Wednesday, May 05, 2010


Blessed Barca

Barcelona's exit from the Champions League has prompted some predictable hand-wringing in certain quarters, Les Murray directing some frankly juvenile vitriol at Jose Mourinho in the wake of Inter's cling-on-for-dear-life success in the semi-final.

Thirteen paragraphs in, we finally get to the nub of the matter: Thiago Motta was (wrongly) sent off, and Inter played most of the second leg with ten men. Away from home. In a cauldron of a stadium. Against a side that desperately needed goals.

Does Mourinho, whatever his undoubted tendency towards pragmatism, really deserve such an art-critic's bollocking in such circumstances?

One gets the feeling that Mourinho's real crime in all this is not adopting negative tactics, but simply beating Barcelona.

There are some football pundits (not all of them working for SBS, incidentally) who have recently invested Barca with an immaculate halo of sanctity, and treated any attempts to besmirch that halo with the derision of the self-proclaimed cognoscenti. Craig Foster gave Manchester United a similar verbal lashing when they held the blaugrana to a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp in the 2008 semi-final; Foster proclaimed Barca the philosophical victors, while relegating Sir Alex Ferguson and his men to the ranks of the uneducated.

Cloying Barca-love pieces have appeared even more often following their outstandingly successful 2008/09 season, to the extent that Champions League success in 2010 was presumably considered a mere formality. It did not happen, and the more honest critics have been quick to acknowledge that Inter deserved their victory.

There is no doubt that Pep Guardiola's team is a brilliant football side, who play as most of us believe the game should be played. It is admirable, too, that their first team features several players who have come through the cantera. But in this particular tie, they suffered from a relative lack of organisation in the first leg, and an inability to adapt to a truly desperate situation (in which they rarely find themselves, of course) in the second. The absence of Andres Iniesta was an important factor as well.

End of story. Life goes on. As Murray's colleague Phil Micallef, incidentally, has sensibly pointed out, pausing to mention something that Les didn't: that the Barca saints proved distressingly cynical on the occasion of Motta's sending-off.

As for the Helenio Herrera comparisons, Mourinho may be arrogant and pragmatic, but I can't quite see him involving himself in some of the underhand activities commonplace at the Inter of the mid-sixties - for an account of which, see Jonathan Wilson's section on catenaccio in his excellent recent book.

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