blogAuthor: michaelcalvin | Filed under: Blog
In a week dominated by the porn stars of the European game, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, English football has its curlers in, and is resplendent in a polyester nightie. It is dowdy and unadventurous by comparison, no matter how striking the make-up applied by those who insist the duel between Manchester United and Manchester City confirms the status of ‘the greatest league in the world’.
Not so fast, boys.
The pivotal figure in Man City’s Premier League revival, Carlos Tevez, spent four months playing golf. The key individuals in Man Utd’s pursuit of a 20th title have been Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. They remain footballers of towering quality, remarkable longevity, and, in a domestic context, are unplayable. It is once the passports come out that perspective emerges.
City imploded in Europe, where they were exposed as naïve and ponderous. United’s European season has been tainted by complacency and mediocrity. Being beaten by Basle – who in turn lost 7-0 to Bayern Munich (remember them, Carlos?) – was an avoidable embarrassment.
The convenience of United being swept aside by Athletic Bilbao in the ill-considered Europa League should not detract from its significance. Athletic are La Liga’s most Anglophile club. It has a vibrant culture, which marries local pride and a belief in youth that will strike a chord at Old Trafford.
The Basque fans are fierce, yet welcoming. They’d better enjoy folk heroes like Fernando Llorente, Iker Muniain, Javi Martinez and Oscar De Marcos while they can. Economics suggest they will be sold, to fund the next generation. City and United will probably go through the San Mames like a fox in a henhouse.
Their legacy will hopefully be the Europa League, in which they face Sporting Lisbon in the semi-final. If they do not win that, Athletic will be denied the platform they have used so well. They are seventh in La Liga, outside the European qualifying places, but I’d bet on them to beat anyone in the Premier League.
Bear that in mind when the Barcelona love-fest gathers in intensity before tomorrow’s Champions League tie at Chelsea. They may be trailing clouds of glory, but in terms of Spanish football, they are not the only game in town.