Rome, Rotherham & Ronaldo in his pants
I booked my flights from Manchester to Italy before the semi-finals.
Given that IÃ¢ÂÂm a Manchester United fan who writes about Barcelona and watches the Catalans around 25 times a season, I figured that one of the clubs would reach the final.
I used to dream of seeing United in Rome - before 2007 the club had never a competitive game there. The European Cup final on May 27 will be UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs fourth appearance in the eternal city in two years.
And itÃ¢ÂÂll be my sixth trip to Rome since 2007. IÃ¢ÂÂll be there again next week to do a rough guide to the city for Channel M. Next season, IÃ¢ÂÂll wish for Rotherham over Rome.
United fans in Rome (again)
In Manchester and Barcelona, all talk is about tickets and travel to the final. My ÃÂ£140 return flights have now shot up to ÃÂ£420 Ã¢ÂÂ and they are only as far as Pisa.
My phone has not stopped since Wednesday night. I thought it was busy when the two clubs met in last yearÃ¢ÂÂs semi-final, but this time will be another level.
IÃ¢ÂÂm not complaining. IÃ¢ÂÂm made up that United have a chance to be the first club since the great Milan side of Baresi, Maldini and Van Basten to retain the European Cup. IÃ¢ÂÂm delighted that itÃ¢ÂÂs a United vs Barca final, the most eagerly expected in memory (though Liverpool fans may disagree).
And in Rome too, a fantastic place. IÃ¢ÂÂm looking forward to seeing mates from United and Italy, though I wonÃ¢ÂÂt be able to stay up all night like they will - at least before the game, because IÃ¢ÂÂll have more work than a McDonaldÃ¢ÂÂs junior manager.
There will be irritants. Spanish radio will ring five times a day, hoping to pick my brains for free. I assume the journalists calling also work for free and that they have no bills to pay. TheyÃ¢ÂÂll say things like: Ã¢ÂÂCan you get us an exclusive one-on-one sit down interview with Cristiano Ronaldo in his underpants?Ã¢ÂÂ
One station rang me eight times in Moscow. Ã¢ÂÂLook,Ã¢ÂÂ I finally said testily, though IÃ¢ÂÂm not sure of it sounded like that in Spanish. Ã¢ÂÂThis trip has cost me Ã¢ÂÂ¬700. IÃ¢ÂÂm working for three different companies here and they are paying.
"It costs me a pound-a-minute to receive a call from you in Russia. ItÃ¢ÂÂs not fair on the people who are paying me that I work for you for free. And IÃ¢ÂÂm certainly not paying for the inconvenience.Ã¢ÂÂ
I should bin my Spanish phone - Wire style - by throwing it off the Baltimore waterfront. The British radio stations like Five Live are much more professional, but the best one is Newstalk in Dublin. TheyÃ¢ÂÂll regularly give an interviewee eight or nine minutes and go into real depth on a subject, asking difficult questions.
One group I will do work for free for is the Football SupportersÃ¢ÂÂ Federation. Their honcho Kevin Miles was on last week about getting some articles for a magazine they will give away for nish as part of their fansÃ¢ÂÂ embassy in Rome. The work they do is never fully appreciated.
My dad called too, at 7.15am.
Ã¢ÂÂWe f**king destroyed those Cockney ***** last night,Ã¢ÂÂ he said, the morning after the Arsenal away victory. Ã¢ÂÂDid you see the face on that **** Wenger?Ã¢ÂÂ
ItÃ¢ÂÂs all or nothing with my dad. He wanted the whole United squad to be sold after Ã¢ÂÂthose Scouse *****Ã¢ÂÂ beat United 4-1 in March.
"Look at his face, just look at his face..."
Ã¢ÂÂWhat we doing for Rome?Ã¢ÂÂ he went on as if we go to every United game together. He meant: Ã¢ÂÂWhat are you doing to get your dad to Rome?Ã¢ÂÂ
Ã¢ÂÂTickets will be hard, dad,Ã¢ÂÂ I explained. Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs not like Moscow last year, Rome is easy to get to. Then thereÃ¢ÂÂs the flights, connections and hotels.Ã¢ÂÂ
Ã¢ÂÂOh,Ã¢ÂÂ he said meekly, like a little boy deprived of a car in a toy shop, having realised that I wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt be able to fix him a seat next to Sir Alex Ferguson on the Olimpico bench and a post-match pint with Pep Guardiola.