Our European guru educates and enlightens
It was the best of seasons, it was the worst of seasons.
Yes, 2008/09 was a season where one club could spend £136 million on two players in a week while a rival in the same league, Valencia, were so impoverished – in a Dickensian-Victorian street urchin kind of way – that they considered hiring out players to grace bar mitzvahs and weddings.
You have to admire Florentine Perez’s audacity. Since he quit Real Madrid in 2006, it has been impossible for anyone in football to use the word ‘galactico’ without smirking.
The mere mention of the g-word conjured up all the empty emperor’s-new-clothes pomp of a discredited regime.
But now back in office, Perez seems to have decided that, yes, he made mistakes – but they weren’t the blunders everyone thought he made. His true faux pas, his transfer dealings suggest, was not to think galactically enough.
It’s as if Napoleon, mulling over that tricky away fixture at Waterloo, had decided his fatal error had been not to take on the Austrian army as well as the British, the Prussians and the Dutch.
One way out of a fixture pile-up
Perez's return is swanky, expensive, headline-hogging proof that the “fan in the boardroom” syndrome is alive and well.
Not that anybody who has followed the extraordinary odyssey of Gigi Becali, the Steaua Bucharest owner, will ever have doubted that.
Becali threatened to go back to tending sheep if he didn’t win a seat in the European Parliament. Sadly for Steaua fans – but luckily for those placid, woolly creatures – Becali did get elected.
His love for a much greater European institution, the UEFA Champions League, is so fierce that he is now talking of fusing Steaua with Romania’s surprise champions Unirea Urziceni so his club can compete in the tournament next season.
While football can be too insular, it’s hard to see fusion – a concept that works well when reconciling different national cuisines – catching on.
Unirea have given Becali’s suggestion short shrift. Becali might get a slightly longer shrift from Mike Ashley, but that’s another story.
The fact that Ashley’s club, Newcastle, is apparently now worth only slightly more than Cristiano Ronaldo is an appropriately bizarre footnote to a surreal, rambunctious season of European football which has ultimately degenerated into freakonomics and deserved to have as its headline sponsor Charles Dickens, Irwin Shaw (author of Rich Man Poor Man) or Andre Breton who, as leader of the Surrealist movement, had the most difficult managerial job imaginable.
Apart, of course, from managing a squad of Dutch footballers.
Besides, the player of the season for me isn’t CR7, who, according to this Statbunker list only scored twice away from home in the Premier League (Ed: True – two within eight minutes, when United were already 3-0 up at wooden-spooners West Brom) but Milivoje Novakovic, the Cologne skipper who, despite sounding like he ought to represent Slovenia at tennis rather than football, scored 12 – out of 16 – of his Bundesliga goals away from home.
Novakovic: "In your face, pretty boy!!"
While the resurgence of the galacticos is good for a headline or thousand, the real story of 2008/09 may be the number of club chairmen and presidents across Europe who, after watching Barca triumph in Rome, are ordering their directors of football, in a manner reminiscent of the tyrant in the Sam Peckinpah Western, to “bring me the new Josep Guardiola.”
Football, like the mafia, isn’t always that imaginative. And many of Joan Laporta’s peers across Europe will be staring at their youth and reserve team coaches this summer and thinking: “Could he? Is he?”
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