If Barcelona win the Champions League final today against Manchester United, a lot of people outside of England will be very relieved.
That’s because in the past five years, the big four English clubs – Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal – have dominated the semi-final and final stages of this competition.
It has become relatively boring for non-English fans to see this domination. Barcelona winning will upset the monopoly.
Last year was an all-English final between United and Chelsea. Liverpool also made it to the semis.
TV execs, sponsors and football fans generally want to a better mix. So too does FIFA president Sepp Blatter and the UEFA head honchos who are reticent when it comes to bigging up Man Utd’s greatness. The Premiership champs are bidding to be the first team to retain the Champions League.
Blatter and his UEFA counterpart Michel Platini are relishing Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona winning in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico to halt the rise of English football.
There is a snobbery against English football because it’s seen as technically inferior. That used to be so but some of the planet’s best ply their trade there, including Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s No.1 player. Carlos Tevez could step into any side. Even Ryan Giggs is still world class at 35 and over 800 games.
Englishmen like Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Frank Lampard would be automatic choices in any club team.
Add to that the likes of Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt and Nemanja Vidic and there is no doubt the English Premier League is brimming with great players.
Admittedly, the England national team leaves a lot to be desired because so many quality foreigners play in the EPL, but that’s another story.
Barcelona can boast the brilliance of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, plus the still glowing talents of Thierry Henry – if he is fit.
The Catalans are without the suspended Dani Alves and Eric Abidal and Rafael Marquez is injured. Iniesta is an injury doubt too. At least they have the fabulous striking skills of Samuel Eto’o to call upon.
Messi will have to play out of skin against a more or less full-strength United whose only real loss is the suspended Darren Ferguson.
The purists, neutrals and non-English want Barca because they allegedly play the most flowing, entertaining football.
But Alex Ferguson has compiled a team with an abundance of flair, skill and artistry as good as any from two decades in charge at Old Trafford and it looks like he will triumph again.