The day “The Football” ended

They didn’t realize it was all over, but it really is now. Or so the saying goes. We have found a champion. Congratulations go to FC Barcelona then on winning an epic contest which began, at best estimates, one year before the erection of the Great Wall of China when, for a brief period, land disputes were settled by determining which side could best kick a severed head round the mountainous countryside of the Liaodong province.

What had come to be known as ‘The Football’ ended at Wembley on Saturday night when David Villa curled his sumptuous effort from the edge of the Manchester United penalty box to secure the European Champions League trophy in such a manner that few could dispute who earned the title of ‘Greatest Ever Team’.

Commiserations to Brazil’s 1970 Fifa World Cup squad, Liverpool’s 1984 side, Arsenal’s 2004 Invincibles, and Leyton Orient’s January-April 2011 undefeated team for their close contention, but it just wasn’t to be. What a battle it was though. The race for supremacy drew in all manner of participants; even teams as bizarrely conceived as Ian Holloway’s Blackpool drew in thousands of followers in the hope that they one day may hold that title.

Naive? Maybe. But nevertheless the beauty of these efforts will live long in the memory on Sky Sports 4 reruns of ‘The Football Years’ and ITV 3’s ‘100 Greatest “The Football” Teams’. This has been a most remarkable and nail bitingly exciting journey.

For a moment, Manchester United looked like they may spoil the winner’s parade that was the Champions League Final. Despite Pedro Rodriguez’s 27th minute opener following a typically deft Xavi Hernandez pass, Rooney struck back on 34 minutes with a beautiful first-time shot that tore up the script and threw it in the faces of the Barcelona traveling support.

Regardless, Nemanja Vidic, a keen admirer of the beautiful game himself, quickly patched up said script when he forgot to mark its main proponent, Lionel Messi, who delivered his own ruthless strike past Van Der Sar early into the second half.

Realistically, though, Barcelona ran away it. And how could they not? This team practically won the World Cup on its own; seven of those players who started the game against Manchester United also started in Spain’s 2010 World Cup Final winning team against the UFC-inspired Dutch. Added to those seven, the little known Argentine son of God Lionel Messi (as far I’m concerned, if you tell me he isn’t the best player in history, then you may as well be telling me that the Pope doesn’t wear a silly hat) and a winning formula is guaranteed.

Meanwhile, a glance to the sidelines would reveal the most immaculately dressed man in the history of the sport, Pep Guardiola. Sure, Sir Alex Ferguson may have led Manchester United to 27 odd major honours, but can he claim to ever have dressed as sleekly as Guardiola has over the past three years? Barcelona ticked all the boxes that mattered and more.

And this was a performance that summed up everything the Catalonians have got right in their journey towards ultimate immortality. Slick, stylish, and, at the very core, humane. Who could deserve it more than a Unicef-supporting (_editor’s note: Barcelona recently relegated Unicef to the back of their shirt for £125m of sponsorship from the state-run ‘charitable’ Qatar Foundation – the greedy, hypocritical “Més que un club” bastards_) group of friends who fight for each other rather than individual pride?

This is truly a group who are less interested in the view count their skills will acquire on YouTube than the wellbeing of the beautiful game. If it was a nice touch for Eric Abidal to lift the Champions League trophy following his bout with and subsequent defeat of liver cancer, then Sergio Busquets taking off his diving cap for the grand finale of this blockbuster of a sporting contest was a gentle poke from Jesus Christ himself.

But what next for this population of footy maniacs? What will become of us now that Barcelona have been proclaimed champions of ‘The Football’? Can we truly expect the world to hang up its humungous pair of shooting boots and give kicking a ball round a field a break for the rest of eternity? The addiction, I am afraid, seems destined to continue.

Next season, a group of young pretenders under the guise of Swansea City will attempt to reenact Barcelona’s triumph with their very own trio of 5 foot 6 inch midfielders in the Premier League. This momentous occasion of heroism will be immortalized in the thousands of footballing tributes that will inevitably hit playgrounds, car parks, amateur fields, and professional leagues across the globe.

“I’m Javier Mascherano!” “No _I’M_ Javier Mascherano!”, the kids will shout, but there will only ever be one Mascherano. There will only ever be one Barcelona. Remember the day: Saturday 28th May 2011, Manchester United vs Barcelona, Wembley Stadium, London, the day the football ended.

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