Something For The Weekend (238)
Although Villa were handed the privilege, nay, duty, of relegating Newcastle last week, it seemed rather annoying that the gods decided to add to the Toon's misery by letting them score the own-goal which sent them down, rather than allowing Villa to convert the four or five decent chances, which they carved out, while the team in striped pyjamas, had a little snooze in the second-half. All in all, it was very much a qualified pleasure.
But pleasure it was.
It was obvious that the fates were rather keen to underline the fact, that Newcastle's fall, was nobody's fault but their own and this required Villa to miss their chances and leave the coup de grāce to their own hand, or boot. But leaving it to a guy called Duff, was rubbing it in, somewhat, I thought. So it turned out to be more a case of what I needed, than what I wanted, which sums up the whole season for me, really.
So I found myself a bit jaded this week.
I had been looking forward to Saturday's Cup Final but, as ever, in that post-coital exhaustion which always follows the end of every season, I find I really want a little lie-down followed by pizza, rather than anything else. Being male, so they say, and lacking the mild consolations of polymorphous perversity, I am rather goal-oriented, and rather more concerned with the climactic delights of the act, than the build-up. So it was sort of inevitable that this season would end with the kind of climax, which might make you think you have a urinary-infection, rather than prompting a yell of, ' Yabba dabba doo!'.
But let's not be ungrateful. Villa's season might have been more Nine and a Half weeks, than Debbie Does Dallas but Newcastle's pleasures were more like Deliverance and Shawshank No Redemption. And, obviously, the Toon forwards were any number of Duelling Banjos.
Newcastle's fall is monumental, in the sense, that it stands as a towering example to everyone else, how it is done. The self-destruction and internecine management of the club, makes West Brom's achievement look totally respectable, when you start comparing resources, wages paid and the rest of it.
But for the fans, both the cause and their consolation was their rejection of Big Sam and his pragmatic tendencies. It proved one manager too many but must now stand as the sacrifice the fans were willing to make for what they believe is the special quality of their club: that Keegan dream, that flair and attacking-football should supersede winning. No one would deny that they have met those goals perfectly.
The only real test of virtue is its cost and virtue which costs nothing is usually just cant and humbug. West Ham's claims to the status of football purists, are supported by the fact that they were a yo-yo club, as they produced their stream of fancy dans which earned them the title of Football Academy, while putting them at the centre of English football's highest aspirations and gave them their own parking space at Lancaster Gate.
They paid the price for that and several times.
Faced with the competitiveness of the Championship, it will be a big test to see if Newcastle's walk is as good as their talk. Leaving neophyte Shearer at the helm, is a wonderfully romantic gesture but looks like a risky venture too, as the duration of parachute-payments provides a very rigid timetable for the big bounce back. Too many clubs have bounced, rather in the manner of a dead cat, than the trampoline they expected, or hoped for.
Let's hope they find their sacrifice worth it.
No such romantic legacy hangs around Middlesbrough's neck though. But, it does seem like they need to have a re-think, about their strategy, as their old plan of buying the defensive spine of another team (Villa), seems to have run its inevitable course.
I'll definitely miss Gareth Southgate's mullet though.
More interesting, than even our Gareth's hair gimmick, is where Gordon Strachan will pitch up, after his resignation from Celtic. There is little doubt that he is a fantastic manager, even though his enthusiasm for candour and frankness seem a little self-defeating, especially when faced with the press pack. He's done really well for the Hoops but has found the constant criticism very wearing, if not exhausting. But if he can do that job, he surely can do any job in the domestic game and would represent a massive gain for any number of clubs. A bit old fashioned and at the opposite end of the spectrum from the likes of Wenger but very capable, even if a bit too grouchy to be quite charming, most of the time.
The other United in the spotlight was that of the Manchester kind, who defied all my predictions and lost the final of the Champions League. It is impossible to deny Barcelona their victory, as their technique was totally mesmerising, and it seemed at times that their fist-touch was so perfect and their ball-control so complete, that no matter what angle or how firmly a ball arrived at their feet, they were always going to keep possession.
As ever, while the Press were trying to make a paragon of Messi, the professionals were quick to point out that it was Iniesta and Xavi, who were the real difference between the teams. Carrick reminded us why Gareth Barry is so well thought of, as he too often went for the killer-ball and wasted possession. It was a night for the twinkle-toed, but as ever, the difference between the two sides was exaggerated and had it been United who had scored first instead of Barca, we would be now talking about the power of the EPL, rather than the skills sublime of Spanish Catalonia.
United, despite looking well beaten at the end, have to be congratulated for their dignity in accepting defeat and offering fulsome praise to their victors. Even though, it is rather easier to be magnanimous in defeat, if you more or less take it for granted, you'll be in next year's final, or there abouts.
The really amazing thing about the game, was that the teams were so good, Thierry Henry was made to look so very ordinary.
Now here comes Summer and in ten weeks it will start all over again - now where's that cranberry juice?