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

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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.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

AP Photo/Felipe Dana
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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.