Hello, and welcome to another edition of Tactically Naive, SB Nation’s weekly soccer column. This week, we are slightly sunburned, and it’s all our own fault again.
Rise up! Rise up!
It was a tumultuous weekend across Europe, as soccer’s old world was wracked by revolution and rebellion. Not one but two of the game’s gaudiest moneyed-up giants stepped up to collect another title, and both were dragged from their carriages and humiliated in the town square.
“Not today!” screamed the continent, as one. “Not today!”
The funnier of the two? Probably Paris Saint-Germain. After last week’s moment of divine misintervention, the French champions-elect faced off against second-place Lille. A draw would be enough to seal their eighth title, and their sixth in the last seven seasons.
Did they draw? No.
Did they get a man sent off, ship five, and generally look a complete shambolic mess? Yes, they did! However did you guess?
Poor PSG. They want so desperately to be a proper big scary side, and yet silly things keep happening to them. Freakish Champions League defeats. One of their players descending to godhood. And now a five-goal shellacking from a side 20 points behind them.
But if PSG brought the comedy, Juventus gave us the bigger surprise. Admittedly, Max Allegri made a number of changes, what with their Champions League quarterfinal against Ajax still excitingly close. And yet, Juve had lost just once all season. Meanwhile, SPAL were flailing about in the relegation battle, and hadn’t beaten Juventus in the top flight ever.
Juventus even took the lead when Moises Kean poked home after half an hour. But a big header from Kevin Bonifazi — on loan from Torino, amusingly enough — and a late winner from veteran Sergio Floccari were enough to send the champagne back into the fridge for another week.
And quite right, too. If ever a football club needed an occasional kicking from their notional inferiors, it’s Juventus. This title will be their eighth straight, after all, a litany of dominance that has gone beyond impressive and well into boring. They’ll win next season’s, you know. And probably the one after that.
Neither of these inconveniences will matter come the end of the season. And while you may take a few seconds here to imagine just how funny it would be if one — or both! — just kept losing, you will do so knowing that this glee will only ever be imaginary.
PSG, who have spent more money than has ever existed, have got seven games to get a single point. Juventus have got six, and they know how to close these things out. They haven’t spent all season ignoring those long-distance calls from Las Vegas to falter now.
The superclubs are always going to collect what they’ve paid for. All the rest of the world can ask is that every now and then, at a crucial moment, those clubs look a little bit silly. If we must have oligarchy, give us banana skins as well. “Not today! Not today! Not today!”
“Not until, er, next week!”
On climbing over one’s gate
Regular readers will probably have noticed by now that we at Tactically Naive only pretend to like football the sport. It’s all a sham. A necessary one, however, because beyond football the sport lies the really good stuff: football the seething, fecund, primordial soup that spits out tiny moments of emergent physical comedy.
And so, to Scotland:
This may not be as spectacular as a flying own goal, or as fundamentally arousing as a player getting their boots stuck in the net, but there is a modest and quiet perfection about Ruaridh Donaldson’s attempt to get back onto the pitch.
Was there something on the other side of that advertising boarding? Or did he just think “No, I’ll hop over the little gate of exactly the same height, because gates are points of ingress and egress and it would be inappropriate to cross anywhere else.”
And if so, having thought that, why did he not think, “Might just see if the little gate opens.”
Regardless, the true hero of this piece is the little gate, which jumped into life at precisely the right moment. Not enough to knock him over. That would be crass; a bigger laugh, but a cheaper one. Instead, the gate said, “Look, I’m not angry. I’m just disappointed.”
This meant Donaldson had no choice but to return and close the gate. Anything else would compound the rudeness. And so we all get to enjoy the sight of a footballer who, having thoughtlessly issued a minor slight to an inanimate object, is making a small but necessary recompense. Who even needs Mohamed Salah?
Any suggestions that he was time-wasting will be dismissed out of hand. Take beauty where you can find it, people, and be glad.