Although never present, I assume a casual stance when recollecting anecdotes of figures I admire. Usually too pleased by my first hearing, I scarcely probe their authenticity. With time, these tall tales – exaggerated is probably a more fitting word – eventually become a string in my raconteur’s bow. Now read on.
An established Elvis – Presley should you need to be told – set up in his Las Vegas lifestyle of the early 1970’s was once briefed with a cautious word. A swashbuckling new sensation from Wales, appropriately named Jones, was beginning to make waves in the desert. Alarmed by the threat that greets complacency, an aide of Elvis familiar with Jones insisted that they were to go and witness him first hand. Presley duly agreed.
On said night, whether through fate or design, Tom Jones was made aware that the most special of special guests was in attendance. With charm, humility and awe, Jones soon made sure that every other spectator on his bill knew also. A lifting of the house lights and a craning of every neck ensured Elvis would not go unnoticed.
Jones continued, proud and unabashed, but the momentum of the masses had shifted. A libidinous new star in the Las Vegas sky had been outshone by its sinking sun.
With good faith for the cautious aide’s word, it was now that Presley knowingly asked; ‘Who’s the King?’. Good reason suggests that no story shall arrive as fully formed, yet, its message leaves us with a tidy metaphor nonetheless.
On daunting European nights, everything is to be gained. It is only on hopeless nights that little is wagered but disappointment. For Bayern Munich and Barcelona, the daunting prospect of surrendering an impressive success made on the road to an inferior team in your own city was all too apparent. Why else would either side’s rhythm have been so easily disturbed? For Arsenal and Manchester City, surrendering was non-optional although the war had already been decided. Munich or Barcelona are not cities worth arriving in unless you do so well prepared.
For Arsenal, a spate of injuries – now the subject of an internal investigation – did not allow for parity with their fully strengthened German hosts. The drab affair that ensued was no match for the opening 30 minutes of a first leg tie that made Arsenal appear a genuine contender. Undone by a goalkeeper startled by the bigger stage – think of Poland v Greece in Euro 2012 – Arsenal were condemned to a fate not befitting the ceaseless determination of Arsène Wenger. Still, onward go Bayern, better teams than Arsenal will yet fall by that Bavarian juggernaut.
Manchester City’s task appeared doable if assisted by some favourable conditions. An early goal would have helped. Two would have been manna. However, no such good will was forthcoming in what appeared to be a pulsating Nou Camp. Barcelona’s ability to create an uphill battle where a casual stroll is all that seems necessary was evident here. At 1-1 the tie was theirs. Yet, as Dani Alves clinched a 2-1 win in the closing moments, the visible joy of the Catalonian masses indicated Barca’s willingness to meet every obstacle and overcome it. Unsatisfied by an aggregate victory, they insistently sealed off both legs.
What Arsenal and Manchester City may take from last week’s outing is unclear. Both were tactically astute and touching an upset until individual errors gave cause to collective capitulation.
Ultimately, it is not likely that Manuel Neuer or Víctor Valdés would have done as Szczesny did. Nor can one imagine Piqué, Mascherano or Dante following Demichelis’ path – Javi Martínez at centre-back didn’t appear as entirely assuring. Of course, Neuer didn’t have Arjen Robben to deal with, nor did the pairings of Bayern and Barca have to attempt to contain Lionel Messi. Yet, personal decisions undermined what Wenger and Pellegrini had so studiously structured and continental success is for another year shelved.
Heed can be taken from that earlier tale of a Welshman. Neither Arsenal nor City shall ever become what Bayern Munich or Barcelona are or have been to European football. In much the same regard Tom Jones will never combat Elvis. Yet, the spectacle of greatness fades though its effects may continue. In another scenario, both sides could have won. This will be raw in their minds. Jones embraced Vegas where his hero was King. Cordiality was expressed and the show went on. Arsenal and City have now both paid their dues and suffered at their own doing. Let them step back a while. Ponder their fate and resurrect new hope.