Early Doors

Unsung hero? How about Messi?

Early Doors

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Funny things happen when you have a full week to preview the Champions League final.

We started out with a fairly simple situation - an exceptional Barcelona team were  clear favourites against a good but not outstanding Manchester United side.

But as the week progressed, the search for a compelling story caused things to shift.

Maybe United could do it. Maybe they could silence the doubters once and for all. Maybe an unsung hero would emerge, shackling Leo Messi and propelling Sir Alex Ferguson. Maybe it would be Park Ji-Sung.

The Korean is an apt choice, since he embodies the spirit of this United team - blessed with limited talent but a remarkable work ethic, and with a knack of turning it on in big games.

He is a perfect name for people who think they know about football to trot out - wilfully a little bit obscure, but famous enough and with a good enough track record not to sound totally ridiculous.

Now, all sorts of people are saying Park is the key man.

The frog-juice-quaffing Asian Beckham was singled out ahead of Rooney, Giggs, Vidic and Hernandez by the free paper ED picked up this morning, and there is no end of coverage elsewhere.

Rather lazily, this is the same storyline trotted out when the sides last met in the 2009 final.

Park was surprisingly left out when United beat Chelsea in Moscow, and the following year got his chance at redemption, with Darren Fletcher suspended - tasked with harrying Barca to within an inch of their life.

How did it go? He missed an early chance, and United were comprehensively outplayed.

So forgive ED if it struggles to believe Park is the key to the Champions League final.

If we're looking for unsung heroes, how about this one - Messi.

The man is one goal away from completing a century within two seasons.

Read that again.

Nobody scores 50 goals a season, and they certainly don't do it twice - and he doesn't even play as an out-and-out striker.

He is the best player in the world by miles, possibly the best ever, and he has to put up with people talking about Park Ji-Sung.

It is the classic English disease of talking up our plucky underdogs to a point where we demand the improbable, then feel betrayed when they fail to meet our crazily inflated expectations.

Remember when, for a few heady days last summer, we all thought England could beat Germany? No, ED neither - that entire episode has been expunged from its (limited) memory banks.

But it is not just an English trait. Eurosport's continent-wide network was asked to predict the outcome, and most of them went for United.

One office that will remain nameless (OK, it was Germany) said Barcelona were strong favourites and one of the best teams in history, while United were not as good as previous years - then predicted a 1-0 win for United.

Why try to be clever? If Barcelona are favourites, predict them to win. United have a chance, but Barcelona have a bigger one.

Predicting a United win is like backing yourself to roll a one or a two on a dice - you might get lucky, but you'd be better off playing the odds.

People love to construct formulas detailing how to beat Barcelona - neatly ignoring that if there were a guaranteed way to beat them, they might have lost more than three league games in the last two years.

It might not be much of a story, but Barcelona will probably win because they are a better side.

And the key players are the best ones on either side, the ones everyone knows about - namely Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Rooney, Vidic and Giggs. Happy now?

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Proof that Jack Wilshere is not a proper Arsenal player. His tip for beating Barcelona: "The thing with Barca is three passes - bang, bang, bang - and they're through. So you have to get in their faces. You have to stop the players like Xavi, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta who can just kill you. But if you can get in their faces they ease off in the second half and you really have to go for them. United have a better chance than we had. They have the likes of Ji-Sung Park and Antonio Valencia who are runners and can stop players. United should use just Wayne Rooney (on his own up front) with Valencia and Park helping out behind them."

DEVELOPMENT OF THE DAY: Joey Barton is on Twitter! That's Joey Barton. On Twitter. Hours it took him before his first barney with Piers Morgan (entirely Morgan's fault, it hardly needs to be said): Two.

Get following before somebody sees sense and pulls him out of there.

FOREIGN VIEW: Days after mocking the FA for abstaining in the FIFA presidential election, Sepp Blatter risks being dragged into the corruption scandal that has engulfed his rival Mohamed Bin Hammam.

After FIFA exco member Chuck Blazer levelled accusations at Bin Hammam and Jack Warner, the Qatari demanded that Sepp Blatter be included in any investigation.

"The timing of the accusations so close to the election of FIFA president on June 1, 2011 suggests that they are part of a plan to damage Mr Bin Hammam and force him to withdraw as a candidate for the FIFA presidency," said a statement on Bin Hammam's website.

"The accusations also contain statements according to which Mr Blatter... was informed of, but did not oppose, payments allegedly made to members of the Caribbean Football Union.

"Mr Bin Hammam has therefore requested that the investigation by the ethics committee be extended to include Mr Blatter himself."

Blatter denied this in a column for the Inside World Football website.

"To now assume that the present ordeal of my opponent were to fill me with some sort of perverse satisfaction or that this entire matter was somehow masterminded by me is ludicrous and completely reprehensible," he said.

Everybody denies all wrongdoing, and at this moment the FIFA elections are going ahead. It's going to get pretty ugly.

COMING UP: Just so much Champions League preview stuff you won't believe it.  We've got a clutch of exclusive video interviews with managers giving their views, Jim White and head-to-head ratings, plus the much-derided European verdict and no end of other fodder.

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