Old money meets new money in a final under the most peculiar of circumstances
While the public stance from the Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain players is that they are now used to the circumstances, some of those who have played in a Champions League final before have been privately discussing the differences.
It doesn’t feel like this fixture should.
There is a distinctive and precious atmosphere to a city on the weekend it hosts a Champions League final. It feels the centre of the world, all the more so because of the tens of thousands supporters that have congregated in hope. There’s a charge to the air. There’s a feeling of life.
This weekend, Uefa still have their giant European Cup stood in the centre of Rossio Square, but there are only ever around 20 people around it. It is… poignant.
The host city would normally attract a who’s who of elite football, all the best hotels fully occupied, all the best restaurants impossible to get reservations in. On Thursday night, Nasser Al-Khelaifi and the rest of the PSG contingent could freely go to the JNcQUOI Asia restaurant on Libertade to watch the Bayern semi-final, nobody to even look at them coming out.
European football’s marquee match offers marked reminders of just how alien this whole situation remains. Future footage of this final will be a testament to that. Even in their bio-secure hotels, the players can’t help notice the difference, the lack of charge. The final could almost be anywhere.
That sense of dislocation is oddly appropriate, because this is a landmark final in another sense. It represents the culmination of an era, and not just for PSG. It is where football has been going for some time, attracting greater and greater interest from more powerful spheres.
So, this season, European football’s marquee match has been almost wholly appropriated by Qatar. Bayern are one of the football clubs the country has its strongest commercial relationship with. PSG are an outright state political project.
The fact the latter have finally made a Champions League final is thereby a historic landmark, but not one the game should be proud of. Even worse is the knowledge – backed up by many sources – that Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia are looking on at this with envy.
It is worthy of reflection that club football’s most prestigious and sanctified match can be seen as a political weapon in an economic cold war in the gulf. This match has dimensions way beyond Franco-German friendship.
As incongruous as it is to shift from that to football, the political context greatly influences what the teams – and the game – will actually look like.
This match is the latest in a series of Champions League finals between two super clubs, but perhaps the first between old money and new money. Even Chelsea-Bayern in 2012 took place as that era was starting to form, and felt a lower level to this. Continue reading