In the build-up to the 1998 World Cup – opening match: Brazil v Scotland – TV re-ran the whole of the 1970 final. The Azteca, those deep terrace steps baking in the sun, scurrying photographers with hand-held Hasselblads, a yellowy glow to everything, not just the Brazil strips, Rivellino with his moustache, Gerson with his cigars. And of course Pele, or as my football-disavowing father-in-law knows him: Pepe. Oh yes, I was going to enjoy this.
Except that the team of the century in the performance of the century were sometimes less than celestial. There were quite a few longeurs during which not very much happened. You had to wait a long time for the pass of the century: Pepe to Carlos Alberto, and all the Hasselblads popped. Twenty-eight years on, my gilded memory of that match, that team, almost popped, too. But I quickly pulled myself together. To be influenced by the passage of time, changing fashions and so-called advances in the game was, I decided, dull revisionism. Brazil in 1970 magicked up the greatest display of attacking football ever seen. End of.
Until, that is, 29 November, 2010 and Barcelona 5, Real Madrid 0: the Nou Camp, the home crowd singing their anthem about how being Barca fans is the best thing there is, glorying in Jose Mourinho’s worst defeat, glorying in the tiki-taka genius of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, who’d be crowned best in the world in any other age if it wasn’t for that other little guy, the one who choreographs a method of play best described as death by a thousand passes, although funnily enough he didn’t score that night. His name, of course is Lionel Blair – sorry, that’s my father-in-law’s influence, you know who I mean.
That performance became the greatest, end of, and I’ll say this now: it won’t cause me to change my mind 28 years on because it won’t be topped. Barca that night took beautiful, perfect football as far as it could go. And I especially say this now because the Barcelona-disavowers are out in force and they’re crowing.
Crowing because Barca have been beaten twice in succession, that finally a means has been found to defeat their infernal gorgeousness, with the implication that anyone could beat them now, given the chance. Crowing because their coach is quitting, with the implication that the team will be broken up. Crowing because much as everyone talks about liking “good football”, they get bored with too much passing and crave long balls, tasty tackles and – why not? – a bit of aggro.
These people are mostly Anglo-Saxon. They still hope that a medieval look-out tower like Andy Carroll will come good. They’ve never much cared for tiki-taka – it’s OK to admit this now – but would choose chicken tikka masala believing this makes them appear interesting because it’s foreign (it isn’t). And they’re perfectly happy that Chelsea are in the final of the greatest club competition in the world – the trophy of Puskas, Best, Zidane, Van Basten, Messi and, yes, Bobby Murdoch, John Robertson and Paul Lambert – on the basis of two ultra-defensive performances in the semis.
The anti-Barca brigade have been around for a while. I remember their disgruntlement last season when Barcelona beat Man U in a repeat of the 2009 final, as if it was somehow the Catalans’ fault that Sir Alex Ferguson had pitted the same midfield dullards against them for a second time. The Barca-disavowers craved change and now they’ve got it, and I hope in Chelsea they’re happy because there will be dark days ahead if this anti-football catches on.
Ah, but what if Pep Guardiola was to end up at Stamford Bridge? I really hope that doesn’t happen. He deserves a better fate than, first day in the job, being told by John Terry how a football club should be run.
Hail Pep, hail Iniesta, hail Xavi and hail Lionel Messi, the player who could do it all by himself but who never forgot that football is a team game. Just like Lionel Blair on Give Us a Clue.