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Apr 26, 2012

Don't believe the hype

We live in a footballing era of ever-spiralling hype. Too often, we are ready to rewrite the history books and declare a player or team as the greatest ever.

As Barcelona have proved this month, even the best have to lose sometimes. After all, losing is part of the game.

Josep Guardiola's Barcelona cannot now label themselves the greatest ever. Such a tag was always giddily premature. They have not matched the dominance of the Real Madrid team that won the first five European Cups, or the achievements of both Ajax and Bayern Munich in winning three in a row during the 1970s. AC Milan, in 1989 and 1990, remain the last team to win the European Cup twice in succession, and Liverpool's four titles in seven seasons is another mark still to be aimed for.

Talk that Guardiola may take his leave of the Camp Nou is disappointing though understandable. 'Pep' has become an ever more waiflike figure, and what is left of a once luxuriant mane is now flecked with silver.

Yet the best managers are survivors, with powers of reinvention. So too the best players. The likes of Bill Shankly, Alex Ferguson and indeed Jose Mourinho all proved their ability to learn from ignominy and recover primacy.

Meanwhile, Lionel Messi had already been placed above Pele and Maradona in the pantheon by some. Ludicrously so, too. Notwithstanding the absence of World Cup glory - and, yes, that still does matter despite the bloated self-importance of club football - Messi has not yet performed the revival act his predecessors once did. Pele's place is cemented by the 1970 finals, after injuries had wrecked his 1962 and 1966 campaigns. Maradona too can point to the glory of 1986 after the disaster of 1982, and in club terms, his galvanising of provincial Napoli after pain and rejection at Barcelona.

Six years ago, another Barcelona man, Ronaldinho, was proclaimed as a rival to Pele and Maradona, and look what happened after that. The more studious Messi is not expected to follow his friend into mediocrity but he should heed the case study of how quickly hype can fade into the ether.

The modern Barcelona has perhaps had it too easy. Not quite everyone has been swung by the serenity of rather too many of their triumphs. Sometimes, metronomic passing and possession percentage did not thrill as much as the hype machine - the accepted truth - had it. There has been something of a power vacuum. Barca's success has been achieved at a time when the Premier League's threat has receded, and the Italian giants are rebuilding, while the Mourinho effect has taken a little longer than usual at the Bernabeu.

Football's greatest moments usually arrive amidst adversity. Chelsea's heroic efforts on Tuesday provided a prime example. This time, winning ugly delivered the type of story beautiful football alone cannot write.

But should Messi, Guardiola and Barcelona dust off their disappointment and climb their way back to the pinnacle once more, they should be made welcome among the true greats.

To triumph again once adversity has struck is the mark of a truly great player, manager and team.


The tale of Terry Connor will long be a parable for footballing stupidity. Tales from the press box at Molineux on Sunday suggest that he sadly collapsed into flood of tears, having been on the verge of them in front of the cameras. Meanwhile, chairman Steve Morgan was captured on TV sharing a joke in the executive box just as Wolves' relegation was confirmed. It was further evidence of poor decision-making and bad timing.

It was apparent that Wolves were headed for the dumper from the moment Connor was finally announced as Wolves boss, after days of delay followed Mick McCarthy's sacking. While Connor sat in dignified silence, Morgan and chief executive Jez Moxey dealt out a series of deflections and platitudes that would have resulted in a full house in 'bulls**t bingo'. And it all flew in the face of Moxey's previous gambit that this was "not a job for a novice". Moxey and Morgan's performance showed why the likes of Alan Curbishley had walked away from the chance to rescue Wolves' season.

The remaining willing, qualified applicant was Steve Bruce, whose candidature was denied because of previous links with supposed rival clubs Birmingham City and Manchester United. Yes, Manchester United, who last competed for honours with Wolves nearly half a century ago.

Instead, Connor was handed reins he was not qualified to grip. An emasculated 'yes man' can never succeed in football, just as in any other walk of life, and Morgan and Moxey should accept full blame for what has been the most ruinous Premier League campaign since that of Derby County five seasons ago.

Getting rid of McCarthy was probably the right decision. His race looked run, and especially after the embarrassment of a 5-1 derby disgracing by West Bromwich Albion. But to follow a decisive act with rank indecision and the appointment of an unqualified rookie was pitiful practice. Those in charge of the England vacancy should take note.


Manchester United's 4-4 draw with Everton is a portent of doom if other eight-goal draws are to be taken into account. Elder United fans may remember a 4-4 draw with Derby County on Boxing Day 1970. Its manner led to the removal of Wilf McGuiness as manager, serving to confirm his inability to continue the success of Sir Matt Busby.

United fans may look favourably on the April 4-4 draw at Anfield between Liverpool and Arsenal as the moment that the 2008-09 title stayed at Old Trafford. It never got as good as that for Andrei Arshavin either. He got all four Arsenal goals that night.

Earlier that season, being pegged back to 4-4 by Tottenham Hotspur had confirmed that Arsenal themselves would be too vulnerable to challenge for the title. Last season, the same conclusion was drawn of Arsenal when Newcastle came from four down at St James' Park. And Kenny Dalglish's first tenure at Liverpool ended in February 1991 after a 4-4 draw with Everton. "I knew that night I had to go," he later said.

Having all but held their destiny in their grasp, the concession of those two late Everton goals could well be a felling blow for United. Perhaps, at last, Sir Alex Ferguson's ability to paper over the cracks has failed him. That Paul Scholes, an asthmatic 37-year-old who was previously retired, holds the key to a potential 20th title speaks volumes.

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