Cristiano and the lions

Sometimes, it would be nice if footballers could emulate the brevity of rock stars.

It took the Clash just three minutes and six seconds to satisfactorily explore the conundrum of whether they should stay or go. Cristiano Ronaldo’s will-he won’t-he saga could run as long as Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. But the denouement is a matter of when and not if. Even before Moscow, Man United fans I know were admitting that their favourite Portugeezer would not be at Old Trafford for life.

I blame Alfredo di Stefano. If he hadn’t scored in five successive European Cup finals – a feat it’s inconceivable to think will ever be matched – the legend of Real Madrid would not have such lustre that, 50 years on, the myth’s allure is so great that the world’s greatest player Ã¢Â€Â“ despite having won back to back league titles and the UEFA Champions League with one of the world’s most famous clubs Ã¢Â€Â“ seems to feel that he won’t completely have succeeded in football unless he shines at the Bernabeu, a stage graced by Di Stefano, Puskas, Gento, Zidane, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Raul, Beckham et al.

Will he stay or will he go (add guitar riff) 

It’s a cruel calculation but you can see Ronaldo’s point. The Premier League may be dominating the Champions League – and United may be the most romanticised club in England – but Real has more resonance and more European Cups (nine to United’s three). The economic might of the Premier League should not blind us to the fact that its clubs still can’t quite compete for aura and mystique with, most especially, Real and perhaps even Barcelona, Milan or Juve.

If you want to become a legend – or think you’re on the brink of becoming one – you want to play for a club that can boast the most legends, past and present. If Ronaldo can emulate or somehow surpass Di Stefano he will have proved himself the greatest club footballer who ever lived. So you can see why, from his point of view, he must be sorely tempted to move.

No lions on the shirt

It is a nonsense that England aren’t at Euro 2008. A nonsense and a relief. The other day I surveyed my memories of previous tournaments as an England fan and, in a nutshell, they were:

1970: Incredulous despair.

1974: (well the winter of 1973 actually): Nausea, disbelief, shrinking admiration for the Poles.

1978: Boredom. Failure wasn’t so memorable second time around.

1982: “We’re on our way, we’re the wrong 22” – er, sorry that was “Ron’s 22”.  “Brooking!”

1986: Incredulity (especially as Ray Wilkins threw the ball at the referee and my mate Kevin put a fist through a wardrobe), relief (at the 3-0 win over Poland) and outrage (as Diego put his hand up).

1990: Sheer unadulterated joy like I’d never known before when Lineker equalised in the semi, followed by the dread you get in a Hitchcock movie as you sense something bad is about to happen but you can’t specify just how bad.

1994: Fear (I was in Rotterdam), depression and then mirth over Do I Not Like That.

1996: Qualified optimism, grim certainty (that Shearer had scored too early, it would only wind up the Germans) and that Hitchcock feeling all over again.

1998: More Hitchcockian queasiness.

2000: Ennui, amazement that finally beating Germany could feel so joyless.

2002: Unqualified optimism (after Becks’ penalty against Argentina and the thrashing of Denmark), frustration, disappointment, disillusionment.

2004: Just like 1996 but without the qualified optimism.

2006: Just like 2002 but without the unqualified optimism and twice as much disillusionment.

2008: Okay, November 2007, back to 1970: another 3-2 five-goal chiller, more incredulous despair.

94: England, Holland, Platt, Koeman... do I not like that 

So am I going to miss that emotional wringer this month?

Err no.

Not qualifying does mean that none of our internationals will be forced to live down a penalty miss in a post-modern ironic way with a few cheap gags on a Pizza Hut advert.

Nor will they have to pose with a St George’s Flag and try to look mean, moody and magnificent when, all too often, we have struggled to be mean, moody and mediocre.

And, replenished after a major tournament’s respite from heartbreak, I fully expect to be cheering on the Three Lions again on the long and winding road to 2010.