Article by Peter Swallow
A moment of delicate beauty is what many will remember from Manchester City’s 1-1 draw with AS Roma. Within a blink of an eye, the default Emperor of Roma masterminded an astonishing amount of space and seemingly an indefinite amount of time, to dink the ball beyond a hapless Joe Hart to become the Champions League’s oldest ever goal-scorer. The reality is that the career of Francesco Totti is permeated with such moments of wonder and beauty that this particular goal registers far outside his top 20.
Walk through Rome and his shrines are everywhere, pop inside a little family restaurant and his image is more prevalent than that of any other famous person or religious idol, and your ears will be adorned with stories of how he ate in that very restaurant or at the very least, walked down that particular street.
It sounds like a fallacy, but it’s absolutely true, and while Romans of the AS variety perhaps over-exaggerate his quality to the point of the 38 year old being labelled a demi god, Italians and in fact Europeans on the whole recognise the uniqueness and rarity of his talent.
Here in England however, he was somewhat of an urban legend, a man many knew about, but had rarely seen. His image still somewhat stained by an unfortunate spitting incident at Euro 2004 and as Manchester City’s twitter account pointed out, a few less than stellar performances against both the English national team and English clubs. All that changed on Tuesday night.
The back pages were adorned with love for the mercurial Italian, his raised finger pointing at the heavens in celebration was the image of the Champions League, and in many ways it was poignant reminder of a legend too often ignored.
Ignoring the blatant qualities of many players appears to be the chagrin of mainstream media.
Ignorance has also robbed Zlatan Ibrahimović of the plaudits his rich talent deserved, with many of the media painting him as the definition of a perennial underachiever, a choker not to be depended upon when the most important of fights lingered just beyond the horizon. Those who condemned him, due to short term memory or otherwise, have all but forgotten their indiscretions due to the awkward irony of being so drastically wrong.
The Big Swede, like Francesco Totti, has had to wait until his twilight years to be truly appreciated by the British press. Neymar Jr was in danger of facing such a label. Publically dismissed by the likes of Joey Barton, they said his Santos form was purely down to the “substandard” nature of the Brazilian league and his disappointing form in Europe with Barcelona only seemed to confirm that notion.
His World Cup in the summer has largely put paid to that idea, but once again the English media were ready to pull the trigger on another promising talent, willing to condemn him before his defence could be heard.
It’s not only players that are subject to such sweeping statements either; take Swiss Champions FC Basel for example. When the draw for this season’s Champions League placed them alongside Real Madrid, Liverpool and Ludogorets, it was a forgone conclusion that both the European Champions and Liverpool would qualify from the group with complete ease.
Transfer deadline day extraordinaire Jim White was the first to state that Basel would be of little threat to Liverpool’s European ambitions, and despite Paulo Sousa’s men handing the Merseyside club a 1-0 defeat, Graeme Souness was keen to stress the clubs averageness and further emphasise that this defeat was purely down to Liverpool’s deficiencies rather than Basel being the good side that they are.
It all left a rather familiar taste in my mouth, and many a pundit red-faced at their own ignorance towards the continent. The world may be a smaller place these days, but our media seems to have forgotten that genius can be created beyond the British Isles.
Until this changes, we’ll see many more brazen statements born out of ignorance and allegiance that will undoubtedly return to embarrass their authors, but for the immediate future it begs the simple question as to how knowledgeable these so called “experts” truly are? For now, the term Mutton dressed as Lamb seems an apt way to end.