Pep. It sounds like a Sports Drink or a feisty Weimaraner with particularly twitchy-pointed, galaxy-searching ears; that’s as well as being the prefix to ‘talk’, naturally. It could be a zingy product for the all-new sprucification of our most fungal, spaghetti-clad saucepans. It could be, in fact anything sharply illuminating and of course, in a sense, it is. So the thought strikes me that although the media has been in a state of Chelsea Approval Frenzy in the last 24 hours, it might be appropriate to check that reactionary imbalance by returning, for a moment, to the previous state of Guardiola idolatry; Pep being quite genuinely prince of most of what is good (in football) and cleansing even.
Post the fascinating and revealingly crypto-jingoistic ‘reactions’ to Chelsea’s victory over the Catalunyan Gods, I advise some further reflection. On the one hand because I am – uncharacteristically, in my defence – applying the enthusiasm break and on the other because frankly our judgements have surely been on the pop. Pep’s carousel may have twirled in a country cart-wheel rather than a metro-sexually cosmic kindofaway last evening but come on guys, some proportion pulleeease.
I know… the irony, the irony….
But I keep seeing that Chelsea centre-forward – him, the ‘African Lion’ one – rated 8; Miereles 7; half the Barca team 6. I’ve seen a sub-heading ‘Drogba tour de force’. I’ve heard oodles of supportive pebbledash around that house-sized museum-piece English Grit and Determination. And it’s got me hacked off.
Okay so Chelsea won an admirable victory against a side so widely regarded to be the best in the world that discussion on that, at least, seems pointless. They were indeed well organised and the arguably heroic John Terry and his nominal(?) manager have to take substantial credit for these facts of the matter, interloping cruelly as they do into my altogether more supra-factual argument. I can buy and even raise a churlish grin to the win for journeymen lumpers over twinkling throroughbreds. However I might just remind the chest-thumping hordes that despite said win Chelsea’s throwbackism is something Pep (and the rest of the sentient universe) is entitled to put into perspective. Something his team may well yet do upon the return fixture.
Let me dare to go on the offensive – worse – the pretentiously offensive. For somewhere in the holding-player-free midfield of my absurdist pomp I do feel a righteous indignation brewing; one that I hope might in some way reflect the inspired tippy-tapping of diminutive boots in the Barca heartland. (Did warn you!) It feels like (and perhaps I kid myself?) worryingly ambitious footietruths flutter beneath my fingertips like passes waiting to be threaded. But am I man enough – as in brave enough, courageous in a Xavi-esque, accepting a pass in an unfeasibly tight ‘situation’ fashion enough – to actually express this ludicrously purist vision/deception/hallucination juggling its er… balls? Because the question is about seeing what’s really there… and what quality it has. Right?
Chelsea dun gud. Without any one of them being creative hardly at all – indeed maybe (sadly?) because not one of them tested the deliciometer – they were able to rumble towards the win. They neither broke the Catalans’ spirit nor really tested the core of their defence – known to be the one near-human weakness they deign to exhibit. Despite this, defensively, all over the park, they did a job on Barcelona and that may rightly be viewed as a triumph. Just not really by me.
Chelsea do have some quality and I merely suggest therefore that their limited game-plan undershot given the conspiracy of fortunes working in their favour. (Woodwork smudged and gimmes unclaimed, remember?) They cannot have aspired, pre-match, to give possession away routinely cheaply or fail to generate chances or momentum through retaining the ball or through individual moments of skill. I expect them to be disappointed that – for example – Drogba missed two real opportunities in the first handful of minutes through lousy first touches. And that his clumsiness with those precious openings was mirrored throughout by a general coarseness in play. And I repeat I do understand why Di Matteo took a defensive approach and that I am unable to argue it was unsuccessful but… look at the other side. The brighter one.
Pep and his truly magnificent representatives talk a good game and then they go play it; consistently. They are a special incarnation of the most pure expression of Skill Theory – a theory I am about to make up but which (fair do’s) they own and personify, actually. Their/my theory is about the simple, unequivocal supremacy of skill over muscle. They are the oak-beamed, lime-plastered dreamhouse, the rest the dour or pebble-dashed semi. Consequently I unashamedly favour an oaky, carousel-appreciative position on footie. And I have to defend it against heathen incursion by luddite Englishmen like Mikel, Drogba and Ivanovic.
Last night notwithstanding I reckon the overwhelming success of Barcelona FC may be the single greatest joy of and for the sporting billions currently resident on the big blueish toggerball we call home. Theirs is the most sublime achievement in an age and environment where short-termism, cynicism and outright dishonesty tend to prevail. They are certainly not beyond the occasional lapse – diving or at least exaggeration springs to mind – but the higher quality of their higher purpose should not only be applauded… but protected. In this sense I cannot join entirely with the whiff-of-regression-to-clumphood-associated chorus of approval for Chelsea. We’ve spent too many decades bemoaning lack of quality to suddenly trump it.
Lastly a further word on Drogba – whom part of me wishes to deny the oxygen of publicity. I did see an 8 rating for him in a national newspaper and a subheading on Drogba’s ‘tour de force.’ Both offended something in me – was that just me? What I saw was a largely poor but reasonably ‘willing’ performance made embarrassing by histrionics – his logo reading Ultra Ponce rather than Superman. If I were to turn back the clock much as the blues did, I’d say he made a chump of himself. But he was, as they say, a winner.
Guardiola, however, still holds the treasure.