I hate cliches; they are the bane of good writing, particularly when it comes to sports journalism. However, the past two weeks has featured the end of a number of eras – of longtime managers, of one-club players, of trophy and derby droughts, of coaches and underdogs, of ruling powers and a bunch of other things. Let’s go through them.
Premier League: Managers, Dominance, and Underdogs
The past week of the Premier League has seen the end of many long-term managerial tenures at a number of clubs. After nearly three decades and 1,500 games at the helm of Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement. As shocking as a 71-year old retiring is, you just always thought that he’d put it off for another year – my bet was 2015, when Pep Guardiola’s contract with Bayern expires. The days of Fergie Time have come to an end, while David Moyes’ ten-year stint at Everton also comes to a close as he succeeds Ferguson at Old Trafford. Manchester United have swapped an elderly Glaswegian with a penchant for promoting youth players and yelling at refs for…an middle-aged Glaswegian with a penchant for promoting youth players and yelling at refs. The more things change…
Across the hill at the Etihad, the reign of Roberto Mancini also came to an inglorious end, as he got the sack following Manchester City’s 1-0 shock loss to Wigan in the FA Cup Final. He looks likely to be replaced by Manuel Pellegrini, who has a habit of taking underperforming teams ridiculously far in European competition: Villarreal (which none of you could find on a map) to the UCL Semi in 2006, Malaga (which more of you could find on a map) to the UCL quarters this year, despite the apparent failure of the owner to account for basic things. Things like paying wages – those are important.
Wigan Athletic shocked the world by ensuring that their plucky underdog story had a happy ending with their 1-0 victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup Final. It was their first silverware ever, and guarantees them a Europea League Spot in the Group Stages next year (for reference: Liverpool, Inter Milan, Malaga, one of Roma and Lazio don’t have any spots in the Europa League). Wigan then followed this up by ensuring that their other plucky underdog story had a despairing ending, getting relegated after nine years of top-class escapology in the Premier League. Martinez’s luck at miraculously avoiding the drop in the final days (despite typically facing the strongest sides in England in the final three matches) finally ran out, though his may not – rumours abound that he may be replacing Moyes at Everton or Pellegrini at Malaga.
Also, Paul Scholes and Jamie Carragher are retiring. Only a handful of players in England (and indeed in Europe) remain committed one-club men: Ryan Giggs, Carles Puyol, Iker Casillas, Francesco Totti, Javier Zanetti all spring to mind. The time of the loyal prodigy is over – the mercenary (as best exemplified by Zlatan Ibrahimovic) seems to be on the rise.
Wigan went down. Stoke didn’t. There is no justice in the world.
Fourteen yellow cards, three red cards (two of them direct), two separate brawls between Diego “rough ’em up” Costa and Pepe “kick everything but the ball”, and a whole lot of luck accompanied the 2013 Copa Del Rey Final. Real Madrid were heavy favourites against derby rivals Atletico, and when Ronaldo headed in a corner in the opening twenty minutes it looked as if Atletico’s derby misery would continue: The last time Atletico Madrid beat Real was in October 1999 (and they were relegated that year). More than sixty teams have defeated Real since then, but Atletico have not been one of them. It almost became a sort of curse: even games that Atletico should have won, they didn’t. It would always end in a draw or a loss, regardless of how much they deserved to win. When Real Madrid hit the post four times in the second half at the Santiago Bernabeu, you figured they just might pull it off. When Joao Miranda headed in a Koke cross in extra time, the whole world suddenly became Atletico fans. Still, it took Courtois producing a pair of outrageously good saves on Gonzalo Higuain and Ozil, plus Cristiano Ronaldo’s sending-off for trying to kick in the face of Atletico Captain Gabi for Diego Simeone’s team to finally snap the curse and win the Copa Del Rey. In Real Madrid’s Stadium.
It was a bad end to a bad season for Real Madrid. They have now played three Copa Del Rey finals in their home ground (two against Atletico, one against Deportivo La Coruna) and lost all three of them. They finished second to Barcelona in La Liga, having failed to pick up a single point in away games in Andalusia and drawing twice against RCD Espanyol. They were knocked out by
Borussia Dortmund The Robert Lewandowski Show in the Champions League Semifinals, and will likely have to contend with star midfielder Xabi Alonso leaving them this summer. The dressing room is in open civil war, with Mourinho on one side and pretty much everybody else on the other (even Pepe, a longtime Mourinho stalwart). Mourinho himself was sent off in the Cup Final, and has likely closed out his tenure at Real Madrid with an ill-tempered and nasty Madrid Derby. For so much promise – and for having reached three consecutive UCL Semifinals – Mourinho’s time at Real has not been up to expectations: one Liga, one Cup, and one Supercup in three years after dual Trebles at Inter and Porto, lots and lots of trophies at Chelsea, and presumably lots more to come.
The Radamel Falcao Transfer Saga continues. He’s been linked with Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Paris St. Germain, Monaco, Zenit St. Petersburg, Real Madrid,
Benfica have had an awful week. Conceding an injury-time header to Porto to basically lose the League (having led unbeaten all season) on Sunday, before conceding an injury-time header to Chelsea to lose the Europa League Final on Wednesday. If there is a God, He is very obviously not a Benfica fan. If the pattern holds, they’ll find a way to lose the Portuguese Cup final next weekend, presumably on an injury-time header.
Andrea Pirlo is still the coolest man on the face of the earth. Rome Derby coming up in the Coppa Italia final next week, with a spot in Europe on the line. Expect it to be much like the Madrid Derby in the Copa Del Rey Final, only with more stabbings and post-game fascist youth marches.