Weekender: Better than a date with a supermodel
1. Wembley final? The President's out, then...
Suspected West Ham fan Barack Obama will be out of the country by the Champions League final, but it can't be good news for him that the showpiece is at Wembley. As Champions editor Paul Simpson notes, no US President in office during a Wembley European Cup final has left the White House voluntarily. Wembley's first European final was in May 1963 (Milan 2-1 Benfica), six months before JFK was shot; his successor LBJ had already announced by the 1968 final (Manchester United 4-1 Benfica) that he wouldn't seek re-election. By 1971 (Ajax 2-0 Panathinaikos) Richard Nixon was in charge, but he quit in 1974 to avoid impeachment. Jimmy Carter (1978, Liverpool 1-0 Bruges) and the elder George Bush (1992, Barcelona 1-0 Sampdoria) both lost their bids for re-election. Perhaps Obama will be free to visit Upton Park sooner than he thinks.
2. Out of the way, Gisele, the gameÃ¢ÂÂs on...
Ahead of this weekendÃ¢ÂÂs Champions League final, a new survey has revealed that over 50% of men would pass up a romantic rendezvous with a supermodel in order to see their team win the Ã¢ÂÂcup with the big ears.Ã¢ÂÂ Other events given second billing to the continental showdown include meeting a girlfriendÃ¢ÂÂs parents, attending a mateÃ¢ÂÂs stag do, and poor old mumÃ¢ÂÂs birthday. FourFourTwo.com will be bringing you live coverage of the final from 19:00BST tomorrow, although if any supermodels are reading, that's very much open to negotiation...
3. Help us help you go away
With summer upon us, you might be trying to tie in a foreign trip with a football match. FourFourTwo's Travel section offers an excellent guide to destinations worldwide Ã¢ÂÂ but we want to make it better. So do us a favour and spend two minutes Ã¢ÂÂ no more, honest Ã¢ÂÂ answering a few questions on our survey. There's no hard sell and no need to leave your details, just half a dozen easy queries. It'll help us to help you.
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4. Not just a league, and not just for champions
Back when it was the European Cup, teams only qualified if they were champions (or holders). Since 1997/98, the competition has included non-champions Ã¢ÂÂ and in the 13 subsequent seasons six teams have won without having been national champions (or holders: nobody has retained Big Ears since Milan in 1990). In 1999 Manchester United became the first non-champion Champions League champions, followed by Real (2000), Milan (2003 and 2007), Liverpool (2005) and Barcelona (2009). Will Fergie's men make it seven-all on aggregate, or will Barcelona make the trophy live up to at least half its name?
5. The football never ends...
This might be the last Weekender before the summer but the football's not finished. There's bags to come, and all on the telly. There's the Copa America, the Women's World Cup and a number of increasingly interesting domestic leagues, from MLS to the J-League and plenty in between. And that's not to mention the Beach Soccer World Cup, your club's pre-season friendlies and even the Island Games, where the likes of Greenland and the Falkland Islands descend upon the Isle of Wight for a kickabout. All these competitions and more are previewed in the new edition of FourFourTwo, out next Wednesday... because we never, ever sleep.
Very rarely does an afternoonÃ¢ÂÂs football live up to its build-up Ã¢ÂÂ particularly when Sky Sports are involved Ã¢ÂÂ but last Sunday was different. In the space of less than two hours, four of the five embroiled in 'Survival SundayÃ¢ÂÂ had spent time both above and below the red line, with only Blackburn able to get the cigars out as their match wore on.
Rovers only needed a point and by half-time they were three up at Molineux, leaving Wolves joining Wigan in the drop zone below Birmingham and Blackpool Ã¢ÂÂ at that stage both drawing Ã¢ÂÂ by virtue of their inferior goal difference. The quartet, all tied at half-time on the allegedly magic 40-point total, switched places several times throughout the seasonÃ¢ÂÂs final 45 minutes.
Blackpool took the lead at Old Trafford, only for brutal reality to impinge with Man United coming back to win 4-2. Birmingham fell behind at Tottenham but equalised through the talismanic Craig Gardner with barely 10 minutes to play. Almost simultaneously, Wigan took the lead at Stoke, leaving Wolves and Blackpool facing the drop. But Wolves saved themselves Ã¢ÂÂ just Ã¢ÂÂ with goals from Jamie OÃ¢ÂÂHara and Stephen Hunt improving their goal difference enough to leapfrog Birmingham.
