Live: 2037/38 Champions League Final

“Welcome one and all to the Nuevo Mestalla in Valencia! I’m your host Jamie Carragher, here with Gary Neville! We’re picking fruit right off the trees, and I can’t imagine a place I’d rather be!”

[Gary grunts discontentedly, as the camera pulls back to show him standing in a studio next to Jamie with a disgruntled look on his face, a large-screen television behind them. The walls of the studio appear to be padded. After the “incident” last year, it has been decided that Gary should not have direct access to the pitch. You notice that while Gary is wearing a finely-tailored suit, the pants are belted around his head, with Gary’s nether regions strategically blurred. Jamie continues on, in a mocking tone.]

“Oh, come on, Gary! You know you love it here in Valencia. You must have many fond memories of your stint here as manager…”

[Gary just stares into the camera, his right eye twitching. The lack of a reaction from Gary causes Jamie to realize that he may be pushing things a bit too far. Gary is nothing if not deadly serious about ‘banter.’ Jamie proceeds cautiously, turning his focus to the match.]

“A big night, the biggest of nights, Gar-bear. We’ve got Partizan, the Serbian champions, who have cut through the knockout rounds like Phil cutting into a lobster — relentless, unstoppable, with debris and loose bits flying everywhere. Led by their enigmatic Danish-Dutch manager, Nicolaj Bur, the Crno-beli have to be the favorites tonight, don’t they, Gary?!”

[Gary refuses to look in Jamie’s direction or acknowledge his presence, but addresses the question at hand.]

“Let’s keep it simples, yeah, Jamie-lad. You may be a ****ing piece of ****, so ****ed ****** that I wouldn’t wipe you off of my shoe if I stepped in it, but when you’re right, you’re right. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then. This is Partizan’s match to lose, and there’s nothing that Nico Bur and his merry men hate more than losing.”

“No joke, that, Gary. The Serbian champions have only lost 3 matches in all competitions, all year. Three! And to think, you only managed to win 3 matches as manager here in Valencia!”

[Jamie laughs in what he perceives to be a good-natured fashion. Gary turns to Jamie, staring him down. You notice that the twitch in Gary’s right eye is increasingly more pronounced, and rapid. Jamie laughs awkwardly and drops his voice lower, although it is still caught by the microphones.]

“It’s just a bit of banter, Gary, come on, son.”

“Just a bit of banter. Alright. If that’s how you want to play it, son.”

[The producers can sense this going off the rails. It’s time to invoke the contingency plan. A signal is given, and a production assistant passes Gary a large mug filled with a purple liquid. The tension is broken as Gary takes a long, satisfying drink, groaning in delight. The twitching in his eye slows noticeably.]

“That’s the stuff…Grandpa Gary’s Cough Medicine. Don’t try this at home, kids! But…definitely join me in Pants Off For Partizan, kiddos. Tried and true, it never fails. Just like it never failed at Panathinaikos. Pants off, Partizan score. Those are the rules.”

“Gary…I don’t think we should be encouraging that sort of behavior here tonight! Let’s just hope for a good match, yeah?!”

“It isn’t a Party-zan until the pants come off, Jamie-lad, if you know what I mean. And if you don’t, just ask the missus, yeah?!”

[Gary makes a rude gesture near his now-gyrating nether regions — which, thankfully, remain blurred.]

“Whoa, Gary! There are children watching!”

“Alright, alright, Jamie-lad. So uptight… Let’s be honest, though. This Atletico side…they’re up against it tonight. I’ve got nothing but respect for Sandro Schwarz, but they’re outmatched. In football terms, and in life. Partizan have eaten better teams for breakfast already this year. These Spanish ****s won’t know what hit them. The pants are off, Jamie. The pants are OFF.”

“Speaking of Spanish, Gary…if you’re so ****ing clever, tell me this. How would one say ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ in Spanish, if one was so inclined?!”

“Trick question, Jamie-lad. I would never sully my mouth with that filth. Because Neville Neville taught his sons well. We count our ****ing chickens when and how we please, thank you very much.”

“Any final predictions then, Gary?”

[Gary reaches for a dish of black jelly beans sitting nearby, popping one into his mouth and chewing it seductively in a poor imitation of Doctor Congo’s instantly-recognizable, trademarked goal celebration.]

“Atletico will taste the bean tonight, Jamie-lad. They’re gonna taste that bean so HARD their heads will spin.”

