THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH
Jose Mourinho doesn't get too much wrong but, in my humble opinion, the Special One was a bit off-beam when he rated the Champions League to be of greater importance than the World Cup.
Sure, there is a lot of acclaim and plenty of dosh to be got from winning the Champions League and, having done it twice, Jose knows that only too well. But club loyalties divide nations, whereas the national team should always pull the people together behind one cause, which will become clear to the man when eventually he takes his career into that sphere.
On holiday when Inter Milan were taking care of Bayern Munich, I was conscious of a group of Italians (Roma fans) screaming abuse at the TV whenever Mourinho's face or that of any of his players flashed up on the screen, while in another area of the bar a gathering of Germans indulged in the old high-five routine after each of Diego Milito's goals and again at the final whistle. Over the next few weeks, however, the Germans won't be too fussy if it is a Bayern player who does the business in South Africa and the Italians will be equally happy to see an Inter man starring in Marcello Lippi's team…if he can find one who qualifies to play for Italy!!!
George Burley's ham-fisted undoing of so much of Walter's and Big Eck's good work has seen to it that yet again a major tournament will be a Scotland-free zone but, even without any partizan interest, I'm looking forward to wall-to-wall fitba for the next month or so. I'm just hoping we see some top quality games worthy of star billing and that the 2010 World Cup will go down in history as a tournament to remember.
This has to be the most open World Cup ever. England, Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Portugal, Holland, Brazil, Argentina and maybe even an African nation or two can all claim to be potential winners. The dividing line between success and failure will be wafer-thin. A flash of magic, a stupid mistake, a controversial refereeing decision or just a bit of luck, good or bad, could tip the balance one way or another, all of which should add to the excitement.
There are some intriguing games in the opening group stage. Uruguay v France, England v USA, Holland v Denmark, Ivory Coast v Portugal, Ghana v Germany, Slovakia v Italy, Brazil v Portugal, Chile v Spain. Each one is hard to call but there are sure to be some upsets along the way, with the possibility of one of the African nations emerging as serious contenders.
Much attention will focus on how South Africa copes with staging the event. No matter how much they deny it, the South Africans have serious law and order problems and the presence of around half a million visiting fans, all with a shekel or two in their hip pocket, will bring plenty of unsavoury characters out of the townships intent on some no-nonsense redistribution of wealth. The world's media will be watching and it will be worthwhile monitoring how the hosts try to cover-up any explosion of crime.
Hey, it wouldn't surprise me if a certain discredited journalist has already offered his services to put the right 'spin' on any bad news. Any increase in mugging or car-jacking could be blamed on holidaying Rangers supporters or expatriate Bears. After all, the football authorities and the media both at home and abroad have previous convictions for accepting his twisted rants as gospel. His dramatic drop down journalism's pecking order means he will be spending the summer at home - lobbying for his good pal Lenny to get 'the gig' - instead of swaning off to Joburg on a freebie, and spite will make him a very dangerous hack.
He will be seething at missing out on what promises to be a very colourful spectacle. This festival of football will help get me through a worrying summer, diverting attention away from the uncertainties surrounding the Rangers' future and maybe rekindling my enthusiasm for the beautiful game.
In many ways Scotland's absence is a good thing. I can watch the games with an open mind, able to enjoy it all without the nerves and frustrations which tend the sully these occasions when our team is involved. Hopefully, Craig Levein will pay close attention to make sure we have greater interest in future competitions.
Scotland have been on the outside looking in far too often in recent years. Whenever the Champions League roadshow rolls into our place, there is a buzz in the air for that few days and, when it moves on, the void is tangible. Can you imagine what the atmosphere will be like throughout the Rainbow Nation over this next month or so? So while I appreciate the opportunity to watch it all with my neutral hat on, I will be just a tad jealous of those I see having a ball in South Africa. Remembering this is winter in the southern hemisphere, I just hope they all remember to pack their duffel coats.
Meanwhile, I'll be setting up the wallchart, stocking up the fridge and recording every kick of the ball to wallow the occasion. Lets hope it lives up to expectations.
Tomorrow: THE AFRICAN DREAM. LBB puts the African challenge under the microscope.