I was genuinely looking forward to the Champions League Final. I had watched Monaco look really good beating City before Juventus looked really good beating Monaco - Real Madrid are just really good anyway, so for the first time since Manchester United played Chelsea I was familiar with both finalists - and it was in Cardiff.
I'm not sure why it being held in Cardiff made a difference, but it seemed to, and there was the usual huge build up of personalities and statistics. Former Barcelona legend Dani Alves spoke for Juventus, stating:
We’re hungry and we have that plate of food in front of us. We want it.
Bad start. It’s the Champions League final, you need proper sound bites, not some half-arsed reference to eating.
Who else but Ronaldo spoke for Real:
Too much humility is a bad thing. We’re better than them.
That’s how you do it.
And Alves got worse – he was the centre of attention because this was his 43rd game against Real. Forty-third! Has he been stalking them or something? He was also going for his treble treble (not a misprint), a feat that would have made him a legend in the pub quiz fraternity for years to come. The trouble with a treble treble is that they’re definitely devilishly difficult to accomplish, which he probably realised as Marcelo ghosted past him to lay on the fourth goal. Still, he enjoyed the build-up which he said was ‘very, very, very, very beautiful’.
I’m not sure if he had forgotten what he was going to say and was just repeating ‘very’ until it popped back into his mind, but either way it was a lovely sentiment... one which he probably bitterly regrets now.
And Cardiff, well it turns out Cardiff is the smallest city to host a Champions League Final – ever. A fact that meant accommodation prices went through the (closed) roof, so you’d be looking at £3500 per night for a standard air-b&b in any location who’s name was an anagram of something vaguely Welsh, and hotel rooms of £1000 per night stretching all the way back down the M4 corridor to Heathrow.
But did that deter people – oh no. An estimated 200,000 people flocked into Cardiff for the weekend. Now do the math: the ground holds roughly 66,000 people, small for an event of this size. Each team was allocated 18,000 tickets each with 24,500 going to corporate sponsors. That in itself is grossly indecent, but, it’s the world we live in. That leaves a minimum of about 140,000 people rocking up in Cardiff without a ticket.
Why? I really don’t get it. There you are in Turin or Madrid – where the chances are it’s warm and not raining - and you don’t have a ticket for the game. Do you stay local and organize a great night out with your mates in a bar where the whole city will celebrate or mourn with you? Or do you take a chance and go to Cardiff at huge expense, and probable great discomfort to do what exactly? Watch the match in a bar in Cardiff town centre with a group of underage Welsh kids sporting fake tans and an unhealthy obsession with Gareth Bale because for some reason, Cardiff hadn’t laid on any public screenings of the game? Fake tan bar it is then.
The homeless masses may well have even struggled to find the ground, because they’d renamed it for the night. What I thought was called 'The Millennium Stadium' has actually been called 'The Principality Stadium' since 2015 which I wasn’t aware of, but if that wasn’t bad enough, UEFA insisted it be rechristened to ‘The National Stadium of Wales’ just for this match. How’s that going to help with asking locals for directions? Mind you, the Spanish and Italian fans were probably best out of it anyway because as Blackadder once so eloquently stated:
You need half a pint of phlegm in your throat just to pronounce the place names. Never ask for directions in Wales, Baldrick, you'll be washing spit out of your hair for a fortnight.
I didn’t know it was a thing, renaming your ground for matches. We could do it at the Stadium of Light. When we entertain Leeds we could call it ‘The 1973 Memorial Ground’, when Middlesbrough come it could be ‘The Step Up Arena’ and when Reading come calling they could visit the ‘So What Have You Won Recently Stadium’.
OK... perhaps not.
But despite any criticism, it was a fabulous event. I thought Wales missed a trick with the entertainment - a short dose of male voice choir singing ‘Men of Harlech’, followed by Bonnie Tyler and Tom Jones would’ve put Welsh culture on the global map.
I loved the fact that despite the roof being closed the Juventus backroom staff all seemed to be dressed in waterproofs anyway – can’t take a risk with the rain in Wales, can you?
And the football was fabulous. Ronaldo, for me proved he was the best in the world. Messi has gone downhill since he grew a beard and may never recover, and Bale – anxious to make an impression in his home city - was recovering from injury and still suffering from terrible hair. You’d think on £350,000 per week he could afford to have someone with taste tell him how he should sort his hair out. Does he have a personal assistant in the changing room with him to prepare the hair for the game, or does one of his team mates do it? Either way it looks like he lacks class, and with his talent and resources that really shouldn’t happen.
The statistics spoke for themselves – Real have now won twelve Champions League finals, Ronaldo has scored in three of them and netted 600 times for club and country, and Zidane - having only been a manager for seventeen months - has now won the Champions League twice, putting him on a par with Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho.
Real Madrid really are the real stand-out team at the moment - it’ll be interesting to see how Barcelona react with their new manager.
One final fact that emerged from the build up was that when Zidane finished his playing career at Real he moved away from football to find more gainful employment, and one of the jobs he found was ‘Global Ambassador for Lego’ – how cool is that? And he gave it all up to go back and manage Real Madrid. Pah, what a waster.
Back in the real world, the England squad assembled for their World Cup qualifier against Scotland, and the first thing Gareth Southgate did was whisk them off to Exmouth to train with the Royal Marine Commandos which involved, amongst other things, going through the ‘sheep dip’ fully clothed and sleeping out under the stars for ‘survival training’. Now I would’ve thought, at the end of a long season, the last thing the players would’ve wanted was a grueling period of playing Rambo in the woods in the rain, but what do I know?
If they look knackered when they step out at Hampden Park on Saturday don’t say I didn’t tell you so. Of course it’ll be renamed, ‘The Braveheart Arena of National Invincibility’ - but just for the one game, you understand.