Spectator sport

Thoughts on a foreign clash of the English titans

15 May 2021

9:00 AM

15 May 2021

9:00 AM

Thank heavens the Champions League final is being played in Portugal, now Turkey’s off the menu (sorry). It will certainly be a damn sight easier to get to than Wembley: have you tried to go round the North Circular these days? And at least the capital will not have to accommodate what is ominously described as ‘the Uefa family’, all 2,000 of them. Pity no one told them about family planning. And where would you prefer to go out for a post-match bite: Porto or Wembley Way?

Anyway, then we will see quite how far Chelsea have got inside Manchester City’s head, with two very efficient victories in the League and the FA Cup in the past month. And the pressure on City with all that stuff about this being the owner’s dream will be seriously intense come the final. What a mouthwatering prospect — and what a contrast in styles.

Tuchel knows how to set up a team for a one-off match; Guardiola knows how to set up a team to win long-term, season after season. This Chelsea has the feel of Brian Clough’s great Nottingham Forest side: powerful in defence and skilful, fast and exquisite to watch on the break. Attacking possession football against counter-attacking possession football. Fans of either side should be feeling anxious as well as excited.


But two English clubs making it all the way might say something about the Premier League, although they are foreign-owned, foreign–managed and largely staffed by extremely talented and highly paid foreigners.

Though not entirely. Both have a sprinkling of very good English players, which should be a cause of optimism for the coming European Championship. Mount, Foden and Grealish might sound like a strange instruction to party but could be England’s midfield for the Euros. What a dazzling combination — probably not defensive enough for Southgate, who might prefer Henderson and Rice in the midfield, but it shows the riches available to the English manager. And that’s before we get to Kane, Sterling and Rashford up front.

How richly deserved that Warren Gatland picked Exeter’s unfeasibly accomplished backrow forward Sam Simmonds for the Lions. He has been mesmerising throughout this Premiership season — the best No. 8 in England for some time — and should be playing for his country. But will Eddie Jones pick him, given Eddie’s sizeable ego problem? If he does select him next time around instead of Billy Vunipola, it will look as if he’s saying: ‘You were right, Warren, and I was wrong.’ Which isn’t Eddie’s style, sadly. And that’s what may cost England the World Cup next time, and probably did last time.

I would like to have seen Quins’ youthful Marcus Smith on the plane to South Africa too, but he will doubtless get his chance later. For anyone who wants to know what playing for the Lions represents, watch Kyle Sinckler’s harrowing interview about being omitted: ‘I’ve got so much anger inside me. In a year or two maybe I’ll look back and it’ll all make sense, but right now it doesn’t.’ My feeling is that the Sinck will get to South Africa eventually. It is after all a rough old place to be a prop forward. But how refreshing to hear leading sports figures speak frankly about what their sport means to them, and a welcome gear shift from Stuart Broad’s oddly petulant interview last year after being rested for one Test match, with five more coming up in short order.

Is do-it-yourself TV the way forward for sports hard done by on mainstream channels? All 18 first-class cricket counties are live-streaming home matches through their websites and it’s proving a massive hit with lovers of the county game. Other sports should take note.

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