Sunday in Lisbon French side Paris Saint Germaine, led by GOATs-in-the-making Brazilian Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, and German standard-bearers Bayern Munich, led by Manuel Neuer and Polish Robert Lewandoski, will meet in a UEFA Champions League final with a known main plot but many hidden subplots, and a potential portal to the future of global futebol.
Upfront, you have a Bayern juggernaut that has won nearly 30 games in a row, outscored the likes of Tottenham 10-3, Chelsea 7-1, Barcelona 8-2, and defeated Lyon 3-0 while playing in second gear. Opposing the German champions are PSG who play in a weaker league, one that chose to close down while Bayern was building up to and preening for this competition. Furthermore, PSG’s key players will only be back on the same starting line-up, for the final, following weeks of multiple injuries. Many who will start for the French on Sunday will not be at 100%.
On paper, this is one of the most lopsided finals in the competition’s history. Bayern should win hands down and do so in an embarrassing fashion over a team that is not at Barcelona’s level and is lucky to be in the finals. What does that leave us with?
Potential major-plot outcomes
First, let’s postulate a fair ref officiating and a big Bayern victory. Ho-hum!
Second, let’s forecast that same fair ref but in a tougher match with Bayern finally becoming human and PSG playing to its true potential. Then we have a Bayern victory by a smaller margin and PSG can save face—both teams moving confidently into a less Covid-19-dominated 2020-2021 season.
Third, let’s fantasize that same fair ref but in a different match. What if Neymar and Kylian Mbappe come out flying and score a couple of early goals and then PSG follows up with a timely momentum busting score—right after Bayern wake up and begin putting balls in the net for a 2-2 at the 75th—from either an Angel di Maria or a Mauro Icardi? Now we have an upset of epic proportions.
The first two scenarios are the expected and unexpected but potential possibilities and they affect the outcome of the final and who holds the trophy on Sunday. For me, it feels like it is time for that third option to take center stage, for PSG to breakthrough. The French side cannot do so in a more spectacular fashion than by beating their betters on Sunday. If they do, they will augur in a number of unintended, unexpected, but momentous changes.
Now come the subplots.
This final is the portal into a new era of international football.
We follow this final with a football calendar that reads—2020-21 season and UEFA Champions League, followed by summer 2021: Euro, Gold Cup, and Copa America; then the 2021-22 season and UEFA Champions League, with the season interrupted by the winter 2022 World Cup in Qatar. This is then followed by the completion of the domestic and continental seasons.
If you are Neymar, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Manuel Neuer, or Cristiano Ronaldo, the soccer gods have compressed half-a-career or a one-of-career-cap for you into 28 months. If anyone of these stars had back-to-back perfect seasons, they would win their expected domestic silverware, plus two Champions League trophies and two national-team competitions, their continental one and the global trophy.
Who will argue or back down about their chosen GOATS (Lio or CR7) if one of them pulls this off? What if Neymar or Mbappe wrest the mantle in style while their elders are still wearing their crowns? Who would not see the 2018 World Cup German debacle as a true aberration if Neuer’s sides pull off the major haul?
If Neuer and company clobber Neymar-Mbappe and company the old guard will assert itself over the new and make the youngsters’ climb all the steeper. If, on the other hand, the younger duo pull off the upset, one will doubtless be the shoo-in for the next FIFA Best -Ballon d’Or-whatever trophy. From that moment on it will be the old guard playing catch-up.
How about all those painful memories?
GOAT-in-waiting Brazilian Neymar missed the 2014 World Cup massacre in Belo Horizonte which Thomas Muller alluded to when beating Barca recently—will it be Ney’s turn to suffer or will he exact revenge from these German foes?
Speaking of Ney, he’s been trolled by all of Western Civilization over the past six years, never once did a major media piece expound about the multiple fouls he constantly endured *and in particular during the 2018 World Cup), or since, spoken at length about the fact that he has been injured before or during every major professional tournament in those years. What if it turns out these next 28 months are his, will those die-hard Neymar-haters have the dignity to give him his due?
Soon, Lio Messi will topple Barca President Josep Bartomeu as he did Director of Football Eric Abidal. Lio will remain at Barca and rebuild the franchise under Ronald Koeman, and his successor, and attempt to do a reboot at the Argentine national team, particularly during the home-turf Copa America 2021. Will he erase the painful memories of that 8-2 against Bayern Munich? Or his prior Copa America exits (Venezuela 2007, Argentina 2011, Chile 2015, USA 2016), or the painful World Cup memories (Germany 2006, South Africa 2010, Brazil 2014, Russia 2018). If he has a perfect 28 months, rebuilding club and national team and bringing glory to both, who will argue against him as the GOAT?
And how about the crossroads of Young Turks and Older Stars?
Kylian Mbappe has won domestic silverware with PSG and a World Cup with the French national team if he wins this UEFA Champions League final and has a perfect 28 months at home and abroad, who will challenge his claim to the top player on the planet honors? Will he be the next star we start talking about when GOAT discussions arise in the future?
One of many over-performing Bayern stars is 25-year-old Serge Gnabry, he of the incredible opening goal against Lyon, of the nine goals in nine games in this Champions League—of the 10 goals in 11 German National Team appearances—will this be his time to showcase the true potential of his future?
CR7 had a great couple of years at Juventus and has won enough domestic and continental club silverware at four clubs to last several players’ lifetimes. His Champions League performances are already legendary. His 2018 World Cup performance against Spain will go down as one of the great match stories of cup history. His 2016 Euro medal would look great alongside another such, and a World Cup would be the cherry he’s been missing. Another good 28 months before retirement and his GOAT claim, for many, will only be harder to argue against.
In short, on a day when Sevilla defeated International of Milan 3-2 to win their sixth Europa League trophy, we are at the cusp of a potential and unexpected sea change in global futbol the likes of which only the current planetary circumstances could bring forth. What a chance to seize for each team and player who sees and pursues this unique opportunity.
Tune in to the UEFA Champions League finals for a great match-up, or not, but certainly, for an opportunity to step through the portal they will provide to what lies ahead for our sport.