Football

The big and small of a soccer season gone by

football-abuse (File photo) Representational image

The final weekend of league matches across Europe leaves little to the imagination. We are accustomed to the rich and powerful dominating the top positions—Chelsea back as England’s champion, Bayern Munich the perennial winners in Germany, Juventus dominating Italy.

Spain at least takes things to the final Sunday, even if we did know 10 months ago that it would be one of the imperious two. Real Madrid now expects the crown, despite Barcelona winning the Clasico so handsomely in April.

All that told us was that Barca, on its day, still reaches heights as beautiful as Michael Angelo’s famed Cistine Chapel. Lionel Messi and his friends also produced the come-back of the season with that 6-1 win against Paris St-Germain in the Champions League.

But leagues are won by consistency, and Real Madrid had the bigger pool of reliable players, arguably of any club on earth. Zinedine Zidane demonstrated that not only did he once play like a god, he is better at guiding stars than we anticipated.

The art of motivating millionaire players to perform close to their best most of the time, won the EPL.

Chelsea’s coach Antonio Conte arrived less than one year ago. He spoke little English; he had zero experience of the Premier League.

Conte, indeed, had never worked for an owner as impatient as Roman Abrmovich. The coach was effectively on trial, and paid “only” 6.5 million pounds.

Only? Jose Mourinho, whom Chelsea fired, gets double that. The last time I looked, Mourinho’s new team Manchester United had no chance of finishing in the top four.

That remains the objective for Manchester City (owned by Abu Dhabi and managed by Pep Guardiola) or Liverpool (owned by Americans and coached by Jurgen Klopp) or Arsenal (owned by a combination of American and Russia wealth and still managed by Arsene Wenger).

Two will succeed on Sunday and one, probably Arsenal, will fail.

They are all behind Chelsea, and behind the highest English-owned club, Tottenham Hotspur. Guardiola admits that failure to win a title would have ended in dismissal at a 'big club' (he probably meant Barcelona and Bayern Munich—his previous clubs).

This is cruel reality. Winning is an obligation. No club embodies this more than Chelsea where the oligarch owner hired and fired more team managers than he has had seasons. Yet Chelsea won the EPL five times in 14 years, under three different coaches.

Chelsea also won the 2012 Champions League with a stand-in coach, Roberto Di Matteo.

The key is the owner’s cash and whoever is manager to quickly persuade 11 gifted players to pull in one direction.

In France, however, a super team exceeds expectation.

A.S.Monaco is no pauper. It thrives in the tax haven of billionaires. The Monegasques are not huge football fans. The average attendance is 9,324. The strikers are Radamel Falcao who flopped with Manchester United and Chelsea, and Kylian Mbappe,18, who plays with the fearlessness of a youth out of Africa. His father is from Cameroon, and his mother from Algeria.

The wealthy monsters mentioned above are queuing to buy Mbappe and Monaco’s creator Bernardo Silva. Monaco seemed simply to play for fun, not only in the French league but also in Europe.

Biggest is not automatically best.

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