When the impossible becomes the inevitable

March 9, 2017



A football match between Barcelona and Paris Saint Germain has become hailed as one of the great fight-backs in sporting history. I examine it as a magical experience in which the impossible was transmuted into the inevitable

The match was a knockout played over two legs, in the prestigious European Champion’s Competition. Barcelona went to Paris for the first leg two weeks ago, as favourites to win, and one of the favourites to win the entire tournament. The first leg was sensational, as PSG produced an exceptional performance, sweeping aside a sluggish Barcelona 4-0. As football fans know, away goals in this competition have extra value. Any draw of 4-4 or fewer goals will mean PSG wins the tie. Pundits write off Barcelona’s chances after the first leg. Statistics show a very low chance of Barca scoring five without a PSG response, or six if PSG were to score a single goal.

The Impossible dream?

The match is reported on news feeds, and on the BT Sport channel in the UK.

Stevie Gerard on BT Sport at the start of the return leg see he was hoping for a miracle and for Barca to win. [I wonder how that slipped through at rehearsal.]

Barcelona began with their world-class attackers in better form. A goal after three minutes brought that faint hope if pressure could be converted into quick goals. Then a reprieve for the Spanish team, as PSG are denied what was consider by the pundits as a clear penalty.  Then after 20 minutes, an own goal makes in 2-0 on the night, and faint hope is fanned into stronger life.

Another penalty shortly after half time and Messi makes it 3-0. Now faint hope is turning into belief. Barcelona are creating chances and seem more likely to score.

A setback

A foul and a high ball converted by PSG’s main striker Cavani. 3-1 but now the dream is fading, as the requirement is up to three more goals from Barcelona, and time is running up.

Three minutes to full time

A brilliant goal from a free kick for Barcelona, but only three minutes left before full-time. 4-1, which is 4-5 on aggregate. At 5-5, PSG would still win through the away goal. The away goal is working for them. The atmosphere has been cranking up, and hope has been replaced by belief.  PSG remain under pressure, as if awaiting the inevitable.

Only a few minutes of added time remains, when the slightest of contact produces a spectacular tumble by Luis Suaraz, a great player and useful gymnast in the fall-down category. 5-5

So near and yet so far?

Five minutes of extra time. Ridiculous tension. Thrills all in the PSG half, but the five minutes creep on.  Will the impossible dream remain impossible?

Of course not

In the last moments, yet another free kick. As if by some spell, the defenders cannot move to prevent an attacker re-materializing and striking the ball home. They are spellbound. Barcelona ahead, and the final whistle goes, hardy heard above the thunderous wave of noise engulfing the stadium


Yes, I see it just so. What happened may have had a reality in a mundane world. I hold on to a wondrous story described in magical terms by observer, going viral at the time.

The rapid reaction around the sporting world suggests the game is acquiring mythic status. It is a magical story  that will be remembered and re-invented in the retelling. It is the old fireside tale of how the impossible turns into the inevitable.

The Power and the Glory in the beautiful game and beyond: The Red Bull Leipzig case

October 15, 2014

Paul Hinks and Tudor Rickards

Red Bull Leipzig is one example of the way financial power is creating sporting success in football. In Germany, there has been a reaction from opposing fans on ethical and cultural grounds

Germany’s framework for sustainable football success centres on a “50+1” model where 51% of each club must be owned by its members – to date the model appears to have worked well in serving Germany’s football community.

The fans as important stakeholders

In brief, external parties (including large firms) are permitted to invest in Germany’s domestic football clubs – however they’re barred from having overall control. The boards are chosen by the club’s shareholders and its members (typically also supporters) These stakeholders directly influence how their club is run.

When Red Bull visited Union Berlin

On 21st September 2014 when Red Bull Leipzig played Union Berlin at their Försterei stadium, Red Bull Leipzig were greeted with 15 minutes of silence from the 20,000 Union Berlin spectators who were clad almost entirely in black. The Guardian provided more insight:

With permission from Union’s management, fans had handed out black plastic ponchos at the gates, along with a pamphlet headlined, “Football culture is dying in Leipzig – Union is alive”.

“Today’s opponent embodies everything that we at Union don’t want from football”, it read. “A marketing product pushed by financial interests […], players with euro signs in their eyes […], supported by brainwashed consumers in the stands who have never heard anything of fan ownership”.

A banner inside the stadium stated: “Football needs workers’ participation, loyalty, standing terraces, emotion, financial fair play, tradition, transparency, passion, history, independence.”

