Once again, and for the final time this season, the rift, and the allegedly racism row between Chelsea captain John Terry, and Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand reared it’s grim and ugly little head. The match will be in the books by the time you read this, so I’ll refer to it in the past tense. And as I write this, pen in hand, the match will not even tee off for another 24 hours, but I report right now that when the teams to the filed out of the tunnel, hand-in-hand with the children, for yet another London derby at Stamford Bridge, my Chelsea Blues did not line up to shake hands with and welcome the Queen Park Rangers lads to the ground. Regardless of whether you think this pre-match fair-play ritual is bollocks to begin with ((I happen to think so by the way)), the attorneys, solicitors, barristers, QCs and the spurious officials of the Football Association of England, thought it best to dispense with it to spare everyone involved the embarrassment of snubbed handshakes and the legal prejudices that could be derived therefrom. So all the lads clomped out onto the pitch and after a few pre-match words with and an authoritative tweet from referee Howard Webb, the final London derby of the season between Chelsea and OPR began in earnest with Chelsea clawing it’s way into at LEAST a Europa league spot, and QPR attempting to claw it’s sorry way out of the relegation factor.
I any case, while I initially found the pre-match handshake ritual a charming little touch, it’s really a more recent artificial construct than a time-honoured tradition. The idea behind it is to reduce tension and petty grievance and build a sense of bonhomie ahead of the match, all in service of the noble notion of egalitarian fair play and good sportsmanship. But in all honesty, it’s a fairly insipid gesture, since once Howard Webb blows the whistle to start the match, the lads are going to try to kick the crap out of each other anyway, so why build up the sense of false camaraderie? What does THAT really achieve? Absolutely nothing. Let the Captains, John Terry and Joey Barton shake hands, have a few words with Howard Webb, and then get on with it. The problem is that we’re assigning meaning to something that should be meaningless. If the Captain’s shake hands before the match, well, it should be more like Ivo Whittingham’s perfect sermon….it should have no possible relevance to anything but itself.
There is no other sport on earth that I know of, and if there is, please let me know…comment here or bust me an email…that begins this way. In the NFL for example, the team captains meet at the center of the field and shakes hands..the ref tosses the coin and winner decides whether they want to kick off and receive, and off they go with their endless series of violent set pieces. Handshakes, bro-hugs, and all that dross are saved for the completion of the match, after the heat of the battle. And then, if someone decides to snub or take exception, it’s really not as big of a deal, and sometimes it can be amusing.
The entire football universe was shaken last Tuesday by Chelsea’s incredible defeat of Barcelona in the Champion’s League semi-finals. Well…alright, not shaken so much as stirred anti-clockwise. No one expected this, not even die-hard true Blue fans like myself. The expected result was that Barca would get through Chelsea at Camp Nou and romp on to face Bayern München as it turned out at the Allianz Arena May 19th. But it was not to be. Chelsea had a solid plan and they executed it with perfection and discipline ((John Terry’s idiotic red card not withstanding)). Bayern München knocked off Real Madrid the next day to set up their finals tilt with Chelsea on their home pitch. So…not another El Clasico…and no Spanish teams in the Champions League Final.
Barcelona had taken two hits this past week….the 2-2 draw at Camp Nou that sent Chelsea through to the Final on aggregate. And their 1-2 defeat by Real Madrid at Camp Nou last Saturday that for all intents and purposes eliminated them from taking the Primera División title.
In the wake of these two big hits, Pep Guardiola announced that he was stepping down at the end of the season. His replacement is going to be his long-time assistant Tito Vilanova.
Barcelona has not been shaken, exactly. They’re too good a team for that. But they’ve certainly been stirred anti-clockwise a bit ((as has the assumed world order of football…but too bad for that notion)). How Barca recovers from it remains to be seen…but there could be some significant changes on the horizon for Barca. They have a ton of players who for the most part essentially grew up playing together…I’m exaggerating a bit of-course, but you get the idea. They’re a closely knit team, a well-oiled machine, and can probably read each other’s minds. They’ve been molded into the best football team in the world by Pep Guardiola, and now that he’ll be gone, changes to the squad will surely follow. Like it’s been at Chelsea for Terry, Lamps,and Drogba since since Jose Mourinho left, so it will be now for Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, Alves and the rest. They haven’t changed except to get older. But the context they work in will change…the subtle things that inform the things they do instinctively will change…something as small as a different tone of voice.
It’ll be interesting to see how they cope with this as they age….will they age gracefully as, say Giggs and Scholes aged at Man U? Or will they age gracelessly as Lamps and Drogba and Terry have at Chelsea in the face of the inevitable.