1. Despite all the jibes of being old and past it, this team is far from finished. They played an energy sapping 180 minutes against the best passing team in the world and their stamina levels did not falter for one minute. Despite the devastating blow of conceding an injury time goal, the team still had the energy to mount two serious attempts on goal in the remaining 2 minutes of the game and had a good penalty appeal turned down. A team past its prime would not have been capable of that sort of reaction.
2. The money doing the rounds in the Champions League is NOT good for the game. Apart from all the old talk of only the elite few getting the bulk of the money, its dependence on TV money makes it open to all sorts of conspiracy theories. The fact of the matter is that the Champions League is fuelled by the money paid by TV and the sponsorship of a few companies. Is it conceivable that multi billion pound businesses chuck huge amounts of money into something they have absolutely no control over?
3. In the cold light of day 60 hours later, the conspiracy theories seem less cast in stone than they were right after the game on Wednesday night. Abidal’s sending off was iffy at best and had it not happened none of us would have raised any questions. This notwithstanding Michel Platini is either extremely arrogant or extremely naïve. On reflection I would say both. As a head of a pan-European organization you cannot go around accusing clubs of cheating because they have the capacity to raise huge amounts of money which they then spend on buying and paying the best players in the world. To top it all, in the eyes of those such as myself who are familiar with the machinations of Italian football and those surrounding Juventus in particular, Platini does not come with the best credentials in the world to occupy such a position.
4. Five seasons down the line I still don’t know what to make of Didier Drogba. On the one hand you have a powerful centre forward who rarely fails to deliver on the big occasion. Goals in three League Cup Finals, one in the FA Cup Final, goals in FA Cup and Champions League semis, plus countless others in big games. On the other hand you have a six foot three hulk of a man built like a proverbial go who falls over if a mosquito comes within a yard of him. It has cost us on other occasions and it probably cost us Wednesday night. Would a penalty have been given were it not him pulled down by Abidal? Was he substituted because Hiddink thought he was injured when he was obviously not, despite hobbling around for the best part of ten minutes? Despite what all the Mother Theresa’s who make up the English press said, his post match reaction and language were normal for a very upset man. There were at least 30,000 people at the Bridge saying exactly the same thing at that very moment. What had gone on half an hour earlier was not.
5. UEFA should look carefully not only at the appointment of referees but also linesmen. Let us assume for one minute that the Norwegian winker was a good referee. It does not follow that his two Norwegian mates were as good. Just because Norway can produce a good ref does not mean it can produce a pair of good linesman. The linesman was just as well placed for two of the penalty shouts (Abidal’s pull on Drogba and Pique’s handball). If they were any good they would have alerted the ref.
6. I am starting to believe in curses. 2004 Evra scores a goal using his hand to bring Monaco right back into the game on the stroke of half time. Yes Ranieri f***ed up big time in the second half but who knows what would have happened if we had gone in at half time 2 – 0 up, a result that would have seen us qualify for the final. One year later there was the Luis Garcia goal and then last Wednesday. Makes us cry in our beer and Roman in his vodka.
7. Barcelona are not the best team in the world by a country mile. Although having a collection of players who might be the best in the world in their positions (you could make a case for Messi, Eto’o, Henry, Xavi, Iniesta and possibly Toure) they are not the best team. They rely too much on the individual brilliance of their players and are definitely beatable. Nine times out of ten Wednesday night’s game would have ended 4 – 1 to us and no one would have raised an eyebrow. I am assuming that we would have scored two out of our three cast iron penalties and taken one of the many chances we created. Over the two legs we were tactically miles ahead of them.