November 25, 2010
The amorphous mess that is the Champions League group stage is now taking shape. Most of the usual suspects are through, give or take the collywobbles being suffered by Arsenal, and, with one matchday left, we will soon be mothballing the competition until February.
Real Madrid celebrate after Cristiano Ronaldo scored in Amsterdam. © Getty Images
This week has allowed me the welcome opportunity to view a pair of the big contenders to be playing at Wembley in May. Tuesday saw me in Amsterdam to see Real Madrid mark everyone’s card with a rather impressive 4-0 despatching of Ajax. I was there as a guest of one of the competition’s sponsors, and must thank them for their hospitality, part of which included a never-ending supply of their product, a premium lager familiar around the world.
Despite the associated haze of mass consumption of that heady brew, it was clear to me that the Jose Mourinho version of Real Madrid should not be expected to go out in the second round, as their predecessors have done every season since 2003. To follow the pattern of much of the season, there was grit to match the flair, and there looked a hard, professional edge that evaded them for much of the galacticos era. Ajax did not offer much but they were swatted aside with perfunctory ease, with all four goals taken with some aplomb.
August 19, 2010
Craig Bellamy's decision to return "home" to Cardiff City has been hailed as a throwback to the days when big-name players would step down a division to revive the fortunes of a provincial club. Memories of Dave Mackay being persuaded to join Second Division Derby County by Brian Clough in 1968 or Kevin Keegan joining Newcastle United in 1982 have been evoked.
The effect at Cardiff has been immediate. The club shop has done such a roaring trade in No.9 and "Bellamy" shirts that they ran out of both the aforesaid number and the letter "y". Bookies have slashed odds of Cardiff returning to English football's top division for the first time since 1962 as Bellamy himself must accept a level of adulation that has been markedly lacking in his career so far.
Yet talk of footballing fairytales can be countered by the strands of the Bellamy affair that make this very much a modern football story. Item 1 is Bellamy's status as a supposed victim of the 25-man rule, though it is perhaps more pertinent that Roberto Mancini would want rid of the man once called the "gobbiest" player in the game by Sir Bobby Robson whatever rules were in place. That said, talk of "restraint of trade", and even a revival of l'affaire Jean-Marc Bosman began to abound.