1497 games, 0 goals. If we’re being honest – and in moments such as these, we tend to let a lot go – Sir Alex Ferguson’s record at Manchester United had been downright ordinary. You can’t even forgive him on the basis of assists, either – he has none. In those 1497 games, the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, didn’t pick Sir Alex Ferguson to start once. He never came on from the bench – even Bebe played seven matches for Manchester United. Twenty-seven years at Old Trafford, and Alex Ferguson has nothing to show for any of them.
But let us not dwell on his shortcomings, though they are many. Let us instead reflect on his triumphs. He looks really funny when he celebrates. He looks really funny when he’s upset. He look really funny when he’s angry, and I’ll be goddamn damned if he doesn’t look really funny when Manchester City win the title in the dying seconds of the season.
He has seen the great players come and go. Bosnich, Neville (no, the other one), Bosnich, Bosnich, Milne, Anderson, Bosnich, Taibi, Obertan, Bosnich – oh, and Mark Bosnich, of course. And look to his child prodigies, the class of 1992. Ryan Giggs remains the finest left winger to have had an extra-martial affair with his brother’s wife, Gary Neville is Phil Neville’s brother, Nicky Butt’s career came to a pitiful end in South China, and Robbie Savage maintained a level of intolerability not witnessed in the Premiership since the days of Kevin Muscat. Ferguson bore them all – I wouldn’t put childbirth past him – and their legacies are also his.
United fans should be excited about a new era. With a grumpy, grudging, stubborn Scotsman to be replaced by a grumpy, grudging, stubborn Scotsman, much is changing at Old Trafford. They can be excited about the return of Cristiano Ronaldo who, after hitting the 200 goal mark for Real Madrid recently, is reported to be “shitting himself” with enthusiasm over the prospect of playing under one of the finest managers to manage Everton in the last ten years. They can be excited about the return of Ferguson in two years’ time when David Moyes is discovered floating face-down in a pool of his own tears. There’s a lot to be excited about. It’s exciting.
Get excited, everyone. Get excited.
I don’t think you know anything about football. All right, so you might know some things about football, but whatever you know about football isn’t nearly as important as what I know about football. Knowing more about football than you do, I feel that it’s critical that I let you know who I think were the 25 best players from 2012. So I’ve done a list, chosen from the 80-man shortlist compiled by Backpage Football, because that’s what everyone else is doing.
What was that you had to say about my list? That’s right, you didn’t say anything.
Some art to take your mind off the list.
1. Lionel Messi
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
3. Andres Iniesta
4. Radamel Falcao
5. Robin van Persie
7. Andrea Pirlo
8. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
9. Yaya Toure
10. Bastian Schweinsteiger
11. Gianluigi Buffon
12. Vincent Kompany
13. Luis Suarez
14. Mats Hummels
15. Xabi Alonso
16. Philipp Lahm
18. Mario Gomez
19. Gareth Bale
20. Didier Drogba
21. Sergio Ramos
22. Giorgio Chiellini
23. Daniele De Rossi
24. Arturo Vidal
25. Edinson Cavani
26. Steven Gerrard
27. Steven Gerrard
28. Harry Kewell
29. Steven Gerrard from 2005
– Max Grieve
I could have written at length about the Ballon d’Or; an award which recognises the best in an exercise which, like the rest of life, is essentially futile. If we have a good run, we all should die about seventy-eight years after we’re brought into the world, and the universe is only going to melt anyway, when the Sun explodes and eats everything. In five or six billion years when this happens, nothing will matter, especially not an award for running and kicking.
I could have written at length about the Ballon d’Or, but I drew some pictures instead, and the writing was left to Get Goal Side. Here’s one of Tito Vilanova.
You can see the rest at Surreal Football.
– Max Grieve
Hold on, this wasn’t meant to happen.
Barcelona, forever the irresistible, hypnotic force, who so consistently surpass clumsy power with poise and precision, lost to Chelsea: the same side that will likely not qualify for the Champions League unless they win the competition. Fernando Torres ran to the corner, Guardiola strolled the touchline contemplatively, and Messi, who smacked the woodwork twice, shook hands with tears in his eyes. Rarely has the Camp Nou seemed more cavernous.
Real Madrid would restore normality. After all, who could doubt José Mourinho’s ability to conjure up the 1-0 win that would see his side through to the final in Munich? Indeed, during his time at Chelsea, he won 24 league matches this way. Madrid, despite the general run of play, looked for a time as if they would completely crush their opponents: they moved with pace and power, and beat Bayern to a pulp in the opening minutes. Had they known the match would go to extra time, perhaps they would not have played with such seemingly limitless energy so early and intensely.
