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Saturday night. We shall all be forgoing the trudge into a Wetherspoons at a tragically early hour and pounding our blood stream with alcohol, to sit on our arses and watch 22 men in Harrow try to kick a ball in a goal.

But which team should we objectively be rooting for? Of course, if you have tribalist connections to either of FC Barcelona or Manchester United, your mind is already made up. You may alternatively be a supporter of one of the teams’ rivals, and so you need no direction. But what about us neutrals? I have had different answers from various neutrals I have spoken to this week, and so I shall attempt to consider objectively, who we should cheer on.

The Case For Manchester United

Admiration for the football of Manchester United. This would be a much stronger argument if they weren’t playing the best, most philosophically pure footballing side for years. This United side have been at times seen as weak champions, but their efficiency and ruthlessness, especially in the last few months, has been genuinely impressive. From the immoveable force of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand at the back to the machine-like athleticism of Park Ji-Sung and Antonio Valencia and the ruthless excitement of Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney, United have rolled over team after team at Old Trafford.

You’re not allowed to dislike Barcelona or criticise them. Criticising the FCB is prohibited. If you do not swoon at your complete unworthiness and inferiority to the FCB you shall be vaporised in a big pot of logical fallacy. They are, as Barney Ronay once wrote, the iPod team, the self-righteous, intrinsically good, mes que un club, club. They are the ultimate moral absolute by which we are all measured. The Alpha and the Omega. They are Plato’s Form of the Good personified. They are, through their courageous unity with Unicef, the answer to all of the world’s problems.

Put an end to the Catalan domination. Eight of Barcelona’s starting XI in the semi-final against Real Madrid were part of the Spain World Cup winning squad, and most of them won Euro 2008 too. Can we have a change, please?

Dani Alves. He has his own name tattooed across his chest.

Barcelona are a bunch of cheaters. Apparently. They dive, they harrass the officials to influence their decisions, they roll around on the ground like a bunch of little girls. Manchester United of course never crowd the referee, or dive, do they? Barcelona on the other hand, are a disgrace to the game! A disgrace I tell you!

Barcelona tap up players and get away with it. This is the reason given by Arsenal fans that I know. Barcelona’s relentless tapping up of players such as Cesc Fabregas shows complete disregard for inter-club etiquette, and their disrespect shown towards the clubs of potential targets makes me sick. They think they are exception to the rules and it’s DISGUSTING.

UEFA are on Barcelona’s side. The non-charge of racism on Sergio Busquets towards Marcelo in the semi-final is the latest in a long line of incidents in which UEFA has managed to turn things in Barcelona’s favour. Just look at the semi-final in 2009 – all those blatant penalties for Chelsea turned down by referee Tom Ovrebo. UEFA must have been behind it. This also means that UEFA were the cause of Didier Drogba missing a series of very good chances for Chelsea over the two legs of that semi-final. That pesky organisation.

“I support English teams in Europe”. Some argue that we should all get behind a club from the same very specific geographical vacinity as us because they come under the same national bracket. How ‘English’ are Manchester United though? More English than some English clubs, but less so than others. Three Englishman will probably start the game for United (Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Rio Ferdinand), with a further two possibly on the bench (Paul Scholes…and Chris Smalling). Perhaps they have an English kitman or physio, and some English suits prancing around the boardroom collecting their paycheck. Do the passports of these people really mean we should support them?

Why should I want someone to do well just because they were born and they grew up vaguely near me, and they speak the same language as me?  Wayne Rooney grew up on the streets of Croxteth and recently tweeted to an idiot that  “I will put u asleep within 10 seconds”. Do I really have to be patriotic and support that?

A proponent of the ‘support English sides’ view is Daily Mail columnist Martin Samuel, who yesterday argued that ‘it would just be better for the soul of the sport if we could recapture that distant sense of unity’. Quite what Martin means by the ‘soul of the sport’ I’m not sure, but suddenly siding with United would strike me as quite hypocritical. I hated them the other week when my club played them. Am I suppose to like them now? I’m confused. Has anyone got an instruction manual for who I’m supposed to hate and love, and when?

And also, you don’t support the ‘most English’ side in Premier League matches do you? Only when a club with vague English connections come up against those pesky Jonny Foreigners do I support ‘the English’, because heaven forbid the brave, passionate English get beaten by…..by….

I’m sorry, I can’t remember the point I was making as I have been overcome with a sudden urge to stand up and sing “RULE BRITTANIA!”.

The argument for Barcelona

Martin Samuel said “there is a single  English club at Wembley, against one from Spain. Why would anyone want United to lose?”. Well, here are 11 reasons, Martin.

