Football,

An in-continent ramble


I’m a thrill-seeker. Twisted thrill-seeker. I seek thrills in everything I do: be it 1000-piece jigsaws, Russian literature, or shopping for plain wallpaper. So now that the Premier League’s major issues have been, to a large extent, resolved; I find myself desperately scanning other leagues for potential excitement, like a young sailor in an exotic seaside town with just a few dwindling hours of shore leave remaining.

The first port of call has to be Spain. (NB. If you’re ever planning a tour of iconic European ports, do not go to Port of Spain – misleadingly, it is in Trinidad, and it takes absolutely ages to get back home from there.)
With 4 fixtures remaining, La Liga has built to the most engaging finish amongst Europe’s major competitions.

A proper, Sergio Leone-scripted Mexican stand-off has transpired between the biggest clubs in the division. And two of the three – Barcelona and Atletico Madrid – meet this very weekend. Real Madrid will be hoping to re-establish prominence following their flaccid withdrawal from the Champions League, but they too have a difficult game on their hands, against 4th placed Sevilla. Which teams will ultimately end up being assigned the roles of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly?

After Spain, the next destination must surely be France. (NB. If you’re ever planning a tour of iconic European ports, do not go to Port-aux-Français – misleadingly, it is in the Kerguelen Islands, near Antarctica, and is even harder to get back from than Trinidad. Also, it doesn’t have a McDonald’s.)

With just 3 games to go, Lille still hold a surprising yet slender advantage over the PSG juggernaut in Ligue 1. Can Pochettino iron-out his side’s petulant creases following their stroppy mid-week Champions League capitulation? If both sides happen to drop points, Cesc Fàbregas and his louche AS Monaco playboys are lurking close by, ready to initiate an unexpected ménage à trois at the top of the table.

In Germany, Bayern Munich are on the crest of their ninth consecutive Bundesliga title. Nein?! Yes. And, as is their custom, they will promptly poach the brightest prospect from their nearest rivals: in this case RB Leipzig’s modish manager Julian Nagelsmann. Interest elsewhere lies chiefly in observing Borussia Dortmund’s desperate quest to finish in the top four – and they meet the aforementioned East Germans on Saturday.

The biggest challenge in any season for Die Schwarz-Gelben is trying to keep hold of the young talent on its roster. Failure to provide Champions League milk for its hungry pups – Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland, Jude Bellingham – will surely rubber-stamp their respective exits.

Down in Italy, Juventus were denied a tenth consecutive Serie A crown thanks to Antonio Conte’s reassembled Premier League giblets, Inter Milan. Andrea Pirlo’s uncharacteristically inelegant first season in charge of the Turin titans has left them, like Dortmund, on the brink of missing out on Champions League qualification. But a fully pumped, primped and pouting Cristiano Ronaldo surely won’t allow that to happen?

Spare a thought for poor Roma, though. An untimely Europa League exit at the semi-final stage for the Giallorossi was exacerbated by the announcement that José Mourinho will be their new manager next season. The two-time Champions League winner now appears to have taken a comfortable seat on the managerial downward spiral – each appointment being less impressive than the last. If he continues in the current trajectory, in 4 year’s time he will be locking horns with Phil Neville in the MLS as head coach of the Omaha Combine Harvesters.

So I wish you all bon voyage in your own search for thrills and spills this weekend. And if you are planning to storm a major sports stadium, I strongly recommend that you take a football with you, so you’ve got something to do when you actually make it to the pitch.

Please play responsibly