Barcelona have now won their sixth La Liga title in eight years and once again the pundits are asking the question, is this the greatest team of all time. The frozen northerner has avoided answering this question ever since Pep Guardiola won everything in sight during his first season at the club in 2008-2009. Trophies have flowed into the club like manna from heaven, elevating the team to near mythical status, so the time has come for me to critically evaluate this Barcelona team. I can only appraise them against teams that I have seen in my lifetime, so that lets out teams such the Barcelona team of early 50’s, Di Stefano’s Real Madrid, or Manchester United’s Busby Babes. To be fair, teams that could give a run for their money are few and far between but here in no particular order are the teams that I think would give them a game, Stein’s Celtic, Cruyff’s Ajax, Beckenbauer’s Bayern and Fagin’s Liverpool, all brilliant sides with some exceptional players in their ranks. Whether or not they would beat Barcelona is highly debateable, but there is no doubt in my mind that I genuinely believe that Sacchi’s AC Milan would beat them every day of the week. I can understand your pessimism, but have faith in what I say because Milan were and still are in my eyes the closest thing you will get to perfection on a football pitch. You can talk about Messi all you like, there is no doubt he is a great player (for me personally Maradona and Pelé was better) but we are talking about teams here, not individuals, Milan could boast at least five genuine world class players in Guiltt, Van Basten, Rijkaard, Baresi and Maldini, and were ably supported by good solid back up players such as Tassotti, Ancelotti and Donadoni. At best Barcelona have only ever had three really world class players, Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, some people will scream that Neymar and Suarez are top draw but let’s be honest with all that rolling around and feigning injury Neymar is cheat of epic proportions and is overrated beyond belief while, on the hand you have Suarez football’s Hannibal Lecter, who despite his goal scoring feats, appears to enjoy biting players, which is nasty little habit that he has used throughout his career and should have seen him been banned for life. Barca’s back up players are not bad but certainly great, with probably Puyol pick of the remainder, Barcelona are and always have been good going forward but defensively they are sometimes a shambles (watch the 2013 champions league semi-final demolition by Bayern Munich to see what I am talking about), whereas Milan never a gave a goal away easily. Milan’s defence, marshalled by the great Franco Baresi could cope comfortably with anything that Messi and co would have to offer. Defensively Barcelona’s defensive limitations would be severely exposed, with there being absolutely no chance of the likes of Gerard Pique or Mascherano being able handle Marco Van Basten and Guillt. Both sides were managed by two of the greatest mangers of all time so tactically it boils down to Sacchi’s pressing game against Guardiola’s passing and possession, the choice is tough, but for me I have never seen a team that worked as hard as that Milan side and that includes Barcelona who always worked hard for Pep.The Milan were not as dominant in Serie A, as Barcelona have been in La Liga,a fact I am prepared to concede, but if they were to go face to face when both sides were at their peak I am fairly certain that Milan would win, so the next time you watch Barcelona sit back and enjoy, but remember no matter how much the pundits and analysts waffle on about how great Barcelona are, watch Guillt’s face because he knows who the greatest side is and that is AC Milan.
Earlier this week whilst squirreling away through the fashion section of the Guardian newspaper, I stumbled upon a piece on Harrington jackets by their fashion editor Helen Seamons. It showed 10 variations of the Harrington jacket some of which I could regard as being borderline acceptable, whilst the majority I could not. Harrington jackets, windcheaters, golf jackets call them what you will, are something that everyone will have their own opinion on, with respect to what is good and to what is bad, but when I see some of the offerings the fashion editor of the Guardian is citing as being good, then I have to stand up for great and good and state my case as to what is wonderful when talking about this timeless classic. In the Helen Seamons article, there some perfectly good examples of a Harrington such as the Lacoste and Ralph Lauren jackets or even the Zara red jacket which is a very nice take on this iconic piece of clothing. But the Saint Laurent leopard number which can be bought at Mr Porter for a mere £1565 is a joke and has nothing whatsoever to do with Harrington jackets or any other jacket for that matter. The beauty of a Harrington or any other piece of classic clothing for that matter is its simplicity, you don’t know why it looks so damn good, you just know that it is something that will always look great and stand the test of time no matter what era it is. I am not certain how much research Ms Seamons put into the guardian article but clearly it was not enough as she has missed two of the best three jackets currently on the market (she has in her article the king of all Harrington jackets the Barcuta G9 but the colour, apple, my god, what were you thinking of). The two that she has sadly missed out are probably best described as golfer jackets and are made by John Simons and Grenfell respectively. In the frozen northerner’s opinion the two aforementioned companies have got it spot on and have produced jackets that are simply superb, both retailers clearly know their stuff and these jackets are produced mainly in either beige or navy (no tinkering with garish colours here) which as any connoisseur of Harrington jackets will tell is the only colours they should ever be made in. When it comes to selecting a Harrington jackets, don’t listen to the fashion editor of the Guardian who hasn’t got a clue about this enduring masterpiece, please do a bit to research because the best ones are not that hard to find, but remember stick to the rules no gaudy colours, beige or navy only. Below are the best 3 you will ever find.
