All of the classic hallmarks are there: the similar glisten of newly-polished trophies, the glimmer of a Champions League final on the horizon, grossly over-paid prima-donnas complaining of 'tiredness', and a fans cold realization that there are a dark few months ahead. Yes, the end is nigh for another pulsating season of soccer in Europe.
Either last season ended, or this one began with the World Cup of 2010. A poor tournament in most people's views, mostly devoid of class, effort and enthusiasm, but it's what we're sadly growing accustomed to with International soccer nowadays. The old guard fell, the Spanish ruled and youngsters burst onto the scene with attitude. Some rejoiced, but most of us simply awaited intently the start of more regular drama
Hardly a great scene setter for the highly controversial and entertaining events that was due to unfold over our star crowning eyes. The European Champions, Inter Milan, went from exactly that to shambles, starting with Rafa 'I need 5 or 6 new players' Benitez, to Leonardo 'AC flop' Araújo. Diego Forlan transformed from World Cup Golden Shoe winner and Ballon D'or candidate to Atletico Madrid's latest scapegoat, within a couple of months. The Bayern Munich managerial merry-go-round continued in childish abandon, while the forgotten Dortmund folks stepped up and merrily took the Bundesliga title with electrical verve.
La Liga's annual bi-competition continued; one fight between Barcelona and Real Madrid, another with the other 18 teams. Barcelona won their scrap with the almost perfect team adding the almost perfect striker, in David Villa, to their ranks, even managing to humiliate their all-white adorned rivals from Madrid, 5-0 at the Nou Camp. Valencia and Villarreal managed to hone the right sides of their bi-polar selves well enough to seemingly finish strongly. Villarreal's ex-Manchester United forward, Giuseppe Rossi, enjoying his most fruitful campaign to date, suggesting a big money move back to England could be on the cards.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic kept up his incredible record of winning a league title, for 3 different clubs, every year since 2006/2007. The unfashionable Napoli did their best to spoil the Milanese dominance in Serie A, with the imperious Edison Cavani scoring 26 goals, bettered only by the timeless Antonio Di Natale in the goal charts. Mainstays, Sampdoria, sunk, Turin giants, Juventus, floundered without rhythm, but I couldn't help notice that the Italian league seems to be in a steady decline of interest and quality; a trend that has been in motion for some time now.
A supposedly poor Manchester United side wrestled the Premier League title back from Chelsea this year. While the homeless Portuguese, Bébé, wasn't a success, except in increasing United's CSR points; the Little Pea, Javier Hernandez was, regularly keeping the club's record signing, Dimitar Berbatov, on the bench at the key stages of the campaign. Chelsea demonstrated what it looks like to spend £50 million on clogging up the plumbing system, Fernando Torres seemingly leaving his striking compass somewhere on Merseyside, in the midst of a pre-World Cup slump of Jekyll and Hyde proportions, poor him. Manchester City ended 35 years of trophy less jealousy, maneuvering ever so carefully into the Premier Leagues elite dinner table. West Ham celebrated the incoming keys to their new 70,000-seater stadium by dropping down a division, possibly to test how strong their fan-base really is, or simply because Mr. Mumbles was in charge.
At least traditional (un)eventfulness was maintained this year. Cristiano Ronaldo has kept up a run since 2006 scoring more than 20 goals per season, going a touch too far this year, looking to excel the one season scoring record of 38 in a season, set by Telmo Zarra and Hugo Sanchez years before. Lionel Messi continues to maintain his best Diego Maradona impression, of being quite simply fantastic and endearing, in an effortless grace that he carries on his slight blue and red frame. And it wouldn't be a soccer season (since 2005) without Arsenal's deceiving flatterers, surging through the early fixture program and wilting like poor autumn leaves come the emergence of spring.
Calls for the modernization of the game were once more dismissed outright by the bigwigs in power, preferring abacuses to calculators, and overweight old men (aka 'Linesmen') to goal-line technology. The farcical, back-handed, double-whammy 2018 and 2022 World Cup destination contest was decided, in a 'transparent-as-bricks' nature. An American journalist proudly tried to stick up to hierarchical behemoth that is FIFA, attempting to run for presidency, a futile exercise, despite enviable amounts of support from those that should matter (the fans) and absolutely none from those that don't, but do (the FIFA members).
Oh, and now you can watch nearly all games in '3D' from your armchair! That's right, you no longer need to leave your house to go see the game, you can watch the match in a carefully constructed pop-up book manner, unnecessarily preempting your impending hangover with a headache and an empty wallet.
Whilst it may be slightly premature for me to jot the obituary of the 2010/2011 season before it's even reached its climax, I couldn't resist; as we sit in this lull before the final games, with many permutations to transpire and cry about. As we take breath, collectively appreciate what we have witnessed and then launch full-frontal into the storm, we should marvel at the truly breathtaking season. On top of it all, Doc and Marty are planning on taking us back to the future, reliving Rome of 2009, in London of 2011, with Barcelona against Manchester United, in what promises to be the most fitting of send-offs to a magnificent sporting season.