LARRY RYAN: The men making miracles happen

What will become of us now, The People Who Couldn’t Enjoy It? The people who almost wanted the flag to go up on Sergi Roberto, but who knew that it was never more certain that a flag would stay down, asks Larry Ryan

At this time of profound existential crisis, how can we ever again get in touch with what we have lost?

If you are sat, shaking your head, while a career pragmatist like Michael Owen is galloping giddily around a TV studio, is it time to wonder if there is anything left in sport for you at all?

In fairness, the week gave us much. The miracle of the Camp Nou truly united the world in rapt attention for the first time since the Racing 92 v Saracens Champions Cup final last May. Sorry, no, dreamt that.

It gave us a fresh, emerging force in the great game, men who have finally grown tired of suppressing their powers and decided to let it go, not to hold it back anymore.

We may not know what to call them. We may not be sure if it was the fifth official or the sixth official who made the big calls at the Emirates and the Nou Camp. But finally, these guys have waved their little wands and magicked themselves onto centre stage.

Even if we may soon hear one of them quote George W Bush: “I have opinions of my own, strong opinions, but I don’t always agree with them.”

Maybe, too, the scale of Barcelona’s achievement in seven minutes shall encourage football men to ask themselves what exactly they are doing with their time, to recalibrate what might be possible over that long expanse of 90 available to them.

Like those showoffs who study two degrees at the same time and learn Chinese on the side, men like Messi and Ronaldo have long torn up old notions that one in two is a decent return for a frontman.

The men making miracles happen

So might we also be due a return to the regular 7-4s and 6-3s of yesteryear?

The night also gave us that Neymar cameo to savour, seven minutes of defiance and brilliance and composure; a perfect abstract of his talent.

And it gave us controvassy, which is where some of us parted ways with the celebrants.

Not that all of The People Who Didn’t Enjoy It were moralising about cheating and dark arts.

All is relatively fair in love and the penalty area and there is much to enjoy in the ingenuity of the great contemporary divers, even it was a pair of common-or-garden collapses that were rewarded at the Nou Camp; a Vardian deviation into Meunier’s plunge by Neymar and a chocolate legs buckle by Suarez under Marquinhos’s heavy breathing.

But the range and ingenuity of Suarez’s simulation is a delight, notably that lovely little hitch kick, turned salchow, turned nosedive in the second half that deserved better.

Robert Lewandowski did get his due, the night before, for another genuine piece of innovation, a magnificent addition to the cannon; levering himself to the ground off his own push.

No, The People Who Didn’t Enjoy It on Wednesday night were not necessarily outraged at the shenanigans, perhaps just subdued by a sense of inevitability.

Maybe their minds wandered to the passage in Howard Webb’s book, where he recalls booking Leo Messi for diving and sending Pep Guardiola to the stand.

“Suffice to say that I didn’t make many amigos in Barcelona that night; in fact, I was never asked to officiate at the Nou Camp again.”

Or the line about Howard’s big break at the Bernabeu. “Take your chance,” the Uefa official told him. “I think the implication was, we’ve given you this opportunity, ref; don’t mess it up.”

It is no small task for an official to break into the circle trusted with the elite’s ties. Even trickier to stay there. On Deniz Aytekin’s first knock-out Champions League visit to the Nou Camp, there was only so many times you could expect him to say “no, get up”.

So, when Di Maria when through, he wasn’t sure, and when Suarez went down, he was sure enough. And those moments turned Neymar’s consolation free-kick into something very different.

It has seen the ranks of The People Who Didn’t Enjoy It swollen by some former romantics.

“Last night’s fightback has shown the importance of two main factors of these kind of games, it’s the referee and very big players,” said Arsene Wenger, the morning after, a man who once saw Robin van Persie sent off at the Nou Camp for kicking the ball into the goal.

Others, the morning after, may have found some compensation for the innocence we have lost in the words of Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, a year ago, outlining his Dr Evil-style plans to earn the club ‘one billion dollars’ in revenue.

“We want to develop in a way that not everything hangs on victories or defeats,” pledged Bartomeu.

On Wednesday night, the richest footballers in the world, all suitably insured against the vagaries of victory and defeat, were demented in their pursuit of victory and paralysed by fear of defeat. That’s where the glory could be found, in how much it meant.

“They do the best they can, maybe they could have done some more,” said Bartomeu, the morning after, of the match officials, trying to maintain the win some, lose some vibe.

But his players were prepared to do whatever it takes.

Wednesday suggested that the emergence of a new leader at the Camp Nou.

All our sport podcasts can now be found on Soundcloud and iTunes.

SUBSCRIBE ON iTUNES for regular GAA, soccer, rugby shows and more.

Or view our show selection on SOUNDCLOUD.

Reining in Tipperary giddiness

In these pages last Saturday, Anthony Daly announced his willingness to let his greyhounds call the remaining hurling league fixtures, in the tradition of Paul the Octopus and friends.

I can trump that with my advanced Giddyometer.

Michael Ryan and the Tipp hurlers might be doing everything in their power to talk the language of restraint and focus.

But amid an avalanche of printed praise and much discussion of a power shift from Kilkenny to Tipp, my sensitively calibrated device indicates Mick’s work hasn’t been sufficient to dampen exuberance among the Premier faithful.

So then, a heavy training session this morning and a five or six-point defeat in Semple Stadium this evening might not necessarily be the worst day’s work.

Rugby's finishing touch

Maintaining The Ugly Game’s grand tradition of rebranding the most mundane of activities to take the bare look off them, I note the RFU have recast England’s ‘replacements’ as ‘finishers’.

And in the world where hoofing it up the pitch has recently become an ‘exit strategy’, all we can do is wonder how it has taken this long.

The danger now is that there might be contagion into other arenas.

Ignominious enough as it is when the sub is subbed, never mind should the finisher be finished.

Heroes & villains

Stairway to heaven

George Hamilton: Give George credit for a moment to rank with Poznan in 1991, when his chicken counting saw the Poles hit Ireland twice in injury-time.

“It’s not going to be this season,” ruled George, on Barca’s behalf, just as Neymar’s 88th-minute free-kick arced towards the postage stamp, triggering the madness, even if he didn’t quite have time to get out the ‘danger here’.

Hell in a handcart

Zahi Hawass: The former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities branded the Barca man a ‘moron’ for not showing enough interest on a tour of the pyramids. “I couldn’t see any reaction in his face. He was very polite but perhaps he’s only interested in football.”


Parents need all the help they can get these days — so should children help out more at home, asks Lindsay WoodsHelping hands: Chores can be child’s play

The Leaving Cert points have been tallied, the CAO offers made, and now the hunt is on for student accommodation.Making Cents: Now, first-years must learn how to rent a room

A dermatologist gives their advice on what to do when your skin is suffering from post-partum hormones.How your skin can change post-pregnancy and what you can do about it

Sadly, the deceased Okjokull Glacier might just be the tip of the iceberg.As Iceland mourns a departed glacier – Five glaciers to visit before they disappear

More From The Irish Examiner