Sport

Football, what a feast!

2019-05-12 13:03

Several things always happen in May. It starts to get cold. Leaves fall. It is windy. Mothers’ Day is celebrated. Zwelinzima Vavi and his cohorts tell the workers of the world to unite because they have nothing to lose but their chains.

But the most important thing that happens in May is that, in most parts of the world, the football season comes to an end and those who love the beautiful game come to terms with the looming two months of drought.

Part of the therapy for dealing with this traumatic period is reminiscing about the season past. And so here begins the therapy as we look back at a 2018/19 season that can be described only as a feast from heaven – packed with joy and heartbreak.

The collapse of Real Madrid

Remember the name Julen Lopetegui? Yes, that one. He was the guy who was unceremoniously sacked by the Royal Spanish Football Federation in June on the eve of the World Cup because he had secretly signed a contract with Real Madrid to take over as coach when the season resumed in August. The chaos caused by his abrupt departure led to a disastrous World Cup campaign for Spain.

The greener pastures he left for were anything but. The previously successful coach failed to connect with his players at Madrid and he fell flat. He was sacked after three months following a string of losses, including a humiliating 5-0 defeat to enemies Barcelona.

READ: Pride and arrogance take a tumble in Madrid

Lopetegui’s replacement, Madrid veteran Santi Solari, also did not last long. He was sacked after back-to-back defeats to the Catalonians and an early exit in the Champions League after a 4-1 crushing by a youthful Ajax Amsterdam side.

By the time saviour Zinedine Zidane returned, it was too late to save the Madrid season. The Copa del Rey was gone. The Champions League was gone. And Barcelona were far, far gone in the La Liga lead. With the gap in the double digits and Atletico Madrid comfortably in second position, it was a season from hell for a team that had won three consecutive Champions League titles.

The Premiership race

Not since the 2015/16 season, when Leicester City shocked the world by winning the English Premier League (EPL) title, has there been such a thrilling end to a season as the one that draws to a close today. 

As much as the Leicester run was a fairy tale for the ages, this year’s gruelling duel between Liverpool and Manchester City has been at the level of Game of Thrones. This has been a war of two kingdoms with massive firepower and generals equipped with incredible tactical acumen.

City’s Pep Guardiola and Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp have some of the best football brains on the planet and whoever wins the final battle, both will be forgiven for basking in glory.

This was also the season in which the limitations of José Mourinho were horribly exposed. The egomaniac could not hide his bitterness as he witnessed a young Ole Gunnar Solskjær inject energy into the moribund Manchester United side.

MASTER TACTICIAN Nuno Espírito Santo, PHOTO: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

When the story of this season is told, Wolverhampton Wanderers and its manager Nuno Espírito Santo will always feature prominently.

The Laurence Fishburne lookalike has turned the team into one of the most exciting outfits in the EPL and they deservedly booked a spot in the Europa League after securing seventh place.

If you have not caught the wolf flu yet, look up next season’s fixtures and allow yourself to get infected.

Was this for real?

By “real” we do not mean the club, we mean not fake. In football, there are comebacks and then there are situations that are indescribable. This year’s Uefa Champions League was in the indescribable category.

Since the beginning of the knockout stages, one of the most common questions on Planet Football has been: Was this the greatest comeback ever? Take your pick: Ajax’s stunning routing of Real Madrid.

Tottenham Hotspur (and the video assistant referee) breaking Manchester City’s hearts. Liverpool overturning a 3-0 deficit to overcome Barcelona at Camp Nou. Spurs’ never-say-die spirit ending the Ajax fairy tale with an inspired second-half.

UNBELIEVABLE Mauricio Pochettino PHOTO: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista /Getty Images

There were so many moments and episodes in the season that had us asking the question: Was this game for real?

When will Messi have mercy on our hearts?

There is a growing body of opinion that Lionel Messi is a cyborg and that the story of his birth in the town of Rosario in Argentina and his upbringing in the Barcelona academy was made up by the club hierarchy.

This season, Messi continued to give credence to this theory through his freakish performances. When he scored that preposterous free kick in the first leg of the semifinal against Liverpool at Camp Nou, many rival fans temporarily suspended their disappointment to applaud the magic.

The thing about Messi is that, just when you think he has outdone himself, he pulls out another performance that has you reaching for your nonexistent heart tablets or oxygen machine.

He did it to us again this season. Over and over. And he will do it again in the season to come. Over and over.

GENIUS Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona scores brilliantly from a free kick while Joe Gomez, Joël Matip and Fabinho of Liverpool FC jump in vain

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November 10 2019