Bayern rise above the bubble

Pep Guardiola was likened, by The Guardian columnist Raphael Honigstein, to Spanish clothing retailer Zara this week — a comparison first made by ex-Barcelona treasurer Xavier Sala-i-Martín.

Zara — they tell us — responds sharply to every trend and can freshen the pegs quicker than its competitors.

Pep, likewise, is not afraid to shuffle his pegs — his false nines and inverted wingers and infield full-backs — and rarely thrusts a square one in a round hole.

He has been busy undressing and refitting his champion team since he arrived in Munich. Yet, as far as Eamon Dunphy and John Giles are concerned, Pep may as well have cut his cloth for the first time last Wednesday morning.

“It will be interesting to see what Guardiola will do,” pondered Eamon before the win over Arsenal. “Will he change the shape of the team?”

He meant Jupp Heynckes’ team. Pep had done nothing yet, because they had seen him do nothing yet. That is Judgment Wednesday in Montrose; where reputations rise and fall based on 90 minutes of Champions League action, to be torn down or rebuilt a couple of weeks later as required. Every matchday exists in a bubble of enormity. You could call it taking each game on its merits.

As it happens, 45 minutes was enough for Gilesy. “You’d have to say they haven’t improved.” Stand by for Pep’s 75% off sale.

But chief fall guy, this week, was Mesut Ozil, who failed to tick the first box on any Gilesy assessment; honesty of effort. Eamon, as you might expect, was willing to go further. “Needs a heart transplant.”

In contrast, there was an unexpected promotion, for Atletico Madrid, to the ranks of the “serious teams” — those anointed sides whose honesty of effort is matched only by their moral courage and their ability to “do their stuff at the right times”; specifically those times when Eamo and Gilesy are watching.

Gilesy and Eamo aren’t the only ones making big calls based on big games — after the ‘professional foul’ rule sunk both English sides this week; the clamour swelled to repurpose football’s disciplinary code.

Of course, the English do some of their best work inside the bubble of enormity; having spent millions on goal-line technology mainly because Frank Lampard had a goal disallowed in the World Cup.

But they also have a long and complex relationship with the professional foul; a dark art that maddens and fascinates them equally.

Phil Thompson is often credited as the footballer who first uttered the wicked words aloud; after he brought down Nottingham Forest’s John O’Hare for a penalty in the 1978 League Cup final replay.

Much like Demichelis this week, Thommo argued contact was outside the box. “It was a professional foul. I knew O’Hare was outside the area when I kicked him. It sounds bad but there it is.”

It sounded and looked worse in 1980, when Willie Young chopped Paul Allen and stopped him becoming the youngest goalscorer in an FA Cup final. That was enough for them to rewrite the rules a decade before Fifa acted.

Yet there persists an admiration for the noble act of ‘taking one for the team’. They cried as many tears as anyone for Kevin Moran in ’85, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is loved for his famous trip on Rob Lee and the sense of duty remains to this day; just last Sunday Andy Gray admired Steven Gerrard’s prudent foul on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

So Paul Allen was forgotten this week, as they searched for other ways. Many of them want sending offs to apply only if fouls are deliberate. But we have seen how well referees adjudicate on deliberate handball.

You might think having the poise not to commit the kind of fouls that are doubly punished would be a hallmark of a “serious team”, but Gilesy offered his own solution: the offender sent off only if the penalty awarded is missed.

Eamo thought it was a magnificent idea, which is probably enough to convince you it might be the worst idea Gilesy has ever had.

Thankfully, what happens in the bubble of enormity tends to stay in the bubble of enormity.

Gatland v Drico all the rage in Wales

It goes against my better judgment, but having spent a couple of days in Wales this week, I should probably make some attempt to pass on the avalanche of good wishes for “your boys against the English”.

These people may well be more bitter than ourselves.

Trapped in a taxi in a ridiculous jam on the motorway into Cardiff, and having failed several times to bring up Vincent Tan; I also conducted perhaps the longest conversation of my life about The Ugly Game, at least in so far as I nodded and agreed with the driver every now and again. Turns out these people may also be more obsessed with Gatland v Drico than ourselves.

Naturally the taximan, like every taximan, had Gatland in his car and had pressed him on this vital matter.

“Who’s the best team in the world,” countered Gats, apparently. “And how many times have New Zealand dropped a player when he’s on 99 caps?” It seemed to be a rhetorical question, so I had to supply the answer myself when I got home. Sure enough, there are no All Blacks stuck on 99. Truly a sport addicted to bullshit.

On thin ice? Embrace failure

We don’t tend to look Russia’s way too often for role models in the business of dealing with setbacks. But we must surely make an exception for national ice hockey coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, a man with a lot on his plate.

In a week when Wenger and Pellegrini were predictably seduced by the soft route of excuses and blame and conspiracy theories — with the City gaffer even reaching into the very back of the whinge locker for the referee’s nationality — Bilyaletdinov knew there was little point making a meal of the Olympic quarter-final loss to Finland.

“I’m at fault for everything. I didn’t fulfil the task before me… Eat me alive right now. Eat me, and I won’t be here anymore,” he challenged reporters, embracing failure in a manner Mourinho might study too.

The knifes — and forks — might have been out, but Bilyaletdinov wasn’t ready to be swallowed whole.

His parting shot: “I will remain living.”

Heroes & villains


The Clare lads, above: The gall to display jubilation at the final whistle of a league match in February. This changes everything. These fellas might be here to stay.


Vince McMahon: No truth in the rumours, it seems, that he is buying Newcastle. Shame, his gift for backstage drama would have fitted nicely with BT Sport’s plan to get cameras into Premier League dressing rooms.

RTÉ producers: At least whichever one draws the offside line on Champions League night. Check out for one particularly shambolic effort:

Ice dancing: Accusations are flying that shady cartels and voting pacts are carving up the dancing medals. Watching him glide on ITV last month, it can be the only logical explanation why David Seaman didn’t qualify in the first place.

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