Just when I thought it was safe to cancel the Champions League, the competition delivers a couple of astonishing ties. Real did-that-just-happen? outcomes. As Roy Scheider put it, articulating the sighs of armchair fans everywhere: “We’re gonna need another subscription.”
To extend the Jaws analogy, the Champions League had become a bit of a big, fat, rubber, clunky, absurd rubber shark. It had loomed over the rest of football, inveigling us in the same ritual every season. At the first sound of the dramatic theme we would gasp: “This is going to be awesome!”
Then we would sit back and wait for the monster to show. The early rounds were a safe paddle in the shallows and the greatest club competition in the world wouldn’t bare its teeth. Never mind, we would reassure ourselves, just wait until the knockout stages start, we’ll be in for a treat.
But these were often underwhelming. Yes, the shark turned up but after all the hype and hullabaloo about how we were going to witness something incredible, it was Barcelona and it was Bayern Munich and it was Real Madrid - it was always Real Madrid.
The greatest club competition in the world was, when all was said and done, a private members’ club with just three, at best four, teams possessing the correct black-card accreditation and the minimum number of glamorous superstars available to gain entry to the later rounds.
And when Real’s killing machine appeared the reaction was the same as when Jaws’ killing machine appeared: we groaned at Sergio Ramos and we laughed at him and then we groaned some more.
Then to Scheider, readying himself for the single shot he’d be permitted to save his holiday resort, we said: “If you want us to jam the pressurised scuba tank in that insanely grinning gob for you, Roy, all you’ve got to do is ask.”
To further extend the shark analogy, the Champions League had jumped the shark.
This is a term used in TV when shows start to believe in their greatness too much and do too little to sustain it, save for some ill-thought-out gimmicks.
The Champions League’s ill-thought-out gimmick was to treat European football as an all-you-can-eat buffet, much like the shark in Jaws did when it rounded the bay into Amity Island and saw all those happy, splashing beachgoers.
The Champions League expanded and expanded until it began to look bloated and ridiculous. But unlike those once-great telly series which get cancelled, the Champions League wasn’t about to come to a juddering halt.
The only thing which could stop it was everyone cancelling their pay-per-view direct debits. I was seriously contemplating this and I bet you were, too. Then came the sensational events of last week when the kings of Europe were deposed and 24 hours later the club with the greatest pretensions to be the new kings were left in a state of shock after their own highly improbable exit from the competition.
Well, perhaps not everyone in the Parc des Princes was stunned into silence by Paris Saint-Germain’s injury-time defeat. Possibly Kendall Jenner turned to Beyonce and said: “Uh, what just happened there?”
Maybe Beyonce, equally in the dark, was forced to turn to her husband Jay-Z, sat next to Leonardo DiCaprio. “Hey Leo,” the rapper might have said, “has the referee just announced this is going to be decided by a game of charades?”
PSG have the biggest and twinkliest celebrity supporters in all of football, which you might deem sufficient reason to gloat over the club being done down by a highly-contentious penalty, indicated by the sign of a rectangle confirming VAR rather than “TV”, and scored by a team who themselves hardly engender much sympathy from the common fan, namely Manchester United.
Or you may have been not entirely unhappy to see them depart due to their adherence to the galactico system where a side is front-loaded with the most expensive strikers and creative midfielders in the world. A flagrant disavowal of the principle of the team and its proper structuring, this is a ludicrous concept and it’s not even original, the same Real Madrid trying and failing with it first.
Galactico XIs are a bit like those star-laden movies from the golden age of Hollywood where MGM would take on Warner Brothers to see who could come up with the greatest story ever told.
One such epic was called The Greatest Story Ever Told. Another was The Ten Commandments. Neymar was bought by PSG to, in football terms, part the Red Sea although on Wednesday, he had to sit on the sidelines with a diamond-studded cross in his ear which might be regulation wear for the Parc des Princes, unable to effect any miracles through injury.
One of the big problems with teams made up of galacticos, of course, is that there’s also a chance that gargantuan egos will clash. At PSG Edinson Cavani hasn’t spoken to Neymar since the Uruguayan was given John Wayne’s choicest line of dialogue from The Greatest Story Ever Told: “Truly this man is the son of God.” Cavani, you see, wanted Neymar to say it about him.
Meanwhile, surely Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be confirmed as the new Man U manager. His rival, Mauricio Pochettino, seeing that post-triumph photo of Solskjaer buddying up with Alex Ferguson and Eric Cantona, must have felt like throwing in the towel.
At Madrid they wave white hankies to indicate surrender. They weren’t quite doing this on Wednesday as Ajax’s total football destroyed Real’s celebrity football but maybe the faithful were waiting for the return of Ramos, the self-styled hatchet man to officially close this era in the club’s history.
An empire has crumbled, along with the would-be empire of PSG. Now, where do I sign to keep watching the great and glorious Champions League? …