[On the screen behind Gary and Jamie, you can see the players beginning to walk onto the pitch to the sound of the Champions League anthem. The match is almost ready to begin, as Joey Barton hang-glides onto the pitch to deliver the match ball.]

[Note: if you are here during the live blog, you will need to hit refresh to see new updates as the match progresses.]
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4th minute

“A bright start from the Serbians here, Gary! Zoob with an incisive, beautiful through ball for Emmanuel Ibrahim! What a save from Carrio in the Spanish goal, though! It could be 1-nil already!”

[Gary responds by leaning into Jamie’s ear and shouting “Zoooooooooob” at the top of his lungs, before starting to do lunges around the mini-pitch laid out on broadcast studio, miming the attacking movement seen moments ago live, around the world.]

13th minute

“Gary, this is brilliant stuff from Partizan here. Zivkovic, threading the ball through to find Ibrahim loose behind the Atletico defensive line again, with only Carrio’s brilliance denying Partizan! Atletico have to get themselves sorted out!”

“Emmanuel Ibrahim?! Emmanuel Ibrahimo-ovic, more like! He’s the Ghanaian Ibra! The Ghanaian Golden God! Mark my words, Jamie-lad, it is only a matter of time if this continues!”

19th minute

“Gary, I’m beginning to see the beauty of this Partizan side…”

“It’s not just the sexiness of Doctor Congo and Vukojevic in the double pivot, Jamie-lad. It’s in the way that they use it. Baric here, finding the Ghanaian Ibrahimovic in the seams again…and it’s only through sheer, dumb luck that it isn’t 3-nil.”

“In all fairness, Gary, Carrio has pulled off 3 world-class saves to deny him thus far.”

“Exactly my point, Jamie-lad. Dumb ****ing luck. Just like your beloved Liverpool under Klippity-Klopp.”

“Remind me, Gary. How many matches did it take for your Valencia to record their first win?”

“**** off, Jamie. That’s out of bounds.”

25th minute

[Gary begins to moan, softly chewing 8 licorice jelly beans at once. Drool is pouring down his chin, dripping on his still-blurred nether regions.]

“That’ll get cleaned up later, right, Jamie?! Hahahaha”

“Focus, Gary…solid interception from Partizan here…laid back…Vujadinovic…this time its Vukokjevic through on goal, but…WHAT A RECOVERY RUN AND TACKLE FROM LUA…THE BALL IS LOOSE…ZOOB SMASHES IT INTO THE NET!!! ONE NIL TO PARTIZAN!!!”

[Gary jumps and shouts with glee, reminding Jamie of the one thing that he knows is true in life — pants off, Partizan score. It’s the only thing that keeps him from going over the edge.]

27th minute

“ARE YOU SEEING THIS, GARY?! LIQUID FOOTBALL FROM PARTIZAN HERE!”

“Yeah, Jamie-lad, that’ll happen if you eat too many of these beans! Vukojevic has to put that ball on target…sure, this Spanish-fella is having a decent match and all, but…”

“He’s from Argentina, Gary. And he’s the only reason Partizan aren’t up 3-nil at this point.”

“Not the only reason, Jamie.”

[Jamie sighs. Gary points to Jamie’s khaki Dockers.]

“Pants off, Partizan scores. I don’t make the rules, Jamie.”

28th minute

“Gary, my old son…this is almost embarrassing. Atletico are being ripped to shreds, the Argentinean keeper being the only reason this one is close.”

“Jamie-lad, Phil could have saved that in his sleep.”

“Gary, Phil broke a rib just last week, trying to wrestle one of those inflatable, arm-waving things at a car dealership. I saw the YouTube video.”

“Phil won that match, fair and square, Jamie-lad. A broken rib was a small price to pay to savor the sweet taste of victory.”

“Be that as it may, Gary, Partizan need to turn this control into goals, or else they’re leaving Atletico with a lifeline.”

41st minute

“Gary, if this keeps up, I will take off my pants…these beautiful little rondos, breaking the Atletico high press…Ibrahim tackled, but he’s back up…Jeremic pounces, FIRST TIME BALL THROUGH…IBRAHIM…”

[Gary moans in ecstasy, a half-chewed bean falling out of his mouth.]

“IBRAHIM BURIES IT! LIKE A DOG WITH A BONE! TWO NIL TO PARTIZAN!!!”

“THAT WAS TEXTBOOK PARTIZAN, JAMIE! NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT! LIKE A GAME OF HIDE THE SAUSAGE, HE SLID THAT ONE RIGHT PAST THE ATLETICO ‘KEEPER, RIGHT INTO THE BACK OF THE NET!”

