Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Footballing Schadenfreude Part 3

The end of the season is often, according to the turn of Fortune's wheel, also the schadenfreude season. The result I hoped for didn't quite pan out at the Parc des Princes last week, the 1-1 draw between PSG and St-Etienne, combined with Lille's 3-1 win over local rivals Lens, means that PSG will probably avoid the drop and les verts miss out on the UEFA Cup spot that was so briefly dangled in front of them.

Manchester United carried off the league title at Chelsea's expense, which pleased me simply because of my loathing for the West Londoners that long predates the arrival of dodgy Russian money. Man U (like Arsenal) are teams I like only for the football they play, while at the same time being clubs that are largely unlovable (as are many of their fans). Liverpool are the opposite, a likeable club with a one-dimensional game that sometimes thrills and more often grates. Premier League football in general is like supporting Burger King or McDonald's and I stopped really caring about it a long time ago. Ironically though the FA Cup final this year between outsiders Portsmouth and Cardiff now looks a more attractive draw that the all-English-franchise Champions' League final.

Speaking of unlovable clubs, Rangers run out tonight against Zenit St-Petersburg at the City of Manchester Stadium in an improbable UEFA Cup final pairing. Former Huns manager Dick Advocaat is at the helm for Zenit, who also count former Ger Artur Numan Fernando Ricksen among their number. On paper, Zenit, who hammered favourites Bayern Munich in the semi-final, should be expected to win. But Rangers, who, in the words of the Guardian, have been in their path to the final, the 'footballing equivalent of a son, only whose mother could love', have a chance of grinding out a depressing shock result. Especially as Zenit striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, who has scored ten goals in this year's competition against Rangers' five, is suspended. I don't expect Rangers to abandon their negative tactics, as Walter Smith has claimed they will but I wouldn't rule out an upset.

Which would piss me off, given my allegiances to their rivals from the East End of Glasgow. But having seen Rangers try to browbeat the SFA into changing the end of season fixtures to suit them (I don't recall any such favour being extended to Celtic in their UEFA-Cup final season of 2003 and there was no whining after our last-gasp league title loss) makes me even more hopeful than usual of a Rangers defeat; 'throughout the world, people will laugh at this decision in disbelief', Huns chairman David Murray thundered. As if anyone beyond Galashiels would even give a toss about Rangers. I was certainly in disbelief as I expected the SFA to satisfy their demands, seeing how anything other than a Rangers league title sticks in the craw of the Hampden suits. Rangers were given a weekend off to prepare for their Champions' League group game against Lyon last November despite Celtic being offered (or seeking) no such derogation the previous week for their equally vital match in Milan (against the reigning champions!) Then, having seen a Rangers win against Dundee United facilitated by appalling refereeing decisions on Saturday, there really can only be one outcome to this season favoured by the SPL (and SFA).

The league is now Rangers to lose and unfortunately I can't see them doing that. But let's hope so. I hope Zenit stuff them too, but that is no certainty either. But good luck to them, I might have a visceral dislike of Rangers as a club, but I know a few decent Rangers fans (and I know there are many more). Fans of every other club in Scotland will point out that Celtic are little different; that is debatable, though I can see how people think that, and Celtic are certainly no shining beacon of goodness. I for one bemoan the lack of competition in the SPL these days and would love to return to the days when it was dominated by the 'New Firm' of Aberdeen and Dundee United. But, that has been undone by the Bosman ruling, and, following the vote in Strasbourg against introducing foreign-player quotas, it is sadly, unlikely to return. And you can't rely on mad Lithuanian millionaires to bring you success either, as Hearts fans will tell you.