Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Champions League is back!

This blog’s an unusual place to admit to an unhealthy fascination, but here it goes: I’m a sucker for competitive cookery.  Iron Chef, Worst Cooks in America, Chopped … all of ‘em.  I’m not even a bad cook myself, and have taken a few pointers from my white-hatted idols.  But perhaps the largest lesson I’ve learned from my obsession with culinary jousting is this: presentation matters. 

Don’t sear salmon perfectly and then just dump it on a bed of undressed watercress: the first bite is with the eye!  Anticipation is part of the experience, not just the flavours assembled before you on the plate. 

Anticipation is something to be desired, in and of itself.  A famous and (eventually) wise Vulcan – apparently bereft of emotion and with his opinions firmly rooted in on logic – once said that the having isn’t half as enjoyable as the wanting.  Anticipation can make or break an event.

And what is football, if not a vehicle for anticipation?  A new signing, a new benefactor, even just the thrill of the win or indeed the fight can engender an almost primal satisfaction.  In sport, we find opportunities to anticipate, and then to be amazed: at athletic ability, coordination, nous and ego.  This week’s Champions League matchups, nearly eight weeks in the making, have arrived – they bring with them storylines galore.

Oh, of course today the big leagues are tinged a dirty green and not the vivid rose of our collective childhoods.  But – as Sky Sports constantly reminds us – that doesn’t necessarily make the occasion less. Today’s Round-of-Sixteen meeting between Manchester United and Real Madrid sees two of the most iconic clubs in any sport – and, despite hardly being “vintage” units, still perhaps two of the best five outfits in the continent – pitted against each other.  The Whites will field the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Özil and Karim Benzema, while the Red Devils will almost certainly deploy a forward trident based around Robin van Persie, Shinji Kagawa and the resurgent Freckled Demon.

And it may not even end up being the best match of the day.

Spock might caution that the match may not be all we hope for.  But at this stage, who cares?  We’ve had a meal laid out before us for 56 days, and now it’s time to dig in.

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