Barcelona versus Chelsea, the ghost of Ørevbø, and unrestrained revisionism

1 Comment

With Barcelona back at Stamford Bridge for the first time in four years, it’s natural to take some time to remember the 93rd minute goal that sent Barcelona to Rome in 2009. With hindsight, the 20-yard blast from Andrés Iniesta serves as the symbolic beginning to Barça’s three years of world soccer dominance. It’s understandable that we’d use the Blaugrana’s return to West London as an opportunity to reflect on such a seminal event.

Only that’s not what has happened. Instead, you’ve been more likely to read the name Tom Henning Ørevbø than commentaries contextualizing Iniesta’s injury time rocket, which is pathetic. The Finnish referee who officiated Barcelona’s last venture to Stamford Brdige, Tom Henning Ørevbø should never take precedence over Andrés Iniesta.

What would have happened if Ørevbø’s made the right calls, the coverage wistfully implies, not bothering to question whether the premise is correct. Was Chelsea so wronged by the officials’ perceived mistakes that now, three years later, we should be treating this match as some kind of breaking point? What happened to all the other matches we’ve complained about over the years? Why aren’t we dusting off that indignation every time there’s a rematch?

Perhaps those matches stay in the closet because they didn’t happen in Champions League. They didn’t happen between Barcelona and Chelsea, and they didn’t happen in the capital of the English language-speaking soccer world.

It’s too easy to remember Michael Ballack assailing Ørevbø. It’s too easy to remember Didier Drogba’s post match tantrum. Did Eric Abival maybe get a harsh red card in that match? I don’t know. I forget. I haven’t seen that video in a while. I only know what I’ve seen over and over again, and after three years, I’m matching the story to those behaviors.

Surely, nobody would react like this unless they were truly wronged:

Never mind all the other times Chelsea has mustered disproportionately strong reactions to on-field setbacks. Particularly when Ballack was a regular at Stamford Bridge, no official was safe. It’s an attitude that not only can be traced back to José Mourinho’s days at Chelsea but has been endemic to all of Mourinho’s sides. The 2009 outbursts were the problem, not the symptom.

And so we’re left with a confluence of factors that have shaped history. You’ve got a high stakes event, clash of styles that fuels the fire, referee that seems to miss some calls, and team infamous for their on-field conniptions. Three years later, when the edges of our pictures are worn round like corners of old baseball cards, we’re left with an image painted by the most invested: Chelsea was cheated.

And they say history’s written by the victors. In this case, it was written by those who just kept talking.

What would have happened if Chelsea had held on? For the first time ever, there would have been a Champions League final rematch. Chelsea would have met Manchester United in Rome and either fulfilled the destiny Roman Abramovich bought or made United, winners of back-to-back Champions League titles, the blueprint for world soccer. As Graham Hunter recently noted to the BBC, Barcelona likely changes course, concluding they can’t compete with England’s strength in Europe. With their hybrid of Barcelona style and English strength, they end up trying to beat Real Madrid at their own game, a fight they’re not likely to win.

And we, the fans, lose out on three years of the best soccer we’ve ever seen. And rather than clubs all over the world trying to emulate Barcelona’s approach, we’re left with every team defaulting to double pivots, likely filled with converted central defenders. Does that sound exciting to you?

Of course, none of that has anything to do with Chelsea – and no Blues supporter wants to hear that their club’s loss was good for the game – but there’s no need for all the revisionism we’ve been subjected to over the last three days. Better to just focus on Wednesday, when two very different, very changed sides will take the pitch at Stamford Bridge.

Though many of Barça’s lead actors remain the same (Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, and Puyol, most prominently), they’ve gone from soccer hipsters devoted to early-70s style to an anachronism. Whereas the last hundred years of soccer have seen teams devote more and more personnel to defense, Barcelona’s recently turned the clock back 60 years. They’ve started playing four forwards (in a 3-3-4) just years after people were asking if one forward (4-5-1) was taking over the world. While many have suggested they’ll revert to four defenders (and a 4-3-3) against Chelsea, the motivation for deploying more attackers remains the same. The Blues are likely to sit back and make this into an affair where one or two counters can decide it, just like every other team that’s motivated Pep Guardiola to put his team in a time machine.

With Barcelona’s lack of strength in midfield, it would be ill-advised for Chelsea to do otherwise. While it’s tempting to say “if Barcelona’s going to be so attack-minded, we can be aggressive and try to catch them,” Chelsea has nobody in the middle of the park who can actually execute that vision. They don’t have a deep-lying distributor in the Andrea Pirlo mold. They don’t have a creator like Luka Modric. They have workhorses: Ramires, Michael Essien, Frank Lampard.

