Friday, May 4, 2012

Football's most operatic week

It may be cliché, but what a week we've seen in football. There have been more twists, subplots and stories than your average season of The Wire, passing everywhere from England, through France and Italy to the Iberian peninsula. To wit, we catalogue (briefly) the past ten days in football:

1. Chelsea defeated Barcelona (away from home, with the winning goal from a most unlikely source) in the Champions League semi-final, attaining some semblance of closure after four years railing against any and all authority figures. We bear audio witness to someone giving Gary Neville and unexpected and immensely painful wedgie.

 2. Speculation immediately mounts about the future of Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, who announces three days later that he is taking a sabbatical.

3. Meanwhile, archetypal black-hat villain Jose Mourinho and his Real Madrid team are too knocked out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage, failing to overcome the Teutonic genetic predisposition of excelling in penalty shoot-outs.

4. Real then proceeded to claim the Spanish league title, their first in four years; Barcelona take scant solace in Lionel Messi breaking Gerd Muller's 39-year old European goalscoring record.

5. All the while, we witnessed attempts by simply everyone to leverage the tension inherently built up tension by Monday's City/United match, the most keenly anticipated derby since ... well ... the last one, billed hyperbolically as the “Match of the Century”.

6. On Saturday, Southampton achieved their second successive promotion and re-enter the Premiership after years in the wilderness (or at least, the third tier of English football). The rebirth of this iconic club came in the wake of administration, rumours of liquidation and away matches at Hereford.

7. Sunday left us appreciating Fabrice Muamba, who returned to a football match for the first time since his kayfabe and therefore extremely frightening cardiac arrest against Tottenham six weeks ago. Unfortunately, his Bolton Wanderers teammates couldn't rustle up a win for him – the Trotters were stuffed 4-1 by those same Spurs.

8. At the same time – still anticipating, with an ever-increasing sense of dread, the “Match of the Century” – Roy Hodgson ran-in to a one-sided contest to decide the manager of the English football team. The English FA decided that Harry Redknapp wasn't worth the cost, heartache and repeated demands to sign Lukas Podolski from ... err ... Germany. English tabloids reacted in their usual classy manner.

9. A minnow, third division club FC Quevilly, took on Lyon in the French Cup final. The result, unlike the contestants or scoreline, was predictable.

10. The same day (what a day!) saw a ghost whistle disrupt play in the decisive clash in Serie A between Champions League chasing Lazio and Udinese, allowing Udinese to score a crucial goal.

11. The much-vaunted Manchester Derby ended as many predicted – with a City victory – and once and for all reminding those in the halls of power (ie. Sky Sports, Fox Soccer Channel, ESPN etc) that the prophetic moniker “Game of the Century”, by the properties of mutual exclusion, guarantees a match which doesn't at all live up to the hype.

12. Two days after the derby-to-end-all-derbies (we can only hope), one of the odder occurrences in European football occurred when Fiorentina boss Delio Rossi attacked one of his own players, Adem Ljajic. He was, of course, promptly fired.

13. Finally, to conclude a tiring week, Newcastle United striker Papiss Demba Cisse scored two astounding goals as the Magpies maintained its challenge for Champions League football next season.

There's a defining but unspoken principal in almost all entertainment that we appreciate the consciously unresolved, but enjoy it more when resolution comes. Audiences like to be left hanging – at least for a while. This principal underlies stand-up comedy, TV story arcs and jazz improvisation among many others. The past ten days have provided almost all the twists football can offer; we've also seen some climactic moments.

It would tempt fate to suggest the season has no more surprises, but after a week like this it's hard to see from where they will come.

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