Wish you were here? It’s final
straw to kill off the mystique
of Europe

Cristiano Ronaldo rose like a young god to claim his place in the individual pantheon of the world's greatest team game with a 42nd goal of his phenomenal season.

All around him, some of the finest footballers on earth were rampant with ambition. One of the managers was poised between history and destiny, the other between salvation and termination.

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Red Square blues: Avram Grant and his staff on a sightseeing tour of Moscow

The owners were re-enacting the cold war between Russia and America. The fans travelled extreme distance at exorbitant cost. The ancient and forbidding city of Moscow was opening its gates to reveal how this brooding and secretive giant of a nation is beginning to sell itself to the world.


Pictures were beamed to a television audience predicted to exceed 400million. This was The Big One and yet ... something was missing. Something barely tangible yet nonetheless precious for that. Something called mystique. For the vast majority of Chelsea and Manchester United devotees all that mattered was that they were in The Final. And yet, and yet ... deep in those congregations some fidgeted with a vague sensation that the occasion was somehow lacking its core reason for being. Not that there was much wrong with the match, not once Ronaldo signalled a thunderous end to the opening 25 minutes of shadow boxing with the goal the game needed to deter Chelsea from smothering the occasion. And yet, and yet ... this was the game which should have stayed at home. This was a domestic dispute transplanted abroad. This was English football's risible and rejected 39th game slipping through the back door to Russia. Had either United or Chelsea been duelling with Madrid or Milan, Bayern or Benfica, there would have been magic in night air. It was the romance of foreign opposition which leant unique enchantment to the old European Cup. The day UEFA were forced to bow to the mercenary demands of all their richest and most powerful clubs was the day danger dawned, threatening that the mystery would evaporate. By its very name, the Champions League became a contradiction in terms. Entry to the European Cup was a privilege reserved for the champions of each member country. The Champions League is open to teams finishing as low as fourth. Inevitably, the night would come when two teams from one country would reach the final of a tournament whose special aura had been evoked by the intrigue of international competition. Not that we at home pay too much attention when it first happened, even though the unhappy accident diluted the Millennium Final in Paris. So onesided was Real Madrid's 3-0 win over Valencia, that we forgot about everything except the stunning goal scored by Steve McManaman, the former Liverpool maverick. When it occurred a second time, at Old Trafford, the sterile goalless 120 minutes which preceded AC Milan's penalty shoot-out win over Juventus brought closer to home the unsatisfactory nature of a one-nation final. Now, in Moscow, we have seen the ruinous potential of what many are predicting will be a prolonged era of domination by the economic power houses of English football. The ecstasy of the winners and the despair of the losers was real enough but if these parochial scenes keep being repeated, then the Champions League will lose whatever vestiges of charm remain from the European Cup. Even for the most chauvinistic of the English, the gloating rights over Johnny Foreigner will wear thin. The greater glory is in defeating the mightiest of the continentals in the final itself. Would Liverpool's miraculous comeback in Istanbul have been quite so transfixing had it been achieved against Arsenal instead of Milan? Would United's last-gasp recovery in the Nou Camp have seemed quite so amazing had they snatched the cup from Chelsea rather than Bayern Munich? I think not. Those finals were the rare stuff of dreams. Last night was the familiar mercurial of the Premier League. The nonsensical transporting of tens of thousands of rival English fans to the far side of Europe was only one of the issues. The erosion of tradition is the greater concern. No wonder UEFA president Michel Platini wants to restrict the moguls and oligarchs from using their wealth to continue purchasing European supremacy for the English for the foreseeable future. If it is allowed, when will we ever again see the like of United-Benfica, United-Bayern, Liverpool- Milan ... let alone Real Madrid 7, Eintracht Frankfurt 3? There was a Frank Lampard equaliser and the ensuing cut and thrust to excite us. And yet, and yet ... stripped of the trappings of the occasion, this was just another Premier League game.

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