On late Thursday night, some of the best teams in the world found out the obstacles in their way to club competition’s most prestigious trophy: The Champions League. In a two-in-one black-tie event in the aptly placed bourgeoisie, by-the-sea Monaco - a safe-haven for tax invaders and indictment fiends, UEFA, the European football organising with a sketchy off-the-field working, awarded the best players on the pitch. Here’s a commentary on the most notable events of the night.
Easy pickings for Manchester City, Inter enter group of death, Liverpool relish low air miles
Group A sees Real Madrid and PSG trying to flog their rivals Galatasaray and Club Brugge unconscious. Both PSG and Real Madrid are in the doldrums direction-wise, and there could be a chance of an upset somewhere (or a pleasant surprise if you tune into football for the sweet vicarious schadenfreude of the giant-killing act).
Group B consists of last year’s surprise finalists Tottenham Hotspur, while the other three teams have all at one point or another won the European Cup (Bayern Munich, Red Star Belgrade, Olympiakos). This year Tottenham will look to shed their impostor syndrome.
Manchester City should easily navigate the challenges from Shaktar, Atalanta, and Dinamo Zagreb in Group C.
Group D is a tight one as it boasts of perennial underachievers apart from Juventus. Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and CSKA Moscow will look to further hurt the ego of the Italian giant.
Group E features six-time Champions of Europe, Liverpool FC. A 4000-mile round-trip around Napoli, Salzburg, and Genk will mean Jurgen Klopp’s paper-thin squad may endure.
Inter are on a sour patch of luck. They are teamed with a hurting Barcelona and a whiplash-deft Dortmund. They can hope that Slavia Prague can take most of the blows in Group F.
Group G is up in the air as far as footballing odds are concerned. Each of Lyon, Leipzig, Zenit and Benfica have equal chances of qualifying.
Group H made of Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia and Lille will mean this may be the most entertaining group of the entire competition.
Cristiano Ronaldo offers open dinner invitation to Lionel Messi
“We shared the stage for 15 years, me and him (Messi),” noted Ronaldo in the build-up of the draw. “I don’t know if it ever happened in football; two guys on the same stage all the time. (The competition) is not easy. We have a good relationship, but we haven’t had dinner together yet… but I hope in the future (that changes).” It was at that moment as if to underpin it, the presenter interrupted to add that it was the “moment of the night,” while all those in attendance, regardless of rank or order cheered in unison.
It is both fortunately and unfortunately true. The biggest moment of the night wasn’t Lucy Bronze becoming the first and currently the best English female footballer. But it was this one-sided conversation between the two behemoths of the game that will take more column inches.
It is true, and it will be difficult to put this ferocious yearly competition between Ronaldo and Messi into proper context until one or the other finally retires. And when scribes try to put it in words, it will humble fans and footballers' generations to come, taking on the sepia-tone sheen nostalgia adds to our memories. There is a feeling that the rivalry is coming to its final leg, with Ronaldo moving to the Seria A, which is perhaps why the retrospection mechanism has sprung into action. The feeling can be surmised through the words of musician and visionary David Byrne: “Some say this evanescence helped us focus our attention.”
Lionel Messi told Radio C5N earlier in the year: "I miss Cristiano in Spain. It was lovely having him here, even though it annoyed me seeing him win so many titles. It would be great if he was still here.”
The Messi-Ronaldo rivalry will be regarded as the world’s longest staring contest. The rivalry between Pele and Maradona doesn’t even come close (due to the Argentinian becoming a slave to the white powder, while Pele became a slave to his own PR). The only reason why that rivalry stays relevant is that one or the other wouldn’t shut up about the other. Football writers will have to borrow examples from other sports. Federer-Nadal (tennis) and Magic Johnson and Larry Bird (NBA).
Cristiano added: “We used to have this battle in Spain - he pushed me and I push him as well. It’s good to be a part of the history of football.” There is an under-the-surface resignation that they are close to the history of football than that of it’s immediate future.
Eric Cantona’s dystopian Sci-fi epiphany for the ages
“When seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they believe that sardines will be thrown into the sea,” mused Eric Cantona in the year 1995. Standing in the year 2019, he finds himself in the position of the seagull, a soothsayer reading tea leaves of the human condition, following the trawlers.
Accepting the 2019 FIFA President’s Award he had the following to say when he was asked what was on his mind:
“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport. Soon the science will not only be able to slow down the ageing of the cells, soon the science will fix the cells to the state and so we will become eternal. Only accidents, crimes, wars, will still kill us but unfortunately, crimes, wars, will multiply. I love football. Thank you.”
Cantona has long resented the commodification of the footballer and the few years they have at the top of their game.
In the short monologue, he touched upon medical science research devoted to the slowing down to the wear and tear of the tissue down to a cellular level. He believes diseases will be eradicated but we’ll still be unconscious victims of greed. All of this will be true over the course of the years to come. Science fiction has always preceded science, but bear in mind that many of what sounds science fiction is already IVF-ed into reality in test tubes and science still in its embryonic stages. Lest we forget Isaac Asimov conceived the pocket calculator in Foundation (1951) and Arthur C Clarke conceptualised Voice Over Internet protocol (think Skype, video chat) in 2001: Space Odyssey (originally appearing in The Sentinel 1948). Football clubs like Liverpool and Arsenal already employ regenerative science down to the cellular level.
One of the things that Cantona notably noted was that the oncoming of footballers may have the latent imperiousness of demi-gods. On closer inspection, you’ll note that the change of guard is already here, and he wears Liverpool red.
Virgil van Dijk — Brother’s Keeper,
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon you.” - Jules Winffield (Samuel L. Jackson), Pulp Fiction
Virgil van Dijk’s award is a bugle blow for a new dawn. He has broken the hegemony of the football’s quarterback culture, where soloists rule the roost. Van Dijk’s rise is facilitated by football tactics turning its head back to a collective narrative. And is doubly paradigm-shifting due to him being a defender and winning the Best European Men’s Player award pipping Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, especially at the time when the sport is an attack-heavy, and the art of defending being caricatured by the likes of Phil Jones, David Luiz.
Van Dijk knew where to start his offering of thanks: "First of all, I think I need to thank all of my teammates. Without all of them and without the staff, I wouldn't have achieved what I've achieved over the last year especially. I thank my family of course.”
Unlike Cristiano and Messi, Van Dijk wasn’t touted as royalty when he was a teen. He did dishes, eating scarps of Mc Donalds because he wasn’t good enough for Dutch small fries Willem. At 20, he had a potential career-ending kidney condition while playing for Groningen.
He added: "It's been a long road but that's part of my journey, it's part of who I am. I needed it like this, I'm not a player who was 18 years old and had that rise straight away. I had to work hard for every step of the way – that's part of me and I'm very happy about that.”
Eight years on, he’s a Champions League winner, Super cup winner, Premier League Player of the Year, Professional Footballers’ Player of the Year, UEFA Nations Cup silver-medalist, and now awarded the best defender and the best player in Europe. His Liverpool team-mate Alisson picked up the best European Goalkeeper of the year award, while Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, also of Liverpool find themselves fourth and fifth respectively.
Van Dijk knows he couldn’t have done it without the team, and the team knows they couldn’t have done it without Van Dijk. No one is above the other. Football and Liverpool are richer for it.
Updated Date: Aug 30, 2019 14:47:41 IST