Okay, now that was football.
Even in soccer—the team sport with the most for-real international competitive framework—it can be hard to tell the certifiably Great from the merely good. Everyone knew Barcelona could play some pretty football. But it’s one thing to crush Getafe, or for that matter a pathetic Bayern Munich, and another to slay a verifiable giant. Very few people expected Barca to make the reigning World, European and English champions look more like FC Dallas, but they did. So please make room for this FC Barcelona side on the list of the Great. Meanwhile, look upon this Manchester United performance and reassess any notion that the English Premiership is the “best league in the world,” or whatever.
The goals were nice enough, with Eto’o’s wicked turn and Messi’s icy-cool finish destined for youth-coach-instructional-reel immortality. But what about Barcelona’s defense, maligned here, there and everywhere? What about Carlos Puyol reducing Rooney and Ronaldo to service as his personal cabana boys? How many people, talking through this match beforehand, would have said, Well, you know Pique and Silvinho will have great games? Silvinho is older than I am. Pique wouldn’t make most people’s Premiership fantasy teams—if he’d managed to win a Premiership roster slot back when he was a Manchester United player, which he did not. Those guys throttled the vaunted United attack, and didn’t even look particularly bothered by the task.
The best part, though, is that Barcelona won the Barcelona way: massaging the ball around the park, stringing together geometric patterns and generally owning the scene. They say they’re “more than a club,” and I’m starting to believe them. Messi, a little dude who can get muscled off the field at times, bulled into thickets of United bodies with a certain heroism, and deserved his easy goal as a reward. Eto’o, who can disappear with the best of them, provided the flash of brilliance that defined the game. Iniesta and Xavi and Barca’s adventurous backline exerted total control. It wasn’t even close.
United lacked the first clue about how to deal, and this display should by rights put a sizeable dent in the managerial reputation of Alex Ferguson. He might be able to collect wins off Hull City with his reserves, but tonight he didn’t have the players, and once Barca scored, he didn’t have a plan. Ronaldo may be a genius player, but he’s also a miserable little bitch. Rooney always leaves his bloodily excised soul on the pitch, but to little avail this time. The rest of them—well, I don’t quite know what they were doing, and neither did they.
It’s a strange sport, and the best team does not always win. Today, however, the best team most definitely did.