May 08, 2008

The Parvenus versus the Old Guard

On May 21 European soccer reaches its finale after 13 acts in the UEFA Champions League, a tournament featuring the top teams in every league from Portugal to Israel. The finalists this year happen to be both from England’s Premiership league: Manchester United and Chelsea London. I despise Chelsea. They are owned by an oil oligarch who is always televised sitting next to a different supermodel each gameday in his shadowy executive box. He's Roman Abramovich, a billionaire from Russia who bought the team five years ago and infused it with cash for star players explicitly to buy trophies, the highest of all trophies being the Champions League. The fact that a billionaire’s money can in only five years subvert other factors like team morale, long-term stability, community support, and entertaining play – and still lead to success – excites such vitriol in me that I should change the subject.

In the 1784 tragedy “Egmont”, Goethe thematizes the occupation of the Low Countries by Catholic Spain. The Dutch governor Egmont spends five acts ignoring everyone’s suspicions that the Spanish king will execute him for being too kind to protesting Flemings. In the final act his lover Clärchen takes to the streets trying to arouse the citizenry in Egmont’s defense. When this fails, she takes poison. Egmont finds out about Clärchen’s death, sleeps well in his jail cell, has an epiphany that Holland will be free from Spanish rule, and is later executed.

The political issue in “Egmont” is one of the local nobles’ inherited rights versus a new power, the strong centralized government in Madrid. It’s not really about an underdog. It’s often pointed out that the uprising in the Netherlands was conservative in character. Liberation was its aim, but it was essentially concerned with restoring ancient privileges and freedoms.

I intended to cheer for Manchester United on May 21, or actually, hope for Chelsea to lose. I wish it was as simple as cheering for the underdog. United have won far more trophies throughout their history than Chelsea. United even have a corrupt owner of their own, a fat Floridian named Malcolm Glazer who has sent the team into debt. Chelsea is an upstart. They were recently a small club in a big town losing to plenty of other London teams. Then they got bought up and started winning, whereas United have always been rich and have always been winning. Maybe in following this tragedy I was originally pulling for Egmont and his revolution, but who would want to pull for aristocrats and their inherited rights? One outcome no longer feels better than the other. Soccer fans will pay tribute to either champion on May 21 and accept their fate with reluctance, then serenity. And Goethe wouldn’t have it any other way. The wheels of the gods grind slowly but exceedingly fine.


Ryan F. from Rayne near Colchester said...

Most of the people I know here in the UK see Manchester Utd as the lesser of two evils. Unlike Chelsea (who bought their way to success in a few short years), at least Manchester United have built a team progressively over the course of the last twenty years.

Although, like Chelsea, they've never been afraid to spend millions on the very best players, they are more inclined to promote youngsters through their youth system - players such as Beckham, Scholes and Neville were nurtured, rather than poached.

Furthermore, the teams' style of play are very different as well. With a few notable exceptions (such as their recent games against Manchester United and Liverpool), Chelsea's style of play is generally dogged, determined, gritty... and dull. Manchester United, almost without exception, play attack-minded, thrilling football. It is for these reasons that I shall be cheering on United.

Now don't get me wrong - I can't stand United at all. They are arrogant, ungracious both in victory and in defeat. After Chelsea, they are my second most despised team in the English league - it will certainly leave a bad taste in my mouth cheering them on.

Let's just hope that, whoever wins, it's an excellent game with lots of chances.

And on the plus side - whichever team loses, it'll be funny watching their players crying after the game!

Mithras Tirtha said...

That was the only interesting sports column I have ever read.

Brains said...

mithras, mi amor (hi Misti). that was the ONLY sports column you have ever read.