20 Days to Go : UCL Madrid

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Switch on the Xbox or PlayStation, start up the football game;

Select Team A : Internazionale

then Select Team B : Bayern Munich

Stadium Selection : Old Trafford / Santiago Bernabeu Stadium / Stade de France

– choose (b) – Santiago Bernabeu Stadium

>> PLAY!

But this game is for real, but there is no Real playing. Favorites at the start of the tournament, the final in their home stadium, it would have been a dream debut for Cristiano Ronaldo, but his team failed to qualify.

Its the 2010 UEFA Champions League Final. Inter v Bayern.

As the Turks look at Hamit Altintop, the French unable to see Ribery due to suspension, with no Barca and no Messi the Argentinians will be focussing on Esteban Cambiasso and the Dutch will be watching Wesley Sneijder.

This game is for everyone. Players from Africa, Europe and South America are in abundance. And an English referee in Howard Webb.

Its a dream final for the organisers of the UEFA Champions League, a new Saturday night spot on TV for the European audience and advertisers around the world cashing in.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

After leaving the grey miserable skies of London, I wonder what next years final will have to offer. I have not seen a cloud yet in Madrid. Bar and restaurants are open until early morning. I fear the worst for London.

Friendly people, friendly stewards and friendly officials. No crazy health and safety attitudes and a great cultural approach to making everyone feel welcome. Hot temperatures mean trips to supermarkets to stock up on orange juice and water. Eyes wide open at the cheap prices which again question rip-off Britain.

More people watch the UEFA Champions League than they do the Superbowl. It should be a great game. Both clubs have just won their respective domestic leagues and are now gunning for glory on the European stage.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

The winners will not only play Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, but they will also be Europe’s representative in the FIFA World Club Championships – the best tournament in the world… but not if you are British as the media are only bothered about the tournament should an English team qualify and when they do, question their involvement claiming the domestic league is more important, however, in other cultures, the big final of the South American champions and the European champions IS a close second to the FIFA World Cup Final.

This is my 12th final, and it is fitting that someone special to me is one of the coaches – not THE special one, but Louis Van Gaal. Louis was manager of Ajax when they became victorious in Europe once more defeating Juventus in Rome in 1996.

I had the great job of being with Ajax for almost a week in Tokyo where I first began my love affair with Nippon and was magnetised by Van Gaal.

Normally for photographers, training sessions are mundane and boring. I used to feel sorry for the likes of Michael Owen when he was at Liverpool as one would assume playing for your country would be a special affair. I would personally guess not for Owen as he had to endue the same boring training routine laid out by Sammy Lee who also happened to coach the England squad at the time.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Van Gaal however was an inspiration. I have never since been to captivated by a coach. His enthusiasm and coaching was incredible. During that week in Tokyo, so many times, I simply wanted to throw my cameras down and play for Van Gaal.

As stated, he is up against a very special manager – Jose Mourinho. With rumours of his arrival at Real Madrid will be announced after the final, for the first time in my experience one of the competing teams not training on the pitch and instead on this occasion, Inter Milan have their media training session inside the Real Madrid training camp. Mourinho always has to be different.

Madrid is awash of UEFA Champions League signage. One of my old jobs was to document the host city and record all the banners, posters and signage. Tunnels in Metro stations are covered in Nike advertisements.

I can not lose old habits and before I know it, I have shot over 1GB of pictures on my first evening here in Madrid. Some sports photographers may think these images are meaningless but the UEFA Champions League is not only a sporting event, it is a news event too and I hope some of my pictures appear in the news pages of some newspapers both at home and abroad.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

With those spreading seemingly unnecessary fear stories about crime in South Africa, I wonder how many journalists will discuss the pickpocketing culture on the Madrid Metro?
When Liverpool travelled to Madrid for the semi-final first leg Europa game v Atletico, one colleague had his passport stolen whilst travelling on an escalator. I thought it was an unfortunate incident.
Already, three of us have had people with jackets over their arm get very close whilst travelling on the Metro and attempted to steal from our pockets. Yesterday evening a German magazine writer had his bag containing laptop and passport taken right under his nose whilst he was dining at an outside restaurant.
I wonder if Van Gaal will steal the title of The Special One from Mourinho tomorrow?
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2 responses to “20 Days to Go : UCL Madrid

  1. BREAKING NEWS! 1755h Make that now 5 attempts on photographers by pick pockets in Madrid!

  2. Jonathan Moscrop

    “friendly stewards and friendly officials. No crazy health and safety attitudes and a great cultural approach to making everyone feel welcome.”

    Still of the same opinion after the ninety minutes???

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