It’s morning – just – as I begin typing this. Last night’s Champions League final repeated the 2014 final ending: Real, distinctly ordinary on the night, overcame their city neighbours, Atletico. They weren’t much better as anonymous in the first half as Real were in the second. Antoine Griezmann’s penalty miss is surely haunting him this morning.
And we still finished the night with the preening peacock, Cristiano Ronaldo, claiming the accolades when he did little or nothing to deserve them. Pepe had few rivals for the brickbats thrown in direction for the pathetic theatrics in which he indulged. Nothing will change until referees take action. Unsurprisingly, Clattenburg didn’t last not so Pepe’s farrago of thuggery and whining continues.
Everything which is wrong with modern football encapsulated in two players.
This morning sees reports of Diego Simeone reflecting on his position as Atletico manager, questioning whether he has taken the club as far as he can. Attention though is on Zidane, who for once managed to keep his arse in his trousers. No doubt his glory will persuade some that Thierry Henry should be fast-tracked into the Arsenal hotseat: great players always make great managers, don’t they…
As is always the case after this match – the final, not the derby – there’s an element of jealousy involved. I want Arsenal to be there but a resigned air dictates a mood of acceptance that it’s unlikely to happen any time soon. The squad may be talented but it’s not good enough when the Champions League comes calling.
The manager is part of that, of course he is because bar 2006 and 2009, we have never passed the quarter-final stage. This isn’t about where Arsenal were before he joined, it’s an observation on his European record. I want Arsenal to do well; it would be great if Arsène could manage the club to those heights again but I can’t see any reason to think that he will.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s observation recently that Wenger hasn’t changed his tactics in twenty years underlines some of the problem but it’s not unique to Europe; we are as predictable at home.
Simeone’s limitations at Atletico were exposed in the second half yesterday. Given the majority of possession, they created few genuine chances but to lay the blame at their own feet detracts from the surprisingly and unexpectedly disciplined defence offered up by Real. Zidane and his staff deserve credit for provoking that mentality in his players.
The match exposed the contrary nature of football today. It was a long way from exciting yet I found it compelling viewing at times, struck by how easily attacks can be nullified in the modern game. Real’s threat mainly came from set-pieces and in an apparent role reversal, their goal came from Atletico’s poor defending of a free-kick. On such foibles are the outcomes of matches decided.
That said, the coming Premier League season offers the prospect of more of the same. Mourinho’s shadow is cast over the league but whether he can apply the same dogmatism to United as he did at Chelsea remains to be seen. Reality dictates that both sides of the arrangement will have to bend with the club ceding the ‘flair’ they demand as the Portuguese manager sheds some of his numbing defensiveness.
Where Arsenal sit in this is open to debate. Supporters of the manager’s philosophy toward football won’t want change, simply a more dynamic creativity. Pass and move includes forwards as well as sideways if necessary, but should always have a purpose without the sole design of denying the opposition the ball. The problem, as we found, is that on the occasions they have the ball, we lack the defensive concentration at crucial times, to keep them from scoring.
Arsène has a busy summer thinking about how to solve the problem as much as signing new personnel to better interpret his ideas.
But more than anything, last night struck me that football is regressing back to the 1980s. Not to the attrition of the 70s but the notion that conceding goals over-rode scoring in coaching minds. Grabbing a counter-attack goal has always exposed your opponent but these days, as in the early 80s, it feels rare to see a quick counter with the defence stretched. More often than not, four or five defensive positions are covered quickly. Perhaps that’s a testament to players improving athleticism than a stagnation in coaching ideas.
Whatever it is, football seems to me to need a fresh way of thinking, something to enliven it in a positive manner. Maybe it’s coming and I’m just impatient.