Having reached the half-way point in the European Cup semi-finals (because, let’s face it, it is a cup rather than a league now, and anyone that tells you any differently is being frankly delusional), and I can to report back to you that I have seen absolutely nothing that has changed my opinion of the state of European football at the moment. As I’ve said on countless other occasions, if this lot are the very best that European football currently has to offer, we should probably all just concede defeat and take up cricket or something instead.
At least Manchester United and Milan gave us something approaching entertainment on Tuesday night. I can only conclude that Alex Ferguson has been looking at the shredded state of his defence recently and realised that the only way that his threadbare, exhausted squad can see their way through to the end of the season is to play ridiculously attacking football and hope that Rooney and Ronaldo can keep on coming up with the goods. Of course, the last minute winner put something of a false sheen on their performance, but the fact of the matter is that United now have to go to the San Siro and, in all likelihood, keep a clean sheet there. Now, I wouldn’t trust United’s defence to keep a clean sheet against my immediate family at the moment, so I can’t see how this is going to happen. Of course, they might go super-bonkers-goal-crazy, but this Milan team, although a mere shadow of the Milan teams of the past, are no mugs, and there can be no argument whatsoever that the wonderful Kaka can do some serious damage to the likes of Michael Evra, who defended Milan’s first goal on Tuesday like he had been dared to impersonate Alan Hansen for Scotland at the 1982 World Cup. Both of these teams are too defensively frail to be considered “great” by any stretch of the imagination. Dida, the Milan goalkeeper, who inexplicably turns up every now and again in discussions about the greatest goalkeepers in the world, gifted United two of their three goals, so Milan are plenty capable of conceding more as well, but I fancy Milan to scrape through.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday night… Okay. Allow me to say this much. Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal dominate English football in a way that no group of clubs has ever dominated the game in this country. Off the back of that, these four clubs have made themselves global brands. They have a duty to entertain. Merely winning isn’t enough. Their supporters pay £50+ for their tickets, and many of them pay £45 per month for Sky Digital subscriptions. If the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea carry on delivering matches like the one that they served up for long, they’re going to find that this golden goose of worldwide TV money will keel over and cark it very quickly indeed. It’s in their own interests to play entertaining football, too. If I was sitting in a bar in, say, Kuala Lumpur or Sydney wearing my newly-purchased Liverpool or Chelsea shirt, I’d have been thinking, “What the hell is this?”. Of course, I’m not trying to suggest that foreign supporters are more fickle by nature, but they don’t, on the whole, have the ties of geography, family and history – the close ties which bind us to our clubs, whether we like it or not. They’re free to pick and choose as they wish and, in this consumer age in which we live, good luck to them. If I’d been a floating Liverpool supporter on Tuesday lunchtime, I’d be a Manchester United supporter by now. At least they put on a show.
For the record, I can’t see how Chelsea will fail to make the final now. Quite how Liverpool have got this far is still something of a mystery me, but Chelsea are the current reigning champions of The Teams That Just About Do Enough, and Liverpool need to score twice and not concede any in the return leg. The speed with which Chelsea were breaking last night (they should, really, have been three up by half-time) and the leaden-footedness of Liverpool’s defence suggests to me that Chelsea could cruise home in the second leg. And then they’ll be free to bore us half to death in the final, too. Like I continually say to anyone that will listen, European football – not half as exciting as it would like to think that it is.