The real-life tales of a football writer
I write from the press box at Barcelona. This time next week I’ll be at Barnsley.
The game is two minutes old and the Russian champions Rubin Kazan have just taken a shock lead against a very strong Barca side with a superb strike.
As the 600 travelling fans go delirious, Pep Guardiola’s assertion that this is Barça’s biggest game of the season so far suddenly seems justified.
The Barca coach had a midsummer night’s dream that his side will be tripped up in Europe, but this isn’t going to turn into a match report.
I’ll wind back six hours and a phone call from King Lear.
“Come for a coffee,” he said, “I’ve got someone interesting that you’d like to meet. He plays for Brrrm Brrmm…”
I didn’t catch the last bit, but the King is always good value and we met. The player with him was the brilliantly named Macbeth Sibaya.
“Who do you play for?” I asked.
“Rubin Kazan,” he replied. “We play in the city of Kazan, about an hour’s flight east of Moscow.”
With a population of 1.1 million, it’s no hamlet.
“Three years ago I picked up a three-game UEFA ban,” continued Macbeth, who thought at the time that it was much ado about nothing.
“The third game of that ban is tonight… against Barcelona in the Camp Nou. Can you believe it?”
Macbeth is also a South African international, with 53 caps to his name and fully expects to play in the World Cup.
Born in Durban, his professional career started in Hungary, before he played for two years with Jomo Cosmos in South Africa.
"What's done is done"
He signed for Rubin in 2003 after a spell with Rosenborg in Norway and has since played over 150 times for the Russian champions.
“People were surprised when we won the league last year,” he said as he sipped a vodka and orange, “but we played the best football all season. There was never any doubt that we would be champions.”
Rubin have a predominantly Russian squad, but, as well as Macbeth, boast the first Spanish player to play in Russia, three Georgians, pairs of Turks and Argentinians but no merchants from Venice nor two gentlemen from Verona.
Some earn £20,000 a week, but Macbeth is clear about who is mainly responsible for their success.
“Our manager,” he says. “He knows everything about every player. He spends his afternoons on his sofa watching videos of players around the world.”
We talked about hooliganism in Russia and domestic away games in Vladivostok.
“That’s an eight hour flight,” he explained, “almost twice what it has taken us to get to Barcelona.”
Macbeth was distraught that he wouldn’t play against Barca.
“I trained with the team last night and I was first on to the pitch,” he said. “It’s amazing. I could see that some of the other guys were very nervous.”
The insinuation was clear – he didn’t expect his team-mates to win, the shrews were not to be tamed.
Ibrahimovic has just scored a superb equaliser from a non existent angle and celebrates with the pomp of Julius Caesar, but this isn’t a match report.
Actually, it should be because Rubin have just gone 2-1 up after a counter-attack led to a supremely confident finish from the Turk, Gökdeniz Karadeniz.
The dozen Russian journalists are going mental in the press box, it’s exactly as they like it, and while Ibrahimovic has just struck the cross bar, Kazan are holding out against a clearly rattled Barca in this comedy of errors.
Toure has just hit the post, but the final whistle has gone, a tempest will ensue and the European treble winners are beaten.
It was their 13th game of the season…will all be well that ends well?
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