Barca, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool. IÃ¢ÂÂve found myself in Groundhog Day territory watching the same teams in the last week.
IÃ¢ÂÂll spare Arsenal fans from going over SaturdayÃ¢ÂÂs FA Cup match. Five thousand of them travelled to Barcelona, 9,000 to Old Trafford to see two defeats and two cup exits in five days. I sat close to them at Old Trafford and they supported their team to the bitter end. However, Arsene had best put the Pomagne on ice.
And IÃ¢ÂÂll save myself going over the old ground of LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs win against United last week. Enough people reminded me of that at Anfield yesterday before, during and after an epic FA Youth Cup tie.
From the perspective of a journalist, Liverpool are a very friendly club to deal with. I had 1,600 words to write by the final whistle Ã¢ÂÂ a tall order, especially when the game completely turns on its head. Liverpool surged into a 2-0 lead before United stormed back to win 3-2.
Watch out for UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs Ravel Morrison who scored two (and LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs Raheem Sterling). Manchester lad Morrison has led a troubled life off the field, but he appears to have put his head down and to be concentrating on his football.
Could Morrison be the next big thing at Old Trafford?
AnfieldÃ¢ÂÂs press box is small and right next to the directorsÃ¢ÂÂ box, so Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Bobby Charlton and David Gill were sitting about three metres away. The senior people at Old Trafford have always taken the Youth Cup seriously. I didnÃ¢ÂÂt spot Malcolm Glazer, though Ã¢ÂÂ maybe he was one of the visiting fans ejected for setting off a flare. In direct sunlight. At a youth game.
Four players were sent off too Ã¢ÂÂ a pair from either side. One of Liverpool dismissed players left the field, showered and came to sit in the press box. Next to me. He was fuming. He also wore a giant watch the size of Cilla BlackÃ¢ÂÂs teeth. I had nothing to say to him, 1,600 words and all that.
Last week was busy, as it always is when an English team comes to Barcelona. I seem to get loads of messages like: Ã¢ÂÂYou donÃ¢ÂÂt know me, but a mate of a mate once saw you (standing on platform 9 at Crewe noting train numbers?). He said that youÃ¢ÂÂd be able to recommend a cheap hotel in Barcelona, some great bars and restaurants, plus get us 16 match tickets for face value and fix us up with Carles PuyolÃ¢ÂÂs model girlfriend.Ã¢ÂÂ
IÃ¢ÂÂm a helpful sort, but thereÃ¢ÂÂs only 24 hours in the day and PuyolÃ¢ÂÂs lady is the faithful sort.
The TelegraphÃ¢ÂÂs Jim White has written for United We Stand for years and came over for the game to write a colour piece for all those retired generals in the Cotswolds. We arranged to meet for some food. Ã¢ÂÂDo you mind if Henry Winter joins us?Ã¢ÂÂ Jim asked. I didnÃ¢ÂÂt.
I first met Winter in 1996 while watching two Newcastle fans in wheelchairs try to fight each other on the Quayside, the fall out after Eric CantonaÃ¢ÂÂs goal severely dented the Geordies title hopes. Winter has always been very pleasant, friendly and keen to talk football, though not everyone sees him this way.
Ã¢ÂÂEvery morning, I get a tweet saying Ã¢ÂÂYouÃ¢ÂÂre a c*ntÃ¢ÂÂ!Ã¢ÂÂ he explained. Some people, eh?
The British hack pack were also in attendance when Barca coach Pep Guardiola spoke the day before the game. Guardiola is bright and very respectful when it comes to the giants of English football. He answered questions in four different languages and was very complimentary when talking about Jack Wilshere.
"Make sure you get my good side..."
IÃ¢ÂÂve looked again at my notes from the press conference. Ã¢ÂÂHeÃ¢ÂÂs a young player and looks like he could be a great player,Ã¢ÂÂ said Guardiola. Ã¢ÂÂHe passes well and is aggressive. He combines well with his team mates.Ã¢ÂÂ
He also stated that he had many similar players in BarÃÂ§aÃ¢ÂÂs B team who are riding high in SpainÃ¢ÂÂs second division and beating the first teams of sides like Celta Vigo and Betis. Guardiola wasnÃ¢ÂÂt demeaning Wilshere at all.
The following day, several British papers reported Guardiola had stirred up trouble and been disrespectful towards Wilshere and Arsenal. Apparently heÃ¢ÂÂd Ã¢ÂÂlaunched an astonishing attackÃ¢ÂÂ on Wilshere. He was also accused of taking Ã¢ÂÂa side swipeÃ¢ÂÂ and of trying Ã¢ÂÂto vexÃ¢ÂÂ Arsenal and Ã¢ÂÂsecond rateÃ¢ÂÂ Wilshere. He didnÃ¢ÂÂt.
GuardiolaÃ¢ÂÂs English is good, but itÃ¢ÂÂs not perfect. HeÃ¢ÂÂs not au fait with the nuances of the QueenÃ¢ÂÂs, nor the dangers of tabloid-speak Ã¢ÂÂ and for that he was punished. HeÃ¢ÂÂs engaging, honest and articulate, but it would be understandable if he said nothing next time Barca draw an English team Ã¢ÂÂ when the British journalists would be the first to complain.
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