Barcelona are the best team in the world. It would therefore be a great shame, perhaps even an injustice, were they not to win the biggest club competition in the world™. It would be the ultimate fulfilment and gratification for the tikki-takka, for Xavi and Iniesta, for Messi, and for Pep Guardiola, the child of Cruyff.

Wayne Rooney. A money-grabbing, brutish, mindless thug. To some people. (To other people, a dreamy hero).

Javier Hernandez. The way he does his kneeling-down, hey-everybody-look-at-me-I’m-so-spiritual prayer to God at the start of every game on the pitch. Why can’t he do it in the dressing room? And Javier, would it be fair of God to favour you in a particular game over everyone else? After all God loves everyone equally, apparently.

Rio Ferdinand. ‘Tweeps’. ‘Twitfam’. ‘Nuff said’. ‘End of’. ‘Fact’. ‘Stay on your feet’.

Sir Alex Ferguson. Best British manager of last blah blah blah – hypocritical and a bully. Ferguson commented ‘Typical Germans’ after last year’s Champions League exit to Bayern Munich, aimed at Frenchman Frank Ribery and Croatian Ivica Olic who pressured the referee to show United defender Rafael a second yellow card. While the comment was in truth comedy glold, it was said in all seriousness. I can’t be bothered to document all SAF’s good points and bad points – suffice to say, there is reasonable evidence to dislike him.

“We’re Man United, we’ll do what we want”. Ok, well, you won’t. The British judicial system doesn’t favour fans of any particular sports team, club or organization.

I support Spanish sides in Europe. If you try to use the argument that ‘we should support English sides in Europe’, why not turn it round and argue for supporting Spanish sides in Europe? They generally have better technical ability and are more enjoyable to watch. Spain is a glorious country of sangria, sunshine, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, Picasso and Goya. Catalonia itself is home to Dali, and, er, Tommy Robredo. You won’t get approached by a pissed-up, middle class, flannel t-shirt-wearing, foul-mouthed Wetherspoonian in a Spanish plaza at 1a.m., looking for a fight. There is no ‘Only Way is Zaragoza’ or ‘Murcia Shore’ TV show.

Marca and the Madrid press would be right royally pissed off. Next.

Dani Alves and Sergio Busquets. Some people don’t like diving. I think it’s really useful, clever, and funny, when used correctly. These players are two of the great Krasicologists who make the tumble an art form. I admire them greatly.

That semi-final. Barcelona played their part in one of the most hilarious, wonderful European semi-finals in history at the Bernabeu in April. The wonderful imaginary card-waving and finger-pointing, the glorious diving, better than we’ve ever seen, and the exquisite rolling around on the floor, all became part of something truly special – an intriguing to and fro of ‘Who would win first, and what even is winning?, finally settled by Dani Alves getting Pepe a red card. Don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy that game. Football as comedy – glorious, glorious comedy.

A United win would fuel the idiocy of the media. Just imagine the headlines – “Premier League proven to be the best as Barcelona fall scared of the brave English lions” and “The compelling evidence that being English is scientifically better than being anything else”.

Conclusion

You’ll all have (arrogantly) made your own minds up, depending on how much weight you give to each category. Giving the aforementioned arguments, I recommend supporting Barcelona. Of course, it doesn’t really matter who wins this year. There will always be a next year.

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In come Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta together to the Barcelona dressing room, sitting next to each other in a corner. They have arrived early, and so both turn on their iPods. They both select the song ‘Islands’ by The xx, by coincidence, at exactly the same time.

The notes of Islands’ quirky guitar riff at the beginning are the hundreds of passes Xavi will make when they play in a few minutes time. Pum-pum-pum. Of course the notes are syncopated to confuse the opposition. The riff is repeated. The notes are ‘forever looking for space’. Here? No. There? Repeated again.

Romy Madley’s voice comes over the top as Iniesta imagines running into the space. There is time. The song has patience. There is no need to force it. At some point the voice’s melody and the guitar’s bassline will become congruent and the players will unlock the defence.

Then, fifty seconds in, something changes. A bit of space. The bassline picks a chord. Xavi picks a pass – still syncopated, but Iniesta knows this. After 65 seconds, there is a guitar line which descends down and down, almost inevitably, as the lock is slowly unpicked. The congruence of the two parts, the foundation and the event, is complete and cannot be reversed. This musical theme is repeated. The first fifty seconds do not need to be repeated.

After 140 seconds, there is the completion of the move, and after 157 seconds the ball is hit into the net with Romy Madley’s final ‘explore’. All this while both players are sitting in the dressing room listening to this song, looking directly at each other and imagining exactly the same attacking move in their heads which they will perform later. They nod their heads at each other, and quietly get changed.

By Tom Goulding, who can be found on Twitter here.

 

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