en una for know say Manchester nor dae above the rule”. My sympathy, every game has a winner and Manchester United are not above the rule. “Una osh ya en bless Van Der Sar”, sympathises Ismael Baryoh a diehard Gunners fan who wants Arsene Wenger sold to buy more experienced players.
These were a few of the provocative calls and SMSes to me on the night. Another being a laughing enquiry from Joe Blell, a former government minister, who asked me when Man U would be holding their victory rally in Freetown. But it has all been fun.
It was the longest night I have experienced and the longest face I have worn in many years. Wednesday 27 May 2009 swept me off my feet. Not just because Barcelona defeated Man U to win the coveted Champions’ League; but rather the manner in which they did it. They completely outclassed the English champions. In my view Chelsea put up a far better performance against the La Liga champs to the extent I feel the Blues were cheated by poor refereeing that characterised the second-leg clash at Stanford Bridge between Chelsea and Barcelona.
But come to think of it, I did not feel hard done by the Barcelona triumph. Not even because their first goal was completely against the run of play. Coming at a time when Barca looked in sixes and sevens, and Chriatiano Ronaldo was at his peak, I definitely was optimistic. Like Sir Alex Fergusson said, the Samuel Eto’o goal on the tenth minute dampened our spirit. It ought not to have. The weekend FA Cup final between Chelsea and Everton was a classic display of how a team must be spurred on by an early goal, even though the opponents were not the same.
Whatever the run of play before the first goal, with the benefit of hindsight I felt guilty that I felt bad at the goal. When Eto’o slapped his skin to draw attention to his blackness and Africanness for sparkling, I wondered why I wandered in frustration afterward. With the performance of Didier Drogba for the Blues at the final of the English FA Cup, I can’t stop asking myself why Sir Alex Fergusson is still not making real his expressed intention to have Africans on his side to replace the marvel performed by Eric Djemba Djemba and Fortune in years gone by.
Manchester United definitely need African power in our defence and midfield. The attacking line up is good as it stands now but the blackness of Evra is French and we need an African in the team. There may not be the advertising market on the continent outside South Africa but football is not just about merchandising. It is also the beauty of the game and the poor who love the game in remote parts of the continent.
In case you are wondering what my take is on the reason for the outclassing of Man U by Barcelona, I can only say that the decision by Ferggie to have a starting line-up without a striker namely Berbatov, was a disaster. Being ambivalent with using Tevez because of his uncertain stay at the club and preferring Anderson instead was another huge mistake. Of course Vidic made a foolish mistake too costly. That notwithstanding, I still don’t mind Man U as they still are the team I will always live for and will never leave.
Whatever the post-mortem on the match, Barcelona were the better side. Additionally, they have two sure trophies to add to their already rich collection even if way behind Man U. Lionel Messi is definitely the next FIFA World Footballer of the Year, and Samuel Eto’o Fils is certain to win the CAF African Footballer of the Year for the record fourth time.
While no-one can question Barca’s superiority, they should keep their eyes wide open for Manchester United as we return with vengeance next season. Happy off-season as we get ready for the Confederation Cup which will serve as a dress rehearsal for South Africa’s ability or not to cope with the FIFA world cup. By Umaru Fofana