TV View: ‘Crumbling’ Barca empire stuns Chippy and the lads
Few believed beforehand but by the end they were left speechless
There is a kind of music to the daft, impossible lark of football punditry and usually, the RTE crew manages to hit the right notes. But on a night of beautiful football chaos, sometimes it is difficult for the best of them to read the sheet music.
“They may not be the Barcelona of old but they have the fighting spirit,” declared George Hamilton at around 9.43 pm even as the possibilities of the world game were exploding before our eyes.
On a normal night, the valedictory would have been fine. But by now, reason had gone out the window. For at this stage, the Barcelona of New were 5-1 up; were merrily running PSG ragged, Neymar had that iciness in his eyes that too often goes unremarked and the screams of 90,000 believing Catalans were infiltrating the subconscious of visiting manager Unai Emery forever more.
With calm impudence, their team went about concocting one of the most audacious winning goals in the history of football.
Barcelona have scored five goals on nine occasions
You could see in the eyes of Emery before the match that there was something potentially treacherous about the evening and it was as if that sense of uneasiness and uncertainty had travelled all the way to Montrose.
RTÉ 2 went with a strong line up for the much anticipated meeting but the panel seemed uncertain as to just what kind of occasion this was. All empires crumble and the 4-0 humbling which the Parisian upstarts had inflicted on Barca seemed like definitive evidence that we were witnessing the last stand of one of the aesthetically pleasing football teams ever assembled.
So if ever a football match demanded a theatrical preamble – a teary salute to the passage of time segueing into a savage indictment of the evils of globalisation and maybe a sprinkling of Percy B. Shelley – this was it.
In short, Barca- PSG was the kind of European match for which RTÉ keep Eamon Dunphy on retainer. Individually, the cast was stellar. However, Richie Sadlier is not a man given to wild over-statement, Didi Hamann will always incline towards Germanic even-statement and Liam ‘Chippy’ Brady is deeply suspicious about wandering beyond the pastures of under-statement. So this was never a trio which Darragh Maloney was going to provoke into declaring football’s equivalent of the last days of the Inca Empire.
All three were agreed that the Barca XI could still do sweet things with the football. But the 0-4 score line they posted in Paris was an issue. “I think the problem may be at the back,” Chippy said glumly.
There was a murmured suggestion that Busquets may be “in decline” and for a tantalising second Richie Sadlier seemed poised to call time on one of the great virtuosos of the contemporary game. “Iniesta,” he began – and then stopped as a montage of the Spaniard’s enduring brilliance rattled through his mind. “He had a very poor first leg,” he offered guardedly.
So the RTÉ boys weren’t fully prepared to rule the Spanish giants out but weren’t up for ruling them in either.
It fell to George Hamilton to sketch a swift historical picture of just how deeply screwed Barcelona were. No team had come back from this position “since the whole thing began in 1955.” The only precedent starred Valencia and, somewhat surprisingly, Dunfermline. The Scots lost 4-0 in the first match. Then they won 6-2 but lost in the third defining game. But George has a wonderful habit of sneaking in a throwaway statistic which holds the truth that he is, when all is said and done, a spooky football psychic. “Barcelona have scored five goals on nine occasions,” he said with murderous casualness.
Naturally enough, Luis Suarez clawed one of the five required goals back inside the first three minutes and Barcelona were 2-0 up at the break. In Montrose, the panel were a lot more pumped by now but were focussing on the inadequacies of the PSG players and poor Emery, who may look into a quiet few years in Dunfermline to recover from this.
Over on BT Sport, the perspective was different. In studio with Gary Lineker was Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen, who was in characteristically bubbly mode about the technical supremacy of the Iniesta flick which led to the second goal. But Gerrard was wide-eyed at what he had just witnessed. “I think that’s the highest pressing performance I have ever seen from a team in my life,” he blurted out.
This was the kind of declarative stuff the spectacle demanded. Clearly, never-seen-before, once-in-a-lifetime jazz was in the air. The reason PSG couldn’t attack? Because Barca were pushing up on them like maniacs. Who knows who said what in the second half? Or cares? Mute the sound and it was still deafeningly brilliant sport.
After 88 minutes, Barcelona still needed three clear goals to go through. Impossible and stupid and yet almost inevitable by the time Neymar floated that 94th minute chip into the terrified, bewildered PSG defensive box that some Barca player or other would get a foot to it. After the cameras left the teary delight of Luis Enrique, the RTÉ trio had been elevated to the beautiful elsewhere along with half the world.
“I still got goose-bumps now,” admitted Didi Hamann with a giggle.
“The club motto is Mes que un club which means more than a club,” said Chippy emotionally. “And it is more than a club.”
“The force of this place is incredible.”
Ah: now they were feeling it. Like Neymar and company: it took a while but they got there.