45th minute (+1)

“Atletico are on the ropes here, Gary…looking to break the relentless Partizan high press. And they find Alvaro, but he smashes straight at Begaj! They’re going to regret that, aren’t they, Gary?”

“Not as much as you regret the Steven Gerrard tattoo you got in Bangkok, Jamie-lad.”

“I told you that in confidence, Gary.”

“I didn’t say where you got it, Jamie.”

45th minute (+2)

[Gary bounces around the studio, pants still belted to his head, singing “Congo’s Magic Bean,” a recent addition to the Partizan songbook, sung to the tune of “Keano’s Magic Hat.”]

“Gary, you’re missing it, son. It could easily be 3-nil here. Ibrahim again free behind the Atletico back line, and again denied by the Spaniard…ugh…Argentinean keeper. Atletico are on the ropes, here in Valencia.”

Halftime

[Partizan jog off the pitch with purpose. Gesturing to their supporters, who launch flares in the direction of the Atletico technical staff. That will surely result in charges from UEFA, but 2-nil up at the half, they don’t care.]

[In the studio, Gary is showing Jamie how to belt his pants to his head such that they’ll stay in place while moving around. Jamie attempts several lunges and jumps, to test the purchase on his forehead. They tighten the belt one more notch. Thankfully, the censors in the back room are well-paid, as we now have two blurred areas on the screen.]

52nd minute

“Gar-bear, Atletico simply cannot get out of their end, turning the ball over again and again…speculative long ball…ALVARO IS THROUGH…THAT’S BEGAJ WITH A MASSIVE SAVE! STANDING TALL TO DENY THE SPANIARDS A PATH BACK INTO THE GAME!”

“From nothing, that, Jamie-lad. Begaj has been back tickling his own **** all night, good thing he was up for it, yeah?!”

[Gary nudges Jamie playfully, winking. Jamie tries to ignore him, so Gary just drinks more from his mug, before launching into another Partizan song.]

59th minute

[Jamie groans as another Partizan chance goes missing, Carrio having stood tall in the Atletico goal yet again.]

“Jamie…just hear me out. On a scale of 1 to Joey Barton, I think this match rates a 17. The Atletico defense — Lua in particular, aside from one lucky tackle, has been shocking. He basically went into cardiac arrest, evacuated on himself and died on the pitch instead of dealing with that last ball, as Ibrahim romped past him like a unicorn in the breeze, with millions of people watching on TV, seeing his tiny weenis peeking out from beneath his shorts, as the crowd jeered and grimaced.  I mean, it wasn’t exactly like that, but it basically was.”

61st minute

“Free kick to Atletico in a dangerous position here, Gar-bear…they really need something here. Whipped in…CLEARED OFF THE LINE BY ELESIN…REBOUND BLOCKED…IT FALLS TO….AUGER!!! HE BUNDLES IT OVER THE LINE!!! ATLETICO HAVE PULLED ONE BACK!!! AGAINST THE ODDS!!! AGAINST THE RUN OF PLAY!!!”

[Gary tries to pick up a chair to hurl at the television behind them, but the production assistants were two steps ahead, having bolted the chairs to the floor. One assistant works to calm Gary down, feeding him beans and putting a crazy straw into his mug.]

63rd minute

“We’ve got a match here, Gary! Atletico looked dead and buried, but the goal has given them new life! Bijl with a curling shot, it took a world-class save from Begaj to deny him!”

[Gary stands in the corner, fingers jammed into his ears, shouting curses at Jamie in Serbian.]

70th minute

“Bijl with a free kick, Gar-bear…tamely hit, Begaj claims easily. Atletico remain in the high press, though, daring Partizan to try to play through it. And Partizan take them up on that, Begaj playing short to Elesin.”

“Partizan will never stand down from a fight, Jamie-lad. Come on, lads…”

“Some nice intricate play under pressure, brilliant vertical ball up to Ibrahim, who drops it for Vukojevic…Lua…TWO-FOOTED!!! THAT HAS TO BE…IT’S A STRAIGHT RED!!! ATLETICO REDUCED TO 10 MEN!!!”

[Gary screams wordlessly, turning purple before he passes out due to a lack of oxygen. The production assistants anticipated this, and promptly provide him with an oxygen mask, slipping his sizzurp straw in to provide him with extra sustenance.]

