“I selected a team to keep possession” said Real Madrid’s manager Rafa Benitez somewhat piteously after Real had been destroyed 4-0 at their own Bernabeu stadium by a rampant Barcelona.
Inspired by a refulgent Iniesta, who scored one of his comparatively rare thunderbolt goals, bringing even Lionel Messi, injured for numerous past weeks on, only well into the second half, Barca simply took Real apart in the historic clasico.
There are those who blame Benitez for his tactics, those, like a correspondent who defended him and put heavy blame on the club’s intransient President Florentino Perez. The home fans, who by the end, were waving the white handkerchiefs of derision and surrender, blamed them both!
Cristiano Ronaldo, a muted figure on this dire occasion, has said that if Benitez remains he will go, which has raised optimism at PSG and Manchester United. Meanwhile that newspaper, which featured a long and well argued analysis by that same correspondent, inexplicably and bizarrely featured just over the page a long eulogy of Gareth Bale, who had been an anonymous figure.
Since the match had taken place on the previous Saturday with a whole intervening Sunday, you rather wonder whether the right hand knew what the left hand was doing; or cared.
Perez so far has refused to sacrifice Benitez though it is hard to see him surviving for long. The irony being that he has the reputation of being essentially a defensive coach, though the fiasco he made of Liverpool’s tactics in their ultimate European Cup Final versus Milan in Istanbul, were hardly a testimony to his defensive good sense. Kaka dominating the first half virtually unmarked, enabling Milan to go 3-0 till Dieter Hamann was sent on to mark him after half time.
Under Perez Real have had 13 coaches in 15 years. For the moment the former club hero Zinedine Zidane, currently employed in a secondary position as coach of the club’s reserve team, Castilla, says he doesn’t want the job.
It remains to be seen whether he takes it perhaps at the end of the current season but it remains with Perez in command a question of dicing with death. Though Perez has endorsed him.
Wingers live on as is being shown week by week by the likes of Crystal Palace’s Yanuck Bolasie, and Birmingham City’s 19-year-old star right winger, Demarai Gray whom I recently watched and admired at Fulham; a rarity, a Birmingham born boy playing for Birmingham City. A graceful elusive and technically adroit winger who can move effortlessly to the other flank. England at least – and Arsenal too, having Theo Walcott to return.
In the meantime the team which beat a plainly traumatised French team used Wayne Rooney as a notional left-winger, where he had initially been wasted in the last World Cup. He was an important presence in a team which had badly missed him in its pallid display in Alicante, but it was notable how often he moved from the position and his splendidly struck goal came from the right flank.
It would be a waste of a fast and dynamic attacker to use Jamie Vardy on the left flank rather than through the middle, and Roy Hodgson seemed ready to accept that, though, alas, injury ruled Vardy out of both those friendlies.
With Daniel Sturridge and the to me essential Jack Wilshere both, one hopes, to return and with spirited performances from the likes of Spurs’ young Dele Alli, there is no reason why England shouldn’t give a decent Euro account of itself.
Yet for me, the British international manager of the moment has to be Northern Ireland’s Michael O’Neill who has worked wonders with a team which has risen superbly from the dead to stride its way into the European finals.
O’Neill, once a financial analyst, had, by his own reckoning, just 40 players to choose from and seven alone guaranteed a place. He managed to inspire them all against tremendous odds.
Why didn’t Peter Dimmock get a knighthood? After years of remarkable and innovative service to BBC television, a masterly organisation of the coverage in Westminster Abbey of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, more pioneering initiative at BBC sports TV, he finished with honours but no elevation to the aristocracy.
Which is made worse by depressing lists of such legions of mediocrities, dud politicians and dim civil servants. Long ago, in 1962, when I had recently covered the Chilean World Cup for the Sunday Times of whom I was then also their first sports columnist, I was summoned by The Pullover, as I privately used to call him, to his office in Kensington and asked if I would leave the paper to join the weekly sports programme.
“You could go on writing your novels,” he said, somewhat patronisingly. I refused having reached the zenith of my journalistic ambitions and having no wish to be just another face on a screen which could disappear overnight. Besides I thought myself as just a writer not a performer.