All You Fascists

Last night, in arguably the biggest match of ’09, Barcelona FC beat Manchester United 2-0, claiming the title Best Club in Europe.  The Champions League tournament rarely features the two best teams and seldom pits the world’s best two players against each other.  Last night, we had both.  Manchester United vs. Barcelona.

Christiano Ronaldo

VS.

Lionel Messi

Goliath vs. David. Cock of the walk, vs. quiet and humble.

I admire Ronaldo like crazy.  His 40+ yd bombs in the games leading up the Championship were incredible.  He is amazing.  He is also easy to hate.  In talking about being honored as player of the year last year, Ronaldo commented that he was the world’s first, second and third best player.

Messi is easy to love.  He’s short, fast, looks like a nerd, carries himself quietly off the field and is incredibly unpredictable with the ball.  He is almost as entertaining to watch as Ronaldinho was. For goodness sake, his nickname (La Pulga) is Spanish for the flea.

In 2007, Ronaldo was runner up in the Ballon D’or (European Footballer of the Year- this is soccer’s equivalent to MVP of the world) while Messi ranked 3rd in voting.  In 2008, Ronaldo was voted Footballer of the year, while Messi was runner up.  With his stats (38 goals in 51 appearances in Europe) and with Barcelona realizing the triple crown (winning the Spanish La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Champions League, Messi is almost a shoe-in for the honor this year.

I  (like Jack Bell of the NYT) really wasn’t sure who to root for in this match.  As a youth, Manchester was my club.  Giggsy was awesome, and Cantona was a god.  I wore my collar up for several years in high school in homage.  A few years ago, I stumbled across the book, How Soccer Explains the World: An unlikely theory of globalization. It’s a must read for any soccer fan.  The book describes the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona FC.  Ever since, I have loved Barcelona.  Having Ronaldinho for a while there didn’t hurt.

Barcelona was born in 1899.  Their history is intriguing and can be found on wikipedia (what a useless sentence).  But, in a nutshell, Barcelona’s football club represented a force against the fascism that took over Spain under Franco’s dictatorship.  Sports and politics mix in Europe in ways that are hard to understand here.  Franco’s soldiers murdered the president of the club.  The fascists bombed Barcelona’s corporate offices.  Barcelona represented the spirit of a people who refused to be controlled by Franco’s fascist dictatorship.  Real Madrid stood for everything represented by Franco.

The match was wonderful.  Messi scored a brilliant goal.  Barcelona  won.  And I’d argue that the world won.  Sorry Manchester, I’ll root for you next time.  As long as you’re not playing the blaugrana.

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