Friday, 2 January 2009

Sporting Pick's of 2008: Part 2, May 21st – European Cup Final : Chelsea 1 Manchester United 1 (Manchester United win 6-5 on penalties)

Manchester United won the Champions League by beating Chelsea 6-5 on penalties after a dramatic 1-1 draw.
Cristiano Ronaldo headed United in front after 26 minutes but Frank Lampard equalised before the interval. Lampard and Didier Drogba hit the woodwork before the striker saw red in extra time for slapping Nemanja Vidic.
Ronaldo missed his penalty, but John Terry hit the post with a kick that would have won it for Chelsea and Edwin van der Sar saved from Nicolas Anelka. It sparked wild celebrations for Sir Alex Ferguson and his players in the Moscow rain as United won Europe's elite trophy for the third time, a triumph made more poignant as it came 50 years on from the Munich air crash

In a season which ended with an international tournament, it is a sign of the times perhaps that this years European Championships doesn’t merit one of my picks. Truth be told, Euro 2008 was a dull tournament, which marked the continued homogenisation of International Football. The majority of sides played a variation of 4-5-1, with the 2 finalists playing it for differing reasons. Spain came to 4-5-1 due to the enforced absence of David Villa as the tournament went on. Even Germany, who only under Rudi Voller 6 years ago turned to the dark side of 4-4-2, tried it for one of their pool matches, and found the form which took them almost all the way.

In sharp contrast, this years European Cup Final is here simply because it represents the High point of the English Premiership in its 16 year history. Whether that is a good thing or not, hmmm I think I know how you feel. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not petty jealousy. However despite all the guff generated in the name of the so called “Golden Generation”, England has gone (for some) alarmingly backwards in the lifetime of the Premiership. This correlation can be made with the drop in English players playing in the Premiership. This is particularly galling when you consider that the reason for the original blueprint which led to the formation of the Premier League, under the umberella of the FA, was the advancement of the English national team. At least Lex, Roger and the other leaders who initially set up the SPL were being semi honest when they said that they were looking for more of the TV revenue pie to go to their club’s.

However, for two English sides, there were remarkably few English players. Chelsea have been the embodiment of buying finished article foreign players since Hoddle brought in Gullit, Vialli and Di Mateo in the mid 1990’s. While you can’t really argue with those purchases, the continuation of this policy has undoubtedly undermined any youth policy which Chelsea has. Their captain, John Terry, being the only player to have come through the ranks properly in 16 years. Bizarrely, while Manchester United have a reputation for bringing through the ranks young British talent, only Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Wes Brown, Darren Fletcher and John O’Shea represented that tradition (Gary Neville would have certainly played had he been fit). Though Rooney, Ronaldo, Nani & Anderson were brought in, while still very young, having been promising youngsters elsewhere.

The match itself was an OK match, to describe it as an advert for the English Premiership, as some commentators and callers to BBC 5live’s 606 programme did, would be stretching it… a lot. Manchester United should have been home and hosed before Chelsea equalised before Half Time. Chelsea then dominated the remainder of the game, and Extra Time, without threatening to take the game away from United. Drogba’s sending off was a turning point, and not just for the inevitable penalty kick competition. Drogba surely would have taken one of the first 5 penalties, and as the competition transpired, could have taken the decisive kick. Instead, it fell to Terry’s slip (above) to decide the contest.

As has been said before, this game was picked, not because it was a great game, but because it (and not the England national team winning an international tournament) is the pinnacle of the achievements of the Premiership. How sad is that.

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