If Chelsea approaches their semifinal as they did 2009’s, it wouldn’t be the worst approach. Teams like Rubin Kazan and Inter Milan have had success relying on execution in transition. Teams that have tried to play with Barcelona? They’ve been less successful, with only Real Madrid feigning a challenge.

We might rue Chelsea sitting back, waiting for their chances, but it’s probably the best approach. The odds are long, but at least there are odds there.

But whatever happens, would it be too much to ask that we get though Wednesday’s broadcast without a mention of Tom Henning Ørevbø?

Chelsea vs. Barcelona kicks off at 2:45 p.m. ET on FX (not FOX Soccer). Just like yesterday, PST will be with you for live coverage through today’s game.

Wayne Rooney’s England retirement tinged with regret

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wayne Rooney is England’s all-time leading goalscorer with 53 goals and he played for the Three Lions 119 times, more than any other outfield player in history.

[ MORE: Rooney retires from England ]

Rooney’s legacy will live on for decades but when the 31-year-old announced his international retirement on Wednesday, one sentence in his statement will likely stick in your mind.

“One of my very few regrets is not to have been part of a successful England tournament side,” Rooney said.

After 14 years of the hopes and dreams of every English fan being placed on his shoulders at major tournaments as the attacking leader of the so-called “golden generation” perhaps constant failure at the main events are the biggest reason why Rooney has decided to bow out earlier than many expected.

[ VIDEO: Rooney’s top five England goals ]

Rooney hadn’t played for England since November 2016 against Scotland in a 2018 World Cup qualifier, so this wasn’t too much of a surprise, especially after Gareth Southgate left Rooney out of his last two England squads. There is no doubt that his powers have been waning but it appeared Rooney was set for a recall for England’s final batch of qualifiers in the next few months and the captain of the Three Lions would lead the team to Russia next summer.

Yet with less than 10 months until the 2018 World Cup, the tournament Rooney previously stated would be his last for England, why did he now feel the need to step down?

With his fine form for Everton to start this season following 12 months on the fringes at Manchester United (where he became their all-time leading goalscorer last season too) it appeared Rooney was fitter and sharper than he has been for the past four or five years. Fitness does not appear to be the issue.

Cristiano Ronaldo is a year old than Rooney. Lionel Messi is one year younger than Rooney. Like Ronaldo and Messi he has won everything he can in the domestic game, and still that is not enough. All three have the weight of their respective nations on their shoulders but now only Ronaldo and Messi are continuing to lead their nations. Yet in Messi’s case, he too walked away from the national team after they lost to Chile in the 2016 Copa America Centenario, only to be persuaded to return soon after.

Like Rooney, Messi has yet to win a major title with his nation, but Argentina have certainly come much closer (four defeats in major finals, two on penalty kicks and one in extra time during his career with La Albiceleste) than England and Rooney every came. It appears that Rooney will not make a dramatic return for England a la Messi, but never say never.

Of course, one player cannot make a team but you can argue that the England teams Rooney was the focal point of were the greatest to never reach the semifinal of a major tournament, let alone win the damn thing.

Scoring just once in 11 World Cup games for England over three tournaments, Rooney’s finest moments in tournament play came in his first major competition: EURO 2004. In Portugal a young, bullish, teenage Rooney scored twice against Croatia and led England to the quarterfinals before he broke a dreaded metatarsal and England, as they would in the next two tournaments, lost on penalty kicks to Portugal in the quarters.

After that flurry of four goals and an assist in his first four tournament games, Rooney would go on to score just three goals from 47 shots in his next 17 games in major competitions.

More misery in major tournaments arrived as he snapped in the 2006 World Cup quarters, being sent off for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho, then responded to England fans booing the team in South Africa in 2010 by ranting into TV cameras about their criticism. Rooney was banned for the opening two games of EURO 2012 and returned only for England to exit in the quarterfinals, again, this time to Italy. He finally scored at a World Cup in 2014 but England crashed out at the group stage and he then captained England at EURO 2016 but they bowed out in embarrassing fashion to Iceland in the Round of 16.

That, somewhat poetically, was to be his last appearance for England at a major tournament.

There’s no doubting that Rooney was the most talented striker England ever possessed with his ability to score sublime goals and create chances for his teammates. Yet, the greatest players on the planet are always judged by what they won on their international stage, mostly by dragging the team around them to new levels.

Pele won three World Cups with Brazil. Diego Maradona won one with Argentina. Ronaldo has won a European Championship with Portugal. Rooney won nothing.

