Football is a game I’ve loved since the age of four. There is a purity and innocence about following a game from that age that never really leaves you and it’s wonderful.
While I still love the game, those days of ignorance being bliss are long gone. I’m more cynical these days not just about what goes on on the pitch but even more so on it.
This year I’ve openly stated to friends and family that I have not enjoyed the Premier League title race. At first, I thought it was down to the desperation of finally getting that monkey off our back that has plagued us in the league for 28 years since 1990.
I finally realized today why I can’t enjoy this title race and the answer lies in the semi-final of the Champions League from 2004/5. Liverpool, of course, faced Chelsea at Anfield.
The away leg at Stamford Bridge had been a match where no quarter was asked for nor given and the game ended on a knife-edge 0-0, it set things up perfectly for the home leg.
Chelsea didn’t just travel to Liverpool that night in 2005 looking to knock Liverpool out of the European Cup and take their place in the final, they were looking to redress the balance of how European football saw them, they were fighting for acceptance, on the pitch anyway.
Liverpool, on the other hand, were not just fighting for a place in the European Cup final and to keep their captain at the club – Gerrard was teetering over joining Chelsea and losing this game could it was believed at the time have tipped the scales – it was so much more than that though.
It might sound hyperbolic to some but Liverpool were fighting for the soul of the beautiful game. A club that did things the right way, worked their way up and could take pride in their achievements versus an Oligarch’s newest toy. New money versus the old guard.
We all know how it ended thankfully but it doesn’t bear thinking about what might have happened if Chelsea and Jose Mourinho had been able to overcome their greatest test.
We had kept the dogs at bay, for now. It wasn’t long until another even more terrifying threat to the game was born.
Manchester City is their name. A team that took the idea that turning a blind eye to having Putin’s mate as an owner was small time and instead decided to ignore a whole host of unforgivable atrocities that happen in the UAE, Abu Dhabi. Their soul amazingly came at an even higher price than Chelsea’s.
The difference with City is that they, like a more evolved virus, are becoming self-sufficient. They play an attractive and respectable brand of football which confuses the purist, no parking of the bus in sight.
They are run with long term ambitions (perhaps world domination, who knows) as Guardiola sold the Barca way to them and they are spreading.
New York, Melbourne, Yokohama, Girona, Montevideo and now as recently as last month Chengdu.
Make no mistake, City are not going away. Once again the guardians at the gate of English football, are us, once again it is up to Liverpool to restore order against the odds.
The good news is that tonight is a break from all that, for now at least and you can just enjoy the game we all love again.
Tonight we get to see football – at least to some degree – how it used to be and how it should be. Two self-made teams, Liverpool and Bayern Munich, European royalty.
Teams with class, pedigree and tradition who while being businesses still retain a purity that can be respected.
Two teams that evoke memories of some of the finest moments in this wonderful game, that have earned their place at the table and the respect and adulation they receive from their peers and fans.
There is no pressure on Liverpool to go out and “save the game”, we are the guests of a proper football club: A team that brought the world Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, Lothar Matthaus, Oliver Kahn and Gerd Muller to name but a few.
When Liverpool were welcoming Rafa Benitez to Anfield in 2004, Bayern Munich were giving Borussia Dortmund a loan of 2 million Euros so they could pay their players, this is no ordinary football team.
Liverpool and Bayern Munich are hated by many for their success but also for the fact their fans act like their clubs are special, the simple reason for this is, we are.
Thank you Bayern for all you’ve done for football and here’s to what hopefully proves to be a classic encounter based solely on football and respect. May the best side win but I’m going to say 2-1 Liverpool.