Gorging on the beauty of the glory game

IN the end, the stellar midfield battle became a procession. The remote control produced only an echo. One hymn sheet, songs of praise.

Souness dictated the play on Sky: “We’re witnessing the best football team that have ever played football.”

Brady dropped the shoulder on RTE: “In my lifetime, the best team I’ve ever seen.”

Keane kept ITV the ball: “The best team I’ve ever seen. United didn’t disgrace themselves, just came up against one of the best teams ever.”

Looking into the misty eyes of Gilesy, little Gilesy, you knew he was back in Ormond Square, playing one-twos with Messi and Xavi and curling one in off the kerb.

Barcelona’s exhibition of all he knew to be right saw him grow a little in his seat. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re too small.”

Saturday night was once variety night on TV, but this Saturday wherever you looked there was only uniform appreciation and wonder at the way Pep Guardiola’s team had mastered an absorbing Wembley final.

The lack of an alternative was perhaps summed up by the plague of Redknapps that descended upon us at half-time; Harry and Jamie went head-to-head on ITV and Sky, while over on BBC, presumably Louise was telling everyone that the top, top dancers had done ever so well.

But it wasn’t a night for controversy. Just for bouquets. Perhaps the most startling tribute came from Graeme Souness; a frank admission of human frailty from the twentieth century’s ultimate alpha male.

“As an old midfielder, I can’t look beyond Xavi and Iniesta. I’m thinking, if I go in against them, what do you do? I hold my hands up, I think you’d be lost.”

The man who stamped his masculinity all over this century as well wasn’t going to go quite that far, but even Keano seemed ready to admit that no amount of isotonic drinks could prepare you for what his former club encountered. “I’d like to think I played at a decent level, but I haven’t seen anything like that before.”

In truth, Keane’s much-anticipated punditry role proved disappointing, sucked as he was into the ITV vortex of bland. There was one telling insight into his own managerial style when he marvelled over Barca’s ring-a-rosie celebrations. “They seem to have a good spirit about them, they all seem to like their manager, which I find strange.”

But on the only occasion Keane took possession in a dangerous area, he quickly gave the ball away. After Alex Ferguson had bullied Gabriel Clarke into abandoning any discussion of where Manchester United might go from here, Adrian Chiles switched the play to Keane.

“Should I ask you where he should strengthen?”

“Nah, he’s the expert on it.”

Keane once recommended turning down the sound when football pundits are holding court. Instead we switched back to RTE, where Dunphy defers to nobody’s expertise. The losers didn’t get a free pass at the coronation.

“They won the Premier League almost by default. Tonight they were exposed. They need players, fresh blood in the team. What you saw tonight, as much as anything, was how top teams can rip inadequate teams apart if they have the courage and conviction to do it. It was a demolition job.

“The game is so discredited by the behaviour of so many people, including the behaviour of Alex Ferguson. A great football man, but sometimes his behaviour is loutish.

“The good news tonight is that soccer has champions worthy of the name — an antidote to all the blaggardism we see in football. Tonight we’ve seen great ambassadors for a game that’s fundamentally sick.”

Gilesy, meanwhile, was head over heels. “His team-mates would love Messi, because he does everything for the team. It’s not self-glorification.”

And we let Jeff Stelling sing out the praise chorus. “The beautiful game has never been so beautiful as when played by the champions of Europe; Barcelona.”


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