Once again, Mother Nature, Lady Luck, and Old Father Time gang up on the ginger cousin known as Rubbish Real Life to kick stand in its face. The football Illuminati was about to be treated to the “Wet Wednesday Night in Stoke” theory in the Champions League final, but with Serie A instead.
Giorgio Chiellini had suggested that Leo Messi would not be able to score a goal like the marvellous effort in the Copa del Rey final across the Med in Italy (although the Milan back four this season would probably disagree). Unfortunately, injury sees Chiellini missing out on the final and the opportunity of being nutmegged, followed by a tree-trunk tumble to collapse at the feet of the Argentinean imperious imp.
However, the Juventus defender’s absence does not detract from the overriding theme of a game that is being pushed as a battle between the conservative-thinking Juventus against the giddy gad flies of Barcelona. That was largely the narrative for the Real Madrid semi-final clash, but that ended up being a fairly open, attacking affair. Rightly so considering Juve can be rather tasty up front.
The other theme in Spain is that the Berlin battle will be the end of the long, long, very long goodbye for Xavi Hernández, who has experienced a few couple of weeks of being thrown into the air and given standing ovations, accolades, handshakes and tributes. There will be more to come should the midfielder win his fourth Champions League trophy, a fortnight after winning his eighth Primera gong.
The question now is what is going to happen to Barcelona after Xavi’s departure. Next season’s team could be without a large chunk of the old guard from the previous glory days – Víctor Valdés, Dani Alves, Xavi, Carles Puyol. Pedro does not join the list, surprisingly signing a new deal until 2019, raising suspicions that he’s going to be converted into right-back.
With Andrés Iniesta now probably also on the farewell watch-list, Barcelona’s will attempt to launch another trinket-winning dynasty built on the capacity for Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar to score enormous amounts of goals, irrelevant to the other seven outfield players on the pitch. The alternative is to become a beloved TV show that tries to limp on despite the departure of fan favourite characters, using replacements to whom viewers fail to warm. Look at ‘Teachers’ from the past decade or ‘Community’ now. Sergio Busquets just doesn’t have the star power.
This is why some Barcelona fans, although keeping it to themselves for the moment, will grumble that the goodbyes to Xavi should have taken place a year ago, or even two, as well as the slow easing out of Andrés Iniesta.
As cruel as it sounds considering what the pair have delivered to the club, they are both very much of the past. Had some tougher decisions being made, then Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara would have been in the starting line-up again Juventus alongside Busquets, a formidable midfield trio behind a brilliant attacking trident. Instead, Chelsea and Bayern use them to anchor their teams. Both became frustrated by having to wait in line behind an old guard that wasn’t going to budge.
To even consider being a Dream Team v3.0, Barcelona are going to have to overcome a Juventus side looking to restore pride to Italian club football after a period in the doldrums. The indications are – especially with the absence of Chiellini – that it will be Barcelona prevailing in Berlin, but the path may not be as easy as many predict. The journey to another period of dominance starts now.