Our European guru educates and enlightens
John Terry looked bloody uncomfortable. “Are you alright?” asked his other half.
The Chelsea skipper, pulling the sleeves of his jacket straight as if he wasn’t happy with the fit, insisted, rather unconvincingly, that he was alright.
He had every reason to be at odds. He was in full jacket-and-tie clobber in 82 degrees heat in a hotel lift that could barely contain its eight passengers.
And the lift had no air conditioning.
Terry had that coiffed look that most men only attain once in their lives: when their mother has dressed and groomed them for their first day at school.
And he was in Monaco, at the chintzy Meridien Beach Plaza hotel, to collect his third award as the best defender in European club football.
Luckily, Terry and his entourage were chauffeured to the Grimaldi Forum in air-conditioned comfort.
Otherwise one of the world’s finest central defenders might have melted away on the humid streets of Monaco.
During the ceremony, Terry insisted that motivating himself was easy.
Casting a longing look at the cup with the big ears, he said the thought of lifting the trophy fired him up in the gym, on the training field and on the pitch.
JT and fellow award-winners, glowing gently
If the English press are right, he may get his chance next May.
Many of the broadsheet hacks seemed to agree with the Telegraph’s Henry Winter, who believes that 2010 is destined to witness Barcelona vs Chelsea in the Bernabeu.
The European football writers polled for the season preview in the next issue of Champions came to the same conclusion.
None of them tipped Manchester United, who are plotting to reach their third final in a row. Not that this will worry Fergie too much.
The transfer deal that provoked most debate in Monaco among the Europress was Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s move from Inter to Barcelona.
Patrick Barclay, the erudite chief football correspondent for The Times, wondered if it was possible for a team to have too much technique, suggesting that Barça might miss the directness of Eto’o.
Those who favoured the deal suggested that Ibra would pose another dimension of problems for opposing defences – that teams won’t know whether to double-mark Ibra or Messi. They can hardly do both.
Yet in Italy, his sale isn’t regarded as a bad piece of business.
Double European Cup winner Sandro Mazzola, previewing the tournament for Champions, suggested that this could be a career-defining season for the Swede.
He would, Mazzola suggests, have to put up or shut up.
And just to ensure the transfer stayed in the spotlight, the UEFA balls kindly drew Barça and Inter in the same group.
"Oooooh, it's Inter!"
Happiness indexes are now much in vogue and on the way back from the draw, to distract myself from the stifling heat, I tried to figure out the scale of happiness of all 32 coaches.
The smiliest face must belong to Walter Smith, who couldn’t have hoped for a better draw as he tries to earn some much-needed dosh and raise the spirits of Scottish football by steering Rangers to the last 16.
Arsene Wenger’s grin must have been almost as wide when the line-up for Group H was confirmed: Arsenal, AZ, Olympiacos and Stuttgart.
In contrast, Marseille boss Didier Deschamps just have been as miserable as a man who has been locked in a room and forced to listen to Leonard Cohen’s Dress Rehearsal Rag for a month.
Deschamps’ mission – to ensure that Marseille don’t just play a part but make an impact on the tournament – looks more implausible than ever after being drawn with Milan, Real Madrid and Zurich.
His best hope is probably that Milan implode as their Guardiolaesque gamble of replacing Ancelotti with Leonardo backfires.
One underlying question that this season’s competition might answer is how much doo-doo is Italian football in?
There is a general feeling that calcio, like Italy, has lost its mojo.
Juventus and Milan are rebuilding under new young coaches while Inter, even under the special one, do not yet suggest they have found the formula to conquer Europe.
Serie A is no longer the sexiest league in Europe – la Liga is – and the retirement of Paolo Maldini suggests that calcio has reached some kind of watershed.
Maldini looked a lot more comfortable than JT in the heat of Monaco.
Heading to the beach for the afternoon, he looked ridiculously glamorous as he signed autographs and posed for photographs with fans.
One middle-aged Italian was so taken with Maldini that, after getting his autograph, he vamoosed off to fetch his son and, as the two of them peered over the beach, pointed out Maldini as if he was a monument.
Which I suppose, in a way, he is.
"It's you, isn't it?! It is!! It's you!!!"
It was quite sweet to see the evident pleasure with which Michel Platini gave Maldini his special award at the Grimaldi Forum, even going so far as to order the attending grandees to give the legend a standing ovation.
That was probably the highpoint of a ceremony in which the gorgeous, wonderfully-monikered Melanie Vinegar did her level best to convince the world that the UEFA Champions League is really called the “Wafer Champions League."
Despite her surname, Vinegar was warmer and more human than CNN’s eerily multilingual sports anchor Pedro Pinto, who hosts these occasions with a solemnity and gravitas worthy of a state funeral.
So remember, if it’s Barcelona vs Chelsea in the Bernabeu, you read it here first.
If it’s not, blame those know-nothings in the British football press.
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Platini was rather chuffed wasn't he! "Can you believe this guy played against me" was another good quote. I bet they have had that plaque thing for Paolo hidden behind the desk for 3 or 4 years, only for him to turn up and tell them he's going to carry on playing. I'm also glad Xavi got the best midfielder vote and not Steven 'Xabi Alonso made me look good' Gerrard...
I'd just like to point out the last team in Group H (Arsenal's group) is Standard Liege, not Stuttgart, who are in Group G with Rangers.
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