Monday, 12 March 2012

FOOTBALL AS BEAUTY - Milan vs Barcelona '94

It's injury time at the end of the first half in the 1994 European Cup Final and Milan are one-nil up against Barcelona.  Rossi throws it out to Panucci, the left back.  Panucci rolls it inside to Maldini who plays it up the left wing to Massaro; Massaro tries a little dart up the left, but finds there’s no room so, shielding the ball carefully, comes back, rolls it back to Panucci.  It’s played across the defence, Maldini to Galli; Galli plays a lovely high ball out to the right, ten yards inside the Barcelona half to Savicevic, who skilfully touches it back to Boban…Boban, first time, just opens his foot up, gives it back…Savicevic, delighted, checks inside with beautiful quick feet and runs towards the edge of the Barca penalty area then plays a back-heel that’s so subtle you don’t know he’s done it until it’s at Boban’s feet.  Boban rolls it coolly out right to Tassotti supporting from the back, Tassotti shapes to cross but just rolls it back inside to Boban.  Boban looks up and drifts it out to the left to Donadoni – and this is where the move comes alive – Donadoni, with absolutely classic and precision wing play, teases the defender, waits for him to commit, then just pushes it past in a split second, so beautifully: the ball holding up in the turf as if by divine providence of what is to come.
    He runs towards goal about two yards from the by-line, takes two touches, looks up, and then with the outside of his right foot, rolls it behind the farthest two forward – both marked – but invitingly back to Massaro, who only has to stand on his right foot and swing his leg at it from fifteen yards out, and it flies into the opposite corner beating Zubizaretta who is left flailing. Absolutely beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful football.
    Fifteen passes from the goalkeeper to a beautiful goal – and Barcelona never had a sniff of the ball. This is a world-class team that destroyed a Manchester United side that won the double, four-nil, and Milan – in turn – have destroyed them.

     Less than two minutes into the second half, and the game is over.  The ball gets floated up by Albertini…the Barcelona defender loiters on the ball; Savicevic just nicks it carefully but cleverly off the defender’s toe, then launches the most beautiful left foot volley over Zubizaretta’s head and into the net.  It is just fantastic: a moment of pure opportunistic genius.

     When Romario heads thin air five minutes from the end with the score at 4-0, Barcelona’s misery is truly complete.

Monday, 5 March 2012


‘Man, I haven’t told you about Cowboy Mike…did I tell you about Cowboy Mike?  No I didn’t…man!

    ‘We were in this Bar in San Francisco - a few of us from the hostel - and it’s like, this Sports Bar…so we go in, have a couple of drinks or whatever, then we fancy a game of darts; we get some arrows from the bar and we start playing but then straight away, these two couples come up…they’re like, these two middle-aged American guys and their Japanesy looking girlfriends, or wives or whatever. 

    ‘Anyway, they’re really boring, you can tell straight away.  One of them is this guy called Mike and the other is this, I can’t remember his name but he kind of had a Michael Bolton mullet going on, you know…receding at the top and sort of curly and long at the back, but it wasn’t cool I’ll tell you that much.  Anyway, they’re giving it the big one, saying they play for the State at darts or something and they beat everyone in the bar regularly, so we challenge them to a game – and we’re terrible by the way – so me and my mate are playing this Mike and the Michael Bolton guy at doubles. 

    ‘So I’m chalking the names up, and I put ‘Mike’ down, then I’m asking the other guy for his name…so he tells me it and I’m chalking it up, when Mike says, ‘Actually, my friends call me “Cowboy Mike”’ and I just turn and look at him…I stare at him and I’m trying to get it into my head that he was telling me I’d made a mistake – that I shouldn’t have just written ‘Mike’ on the board but “Cowboy Mike”.  I tried to contain myself, tried to hold it in, but I’ve started to laugh because my mate is looking at me with this hilarious, “eyebrows up” expression on his face; I turn around back to the board quickly, then methodically rub out “Mike” and put “C.M.” in inverted commas.

    ‘Then we’ve started playing and me and my mate are struggling to keep straight faces; and they were shite at darts!  They were slightly better than us, but you could tell they were no good; their throwing styles were crap, especially Cowboy Mike.  Throughout the whole game we were saying things like: ‘Your turn Mike…I mean ‘Cowboy,’ and laughing and he didn’t even get the joke…didn’t get that we were taking the piss…he just kept playing and smiling, and his wife didn’t get it either, she just stood there like a lemon and laughed and smiled when they got anything over like, about thirty, as if she was really impressed with her man’s darts prowess, unaware that her husband was full of shit and had told us that he was an All-California Pro or whatever; and his buddy - the whole time we were playing - never once called him ‘Cowboy Mike’.

    ‘Afterwards we were like, “Yes, you have lots of friends…and they all call you ‘Cowboy Mike.”

    ‘What an idiot.’