Not a black and white story

This not a simple story of right versus wrong, or David versus Goliath. It may be a battle between two sets of values. Berlin represents the communitarian values found in German league football. But that has to be connoted with the fact that idealism has not prevented the dominance of one club, Bayern Munich. Does this make Bayern the object of wider cultural opprobrium?
In the context of Red Bull, it has been argued [link in German] that some balancing financial power is needed to break the dominance of Bayern.

How about Real Madrid and Barcelona?

In Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona are both financial powerhouses. Barca has a cosy communitarian image, Real the commercial and ruthless one. Again, it may not be as simple as that. Despite Barca’s splendid fan-friendly way and support of good causes, it has received favoured treatment at State level.

Power and Leadership

Despite Red Bull being portrayed as the villain by FC Berlin fans – there is something intriguing about Red Bull’s motives and what they’re aiming to achieve here. Red Bull has a track record of successful investment in other sporting franchises, so FC Leipzig isn’t some kind of new and bizarre experiment; Red Bull are following their previous blueprints for success at Red Bull Saltzberg and also at New York Red Bull.

The spirit of sport

No doubt, football romantics would prefer a vista where all are equal and everyone is given their equal chance. For Berlin’s fans to dress in black and lead a silence of 15mins demonstrates unity and belief in a set of values – values which are increasingly diluted in a football world dominated by high commercial stakes.

“For Sir Bobby (Charlton) and the Boss” 

May 25, 2011

Susan Moger

When Manchester United play Barcelona in the European Cup Final on May 30 2011 they do so in an atmosphere rich in memory and expectations. There are echoes of Henry 5th’s famous battle cry “God for Harry, England and St George”

Memory because Manchester United’s first victory in the competition occurred at Wembley in 1968 against Benfica. Bobby Charlton led a team managed by Sir Matt Busby, built with the core of players who had survived the Munich air crash of 1958. Expectations because a victory would give Sir Alex Ferguson his third European Championship, an achievement to crown his 19th title in the top flight of English football.

Will tension heighten performance?

What effect might this cauldron of tension, expectations and emotion have on the performance of the Manchester United players? The effect could heighten their state of arousal, a physiological state which releases energy and intensifies the drive to perform. In elite sport, the balance between a state of high intensity and composure is very delicate. In soccer, it takes composure to score a goal as the finish to a move, or to execute a tackle in the penalty area, where poor technique could result in a penalty and the dismissal of a player. To remain cool at moments of high intensity is frequently the difference between winning and losing.

Edwin’s last match

So how might the Manchester United players achieve that balance? Sir Alex Ferguson frequently plays tribute to the influence of his senior players on occasions such as these, in particular Edwin van der Sar, the goalkeeper. The final has added piquancy for van der Sar. It is his last competitive match for the club, and doubtless he would really like to leave Old Trafford with one more winner’s medal. Another player Sir Alex might turn to, Ryan Giggs, is recently embroiled in controversy and is the subject of intense media attention. It remains to seen how this will affect his, and the team’s performance.

The greatest team in the world?

As he leads his team to Wembley, Sir Alex will be acutely aware that Barcelona is a team seen by many as the best in the world. Will Pep Guardiola, tipped as his successor at Old Trafford, lead his team to a positive performance at Wembley? It would expunge memories of the hacking football on the pitch, and the thuggery off it, which characterised the first leg of the semi final against Real Madrid.

Retaining composure

Retaining composure in terms of the managers leading the teams and the players involved in the match may well be the key to success. As the players line up in the tunnel, might the rallying cry ‘For Sir Bobby and the Boss!’ help or hinder the players’ performance? They and the fans know and understand the significance of the match. Any post-match analysis cannot fail to take the emotional elements of the occasion into account.

Jose Dreams and Pep Obsesses

April 28, 2010

In advance of the semi-final of the European Champions Cup Tie between Inter Milan and Barcelona, Jose Mourinho offers his own philosophic take on the difference between the purity of dreams, and Barcelona’s obsessiveness

The Special One continues on his special way. This time he suggests a difference between dreams and obsessions, and why Inter will be less likely than their rivals Barcelona to be overwhelmed with psychological fantasies.

Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho claims Barcelona are “obsessed” with winning the Champions League at the Bernabeu – home of their arch-rivals Real Madrid:
“I experienced what it is like [at Barcelona] , I have won cups – against Betis in 1997 – at the Bernabeu, where everyone was wrapped in Catalan flags I know what it is about, it is anti-Madridismo. It is an obsession,”

I almost believed what he was saying. And I’m blogging about it. That’s the the effect the charismatic leader has. There is some short-term suspension of belief which lasts at least as long as the master is speaking. Listeners are advised to figure out if there is any sense to what’s being said before getting too concerned (‘obsessed’?) with what the great leader is up to.

Outside Mourinho-world, dream contents are generally considered to be fantasy materials. Freud felt there was a scientific interpretation to much of what we are able to access in our dream-states. There are still many who offer and many who seek interpretations of dreams. The leadership literature has favoured the notion that a dream can articulate a desire and become a vision of the future. That seems a bit like Jose’s point.

If he is suggesting that there are dreams (‘pure’) and obsessions (‘impure’) then I can’t buy into the notion. Until new evidence is provided, (step forward the increasingly important neurologist as expert witness) I have to disagree. Dreams, particularly those connected with desires and visions will have been generated though accessed beliefs which may or may not have obsessial characteristics.

Probably if I had been listening as Jose was speaking I would have believed every word he said. His rival manager Pep Guardiola, was captain when Mourinho worked at Barcelona under Bobby Robson. Pep is as cool as Jose is hot. So it’s cool obsession against hot dreams. What is not a dream is the 3-1 advantage to Inter from their home tie with which they start the match against the team many football experts believe to be the best in the world. Worth watching [28th May 2010].

Football confronts its Clockwork Orange tendency

May 27, 2009
Football violence

Football violence


Updated [Jan 2011] to link with the story of Andy Gray’s dismissal by Sky Sports for inappropriate behaviours.

Original Post

In Coleraine, in Northern Ireland , a mob of so-called football supporters beat up and murder a community worker in an unprovoked attack. In Rome, a city braces itself for violence in advance of the UEFA Champions League cup-final. Football’s Clockwork Orange Tendency persists

One week. Three events. An artistic treatment of football hooliganism. A sectarian murder. A city-wide ban on drinking during the period in which thousands of fans of Manchester United and Barcelona arrive in Rome for what has been described as the dream final to Europe’s premier football competition. Is it simplistic to link the three through the theme of football violence?

A Sectarian Murder

In Northern Ireland, Kevin McDaid’s violent death [Sunday May 24th 2009] was described by the police as a sectarian murder.. Mr McDaid was a social worker known for his commitment to reconciliation among the catholic and protestant communities. The mob of youths appear to have been watching and then celebrating Glasgow Rangers’ triumph as Scotland’s Premier League.

The Film

Awaydays which premiered this week [May 22nd 2009] is a film centring on Liverpool and its football culture.

The film was praised by critic Frank Mark Kermode [BBC Five Live] who considered that other commentators had wrongly considered it primarily as an account of working-class deprivation and football hooliganism. He pointed to the film’s ‘homo-erotic relationship’ between the two youthful protagonists. I couldn’t help thinking of the influence of the violently creative Clockwork Orange.

The Champions Cup Final

In Rome, in advance of the Champions’ league cup-final, [Wed May 27th 2009] the city police anticipated a repeat of the violence that has accompanied recent international matches including a recent bloody affair at a game involving Manchester United.

The final has been billed as the dream match between Manchester United, and Barcelona, the champions of the English and Spanish premier leagues, and clubs famed for their commitment to imaginative and attacking football. The travelling fans of the clubs are not considered to be particularly noted for their violence although from time to time there have been problems internationally, and Rome would be a potential hotspot for a continuation of earlier troubles.

The Clockwork Orange tendency

Is there an inherent streak of violence permeating football culture? Surely it was co-incidence that Glasgow Rangers so-called fans were as involved (at least by association) with the brutal subsequent sectarian murder, and in events that turned violent in Manchester after an important international cup-match some while ago? LWD reported on those because of the coincidence of space. I happened to be a bystander who witnessed some of the scenes.

And so we construct our story. Football provides a ritualised set of opportunities through which testosterone and alcoholfuelled young men direct their aggression towards symbols of their resentment, be they standing as representing authority systems, temporary enemies from an opposing club, or representing more permanent enemies from differing religious groups.

And if that makes sense, you arrive at the conclusion that The Clockwork Orange tendency is deeply instilled in football culture.


“Football provides a ritualised set of opportunities through which testosterone and alcohol fuelled young men direct their aggression towards symbols of their resentment”. Much later, [January 2011], LWD reported on a case in which not-so-young men directed their aggression towards symbols of their resentment (women referees).