25 April ~ No, you haven't misread the title. A spellchecker has not deleted the prefix "anti". For me, Chelsea's victory over Barcelona in last night's Champions League semi-final was a victory for football. I am not making the case that Chelsea are a better team than Barcelona. The facts do not lie. This Barcelona team will rightly go down in history as one of the greats, if not the greatest, with players that will rival any of the sport's legends. However, football is a sport. It's not art. There are no points for artistic impression, flare or invention. It is 11 against 11 with one ball and two goals.
As Barcelona's domestic and European dominance has developed over the past few years, teams have increasingly attempted to employ tactics that Chelsea's former manager, José Mourinho, once described as "parking the bus". Teams once tried to go head to head with Barcelona's tiki-taka machine and were torn apart, often embarrassingly. They have now made conscious tactical choices to stifle, disrupt, block and get off what Alex Ferguson called the Barcelona passing "merry-go-round".
These defensive tactics have been called "anti-football", "negative" and other suitably demeaning descriptions. After any of their defeats, we were told that Barcelona had "deserved to win" and that their rare losses were "travesties" that were "harmful for the game". What is it about defending that is so offensive? Should the greatest collection of players be awarded the victory for having the most skill? No.
When Muhammed Ali fought George Foreman in Zaire he allowed himself to be pummelled non-stop for the first five rounds. Ali had seen Foreman's greatest strength and used it against him. Instead of standing toe to toe with a man who was in the form of his life and lauded as one of the heaviest punchers in the business, Ali let Foreman wear himself out, before coming off the ropes to blow his opponent away.
According to Foreman, he slammed Ali with a thundering body blow near the end of the fight and Ali whispered to him: "Is that all you got, George?" to which Foreman thought "Yep, that's about it." After that, Ali began to dominate Foreman.
Nearly 40 years on how do people recall that fight? Is it known as the death of a once noble sport, the antithesis of a "good fight". Is it referred to as "anti-boxing"? Of course not. It is celebrated as the perfect fight. Ali had assessed the threat posed to him, conjured a gameplan and executed it to perfection.
For those of us who believe there is more to football than tiki-taka, the problem has been the lack of a result on the scale of the Rumble in the Jungle. The success of the Greek national team in Euro 2004, based upon organised hard graft, was at the time such an isolated incident that it was seen as a one-off result rather than a masterclass of tactical planning and concentration.
A victory for football arrived last night in the shape of a rejuvenated Chelsea. The Chelsea players were given specific duties that would need to be employed for every second of the 180 minutes of this tie. Even the slightest lapse in concentration would result in punishment. Herein lies the beauty of what Chelsea achieved.
As if the task of holding the greatest team on earth at bay for three hours was not enough on its own, Chelsea remained focused and disciplined when reduced to ten men and without either of their starting centre-backs. Didier Drogba filled in at left wing-back; Ashley Cole became their chief organiser; Ramires was everywhere; and Frank Lampard and Raul Meireles tracked and disrupted the Barcelona midfield. It was a thing of beauty.
As Fernando Torres replaced Drogba I found myself mesmerised not by Barcelona's trickery or neat build-up play but by Torres' failure to complete his defensive duties. Dani Alves was given a chance when Torres slotted in at left wing-back. A few minutes after the substitution, he ghosted in, around the Spaniard, and crossed for Messi, who scored. I was screaming in frustration, not because Barcelona's great move had been ruled out by the linesman, but because Chelsea's remarkable stoicism, resolve and focus were being threatened by one man's inability to adapt his game.
Sport is not art. Ugly, beautiful and anything in between deserve equal respect and admiration when teams give it their all. That is why football can be enjoyed in equal measure from the perfect pitches of European competition to the sodden fields around the world where amateur clubs and Sunday league team play. I Bloody Love Football