FRIDAY'S BIG STORIES

Oh, David

We can safely assume that this is not how David Moyes imagined his part in West Ham's great European adventure would end. Perhaps he dreamed of lifting the trophy. Or perhaps, at the very least, he hoped to make a dignified exit after being beaten by a better team. A handshake, respectful. A thank you to the fans, grateful. An embrace with one or two players, emotional.
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Getting himself sent off for punting a football at a ball boy? Not a great look. Still, he has apologised, and at least one West Ham player will be feeling better about himself. Somehow, Aaron Cresswell's dismissal ended up being the second-daftest red card of the evening. That's management.
It will be a little unfair if these two dismissals — one hopelessly naive, the other impulsively silly — end up as the defining images of West Ham's run through the Europa League. When the sting of this exit fades, and the time comes to watch the season DVD, all the other stuff will come flooding back.
But at the same time, those reds do helpfully encapsulate the distance between these West Ham and Eintracht Frankfurt across both legs of the semi-final. A defence that never quite managed to get a grip on their opponent's movement, so ended up grabbing instead, and a coach who had gone to Germany looking for smart game management and found his team chasing shadows. First panic, then frustration.
The problem with fairytales is that other people are allowed to tell them as well. You think you're little Claret & Blue Riding Hood, and then suddenly it turns out you're the Big Bad Wolf, this other lot are the Woodcutter, and everybody's having a party to celebrate you getting yours. Eintracht Frankfurt are themselves in the grip of a glorious European adventure, have now taken both Barcelona and London, and they now bounce on to the final as the outstanding team of the competition.
Perhaps not, however, the outstanding fairytale. Whether you consider Rangers to be a very old team currently recovering from an existential crisis, or a very new team with a very large fanbase and a very large overdraft, this clattering run to the final has been ridiculous. And last night they beat RB Leipzig twice. They beat them right at the beginning, a one-two punch to take control of the tie. Then they beat them again at the end, as that control was threatening to slip away.

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So, good final? Good final. Whichever team wins will have surpassed expectations, and will appreciate the victory not as a backdoor into the Champions League — well, not just that — but as a big shiny pot, a flag planted in history, a party, a fairytale, a moment, a dream. Which is just as it should be.

Speaking Of Finals

It looks as if we'll have a very special night in the Europa Conference League final as well. Neither Feyenoord nor Roma have ever won this trophy before! One way or another, history will be made.
Feyenoord, for their part, are looking to complete the set. European Cup winners in 1970, UEFA Cup winners in 1974 and 2002: they are the first team to get a swing at this particular hat-trick. But it is one of the odd little quirks of football history that Roma, a pretty big club from a moderately important city, have never won a European trophy.
Well, except the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. And, yes, the Anglo-Italian Cup. Fine. We'll adjust. We'll say "have never won a European trophy for which the Warm-Up can immediately remember the format."
They've lost finals. Oh, they've lost finals. The European Cup in 1984, downed by Liverpool on penalties. That was in the Stadio Olimpico, which must have stung a bit. The UEFA Cup in 1991, a two-legged affair: lost the first leg 2-0, could only manage a 1-0 win in the second. That was to Inter. That must have stung as well.
So history beckons, one way or another. Either Roma break their slightly-footnoted European duck, or they become the first team to lose in the final of all three of European football's major competitions. We say "major competitions" in the full knowledge that the Europa Conference League may end up going the way of the Fairs Cup, the Anglo-Italian Cup, and all the other great lost trophies that seemed such a good idea at the time. Footballers dream of lifting trophies. Football administrators dream of creating them. History is not always kind.

Speaking Of Trophies

In a cruel and calculated snub to the Europa Leagues, last night was the annual dinner of the Football Writers' Association, in which this season's player of the year awards were handed out. What if Sam Kerr had fancied watching Rangers, eh? What if Mo Salah had wanted to support beloved former club Roma or beloved former manager José Mourinho?
Hard to argue with either Kerr or Salah as winners, of course. Football writers like goals, and football writers love narrative, and so players that score goals in squeaky-tight title races will always do well. Kerr leads the WSL scorers' chart by four, from Vivienne Miedama; Salah is three ahead of Son Heung-min. Names on the trophies…
… and here are the trophies. Er, why are they different?
Whether it's the most prestigious individual award in the country, or your local park team naming the Under-12s Throw-In Taker of the Year, the rules are the same. A base. A little plaque. A model of an anonymous, everyperson footballer. That's what a footballer's individual award looks like. Sort it out, FWA. Kerr deserves her little footballer.

IN OTHER NEWS

Obviously a good chunk of the Europa Conference League final's hype cycle is going to be devoted to Mourinho, because that stuff writes itself. But a fair amount will go to Tammy Abraham as well, who sent Roma to the final with his 25th goal of the season. Pretty good header, we're saying. Pretty good season, we're saying.

RETRO HAT TIP

Maybe it was early on, as Vinicius Jr. tussled with Kyle Walker. Maybe it was later, as Rodrygo trotted onto the field and Pep Guardiola's blood pressure rose another couple of notches. But at some point during Real Madrid's win over Manchester City, you may have thought to yourself, "What a nice collection of young Brazilian footballers Real Madrid are collecting. I wonder how that happened?"
We missed this at the time, but back in 2020 Jack Lang explained it all for the Athletic. It is, he wrote, a consequence of missing out on Neymar, and the hard patient work of a man called Jose Antonio Calafat de Souza, or "Juni".
"He does not speak with the press and his public profile is on a par with that of the Invisible Man," writes Lang. "He is the kind of person to whom adjectives like 'mysterious' readily stick and for good reason: he is Real’s head of international recruitment, yet his name is not even listed on the club’s website." It's Juni that talks to clubs, Juni that makes connections with families, and Juni, ultimately, that sells Real Madrid to the teenagers coming up through Brazilian football.

HAT TIP

And while we're on the subject of the Brazil-to-Europe talent pipeline, let's take in something a little more up to date. Here's the BBC's Gary Meenaghan looking at the path Richarlison took to get to Everton, a road that started at the aged of 17, from a "battered, red-brick bus station in the small Brazilian town of Nova Venecia."
"Disheartened by serial rejection," writes Meenaghan, "it was from here that he left home on an 11-hour, 600km trip to Belo Horizonte, with borrowed boots and no money for a return ticket … He considered the bus journey west - for a trial with second-tier side America-MG - his last big chance. He was determined not to give up." And just a few years later, he's in trouble with the FA for running around with a flare. Living the dream.

COMING UP

Inter will look to recapture the lead in Serie A by beating Empoli at home. Then Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday collide in the first leg of their League One play-off semi-final. Elsewhere we've got a face-off between two Thistles, Inverness Caledonian and Partick; we've got Levante vs. Real Sociedad; we've got Lille vs. Monaco; and we've got Genoa vs. Juventus. Something for everybody in there, Shirley.
Have a lovely weekend. Tom Adams will be here on Monday.
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