Més Que Un Column

Tuesday evening. Twenty past eight, in the kitchen, looking for something to eat and thinking about the Champions League. Thinking about the draw, thinking about potential opponents, possible trips to Russia or Greece or even the grand finale in Madrid next May. Who’ll be drawing the balls now that Infantino’s headed off to join the big boys at FIFA? What about location? Nyon, Monaco or another banker-ran tax haven?

“When’s the draw on?” I think to myself. It seems like it’s on the 28th of August every single year, even though that in itself is impossible given it’s perennially on a Thursday. I do the maths in my head. Third Round first leg, third round second leg, play-off first leg, play-off second leg…

Hold on, it’s on tonight. The footy that is, not the draw. I switch on BT Sport, knowing well they’ll be getting the full bang for their buck and have probably been showing every match since the seemingly endless qualification started sometime around February. They are. It’s Benfica vs PAOK on one channel, BATE Borisov vs PSV Eindhoven on the other, and they’re even showing Salzburg’s trip to Crvena Zvezda as well. Where is Crvena Zvezda you ask? I’m not sure, but it sounds so far eastern Europe that it might well be in China.

There are five minutes left in the three first halves that are available for viewing. I want to be that guy you see. I hear other supporters, never mind experts, talk about European football in such incredible detail. All of them able to tell you everything about A.C. Milan’s Hakan Calhanoglu and what type of a player he is. Sometimes it’s not even other leagues on the continent. People raved about Richarlison last season but I can’t remember a single goal he scored. I don’t want to appear disrespectful. I’m sure he’s a good player and all that, but as much as it kills me to miss even five minutes of a Liverpool match, I rarely watch anyone else play. There always seems to be something better to do at the time.

The World Cup was an exception, as it traditionally is for so many others around the globe. I must have watched at least 45 of the 64 matches, and many of the ones I missed were due to other commitments outside of ever-sinking living room couch, which was becoming gradually more and more insanitary as June became July. In almost all of those 45 games, I tried to focus in. I tried to watch the game like everyone else. My ratio of games watched to pieces of tactical insight gained was getting disproportionately high. I’m talking about three-hundred to one.

No luck. I’d talk to myself like a madman. “Right, come on lad, next five minutes just try and read the game, see what shape Portugal are playing, how closely are they marking Iniesta and is Morata’s movement in between the lines stretching Carvalho.” Next thing I know it’s half-time and I can recall the names of the three goalscorers, but nothing else. Alan Shearer and Cesc Fabregas are doing the punditry for BBC. They say that Spain’s width and Costa’s aggression, coupled with Portugal’s full-backs’ positioning is causing them problems. I’ll have to take their word for it.

There are lads on Twitter who are saying that Nacho is playing out of his skin, while a few weeks later social media is full of people’s best elevens of the tournament, which for the most part feature the same names, from Modric to Golovin to Pogba. I can’t remember any of it, apart from the goals that is. I watched every one of Russia’s games, but Lord knows what Golovin is good or bad at, as much as I wanted to know and as much as I still do, I just wasn’t able. My brain didn’t want to process any of it. It never has, and maybe never will.

So PSV vs BATE it was. A chance to find out whether this Lozano lad really was the real deal, and whether or not Borisov’s 4-1-4-1 formation could cause teams trouble in the season ahead.

I wish. Luuk De Jong hits the bar from a header just before half-time, but I’ve already lost interest. How can I not enjoy something that is one of the biggest parts of my life? Something that I’d eventually like to get paid to write about. I switch off just before the half-time whistle, quickly checking the Benfica match, but the stadium is half empty and I know that it ultimately carries very little importance, since neither side are likely to make it past the round of sixteen.

Playstation it is for the night. But not FIFA 18, the idea of having to organise imaginary footballers into a meaningless system to compete online against other imaginary footballers has me worrying too much about expected goals and clear-cut chance percentages. Another sun will set and hours later another sun will rise, but I’ll still have nothing else to add to my list of football opinions.

This isn’t me trying to be funny by the way, this is genuinely everything non-LFC that I can recall from down the years in regards to genuine insights.

  • Lukaku did really well when he came on against the U.S.A. in the 2014 World Cup.
  • Ivan Perisic was quite dangerous at Euro 2016.
  • Apart from being very good at scoring goals, Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t looked that good in the last two or three years.
  • Javier Hernandez is better than a lot of people think.
  • Olivier Giroud may be the best header of the ball in the 21st century.

It’s not about the lack of movement or the exploitation of space for me. As much as I’d like it to be, it just doesn’t register in my head. It’s about the culture around the game, the supporters, the traditions, the niche jokes (but not the banter), the songs, the stadiums, the players’ names, the slick-looking kits and the wild goals from behind the half-way line. And most of all, the celebration and the let-off of a last-minute winner against Everton.

So if the Reds get drawn against BATE Borisov next week in Nyon, then I’ll be more than happy. Never mind the perks and holes of their 4-1-4-1 system, they’ve got one of the most niche names in European football, and that’s all I really care about.

All the best.