Manchester United were beaten 3-2 by Athletic Bilbao at Old Trafford in their Last 16 Europa League 1st leg clash leaving Sir Alex Ferguson’s men embarrassed
And the visitors’ win helped break one of the biggest myths in the football lexicon on a warm Thursday night in Europe.
For those of you who could be bothered to forego Eastenders and Top Gear to tune into Manchester United’s Europa League tie with Athletic Bilbao (pronounced Beel-bao) on Channel 5, the football Gods suitably rewarded you.
For on one side of the pitch you had a certain team in red, the Premier League champions and seasoned European veterans – with Wayne Rooney and all – determined to impose the ‘qualities’ of the English game on their visitors.
Balls were knocked high and long, the tempo was increased to Usian Bolt levels, the tackles were flying in like Bruce Lee in a Chinese Dojo, and the, ‘f*** passing just go for the throat’ approach was dogmatically adhered to like Osama Bin Laden adopted militant Islam.
Alas, it worked for all of 20 minutes. But could somebody please remind those myopic British bulldogs that football as a game lasts 90 minutes and transcends the mere physical attributes a team or a player possesses.
It is precisely this ‘Englishness’ approach to football which helps explain why England as a country will never produce a player like Lionel Messi, Xavi or dare I say it Iker Muniain.
The fabulously talented 5 ft 7 in Bilbao midfielder totally bossed the middle of the park, overwhelmed the United midfield, and passed, controlled, moved and ‘Tiki-Taka’d’ his way to victory, all whilst being encapsulated by the Spanish/Barcelona football style now pervading across the beautiful game.
At times it was heavenly stuff. Seeing the ball glide from left to right, up and down, back and forth all the while team-mates were making unseen movements off the ball, brought back memories of Barcelona’s 3-1 demolition of the Red Devils just 12 months ago, as well as that night at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2004 when Real Madrid smashed their way past United to win 3-1 in an unforgettable first-leg performance.
For every one United pass, Athletic Bilbao produced three times that. For every United tackle, Bilbao had a spare man ready to sweep up. For every United long ball, Marcelo Bielsa’s men created a triangle and played their way out of trouble.
Power, pace and Engerlaaaaand, attributes so lionized by impure football purists, were comically overawed by finesse, skill, technique, movement and a ‘Barcaaaaaaa’-like-approach to the game.
Outclassed, out thought and out schooled was the damning verdict agreed upon by pundits Stan Collymore and the like as they mulled upon a sensational 3-2 win for the Basque outfit. And who could dare call them ‘boring’?
Football is evolving and after seeing his side put down in Rome coupled with the thrashing at Wembley, Fergie’s objective was to rein in the yawning gap between Barcelona, Real Madrid and his own side. He has failed miserably. The gap is even bigger axiomatically proven on Thursday night.
So, what was the myth mentioned earlier? It is this: La Liga is a weak league outside Barcelona and Real Madrid and ‘Tiki-Taka’ football is boring to watch.
The 5th best team in La Liga came, saw and conquered with their own brand of exquisite, ‘Tiki-Taka’ football.
Manchester United Premier League champions? You’re ‘avin a larff. Is that English enough?!