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segunda-feira, julho 03, 2006

Chelsea win the World Cup

Abramovich strikes - and Chelsea win the World Cup Kevin MitchellSunday July 2, 2006The Observer
Most mornings and early evenings on a patch of rough ground near a railway line in Cologne, a group of small boys can be found kicking a football, like millions of small boys everywhere. One is Ronaldhino. One is Michael Ballack. One is Arjen Robben. One is fat and wears glasses.
They are not in the national colours of their heroes. They are playing out their fantasies inspired by what they have seen on television of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Chelsea.

n a crowded cafe/bar overlooking the Schlossegarten in Stuttgart, Roman Abramovich, a man of such staggering wealth few fantasies are beyond him, sits surrounded by associates with bulges in their jackets. He has been waiting 20 minutes to be served.
One of his entourage reminds a waitress who it is she is ignoring. 'Bear with me,' she says, oblivious to Abramovich's fame, 'I've only got two hands.'
England fans, alerted to the presence of footballing royalty, surround the man who has the clout to fund Chelsea and half of Siberia; he obliges by smiling into their cameras and mobile phones. When he has finished signing their tout-inflated tickets he puts down his drink and his minders sweep him away to watch England grind out a turgid win over Ecuador.
The paradox that attends football is that, while it engages more people than any other sport, reaching into villages in the Andes, housing estates in Slough, penthouses in Minsk, the projects of Chicago, a playground in Cologne, and sustains the hopes of whole nations once every four years, it exists most vividly and more regularly in the imagination of its audience within the confines of a few grotesquely rich clubs.
Throughout this tournament, Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, has been characterised as 'the most powerful man in football.' Tell it to marines looking after Abramovich. Or his Russian friend who funds Corinthians in Brazil, where Jose Mourinho holidayed recently, where Tevez plays, where Mascherano plays. And what odds their playing for Chelsea this season, or next?
Whoever wins the World Cup, Abramovich wins. Theoretically, he could buy every decent player in the world. Practically, he has bought enough of them to give Chelsea not only a stranglehold on the domestic title and a good chance in Europe but jitters in the boardroom. They are deeply in the red. It might all yet crash around Roman's ears.
Meanwhile, Chelsea could beat Brazil. Truly. They might beat Argentina. Or Italy. Almost certainly England. So could Barcelona. That clubs are stronger than most national teams has been plain for at least the past two World Cups.
Chelsea could field this outfield line-up drawn from their personnel still at the tournament on Friday: Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Gallas; Makelele, Ballack, Lampard, Cole; Crespo, Shevchenko. If you wanted to throw Wayne Bridge or Robert Huth in goal, you'd have a complete team of formidable quality - all of them heading home soon to dominate the Premiership for the third season in a row.
How ironic that Franz Beckenbauer, whose presence is stamped all over this tournament, the man who brought the World Cup to Germany, should have uttered these words only eight years ago: 'The European league will come and the top clubs will gain in power. One day there won't be national teams any more. They will be replaced in the World Cup by club sides. Europe is growing together. At the moment the national team has a high value. But the influence of the clubs is getting bigger.'
Beckenbauer did not want to rock the World Cup boat last week when we asked how he had put those gloomy predictions aside for this tournament. This week, when Fifa go through the ritual of passing on the flame to the next hosts, South Africa, no doubt he will mouth the usual platitudes about the universal game.
But Beckenbauer eight years ago was right in some respects. He recognised then that allegiances shift alarmingly. Below the elite level, locality means little. Glamour overrides history, because tradition is increasingly meaningless in a world so blatantly driven by greed and excess. That is sad. But there is an upside. Even at Chelsea.
Anyone who remembers the days of Keith Jones being booed at Stamford Bridge by the club's racist supporters because he was black will, surely, regard it as progress - intentional or not - that Chelsea have in their 2006 squad a range of nationalities, skin colours, diversity and talent to inspire celebration rather than derision. Fans love or hate Didier Drogba not because he is black, but because he scores or misses. Impressionable children of the New Idiot Age are hypnotised by the charisma of wealth and success, to the point where old prejudices have become irrelevant. The result is good, if the route is flawed.
It would be absurd to dismiss the World Cup. This week, when they are slapping themselves on the back, the Fifa people will revel in television viewing figures estimated to be five billion, the biggest ever. It's part of the mix, part of football as entertainment.
When we pack up and go home, when the streets of Germany return to normal, football will change gears again. The Premiership resumes before the Pakistan cricket team leave England. Whoever reaches Berlin and triumphs will be remembered only for as long as news from Stamford Bridge does not crowd out everything else.
And, in a park in Cologne, the fat boy in the glasses will trail in the dust of Ronaldinho, Ballack and Robben...
Appearances, goals, and top performances by players from the most represented clubs at the World Cup (before quarter-finals)
Apps Players Still In Goals Man Of Match
Chelsea 46 15 11 8 8
Arsenal 46 16 6 7 2
Juventus 37 12 9 2 3
AC Milan 37 12 8 4 2
Barcelona 30 10 4 4 2
Man Utd 28 12 7 3 1
R Madrid 28 9 5 6 2
B Munich 27 9 7 2 3
D Kiev 24 7 7 1 1
Lyon 23 10 9 2 0
Valencia 20 8 4 3 0
Liverpool 19 9 4 5 2
Romario, a real prince among game's royalty
Everywhere you look in Germany, Pele is there. He is still the most marketable name and face in football. Nobody in the history of the game has come close. Not even Maradona, but the German cameramen seemed to have tired of recording his wide-eyed shirt-waving by the time Argentina were blowing it against Germany in Berlin on Friday.
But one old campaigner is still trying to catch Pele. By his own reckoning, Romario is 25 goals shy of a thousand in club football - which, statistically at least, would put him alongside Pele. It has become a disquieting obsession.
Baixinho (Shorty) has never lacked self-belief - understandably, given his 55 goals in 70 internationals and his title-winning exploits with PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona and Valencia, as well as spells of adoration at Vasco, Flamengo and Fluminense.
But he is running out of options. In April, Romario signed a six-month contract with Miami FC in the second-tier USL, a homely little competition played out in front of miserably small crowds.
Miami, a middling team lying sixth after 12 matches, are grateful for Romario's nine goals from 10 games. For what it's worth, Romario is leading the league and he's the king of Tropical Park. On 19 July, Romario will play for the league's all-star team in North Carolina - against Sheffield Wednesday.
Still, for a 40-year-old whose priorities are dancing and seeing in the sunrise, he's doing OK. Since the days he left the favela of the Jacarezinho district in Rio, he has always done his own thing.
As well as chasing Pele's record, Romario is picking up pocket money for his six children, the youngest of whom, one-year-old Ivy, has Down's syndrome.
In his last appearance for Brazil, a year ago, he scored. He lifted his yellow shirt to reveal a message on his T-shirt: 'My daughter has Down's, and she's a princess.' In his own way, Romario is a bit of a prince.

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