Blog 37 revealed the frozen northerner’s weakness for loafers, which he wears religiously every year from spring to autumn, but what else will adorn my feet throughout the summer months as I chase that elusive perfect suntan. For me personally the warmer weather will demand that you have at your disposal at least one good pair of boat shoes, one good pair sandals and one good pair of car shoes. When I am at home in my Northumbrian coastal village I will probably take my evening stroll in a pair of boat shoes, these casual classics are best made in America by companies like Sebago, Timberland or Sperry all of whom construct an excellent product, personally for me the Sperry Top Sider in Amaretto (as shown above) is without peer and is the preferred choice of the frozen northerner. I never wear sandals at home, only abroad; sandals in my opinion are a bit more of an acquired taste and are certainly not to everyone’s taste, they are a lot more popular on the continent than they are here in the north east. Pricing for sandals vary greatly, but please avoid the dreaded crocs at all times because being caught in a pair of these monstrosities is a crime against humanity. Ridiculous amounts of money are being for sandals with companies such as Bottega Veneta, Gucci and Brioni charging as much as £500 for a pair, you would have to be out your tiny mind to pay those kind of prices, so use a little bit of restraint and purchase a pair Menorcan sandals, these gems can be obtained very reasonably in this country, but if you happen to Spain you will not believe how cheap they are, so buy at least two or three pairs. Finally, a word on car shoes, when I go to Italy in the summer the Italian male both young and old go crazy for these shoes and as always when discussing Italians in the sartorial stakes they seem to pull off this look off with consummate ease. Car shoes have now also become hugely popular in Britain, depending on where you shop prices can range up from about £80 to £300, although at Car Shoe you can pay anywhere up to a £1100 for a pair made from crocodile leather, which are very beautiful, but these would be a very extravagant purchase and at the moment are completely out of reach for the frozen northerner, who is just not in the financial situation to justify buying such an item. The problem you have with car shoes is that the sole wears out very quickly and cannot be replaced, thus leaving you with the problem of how much do want to pay out on a yearly basis, Marks and Spencer do an excellent pair for about £80 whereas J Fitzpatrick’s car shoes come in at £145 while the best two manufacturers of car shoes, Tods and Car Shoe fall into that £300 and above category, in my view Car Shoe make the best product but the price is a little rich for my blood, therefore, I have settled for the J Fitzpatrick model which my opinion is extremely good value for money. So, with summer not too far away, please get out there and have good look around as to what is out there, because there is some really good summer footwear about and that’s before I even start to talk about the Rubinacci espadrilles, which will be discussed at a later date.
El Macca: Four Years at Real Madrid – By Steve McManaman and Sarah Edworthy
To be honest, I could never really get away with Steve McManaman, the sight of him posing around in that white suit before the 1996 F A cup final only reaffirmed what I already thought, here was a player who had the potential to be up there with the best, but was more interested in living the fast life with the spice boys, which best describes what Liverpool Football Club had become at that particular time. Under the leadership of Roy Evans Liverpool quickly became bit of a joke, with me seeing McManaman as one of the ring leaders in their sad decline, seeing that Liverpool were going nowhere quick, he took advantage of the Bosman ruling leaving Liverpool in a £15 million deal that saw him sign for Real Madrid, where he was to spend four years, before returning home to play out his career rather disappointingly at Manchester City under Kevin Keegan. After reading this book about his time at Real Madrid I have had to revaluate my opinion on him, at Real Madrid there would be no theatrics, he was going to have to get his finger out and try. McManaman arrived in the Spanish capital eager to play but it was obvious from the start that it was not going to be easy holding down regular a first team place. The team struggled badly through the first half of the season, which resulted in the sacking of the manager John Toshack, he was replaced by Vicente Del Bosque, under whom McManaman’s form gradually improved. The turning point of McManaman first season would come with their victory over Manchester United in the quarter final of the Champions League which would see McManaman become a permanent fixture in the team. This unexpected turnaround in events would now see McManaman go on to help Madrid win the competition where they would beat the favourites Valencia 3-0 in the final in Paris, with McManaman scoring the second goal. Now feeling in safe environment McManaman looked forward to his second season with optimism, thinking that his place was assured and everything was on track, big mistake. Madrid being the gold fish bowl that is, unbelievably changing Presidents bringing in Florentino Perez to replace Lorenzo Sanz and thus ushered in the age of the galactico. McManamam’s vivid account of his second season where he descends to a bit part player is probably the best part of the book as he tries to keep his sanity as the club try to offload him to anyone that will have him. It is therefore a testament to his strength of character that he refuses to budge and stays put, hoping that he will somehow get back the side, it takes him best part of the season to get a start, but backed by his teammates he eventually re-establishes himself as a key part of the squad that goes on to win La Liga. I have to say that by the time McManaman discusses his third season I am not so interested in what he is doing, as much as I am interested what antics the lunatic Perez is going to do next. Despite winning further titles over the next two year, the chance build a dynasty disappears with the sacking of Del Bosque and the release of the Madrid captain Hierro. McManaman recounts this disgraceful treatment of both Del Bosque and Hierro and regards it as a mistake that Real Madrid have never really recovered from. Perez doesn’t really care about the team anymore he just wants to become a global brand, which sees the highly overrated Beckham arrive at Madrid, turning the club into the full blown circus that it is today. McManaman had four years at Real Madrid which involved a lot of highs and lows, he achieved trophies and honours beyond his wildest dreams, and he was loved by fans and players alike and was far more influential player at the club than brand Beckham ever was. I hugely enjoyed reading this book although I still see McManaman as an underachiever, but to have those four years at Madrid at that particular time must have the ride of a lifetime.