Disclaimer: This is purely an unbiased commentary of the happenings last night in Rome. All efforts have been made to ensure that the opinion expressed here doesn’t disparage the hordes of Man U fans out there – especially the handful that I know and relate to on very friendly terms.
My all time favourite movie happens to be Gladiators, that prehistoric epic based on the ancient Roman Republic (confirm from profile on shabik). The story is all about Maximus, the virtuous army general under the service of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. In the film, it so happens that as the Emperor regresses into frailty and incapacitation from old age, Maximus emerges as the Emperor’s closest confidant and heir-apparent. But in a strange twist to the tale, Commodus – the Emperor’s vile and conniving son – stages a bloody ‘coup’ by slaying the old man. In the wake of his violent seizure of power, he utterly plunders and vanquishes Maximus’ household as the deposed general flees into exile.
Ultimately, the Maximus is captured and taken back into the city as a slave. His life spared, he is forcibly converted into a partaker of gladiatorial combats; the diabolic form of ‘sport’ in ancient Rome that often pitted man against fellow man or, in some extreme cases men against vicious beasts of the wild. In a gladiatorial combat you either lived or died; it was a fight to the death. All this was performed to ‘entertain’ the Emperor and the blood thirsty citizens of ancient Rome.
The final battle pits Maximus against his nemesis, the self imposed Emperor Commodus, at the end of which both men lay dead in the dusty arena of the (in)famous Roman Colosseum. Though the storyline is thin and simplistic, it’s a classic example of good prevailing against evil.
Such was the backdrop of the grand finale of the 2009 edition of the UEFA Champions League aptly dubbed “the battle of the gladiators”. Befittingly, the bowels of a modern day colosseum – Rome’s Stadio Olimpico – would the final frontier in a battle pitting arguably Europe’s finest. More than any other final match before it, there was going to be no hiding place at the 67, 000-seater Stadio Olimpico. This was going to be ancient Rome revisited – a fight to the death! At half time as the scoreline stood 1-0 in Barcelona’s favour, one would have been excused for wondering whether it would be Sir Alex Fergusson’s famed ‘hairdryer treatment’ or a simple ‘pep’ talk from Guardiola that would do the trick.
In sum, this match was all about midfield control. While Anderson and Carrick flopped sensationally, Xavi and Iniesta flourished. Their movement, vision, execution and ability to hold the ball is sublime… is how one football columnist described the Barca midfield duo in the build up to the match, accolades they truly lived up to on the night. Though Messi impressed with his darting runs that badly exposed Man United’s frailties at the back, Carles Puyol won many hearts with the man of the match performance. Playing out of position wide on the right, the evergreen captain’s contribution was meteoric. Surging forward, tracking backing and holding the line for the Catalans, Puyol was one handful for Ronaldo who ardently resorted to fouling him in frustration. In the end, it was the all conquering Spanish armada, under the guidance of a youthful coach, which prevailed over the battle hardened knight in shining armour.