I was going to write something about Tim Lovejoy, but then I realised that’s what he wants me to do. He’s like international terrorism in that respect. So I’ve decided to write something about how bad we all are at predicting football.
A couple of weeks ago, all the talk was of how wonderful Barcelona were: how they’d given Arsenal a taste of their own pass-and-move medicine and were the best team in the whole bloody world. And yes, they did play terrifically well. But I quickly lost patience with all the commentators and pundits droning on and on about how great they were, partly because it was adding nothing to the experience of watching them, but also because we’ve been here before.
When Real Madrid put Manchester United out of Europe in 2003, they were the best team in the world, unbeatable, amazing. Yet they went out to Juventus in the next round and immediately began a three-season slump as the galacticos project collapsed under its own weight. Even with the heavier exposure of the Champions League, we’re still prone to watching one or two great performances by a team and swooning OMG THEY ARE SOOO DREAMY!!! Especially if the team they’ve just beaten is English, because that paves the way for a load of navel-gazing about whether English teams are as good as we think they are.
If I was less of a coward, I might have pointed this out before Barca went down 3-1 at Internazionale on Tuesday night, but I’m not so I waited until now. But anyone who’s ever played any kind of football regularly knows that form is an elusive thing. I’m rubbish at football and even I have my good and bad days, and if I knew how to be as good as I am on a good day all the time, well I’d be slightly less rubbish. This happens to proper footballers too. All too often we seem incapable of remembering this, and forget that we may have just seen a team that their very best.
Quite clearly Barca have it in them to be awesome all over again and win this tie with Inter – they might be the first Barcelona team ever to take inspiration from the exploits of Fulham. But if they do, let’s try to keep calm and not act like we’ve never seen a team play good football before. (That said, all English teams should take note of how Barca’s possession game works – it really is extraordinary.)