That remains the only regret in a storybook international career which saw a lad from Liverpool put on a pedastool at the age of 17 and handed the keys to a nations success.

It didn’t work out how Rooney, and everyone else, had hoped when it came to ending England’s now 51-year wait for a major trophy, but he delivered goals, guile and commitment which the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford will try to replicate in the next few decades.

Rooney’s international career will always be celebrated and his achievements are unlikely to be surpassed, but there were always be a tinge of regret he could never lead the Three Lions to international glory.

Players who survived Chapecoense plane crash tell their story

Leave a comment

On November 28, 2016 a plane crashed into a mountainous region outside the Colombian city of Medellin due to a lack of fuel, killing 71 of the 77 passengers on board.

It was carrying players, coaches, officials and journalists from Brazil to Colombia as Chapecoense were set to play in the biggest game in club history.

A team from Brazil’s top-flight was on the verge of its greatest moment when disaster struck.

Only three of the 22 Chapecoense players on board survived the crash.

Neto, Jakson Follmann and Alan Ruschel were the three survivors and all three have been telling their story to the Players’ Tribune in the story titled: “Tomorrow Belongs to God.”

In this piece (see the video above, also) Neto, Follmann and Ruschel go back and forth describing the crash, the aftermath and how they feel today with Neto and Ruschel able to play for Chapecoense once again, while goalkeeper Jakson had to have one of his legs amputated after the crash.

Jakson revealed that, for some reason, he pestered his close friend Ruschel to come and sit next to him on the plane rather than at the back just 30 minutes before the crash. They both survived.

Neto reveals how he woke up before the trip having had a horrible nightmare where he was in a plane but walked away. The dream was so vivid he told his wife and even text her to pray for him before the flight took off.

Below is an excerpt from Neto which opens up the incredibly emotional account from the trio.

I dreamed that it would happen. A few days before we were supposed to leave for the Copa Sudamericana finals in Colombia, I had a terrible nightmare. When I woke up, I told my wife that I had been in a plane crash. I was in the airplane at night, and there was a lot of rain. Then the plane shut off. It fell from the sky. But somehow I could stand up from the wreckage. I walked out and was on a mountain at night. Everything was dark. That’s all I remembered.

On the day of the trip to the finals, I couldn’t get the nightmare out of my mind. The dream was so vivid. It was hammering in my mind. So I sent a message to my wife from the airplane. I told her to pray to God to protect me from that dream. I didn’t want to believe that it was really going to happen. But I asked her to pray for me.

Stats behind Wayne Rooney’s record-breaking England career

Leave a comment

We all know Wayne Rooney was England’s all-time record goalscorer, but what other numbers will define his international career?

[ VIDEO: Rooney’s top five England goals

Rooney, 31, retired from Three Lions duty on Wednesday after scoring 53 goals in 119 games for England over the past 14 years.

Despite his incredible longevity England’s most-capped outfield player (second only behind goalkeeper Peter Shilton) will look back on his international career with some regret as his record in major tournaments was nowhere near what he would have hoped for.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Rooney’s retirement

Via Opta, below are the key stats behind Rooney’s record-breaking England career.

  • Rooney scored 53 goals and collected 20 assists in his 119 appearances for England
  • Overall his England career he created 192 goalscoring chances and recorded 380 shots
  • He struggled to impose his quality for England at international tournaments – scoring just seven goals in 21 apps in World Cup/EURO finals combined.
  • Rooney scored just once in 11 World Cup games for England, attempting 21 shots across the 2006, 2010 and 2014 tournaments
  • Following his breakthrough tournament at EURO 2004, Rooney scored just three goals and assisted another in 17 tournament appearances.
  • His conversion rate of shots since the start of the 2006 World Cup in international tournaments for England was just 6.4%.
  • During his England career, Rooney managed an impressive ratio of scoring every 156.1 minutes in competitive games – a higher ratio than in non-competitive friendlies.
  • Only Ashley Cole (22) has more appearances in major tournaments than Wayne Rooney who had 21 alongside Steven Gerrard

Twitter reacts to Wayne Rooney’s England retirement

Getty Images
1 Comment

Wayne Rooney has retired from international duty and tributes have been pouring in for England’s all-time leading goalscorer.

[ VIDEO: Rooney’s top five England goals ]

Rooney, 31, made the announcement on Wednesday and he ends his England career with 53 goals in 119 games, having appeared in six major tournaments for the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Rooney retires from England

Below is a look at some of the best reaction from players, clubs, pundits and celebrities to Rooney’s decision to call it quits.