Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Old & New: Europe’s Football Season closes with the Champions League

Old & New
Europe’s Football Season closes with the Champions League

by rick olivares

“We have boys who will only get better. It makes you want to go on forever.”

It’s a simple statement by Alex Ferguson but it’s loaded. Oh, it is.

Read between the lines: no one is taking the Premiership from us and you’ll have to pry it from my cold dead fingers.

Let’s count the spoils of war – 25 titles in 22 years with Manchester United and over 1,900 matches in 35 years on the pitch as engineered by the 67-year old Scot. Amongst the silverware are 11 English Premier League titles out of a possible 17. Rafael Benitez should treat him with more respect.

His current team of Red Devils isn’t exactly aging although Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, and Paul Scholes have put in a lot of miles in those boots (Giggs is the only one to have played on every United title squad).

But he has young bucks ready to continue this sensational roll – there’s Federico Macheda from Italy who had a string of immediate impact games that helped United stay ahead of hard-charging Liverpool and there’s Brazilian Rafael.

Ferguson is not the least worried about Carlos Tevez or Cristiano Ronaldo leaving after all he still has Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney in harness. And the one thing the jaded have to give credit to is Ferguson’s knack for reinvention by constantly recycling and tinkering with the line-up that has cast a long long red shadow over English football if not the world.

Across the channel, I’m not sure I’d be as gracious with Jose Mourinho who just signed another contract with Internazionale which won its fourth straight Scudetto. Yes, the Chosen One has won league crowns now in three countries – FC Porto in Portugal, Chelsea in England, and now in Italy.

But pardon me if I hesitate to damn him with praise when he tried every opportunity to sink Inter with his outrageous statements and off-field distractions. The team after all is still loaded with pretty much the same line-up that has benefited from the calciopoli that took the starch out of Juventus. And at one point, wasn’t he in danger of getting the boot since Inter Milan was playing such unattractive football?

Yes, Mourinho despite an ego the size of the Eiffel Tower, is a great manager but I’d still say that he is only as good as his last win. Let’s see his true genius next year when he remolds the Nerazzurri into his own image. Then let’s talk.

While two squads retained their titles, in the other major European leagues, the crown switched heads. For all the great work Juande Ramos did with Real Madrid, Barcelona was simply playing at another level; one close to the Arsenal team that striker Thierry Henry played for en route to its last English championship and 49 consecutive wins. Plus they were scoring goals by the bushel load.

Real despite missing Ruud van Nistelrooy and playing with the flair that its Dutch players – Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vart, and Royston Drenthe -- brought to Euro 2008 came close to catching up with the Catalans except that twice they lost in the El Classico including a beatdown at the Bernabeu.

And now with their ever-demanding management without a title after back-to-back crowns, look for another shake-up for the Los Blancos that has already lost central back Fabio Cannavaro who is going back to Juventus.

The Bundesliga has been rather unpredictable with VfB Stuttgart winning it two seasons ago and now VfL Wolfsburg coming out of nowhere to snatch the title from traditional champ Bayern Munich that made a last ditch rally despite the controversies that plagued the club, first with Lukas Podolski wanting to bolt the club and second, the sacking of Jurgen Klinsmann who never even got to finish the year.

It was sweet revenge for Wolfsburg manager Felix Magath who was sacked a few years ago by Bayern despite leading them to a pair of Bundesliga crowns.

And Magath, who played midfield for Hamburger SV in the 1980’s, accomplished it without the mega-spending spree that the Bavarian club doled out for players like Luca Toni, Franck Ribery (who could be heading for Real Madrid) and Miroslav Klose. He had relative unknown Brazilian Grafite forming a fearsome strike force with Bosnian forward Edin Dzeko and the two combined for 51 goals!

Now Magath takes to the autobahn to move to rival club Schalke hoping to bring the same type of Billy Ball magic (after former Oakland A’s manager Billy Bean who has been known to produce winning team with low spending).

Another perennial winner that was dethroned is Olympique Lyonnaise that was gunning for an eighth French Ligue 1 championship when the largesse of repeated success did them in (despite featuring French internationalists Sidney Gouvou, Jeremy Toulalan, Hugo Lloris Karim Benzema, and Jean-Alain Boumsong).

Their erratic play may have been due to the fact they’ve rescued their season’s fate when they decided to turn on the jets. But with the rise of Marseille and Bordeaux, the room was crowded upstairs and they paid for inconsistency. And after Marseille got scuttled last weekend, it is now Bordeaux's to win; something we will all find out this weekend's last game.

In the five best leagues of Europe, two teams retained their crowns while three scaled the summit.

And that leads us to the Champions League, the ultimate in club competition where Barcelona and Manchester United will face each other in a few hours and will break an 11-all tie in head-to-head matches in European play.

The Catalans aren’t 100% owing to injuries and suspensions to key defenders. How can you play in the biggest club competition without your back four and against one of the top offensive sides on God’s green earth?

It’s the finals and there’s no tomorrow. And it’s only fitting that the champions of two of the world’s best leagues dispute it.

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