Chris McGrath: Whether you're a punter or a Qatari royal, Bayern look a better bet than United
The Last Word
Saturday 26 February 2011
It's like that adage about the Pennines, reliably reprised whenever rain stops play at Old Trafford. If you can see Bahrain from Qatar, it's going to be hot and sunny. And if you can't, it's already hot and sunny. That's how close they are.
But while revolution stalks Bahrain, down the road in Doha they are gazing dreamily the other way – towards Abu Dhabi, and the possibility that the Manchester derby may soon determine bragging rights in the spice souk.
Some analysts reckon £1.5bn an outrageous sum even for Manchester United. But the Glazer brothers could have raised at least as much simply by locking Marseilles fans into the Stade Vélodrome on Wednesday evening and demanding payment to be released at half-time. A parallel opportunity was meanwhile missed by Sky, who could have trebled subscriptions with a judicious advertisement during the interval – reminding terrestrial viewers that Internazionale versus Bayern Munich was simultaneously being enjoyed by the happy few.
Without wishing to sound smug – but deciding to, anyway – some of us had already resolved that a repeat of last year's final might, objectively, prove more stimulating than the narcoleptic "fantasy" that tempted 50,000 natives of the city that gave us Zinedine Zidane and Eric Cantona to hurl themselves into the Vieux-Port.
Sure enough, all that united the two matches was the score until the 89th minute, when Mario Gomez tapped in an away goal for Bayern. It was a belting game, one to persuade any neutral that there could be no better final, this time round, than Bayern versus Barcelona.
Mind you, the match itself was just a bonus, really. For Sky had wheeled out Steve McClaren, recently banished from the Bundesliga, to exhibit undiminished nerve as a cultural chameleon. Schteve pronounced Van Gaal with such a resolutely hard "G" that his questioner was left stricken, wondering whether he could possibly be referring to "Van Haal" – like everyone else on Planet Football – without implying that his guest was deliberately pretending to be A Bloke Down The Pub. In his days at Twente, of course, Schteve would have pronounced the Bayern coach's surname with such a brutally glottal gasp that he might have found himself pinned down for an emergency tracheotomy.
Laughably, after a couple of early wins at Wolfsburg, some of his pals in the British press were recommending the restoration of an older, wiser Schteve to the England job. But he has surely found his true niche in their midst. Like a lot of journalists, as a manager all he ever wanted was to be mates with the big names. It turns out that he was simply the wrong side of the microphone. He's an absolute natural, smooth and relaxed, with an unnerving repertoire of conspiratorial half-winks and tics and smiles and tone shifts.
Still, when the press do finally get Fabio Capello (as due punishment for his withering disregard) they will expect a successor who treats them with respect. Harry Redknapp is their man, of course. And it would certainly have been interesting to hear his views of this game, having already declared the Premier League to be "much stronger" than Serie A.
Strange, though, that the Italian game should be mired in some primordial tactical gloop when this tournament was won last year by, er, the champions of Italy. That, of course, was when the forces of darkness were cruelly marshalled by Jose Mourinho against the angels of Barcelona, and then Bayern. But while Inter are probably going out, under Leonardo they are no longer going nowhere. Having broken the fetters of Rafael Benitez, they have new adventure and ambition, and Bayern were indebted to their young keeper, Thomas Kraft, who has steel girders where other people have wrists.
Redknapp is not alone in taking the British game's vainglory to perilous lengths. The bookmakers have got it into their heads that Chelsea and Manchester United should be much shorter odds than Bayern, who can be backed at 11-1. The same Bayern, that is, who knocked out Manchester United last year. Except not the same, at all. Last month Bayern discarded Mark van Bommel – put him out to pasture in Serie A, as it happens – and hired a 23-year-old Brazilian from Hoffenheim. Luiz Gustavo dealt with Wesley Sneijder in traditional Van Bommel fashion (that is, like a water buffalo) but also introduced pace, passing and shooting to the base of midfield.
Gustavo adores Germany for its "punctuality and discipline" (oh, these hot-headed Latins!). Admittedly, even with Gustavo and Bastian Schweinsteiger as a shield, Barcelona would fancy their chances against the central defence. But the notion that United or Chelsea have a vastly superior attacking platform to Arjen Robben, Thomas Müller and Franck Ribéry is clearly preposterous – measured by form, at any rate, never mind quality. If you are a member of the Qatar royal family, and happen to be reading this, you could do worse than stick, say, £150m on Bayern at 11-1. That would raise more than enough to satisfy the Glazers, and might even let you buy your new club a half-decent midfielder with the change.
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