76th minute

“Atletico probing, but not able to put any real pressure on Begaj in the Partizan goal…speculative effort from Messika, there. Begaj saw it all the way, easily tipping over the bar. This isn’t over yet, but time is running out for Atletico.”

[Gary has recovered, and is gaining in strength.]

“That’s right, Jamie-lad. Cheating ****heads need to be taught a lesson. Kouassi on for Doctor Congo, now…he put in a shift but couldn’t quite do it today. Young Maes on for Baric…what a year from the young Belgian. Worth every penny, and then some, right Jamie?”

78th minute

“Listen, Gary. I appreciate the long explanation about the ‘secret menu’ in the Cockpit Lounge at the Itchy Kitty, but there’s a game on. Carrio has made 2 brilliant saves in the span of one minute, to keep Atletico in the match. Don’t you want to…you know, watch this?!”

“It costs double to watch, even for VIPs, Jamie. This is what I’ve been trying to tell you. I’m not going to let you embarrass me again.”

86th minute

[Jamie stands, cowering in the corner while Gary windmills his arms about wildly, shouting at the top of his lungs.]

“TICK-TOCK, MOTHER****ERS!!! ONCE YOU START THIS WINDMILL, THIS WINDMILL DON’T STOP, BEOTCH!!!”

90th minute
[Gary sits in the corner, drenched in sweat, sipping through his crazy straw. His pants are still belted around his head. If we’ve learned anything tonight, it’s that Gary knows how to belt his pants to his head. Jamie has adopted a wide stance, his pants also belted to his head. His face is contorted with anxiety, as the minutes tick away.]

“4 minutes, Gary. There will be 4 minutes of extra time. Remind me, how do you say that in Spanish?”

“Tell you what, Jamie, for that I will take longer than 4 minutes with your missus, next time. Unlike some people in this room.”

[Neither Jamie nor Gary notice, but the sound engineer looks around nervously, scared that he’s been caught.]

90th minute (+3)

“Atletico simply cannot find a way through the well-organized Serbian defense…it took a stroke of luck to get one, and…nope, that’s not going to do it either. A tame cross, easily claimed by Begaj who…we’re not wasting any time here, Gary! Off we go…Partizan looking for a 3rd…”

“GET ON YOUR ****ING BIKE, ANDRIJA!!!”

“SO CLOSE FROM ZIVKOVIC! PARTIZAN’S RIGHT BACK, RACING INTO THE FINAL THIRD IN SEARCH OF THE KILLING BLOW! I DON’T KNOW IF THAT WAS RECKLESS, OR GENIUS?!”

“Sheer genius, Jamie-lad. If you’re going to win, you want to do it the right way!”

“That explains your tenure at Valencia then, doesn’t it.”

90th minute (+5)

[As the final whistle blows, Gary lets out a shout of triumph, repeatedly lunging towards the cameras and enacting a ‘diamond cutter’ which, thanks to the strategic blurring of Gary’s nether regions, are more confusing than they are intimidating. Jamie, for his part, sits on the floor, shaking as the tears pour down his face, as he mumbles softly, “it’s so beautiful…so pretty…my precious.” Partizan are champions of Europe, and few will be happier than this broadcasting duo.]

Post-match

We had to make it tough on ourselves, didn’t we?

Atletico had 2 decent looks at goal, and Begaj stood firm on both of them. The mad scramble that led to their goal was the most unfortunate thing that could have happened…but only if we put aside the sheer number of chances that we had.

The only reason the match was even remotely close was the performance of Brian Carrio in their goal, who had a monster night. You can see why he has 135 caps for Argentina. What a player.

For Partizan, we aren’t quite done. As a World Cup year, the schedule is all over the shop. We’ve got the Kup Srbije final in 4 days.

After that, however, it will be time for Nicolaj Bur to move on to pastures new. There are not any eligible clubs in need of a manager at the moment, but don’t worry. We’ll keep busy.

After all, the 2038 World Cup kicks off in 2 weeks.

We’ll have the normal season review late tonight (or tomorrow), followed by the Ivorian World Cup campaign (starting with a squad review…).

If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused… Don’t worry.  The basic concept behind the Nearly Men save is explained here.  Just need to catch up? Each installment in Nicolaj Bur’s story can be accessed through the Nearly Men Archive.

And if you just can’t get enough…join us for The Ballad of Toothless Bob, a series conceived and co-authored by Seattle Red and Oriole that explores the world of Nicolaj Bur, away from the pitch. What is Project Arcturus? What lies beyond the twisted redstone door, deep in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabéu?


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