It’s that time of year. Grab a wurst and sit back for the sporting highlight of the year.
No, I’m not talking about March Madness. I refer to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League, the annual tournament for the best footballing clubs in Europe.
Football is, of course, more than a sport. A drama, a philosophical discourse “en vivo,” football is the “joga bonita,” or “beautiful game.” Said Camus: “After many years in which the world has afforded me many experiences, what I know most surely in the long run about morality and obligations, I owe to football.”
He’s not the only philosopher who loved a good kick about. For the Ubermenschen among you, Nietszche wrote “The formula of my happiness: a yes, a no, a straight line, a goal.” In short, football is the beautiful, sweatier version of real life, and much like life, you don’t want to miss it.
Tomorrow, two footballing philosophies, two of the most glamorous squads ever assembled — Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain will collide on the turf of Parc des Princes in Paris. The home team is French only in name, and includes David Beckham and the greatest nose ever to grace the game, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Commonly referred to as “The Big Swede,” he has been known to score bicycle kicks from 40 yards — or roughly the length of a basketball court — and has also karate kicked an opponent when things weren’t going his way. Undoubtedly there will be drama, and probably also tears from Becks when Lionel Messi inevitably scores.
The best player in the world, Messi is just one of 11 dwarves employed by the opposing team, FC Barcelona. A team so arrogant their motto is “Mes que un club,” Barcelona wins the most, plays hypnotizing football and is thus intolerable to everyone except its own fans.
Luckily there is another Spanish team to keep them in check: the fabled Real Madrid. If Messi is the best player in the world, Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo is perhaps the best looking — some even say it was his face that launched a thousand ships. But more to the point, Ronaldo also scores a lot and is aided by the duo of Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria up front. On the defensive end of the pitch stands a goalie so sublime supporters refer to him as “San Iker.”
Unlike March Madness, there are no brackets in the Champions League, but the winner of Barca and PSG can be fairly confident that they’ll cross either Bayern Munich or Juventus on their way to the trophy.
The rivalries are as intense as any in basketball, and then there’s the added vitriol of national sentiment. Regardless of whether the organized and fiscally responsible Juventus accurately represents its native Italy, every azzurro fan will be cheering them on against the German Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
Nicknamed “the old lady,” Juventus is a cheating old hag and was recently stripped of two of its league titles for match fixing. Bayern has its own demons, most notably Arjen Robben. A balding Dutchman who hogs the ball, Robben runs so quickly and falls so easily that he is an unplayable prat. Feigning injury at the slightest touch, breaking hearts with the swish of his boot, Robben is Bayern’s prima donna.
Last year, Bayern lost the Champion’s League final to a ragged Chelsea side. The Brits have long prided themselves on their “heart” and “battle,” but it wasn’t enough this year. Graft without craft as Jose Mourinho might put it, and he knows something about both.
Some sports are opiates to the masses and the inspiration for the bards. The great midfielder and part-time playwright William Shakespeare once said “Am I so round with you as you with me that like a football do you spurn me thus?”
Whether poet or sports buff, give football — Champions League football — a chance. If you like March Madness you’ll love the tension inside the Parc des Princes tomorrow. Yes, it’s a bit longer and the ball definitely won’t find the net as often, but that only adds to the suspense and drama when someone eventually does score. It is, after all, “la joga bonita.”
Xavier Flory is a College sophomore from Nokesville, Va. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @FloryXavier. “The Gadfly” appears every other Monday.