Rome, Rotherham & Ronaldo in his pants

I booked my flights from Manchester to Italy before the semi-finals.

Given that IâÂÂm 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 UnitedâÂÂs fourth appearance in the eternal city in two years.

And itâÂÂll be my sixth trip to Rome since 2007. IâÂÂll be there again next week to do a rough guide to the city for Channel M. Next season, IâÂÂll 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 ã140 return flights have now shot up to ã420 â 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 yearâÂÂs semi-final, but this time will be another level.

IâÂÂm not complaining. IâÂÂm 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. IâÂÂm delighted that itâÂÂs a United vs Barca final, the most eagerly expected in memory (though Liverpool fans may disagree).

And in Rome too, a fantastic place. IâÂÂm looking forward to seeing mates from United and Italy, though I wonâÂÂt be able to stay up all night like they will - at least before the game, because IâÂÂll have more work than a McDonaldâÂÂs 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. TheyâÂÂll say things like: âÂÂCan you get us an exclusive one-on-one sit down interview with Cristiano Ronaldo in his underpants?âÂÂ

One station rang me eight times in Moscow. âÂÂLook,â I finally said testily, though IâÂÂm not sure of it sounded like that in Spanish. âÂÂThis trip has cost me â¬700. IâÂÂm 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. ItâÂÂs not fair on the people who are paying me that I work for you for free. And IâÂÂm certainly not paying for the inconvenience.âÂÂ

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. TheyâÂÂll 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 Supportersâ 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 fansâ embassy in Rome. The work they do is never fully appreciated.

My dad called too, at 7.15am.

âÂÂWe f**king destroyed those Cockney ***** last night,â he said, the morning after the Arsenal away victory.  âÂÂDid you see the face on that **** Wenger?âÂÂ

ItâÂÂs all or nothing with my dad. He wanted the whole United squad to be sold after âÂÂthose Scouse *****â beat United 4-1 in March. 

"Look at his face, just look at his face..." 

âÂÂWhat we doing for Rome?â he went on as if we go to every United game together. He meant: âÂÂWhat are you doing to get your dad to Rome?âÂÂ

âÂÂTickets will be hard, dad,â I explained. âÂÂItâÂÂs not like Moscow last year, Rome is easy to get to. Then thereâÂÂs the flights, connections and hotels.âÂÂ

âÂÂOh,â he said meekly, like a little boy deprived of a car in a toy shop, having realised that I wouldnâÂÂt be able to fix him a seat next to Sir Alex Ferguson on the Olimpico bench and a post-match pint with Pep Guardiola.

And even that wouldnâÂÂt be enough â heâÂÂd also want Francesco TottiâÂÂs wife Ilary Blasi to show him around Rome before the match.

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