I don’t like Manchester United.
From the owners of the club, to the manager, to a whole host of players past and present and onward to “19″— I’m not a fan.
So, you’d naturally think I’d be supporting Barcelona in Saturday’s Champions League final.
Lefty. Progressive. Unicef.
But I can’t. And it has nothing to do with the Qatar Foundation.
After the 5-0 destruction of Real Madrid last November, I, like everyone else who follows the game, thought Barcelona undoubtedly the best team in the world. It was a beautifully masterful display, sublime in its effortlessness.
But then came that series of El Clasicos.
Remember how exciting the anticipation was? Four El Clasicos in little more than two weeks! A league title, a cup championship, passage to the Champions League final—all were at stake.
“Thank the gods, I’m alive to see this”
And what did you see?
A Barcelona whose play was based on the disgustingly cynical conceit of entitled greatness and lots of fouls.
He fell over. So did he. Then the whole team swarmed the ref.
If Barcelona were a single player, right now the club would be Cristiano Ronaldo—gifted like no one else of his generation (save one guy!), regularly producing astonishing, head shaking displays of skill, and all of that overshadowed by a propensity for petulance, whining, and diving.
I get behind players and teams who make do with much less—less skill, less reputation, less indulgence from officials—not to mention the relentless churnings of a media machine that extends from player’s agents, to clubs, to advertisers and football confederations and everything else that weighs on who to believe in.
I support players and teams that manage to achieve with dignity and grit.
You know, like the Union.
So, on Saturday, I won’t be behind Barcelona. l be rooting for soccer.
I’ll be rooting for Messi, and for Park, for Puyol and Vidic, for Valdes and van der Sar. I’ll be rooting for tough but clean play, and I’ll be rooting for beauty.
I’ll be rooting for that transcendental moment when time slows down, when an entire lifetime of playing and watching the game connects with events occurring thousands of miles away.
Making the move, defending the move, trying the shot, trying to make the save, warming up, watching from the stands.
Your breath stops, and you are there.
The bigger picture
I’ll be rooting for the ever renewed—and ever expanding—love for the world’s game in Philadelphia and beyond.
I’ll be rooting for soccer in America.
The final will be broadcast on Fox. True, it hasn’t been accompanied with the usual curious mixture of “the time is now” versus “it will never be” coverage that is the World Cup in this country. Still, access to the Champions League final will be available to American viewers running the wide spectrum of soccer interestedness at a level that otherwise only reliably occurs when it’s the World Cup final.
In that regard, the last World Cup final was a missed opportunity.
The Dutch, inventors of total football. Spain, featuring so many Barcelona players—the final should have been magnificent. Instead, my abiding memory of it is one of ugliness and frustrating boredom.
Missed calls. Diving. Unaccountable writhing—who could blame the unconvinced American viewer for getting the spectacle but not getting the game.
Hopefully, this Champions League final will be different.
One team will win.
I only hope the game wins, too.