The real-life tales of a football writer
Greetings from a half-empty Camp Nou, where fewer than 20,000 are watching Barca playing Shakhtar Donetsk, who have a player called Rat, in a pointless final group game.
It’ll be the same at Old Trafford tonight, except the crowd will be three times the size. And it’ll be a lot colder.
Barca fans noticeable by their absence
There’ll be few empty seats on Saturday when Real Madrid visit for El Clasico. The Madrid who sacked coach Bernd Schuster on Tuesday, an event which turned a busy day writing into a manic one.
Given Madrid’s dreadful recent form, I knew it was coming, especially when Schuster said he couldn’t see Madrid winning against Barca at the weekend. Such a defeatist attitude didn’t wash with his players, the fans, the media or the directors who relieved him of his duties.
Thankfully, Manchester United don’t change their manager every time it’s cloudy, so I rarely write about big managerial sackings.
Barca’s football has been incredible lately, their 4-0 victory last Saturday over a Valencia side who had not lost away from home was close to being the complete performance.
Tonight though, Saturday’s hat-trick hero Thierry Henry is on the bench as Pep Guardiola does his best to confuse commentators by fielding three right-sided players called Sanchez, Vazquez and Rodriguez. In fact Rat is marking all of them. Go on Rat! Gnaw away at the ezs. Sanch, Vazqu and Rodrigu would be much easier for the men with the mikes.
As I don’t have to write about tonight’s game, I’m going to leave before the end so that I can train with Manchester La Fianna for one last time before Christmas. We train at 10pm every Tuesday. We’re still unbeaten and at the top of our group, but then we’ve only played five league games so far this season.
To keep the players occupied, we’ve arranged friendlies. We need to because there are times when there are hardly any games – our match on Saturday will be our only one in seven weeks.
Stephen F. Kelly is coming over with his family for El Clasico. As are the entire first team of Dutch first division side NAC Breda. One of our players is sorting them out a club after the game so they can chat up girls while sounding like Steve McClaren.
The scourge of Barca: Razvan Rat inspires Shakhtar success
Anyway, Stephen is a lifelong Liverpool fan who has written 18 books (I’ll tell him that’s one for every year since Liverpool won the league) and a thoroughly pleasant man. Three decades of living in Manchester have done his development no harm, but I like hearing his stories of being a union man at the Cammell Laird shipyard on the Mersey in his younger days.
That was before he became a political journalist, working on Tribune and heavyweight television programmes like World In Action.
I’ll try and get him a ticket for El Clasico, then I’ll write my 600-word match report before getting my head down ahead of any early morning flight to Helsinki – and then a later one to Tokyo for the World Club Championship next week.
“Come on Rat. Give it to Fernandinho!” Sorry. Where was I? Yes, Tokyo City, as in the Massive Attack lyric: “Tokyo City’s one place that we toured.”
I bet one British pound bought them more than a grain of rice when they did tour. Unlike now. It’s no joke, this credit crunch. My print manager emailed today to say that paper is going up in price by 9% in January. The weak pound is to blame. That may not affect most people, but then most people don’t publish a paper-based publication like United We Stand.
Shakhtar have just scored. And Răzvan Raţ started the move! He’s buzzing his head off as the 44 away fans unfurl a mighty banner of… a mouse. He’ll be fuming now.
I’m now getting evil looks off a fat Catalan journalist and two Ukrainians for shouting: “Give it to Rat, you pr*ck!” In doing so I broke the laws of press box etiquette, but it’s not every night that the world’s greatest rodent-named left-back gets a chance to showcase his substantial talents. It’s now three hours later and I can’t sleep because I’ve been playing football. I’ve just seen Riera’s goal for Liverpool. Nice lad, Albert. I helped him settle in Manchester when he joined City two years ago as he didn’t know anyone and we had a mutual friend.
Riera rocket guides Liverpool to group summit
His younger brother Sito was at Barcelona at the time in the B team. He’s crackers. I once saw him try and stand on a surf board and then surf… on a street.
And I’ve just seen that Shakhtar won 3-2. Guess who set up the killer third goal? I’ll leave that honour to Graham Hunter, writing for UEFA:
“Răzvan Raţ is involved again as Shakhtar restore their two-goal advantage in Camp Nou. His low cross goes all the way to the back post where Fernandinho is lying in wait to slide in and find the back of the net.”
I knew I’d spotted a star.
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