IT HAS been a dramatic season of European club football leading up to the World Cup, yet the ultimate prize in the continent was won in utterly predictable fashion.
Over the last nine months, major leagues in Europe were having memorable seasons filled with twists and turns.
In the English Premier League, for example, there is Chelsea’s glut of goals; Portsmouth’s descent into financial oblivion; Tottenham edging themselves into the top four; and Fulham’s amazing run in Europe.
Not to mention the race for the title was settled on the very last day, with only a point separating champions Chelsea and Manchester United.
It was more of the same in Spain’s La Liga and the Serie A in Italy. Real Madrid deserve credit for pushing a fantastic Barcelona side to the final game of the season.
Barca’s Lionel Messi alone scored 34 goals and created another 13 in 35 games, firmly establishing himself as the greatest footballer in the world. Yet Madrid, without Cristiano Ronaldo for substantial periods of the season due to injury, and with a bunch of new players still settling in, were able to give Barca a run for their money.
Another club who deserve credit are AS Roma, who were also just a game away from ending Inter Milan’s four-year stranglehold on Serie A.
Even in France, only eight points separated the top four teams, and that’s excluding champions Bordeaux, who seemed to lose steam and slipped down to sixth in the final standings.
But then again, you could say that it all fizzled out rather predictably, with Barcelona, Chelsea and Inter all bagging their respective titles as most had expected.
Unfortunately, the result was even more boring on Europe’s biggest stage – the UEFA Champions League final.
No disrespect to Bayern Munich, but I think we all knew how this one was going to end up. People were bandying about the usual cliches about how cup finals can go any way, but seriously, there was never any chance of Bayern upsetting Mourinho’s Inter Milan.
Louis van Gaal has started a good rebuilding project there, bringing young players like Thomas Muller and Diego Contento into the side, and cleverly signing one of the world’s best and most forgotten players, Arjen Robben.
But for all their good attacking play van Gaal has conjured with the likes of Robben and Franck Ribery, as a squad, they just aren’t good enough, at least not yet.
It’s only van Gaal’s first season at the club, so he’s done mighty well to get Bayern to the finals, even though they had to ride their luck all the way to get there.
They made it out of the group stage SIX points behind leaders Bordeaux. They lost to Bordeaux both home and away, only managed a goalless draw at home against Juventus (where they incidentally had only two shots on goal in a poor 90mins), just about edged minnows Macabi Haifa 1-0, and securing progress to the round of 16 in the very last game.
On to the next round, Bayern won 2-1 in the first leg against Fiorentina, but even that was courtesy of a goal from Miroslav Klose that was clearly offisde.
In the second leg, Fiorentina took a two goal lead, TWICE, only for a superlative strike from Arjen Robben to take them through on the skin of their teeth, on away goals, even though they had lost the match 3-2.
Next up were Manchester United in the quarter finals. United had the Germans up against the wall by taking a three-goal lead inside 41 minutes in the decisive second leg and seemingly cruising to the semis. Only Rafael da Silva’s rash red card turned the game Bayern’s way, and even then it took another superlative strike from Robben to take them through – again on away goals.
As for the semi-finals, Lyon were just pushovers to be honest. Another cliche in football – there are no easy games. Lyon are not the team they once were, and they were swept aside easily.
In total, Bayern have conceded 15 goals in the Champions League alone. Up against Jose Mourinho, such weaknesses are bound to be exploited.
Inter pressed Bayern high up the pitch with a 4-2-1-3 formation, knowing there was a soft underbelly there waiting to be exploited.
Moreover, Bayern’s Robben was one of Mourinho’s proteges at Chelsea. If there’s one manager who knew how to stop the flying Dutchman, it’d be him.
Actually, people also said that if there were to be one manager who could stop Barcelona, it’d be Mourinho, and he did. Is he the best manager in football at the moment? Possibly.
But Mourinho’s footballing philosophy is one that revolves around doing just enough to win. It’s all about the science, and not the art, of winning.
When football becomes more about tactics, calculations and statistics, it
can get a bit predictable, and boring.
But to borrow another well-used adage, it doesn’t matter how you win, as long as you do.