In a few hours time, the Champions League final kicks off, and media outlets around the world will get their chance to gush and pine over Barcelona, claimed by many as the greatest of all time.
It's an interesting label, and one which is worth debating, but in my mind, they don't even come close.
For a start, it's a different era of the sport. Football in the past had no substitutions, no pass back, the offside rule was stricter, there were less freekicks and penalties, as well as hardly any red cards.
And, of course, less cheating.
It is strange that the magnificent Ajax team of 70s were the "good guys," because they not only played exciting, attacking football, but the "villains" were teams such as Inter and Juventus, Italian opponents who came to epitomize the dirty side of the game.
In fact, that reputation has (unfairly) stuck with Italian football for over 40 years.
Watching Ajax overcome teams who would resort to diving (and of course nasty fouling) made the victories that much more satisfying.
So it is strange that in the 21st century, a team which prides itself on cheating and making a mockery of the entire sport, is the one heralded as the "good guys."
The British media, who would normally support any other Premiership team, have already begun critcizing and picking at Man United as they fawn over Barcelona and the “mesmerizing” Messi.
There is no question that Barcelona are a great side and definitely one of the best in Europe over the last few years. I've never seen a team as good at maintaining possession in my life. But surely their dark side should harm their reputation. Would they necessarily have made the final if the referees had not fallen for their tricks, and the games were all 11 vs. 11 and officiated fairly?
The semifinal games against Real Madrid cannot be undone. The evidence is there, on tape. And no matter of pant-wetting post-game analysis from commentators and journalists who have already bought into the hype can change that.
When FC Porto won the UEFA Cup and Champions League in 2003 and 2004 respectively, whilst credit was given to their talents, there still remained a huge dark cloud over their success. The UEFA Cup final in particular (3-2 vs. Celtic) is, to this day, one of the most appalling displays of cheating in the history of the sport.
So if the media was honest enough to point out the discrepancies of Mourinho's Portuguese champions, why not the Spanish ones?
If Barcelona win, then they will almost be vindicated. The record book will state they won it and beat United for the second time in three years. Nobody will talk about the diving and cheating and just how they won.
If United win, it almost wipes the slate clean.
It means the Barcelona-biased media will have to go without the celebrations (I mean, neutral match reports) that they are just dying to write in a week's time. It means that the way this team plays will be questioned, and no longer held up as the “right way” to play football.
It means the villains didn't win.
Why do I have such a chip on my shoulder? Why do I hate Barcelona so much? Because I hate injustice, I hate lies and I hate cheats.
Yes, every team dives once in a while, and it should be punished. But when a whole team dives—well that comes from the top. Pep Guardiola. Where Sir Alex Ferguson seemed to coach it out of players like Ronaldo and Van Nistelrooy (he'll get it out of Nani eventually too), Pep seems to encourage it.
With the eyes of the world on his team, he has no shame in instructing his players to go out there and embarrass themselves and desecrate the entire sport of football, as a means to winning a game.
As for being the “best team to watch,” well surely that is an entirely subjective term.
No expert or pundit can tell me who I find entertaining. As a matter of taste, I always preferred Serie A over La Liga. When two sloppy Premiership teams can't defend and it ends up 4-4, I don't find that particularly exciting or amazing, I find it amateurish. If I want to see goals, I can go up to the park and watch my village team contest a 12-7 thriller.
United haven't played particularly expansive football this year, but then nobody really has. It's been a weak year all round for football, but they're still a good team. These probably are the best two teams in Europe, with not much to choose between them.
Just remember that in 2009, United were actually the favourites, but as soon as they lost, Barcelona were anointed as the greatest of all time. That makes no sense to me. Does that mean if United win today that they take the mantle of best team ever?
But people who do enjoy those games, that's their opinion. Nobody is right, nobody is wrong. My preference for football is not the piggy-in-the-middle style of Barcelona. I always preferred the Premiership teams at the turn of the millennium, probably my greatest era for football. United, Arsenal, Leeds, Liverpool, Chelsea, Newcastle—all of these teams, to me, were more entertaining to watch than Barcelona.
I'll be laughed at for that, but then it's already been hammered into everybody's head's that Barcelona are the most entertaining, most exciting, most dominant, most magical team in history. I just find that type of mass media fueled hysteria creepy.
As is the whitewashing of their crimes.
We can see it with our own eyes.We can see them diving. We see referees clearly already protecting them. We see them win game after game, tournament after tournament, with help from referees.
And yet the media chooses to ignore it. The commentators barely mention it. The post-game experts don't acknowledge it.
It's Orwellian, it's sinister and it has to stop.
Hopefully a huge step towards that begins today, with a Manchester United victory.
Forget about domestic rivalries, ignore the bragging that United fans will do if they win. This is more important than that. United have to win, or football will continue to be ruined by teams such as Barcelona.
Barcelona “play football the way it's supposed to be played?” If that's true, then god help the future of this sport.
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