They were probably lucky to make it to the penalty shoot-out. Had Mario Gomez, a ruthless striker with all the efficiency that is stereotypical of his nationality, been sharper in front of goal, he could have had a hattrick. His failure to score in the 85th minute had commentators the world over spitting the same, tired line into their microphones: “You just get the sense that this isn’t going to be his day”.
Ronaldo and Kaka shot weakly with their penalties, and Manuel Neuer fell the right way. Gomez stepped up, and left Casillas with no chance – not least because the Spaniard was nearly on the ground before Gomez had struck the ball, so premature were his reactions. Casillas then saved from Kroos and Lahm, before Sergio Ramos approached the spot to give Madrid the relative advantage, though the pattern of the match so far dictated that nothing was certain. The jokes about Ramos’ penalty have gone about as over the top as, well, his spot kick did. It would have been glorious to see Geoff Shreeves pull out his now infamous line of questioning when interviewing the Spaniard in the mix-zone.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, always the brutally effective German, duly put an end to the match, and tore off his shirt as he ran to celebrate with his teammates. Mourinho, left on his knees, was stunned. He stood and turned to face the Bernabeu, which was as bewildered as he was – something must be wrong.
He had been central to the television schedule throughout the night. He argued with the fourth official, slipped in and out of the dugout, gestured wildly, and provided a full complement of facial expressions. As Schweinsteiger streaked towards the Bayern fans high in the Bernabeu, the cameras again turned in the direction of the Portuguese, but only caught his back as he slunk down the tunnel. He knew that this was his opportunity.
When Rafael Nadal lost his quarter-final against Robin Soderling at the 2009 French Open, Roger Federer drove on to reach the final, and win comfortably in three sets. This is not particularly interesting in itself, as most of the uninitiated in tennis know of Federer’s impressive career. What is more pertinent is that Roger Federer routinely loses to Rafael Nadal in the latter stages of Roland Garros, and the only time he has ever won was when his greatest rival to the throne was eliminated before he met him. Last night, Mourinho’s side spurned the chance to overshadow Barcelona completely. Of course, Madrid will win the Champions League again, but perhaps not whilst Mourinho remains as coach. Barcelona will be back, and a repeat of the four clásico matches endured over 18 surreal days in 2011 is always likely, given that the two sides regularly meet as domestic and European competitions reach their climax. Mourinho doesn’t have a particularly good records against the Catalans, either. He has met Barcelona eleven times with Madrid, having lost 5, drawn 4, and won 2 (though one of these two was in extra time). Only once has he kept them scoreless, and only twice have Madrid kept within one goal of them (excluding draws and wins). He must surely know that this was one of the greatest opportunities he would have as coach of Real Madrid eclipse Barcelona in Spain and in Europe. Now, he will have to start again.
Barcelona may buy a new striker in the summer, and Guardiola has been sneaking furtive glances across the continent at Thiago Silva, who will likely be the long-term replacement for an ageing, though never tiring, Carles Puyol. They will not, however, abandon the style which has served them so well over the past four years: their supporters would struggle with the concept of sacrificing beauty for success, though might have hoped for better against a resilient Chelsea. The powers at the Bernabeu may demand different. Mourinho was hired to complete the Decima – Madrid’s tenth European title – and he has failed to deliver. The league victory will be celebrated in the newspapers, but will pale into insignificance due to the nature of this defeat: so close to the final, Madrid have fallen at the final hurdle. They would have fancied themselves against this delirious, and often fortunate, Chelsea side.
Fabio Capello won the league with Real Madrid, and was promptly dismissed. Bernd Schuster stepped down from his post after achieving the same success, though did so with a hand embedded firmly in his back. Vincente Del Bosque, who led Spain to the World Cup in South Africa, fell after winning two league titles, two Supercopa de Españas, two Champions Leagues, the UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup (considered the predecessor to the Club World Cup). Jupp Heynckes sat in the Bernabeu last night, fourteen years after he too was sacked by the infamous powers that be. He won the Champions League, yet lost his job. In a fortnight, his side will be competing for the same trophy – having knocked Madrid out on their way. A league title and a Copa del Rey is not a good return for the most expensively-assembled side in the history of football, even if progress is being made against the Catalans to the east.
Mourinho will be given more time – his standing commands it – but there is only so long the Bernabeu will wait. The Portuguese understands his mortality in this sport. “I was nine or ten years old,” he says, “and my father lost his job on Christmas Day. He was a manager, the results had not been good, he lost a game on December 22 or 23. On Christmas Day, the telephone rang and he was sacked in the middle of our lunch. I know all about the ups and downs of football. I know that one day I will be sacked.”
It would be little surprise, if he chooses not to walk, to see it happen in Castille.