How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 12

By April, Barcelona had won La Liga by a long way, remaining undefeated for nearly thirty games. They also won their way through to the Champions League final where they would be up against familiar opponents to Bradley in Manchester United who had surprised the experts with an impressive run in the competition beating the likes of AC Milan, Bayern Munich and Arsenal along the way.

Their win against Arsenal in the semi-final dubbed ‘The Battle of Britain’ had been a close game with United edging it 2-1 on aggregate which had led to supporters protesting outside the Emirates against the board who had sanctioned selling Bradley to Barcelona which had ultimately cost them continuing European glory, even though Silvio had led them to the English Premier League title and the FA Cup where they at last buried their demons by beating West Ham 2-0.

Champions League was the big prize and eclipsed all else, so when they fell at the final hurdle, the fans were unhappy. The previous Chairman who had brokered the deal had fled the country not long after and was enjoying his retirement in the Caribbean, although that didn’t stop him having his car smashed up and the windows of his beachside villa having rocks thrown at them. He may have become very rich on the back of his deal, but he couldn’t buy popularity and Arsenal fans were global, even on the tiny island where he had made his home.

Jessie’s dad Barry was one of those protesting against the board on that evening, incensed that his future son-in-law had been sold on for thirty pieces of silver (€150million) but secretly pleased as he was enjoying the odd weekend in Spain which would have never happened if Bradley had been allowed to stay at the Emirates.

He was actually looking forward to watching the Champions League final in Berlin as Bradley had managed to get him and Jessie tickets for the game. He was to fly to Barcelona first and stay with Bradley and Jessie a couple of nights before the game then they would travel together to Berlin where Bradley had booked a hotel room close to where the team were staying. It would give them a chance to catch up and explore much of what Berlin had to offer.

There was one game left to play before the final, and that was the league game against Espanyol who were their local rivals being based in Barcelona. It was always a spiky affair and Bradley was warned beforehand that he could come in for some rough treatment so the manager was going to rest him for it. Bradley didn’t mind too much, the league was won and he had done his bit by contributing twenty-five goals and assisted many more for his team mates. If the Champions League final was to be his last game of the season then that would suit him fine. He was beginning to get that end of season tiredness creeping in and had just enough in the tank to help them win the cup.

A lot of the other wives and girlfriends of the players were staying at the same hotel as Jessie and her dad and as she knew a few of them Jessie introduced them to Barry who was over the moon being surrounded by all these glamorous model types who were loving his stories about the fares he had met doing his day job. The girls knew all about the iconic black cabs in London and their drivers so it was nice to meet a real one, especially one whose daughter was engaged to one of the most famous players at the club.

For the most part, the other girls all liked Jessie; she was normal and not a model or a famous actress. No, she was just Jessie from London and very grounded for one so young. Their lives were very superficial at times; they were expected to be arm candy for their famous husbands at film premieres, awards nights and club functions, which made them look like bimbos when actually, some of them had degrees and were probably more intelligent than their footballing husbands.

Still, that was part and parcel of being a footballers’ wife and it was worth suffering for the time being. It wasn’t a bad life at the end of the day. The odd photo shoot and interview for a glossy magazine, trips around the world to follow their husbands and a millionaire lifestyle were small prices to pay. They felt protective of Jessie as she wasn’t like them. She shunned the limelight as much as she could and they respected the fact that she came from a working class background and still maintained those ethics that she was brought up with. Now they had met her dad, they could see why. They had a natural happiness and contentment that the other wives could only dream of.

Jessie didn’t see much of Bradley apart from a brief cup of tea at his hotel before the team set off for the stadium. Unlike most of the other girls, Jessie liked football and understood how it worked. Being an Arsenal supporter added extra spice to this final as it was against one of their fiercest rivals in Manchester United. She urged Bradley to kill the opposition, jokingly of course, but she was hoping to celebrate come the final whistle.

The teams emerged from the players’ tunnel into the usual wall of noise surrounding the pitch. Bradley knew a couple of the Manchester United team from his time at Arsenal and after swapping handshakes, the rivalry began.

The first twenty minutes produced no chances at all; both teams settling in and not making a move, rather like a game of poker. Who would show their hand first?

It wasn’t until the fortieth minute that something exciting happened. United got the ball into the Barcelona box which took a slight deflection, catching the keeper off balance, only to see the ball rattle against the post and out for a corner. Half time saw them go in at 0-0 and so far, not an impressive game.

The Barcelona manager was a shrewd tactician and gave Bradley instructions that would change the game if he played them as asked. When the referee signalled the start of the second half, he could see the United players gaining in confidence. The media had expected Barcelona to dominate the game from start to finish so the fact that it was still goalless gave them encouragement. That couldn’t last, so Barcelona stepped up another gear.

Oscar Fuentes’ instructions worked a treat. He told Bradley to exploit their left back who was struggling with a slight injury, so he took him on, left him sitting on the turf and dribbled his way into the box to unleash a well-placed shot into the top corner. 1-0 Barcelona!!

It was at this point that United crumbled. The hapless left back was taken off for a promising youngster who had clearly got big match nerves and succeeded in getting skinned every time Bradley came near him. Even when United pushed two more defenders close to him to mark him out of the game, this just left gaps in defence that were being ruthlessly exploited by Barcelona’s attacking force who went on to score four more goals making it an easy 5-0 victory for Barcelona.

Bradley loved that moment when the captain raises the trophy high above his head having experienced it a few times now in his young career. That, and the lap of victory where he always looked out for Jessie so he could blow her a kiss.

Back at the hotel sometime later, Oscar Fuentes let the players relax and celebrate in the privacy of one of the function rooms where a huge spread had been laid on and copious amounts of Champagne, despite the fact that most of the players didn’t drink. However, as it was the last game of the season, a few of them decided to unwind with a glass or two. They had no more games now until the Euros coming up in a couple of weeks, so those that were taking part wouldn’t be going mad with the booze as they would be coming back to Germany soon and needed to keep fit.

Looking back, it had been a great season. Best season ever, in fact as Barcelona had won all four trophies and re-established themselves as the best team in Europe. Bradley reflected on this achievement on the flight back to Barcelona and smiled. He had a week in his Mijas villa to look forward to with Jessie before he headed back to Scotland for pre-tournament training. It would be good to see his mum again and see how she had settled in with her new apartment.

Barry had to fly back to Stansted from Berlin so he kissed Jessie and her girls goodbye at the airport and promised to see her again soon. All the wives and girlfriends were on the same chartered flight back and it put a huge smile on Barry’s face when they all blow kisses and waved at him as he left. Other passengers were bemused. Who was this short, fat, balding bloke with the gorgeous fan club?

Jessie actually got back before Bradley and had started packing already.

‘Well done, Bradley! You were great’ she greeted him with a kiss as he showed her his medal.

‘Wasn’t a great game, but another medal for the spare room, I suppose.’ He laughed.

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