After a troubling week in Europe, it would be easy to mock Arsenal or Barcelona, were it not for one thing. Each time they play, these two clubs, arguably above all others, attempt the hardest feat in sport.
They try to win beautifully. Not pragmatically. Not with cunning. There is a plan but it is a noble one. To attempt victory with the game in its purest form.
One of the clubs, clearly, has been a lot better at it lately. The crisis at Arsenal and the blip at Barcelona barely compare in real terms: eight years without a trophy against a bad night in Milan. Barcelona are walking away with La Liga and Arsenal would kill to be in their shoes.
Unless Real Madrid win the Champions League this season - and chances are they won't even make the quarter-finals, with Manchester United growing in strength - they will have seen off nemesis Jose Mourinho in almost contemptuous fashion.
Yet viewed dispassionately, even Barcelona's near-decade of dominance contains elements of underachievement.
The club have been on the way up since the beginning of 2004, when Edgar Davids arrived to supplement a changing squad including Ronaldinho and newly-promoted youngster Andres Iniesta, Barcelona beginning to reverse a mid-table position.
What coach Frank Rijkaard began, Pep Guardiola advanced in splendid style. Rijkaard won two La Liga titles and the Champions League, Guardiola won three titles and the Champions League twice, while his successor, Tito Vilanova, is sure to add his first Spanish title this season.
For the last five years at least, Barcelona have been acknowledged as the greatest club side in the world - some would argue the best there has been, comparable to the Real Madrid late-Fifties era of Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano.
Yet while Real Madrid dominated the early years of the European Cup - a markedly weaker tournament back then, it must be said - Barcelona have spent many of their golden years being eliminated by inferiors.
Inter Milan defeated them in 2010, Chelsea in 2012. And Barcelona's triumph in 2009 would have been cut short by Chelsea in the semi-final, were it not for one of the most bizarre refereeing displays of recent times.
AC Milan, not even the best team in Italy according to the Serie A table, now stand a very reasonable chance of removing them again, taking a two-goal lead into the second leg.
Strangely, as out-thought and sterile as Barcelona appeared in the San Siro, the failure almost made admiration grow. Milan were brilliant: but they were brilliant in the familiar way. Brilliantly disciplined, brilliantly organised, brilliantly coached to carry out a brilliant plan, brilliantly effective. They were not like Barcelona at their best. Their ambition was not of that scale.
Arsenal are a hard watch right now. They are not playing well and for all his protectiveness, Arsene Wenger surely knows this. His defence was a shambles against Bayern Munich and only Jack Wilshere could have held his own in the opposition team.
Wenger is presiding over decline, albeit on a limited budget for an elite Premier League club, and there is a real chance Arsenal may be squeezed out of qualification for next season's Champions League.
At this point any ideas of bold investment become meaningless, as Radamel Falcao is not about to quit Atletico Madrid for a club that cannot offer the biggest prize of all. Yet, despite this, Wenger's aims never alter.
He might be delivering reduced fare compared to past glories but there is no doubt he aspires to more. Still, Wenger's motivation is to win playing the most ambitiously exhilarating brand of football on its day.
We are not far from Europe's elite, he claimed at the weekend. Wenger knows that an Arsenal midfield driven by Wilshere and Santi Cazorla could be inspirational, with the right support network.
'You'll miss me when I'm gone,' he says, and of course we will.
Those not paying Arsenal season ticket prices can afford to
indulge Wenger's theories on the off-chance they will click -
when they do, the results are sublime. Like The Dude in The Big Lebowski, it's good knowing he's out there.
Barcelona's football feeds the soul, too. After defeat in Milan, the conclusion was that Vilanova's team did not have a plan B. Why would they, when plan A is such a beauty?
Sulley Muntari boasted that Milan had worked out how to play them. Chelsea and Inter did, too. But beating them and playing better than them are two different things.
Barcelona and Wenger's Arsenal attempt football's high wire act: to perform perfectly, without compromise. And of course, it will not always work: but we'll miss them when they are gone.
Dark night for Liverpool
Despite the heroic headlines, Thursday's defeat by Zenit St Petersburg could prove one of the darkest nights of the season for Liverpool.
Luis Suarez was again magnificent, and so nearly hauled the club into the last 16 of the Europa League. Ultimately, though, he couldn't do this alone. And how long after the game would it have been before one of his acolytes made precisely that observation, before suggesting a rather obvious remedy?
Tevez deal still raises questions
Very soon, West Ham will be free of compensation payments over the illegal signing of Carlos Tevez.
In addition to a £5million fine, an £18.1m package was agreed with relegated Sheffield United. The final £6m instalment is to be handed over before the end of the season.
West Ham's former owners were plainly culpable, yet two additional questions remain. How wisely did Sheffield United spend this windfall, considering they subsequently fell through the Championship into League One? And how did Kia Joorabchian remain gainfully employed by Premier League chairmen, considering his advisory role in a single-season loan deal that ended up costing £23m in fines and compensation alone?