Back at White Hart Lane, Alex McLeishÃ¢ÂÂs side were curiously slow to react to their predicament, nervously knocking short passes across their back four and taking their sweet time over throw-ins; possibly they didnÃ¢ÂÂt realise they had to score for three or four minutes after the watching world had twigged. Suddenly it was kitchen sink time, and with the Blues stretched, Roman Pavlyuchenko struck in the dying seconds to secure a win for Tottenham, safety for Wigan and Wolves and a place in the second tier for the Carling Cup winners.
BirminghamÃ¢ÂÂs board were quick to announce McLeishÃ¢ÂÂs previous successes would earn the manager another crack of the whip next term, despite a disappointing end to this campaign. The same could not be said for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, whose henchman Ron Gourlay did away with last term's Double-winner Carlo Ancelotti in a Goodison corridor minutes after the post-match press conference.
Man City confirmed third place above Arsenal, while Spurs finished fifth for the third time in six seasons Ã¢ÂÂ impressive, if a comedown from last season's top-four finish. The tabloid-friendly Harry Redknapp is now the bookiesÃ¢ÂÂ favourite to take over at Chelsea; itÃ¢ÂÂs easy to understand why he'd switch to Stamford Bridge Ã¢ÂÂ he wouldn't have Daniel LevyÃ¢ÂÂs strict hold on the purse-strings Ã¢ÂÂ but heÃ¢ÂÂs certainly not the continent-conquering coach Roman Abramovich desires.
No, if experience of lifting European footballÃ¢ÂÂs most coveted trophy is what the Russian is after, then there is a man far more qualified, and far more readily available. A man who has twice won the competition, as well as domestic titles and cups in Italy and England, yet is still left looking for a job. That manÃ¢ÂÂs name? Carlo AnceloÃ¢ÂÂ¦.oh, right. Never mind.
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Excuse me Mr Platini, I've been thinking again
And so to the climax of the season, the increasingly inaccurately-named Champions League (three of whose semi-finalists hadn't won their league the previous season). But what if it was restricted to just the bona-fide champions of each country? Obviously that genie is well out of its bottle, but it's just a thought, and sometimes it's nice to think.
There are 52 UEFA countries with leagues, so it'd only take an eight-team preliminary round to leave 48 teams Ã¢ÂÂ enough 12 four-team groups, with winners and the four best runners-up going into the usual round of 16. That way more teams Ã¢ÂÂ all champions Ã¢ÂÂ get the extended involvement (and guaranteed income) so apparently indispensible to the modern competition.
Meanwhile, the exclusion of several Big Teams would give a tremendous shot in the arm to the secondary continental competition, the much-maligned Europa League. It's been successfully streamlined over the last couple of years Ã¢ÂÂ abandoning the bizarre five-team groups and switching, funnily enough, to 12 four-team groups Ã¢ÂÂ but it's still often seen as Little League compared to Platini's premium party, into which most of Europe's finest are safely invited year on year.
Imagine how much more interest there would be in the Europa League if it involved the continent's secondary, rather than being restricted to the tertiary, quaternary or even quinary teams. You want big names? This season's tournament would have included Manchester United, Real Madrid, Roma, Lyon, Celtic, Ajax, Fenerbahce and Schalke Ã¢ÂÂ enough to light up any tournament, and that's not to mention third-placed teams like Arsenal, Milan and Valencia.
With bigger names like that on board, the Europa League would soon cease to be the poisoned chalice so many teams openly consider it to be. TV interest would soar, meaning so would prize money. And that's a word all big teams understand, because to some it may mean more than being, well, champions.
Just a thought, a passing thought.
Ã¢ÂÂ Gary Parkinson, FourFourTwo.com editor
"HeÃ¢ÂÂd do a Cruyff turn and before you knew it, heÃ¢ÂÂd be gone"
Ã¢ÂÂ Perfect XI, Sep 2005: Ryan Giggs
"You need fresh eggs, which arenÃ¢ÂÂt easy to find, and a good mascarpone..."
Ã¢ÂÂ One-on-One, Dec 2006: Paolo di Canio
"Of course I can go out...I just have to be prepared for the consequences"
Ã¢ÂÂ Q&A, Aug 2007: Ronaldo