A Big Day For East Village Soccer Fans

NevSmith 1Grace Maalouf Tomorrow’s UEFA Champion’s League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United is certain to intensify the rivalries among the East Village’s European soccer fans. Above, Manchester United fans take in a match at Nevada Smith’s earlier this year. Below: Barcelona memorabilia at Nevada’s.
Neveda Smith'sKenan Christiansen

Saturday will be a big day in the East Village, which, as you may have noticed, has a lot of Europeans living in it, visiting it, and — East Village merchants say Thank You! — spending a lot of much-needed money in it.

Tomorrow afternoon, however, many of those Europeans will be passionately engaged in watching the UEFA Champion’s League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United, which starts at 2:45 p.m. and is being shown live on Fox. (Not Fox’s soccer channel, but its main channel — i.e., the one that shows “American Idol.”) However, expect many of them to be watching in bars and restaurants around the East Village and Lower East Side, including Nevada Smith’s, The Central Bar, etc. As will be plenty of other New Yorkers from around the world, including a healthy dose of native New Yorkers.

Now for the match itself. What have we got?

Champions of Spain’s La Liga for the third season in a row, favorites to win the UEFA Champions League for the second time in three years, Barcelona is being touted as a soccer team for the ages. If the club hoists the Champions League trophy at London’s Wembley Stadium tomorrow, and wins in style, there is unlikely to be much argument about its status. It will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest sides of all time.

Neveda Smith'sKenan Christiansen George Fajardo, a bartender at Nevada Smith’s, where huge crowds are expected for tomorrow’s match.

As for Manchester United, they are the richest club team in the world, whose best player, Christiano Ronaldo, unfortunately now plays for Real Madrid. (However, even when Man U had Ronaldo and played Barcelona in the Champions League Final in 2009, they still lost 2-0.) Nonetheless, the current squad does have the great Wayne Rooney (check out this goal), a deeper bench than Barcelona, and will effectively be playing at home. Even more effectively, the average British soccer fan makes at least 10 times as much noise as his oddly quiescent Spanish counterpart, and there should be a lot more of them in the stadium. It is also said that the grass at Wembley plays “slow,” which if true will benefit Man U and potentially frustrate Barcelona’s intricate, high-speed passing game, in which they try to turn a soccer ball into the equivalent of an oversized ice-hockey puck.

Despite those advantages, Man U do have a few problems. There’s this guy who plays for Barcelona called Lionel Messi (check out this goal scored against Real Madrid in the competition’s semi-final, while also bearing in mind that by his standards it was no big deal). Then there’s the fact that the players voted the world’s top three in the 2011 Ballon d’Or were:

  1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
  2. Xavi (Barcelona)
  3. Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)

Mind you, Manchester United fans would argue that if there were a Ballon d’Or for cheats, play-actors, divers, and cry-babies, the world’s top three footballing thespians would be:

  1. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
  2. Dani Alves (Barcelona)
  3. Pedro (Barcelona)
Neveda Smith's
CentralKenan Christiansen Two staples for local soccer fans: The match list (above) and the beer list at Nevada’s.

In other words, Barcelona have all bases covered.

Despite Messi’s brilliance, a lot of people thought Xavi should have been named the best footballer of 2010. In the case of Andres Iniesta, perhaps the jurors felt that scoring the winning goal for Spain in last year’s World Cup Final against Holland was sufficient reward. These three players, a.k.a. the “Xavi-Messi-Iniesta problem,” like no others in the world (changing sports and eras, Jordan-Pippen-Rodman would be an apt comparison), are daunting individually and even more so as a unit. There is not a team that faces this midfield trio without a fear of being made to look tactically unsophisticated, individually unskilled, and collectively unpolished. Even with their deep talent and pockets, that includes Manchester United.

However, this is a final, it’s sudden death, and anything can happen. The one thing you can be certain of is that, win or lose, Barcelona will have the majority of possession. Once its players get the ball, they not only keep it for long periods, they mesmerize opponents with a relentless barrage of one-touch passes, flicks, lobs, dribbles, back-heels, one-two’s, and shots.

And then, usually, they score. And win.

But if at around 5 p.m. you see a lot of extremely drunk people wearing red shirts with numbers and names like “Scholes,” “Ferdinand,” “Rooney,” and “Giggs” on them screaming and yelling and running down the famously tranquil streets of the East Village, you can assume Manchester United has pulled off an historic upset. On the other hand, a lot of drunk people screaming and running around could also mean Manchester United lost. You have to gauge these things carefully, and citizens unfamiliar with soccer’s post-game rituals should remain alert at all times.

It will also be noisy if Barcelona win, but probably less so, and in a more “Continental” or “globish” style, featuring much cigarette-smoking, philosophizing about the “esthetics” of the game, and the presence of sophisticated women. Chances are you will also hear the name “Messi” a lot.