Please stop making excuses for Torres
Given every opportunity, Fernando Torres has scored one goal since December 23 - against League One Brentford in the FA Cup. His former team-mate Yossi Benayoun knows who is to blame for this: his employers at Chelsea.
'Fernando had a bad time in the beginning there,' he said. 'When he came in he was on the bench, then on the pitch. He did not get the confidence.'
Not true. Torres's first season for Chelsea was 2010-11. Following a late January transfer, his debut was on February 6, at home to Liverpool, one of 19 matches before the end of the season.
Torres started 11 and came on in seven more, playing an additional two hours and 34 minutes as a substitute. He was absent for just one fixture, against Everton.
As for being on the bench, Torres started five of the first six games after his arrival, including appearances against FC Copenhagen, Blackpool and Fulham. There was plenty of opportunity to find his feet in front of goal.
Indeed, far from not having faith, coach Carlo Ancelotti then seemed to reserve Torres for the biggest matches. He was lightly raced against Wigan Athletic, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United and Birmingham City, but started against Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and three times against Manchester United, including twice in the Champions League. It is time to stop making excuses.
'This is the first year he has been given the chance to be No 1 because Didier Drogba was here,' Benayoun added. Yes, and look what has happened.
Torres had a decent run coinciding with Chelsea's purple patches and weak opponents - he has scored one goal against a team in the top half all season - but as his team-mates have laboured he has all but disappeared.
Roman Abramovich, meanwhile, has bent over backwards to prove his judgment right. He prematurely ditched Drogba and appointed the man who mined most from Torres at Liverpool.
Yet the inability to perform in a way that endorses Rafael Benitez's employment at Chelsea suggests Torres is now a spent force.
The club has done everything possible. Torres finds his form between now and May, or Chelsea must cut their losses in the summer. And, at £50m, it will be some loss.
And while we're at it...
'David and Nigel are like poets, two totally distinct visionaries, like fire and ice. My role in the band is to be kind of in the middle of that. Like lukewarm water.' So speaks Derek Smalls, bass player of fictional rock group Spinal Tap, and famous for keeping a cucumber down the front of his trousers and getting trapped in a stage prop during the opening of a show. Yet, Smalls does rather seem to have nailed David Gill's role at Manchester United, too.
Gill had Sir Alex Ferguson on one side, and on the other commercial manager Ed Woodward, who has executed the Glazers' business plan with absolute precision. The boardrooms of Premier League rivals are in awe of the revenue generated by Woodward recently.
Gill's resignation last week was described as a blow to the club and Ferguson delivered a glowing tribute. Different if the roles were reversed. The day Ferguson steps down could bring a sea change in English, and European, football. Even losing Woodward would have put a temporary hole in United's commercial activities.
Gill, however, was between the two: like lukewarm water. The fact that Woodward, the new chief executive, will be based 50 per cent of the time in London shows the way the modern Manchester United is run.
He is the Glazers' protege and his influence has grown steadily under their stewardship. Ferguson does the football, and always will do. Gill's importance was waning. He will stay on the board of directors and pursue his career at UEFA, furthering Manchester United's interests as he goes.
In that way, he will be of more help to the club than he would have been as chief executive. Yet Gill could not be chairman of the Football Association without severing links at Old Trafford. Quite how such a conflict of interests is allowed in Europe's corridors of power is a bigger story than the farewell of a man whose best idea was saying a daily yes to Alex Ferguson.
Becks v Barton
David Beckham's off-pitch celebrity exceeds his on-pitch impact, according to Joey Barton. 'Bonjour, pot, il est bouilloire appelle...'
It's just not cricket
Ian Bell is right. The widening gap in styles between Test and Twenty20 cricket is producing two different sports.
The switch-hit is a Twenty20 invention, imported from baseball, while Bell talks of teenagers who grow up flicking the ball over their heads and playing in a way that any coach would regard as the enemy of textbook cricket.
In time, young players will choose one path or the other and, as Twenty20 is where the money is, only then will the crisis facing the Test game be fully realised.
Analyse this, Rory Match play golf tournaments are notoriously random.
Even so, in the week when Rory McIlroy dismissed any suggestion that a switch to Nike clubs might affect his game, it was unhelpful that he should be removed by Shane Lowry at the Accenture Championship in Arizona.
Before falling to the world No 68, McIlroy had bridled at Sir Nick Faldo's suggestion that change might prove dangerous.
'He does not know how I feel over a golf shot and I don't know how he felt,' said McIlroy. 'My guess is he was a little more analytically minded.'
Indeed he was. As he analysed his way to six majors, however, it
is wise to presume that Faldo may have a valid opinion, whether
welcome or not.
Doping is rife in Kenya'
Moses Kiptanui, the Olympic silver medallist and three-time world champion steeplechaser, claims doping is rife in Kenya. This scandal is growing.
Last year, a German journalist posing as a sports agent reported that doping was common among Kenyan distance runners. Kiptanui has even greater pedigree; acknowledged as one of the greatest steeplechasers in history. Doping allegations in this bastion of distance running are merely drip, drip at the moment.
They were in cycling, too, at the start.
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