Spurs have had plenty of warning by now. For anyone able to pull away from the sight of Ole’s bandwagon lurching further off course in the Nou Camp in the Champions League quarter-finals, there was a thrilling reward in the other game where Ajax of Amsterdam continued their reascent to the pinnacle of European football.
I’m not entirely sure what swashbuckling means exactly, but if Juve’s swash wasn’t thoroughly buckled by the second-half performance of Erik ten Hag’s side then I’d have to think it’s unbuckleable.
Tottenham’s reward for toppling Pep is to take on Europe’s most searingly hot team of teenage phenoms and rapier-swift attackers.
But enjoy it while you can because the asset-stripping of the Dutch destroyers had already started before they knocked out Madrid in the last 16. Frenkie de Jong, they’re teenage midfield fulcrum, is already locked down by Barca for next season.
Zizou, get used to seeing him tear it up.
Every big club looking for a Virgil van Dijk clone could find him in the shape of the Liverpool man’s international defensive partner Matthijs de Ligt, while Hakim Ziyech, Donny van de Beek and David Neres also look likely to depart.
It’s not the first time a great team’ll be split apart before its time. Here’s five other dream teams who woke up too soon.
What a weird year. Porto win the European Cup, Greece win the European Championships, and, strangest of all, Arsenal won the Premier League – and undefeated too!
Porto’s side were pulled together by Jose Mourinho from across the Portuguese league and then yanked apart by the same man as he headed straight for Chelsea with star centre-back Ricardo Carvalho and full-back Paulo Ferreira under each arm following the European triumph. Playmaker Deco was tempted by Stamford Bridge but chose the Nou Camp to ply his trade, while Pedro Mendes signed for Spurs and forward Derlei headed to Dinamo Moscow.
Those moves saw the European champs slip to second in the league and cycle through two new managers in the following campaign and no team from outside the big five leagues has won the Champions League since.
At least they’ve been here before. In the early-to-mid nineties, Louis van Gaal established his international reputation as a cultivator of youthful talent with an Ajax side that would be cherry-picked by the big boys over the course of three years.
They won the trophy in ’95, but managed to hang on to most of that team for the next season with the Bosman ruling still to work its way through European football’s system. Only Clarence Seedorf left, heading for Sampdoria, after the first European final, a 1-0 win over Milan where an 18-year-old Patrick Kluivert scored an 85th-minute winner off the bench.
But 1996’s summer saw Silvio Berlusconi get his revenge by swooping for midfield dynamo Edgar Davids and full-back Michael Reiziger, both on free transfers in the wake of the EU ruling on players contracts, while Nwankwo Kanu joined his cross-city rivals Inter and Finidi George moved to Betis. A year later, Kluivert and Marc Overmars would be gone followed by the de Boer twins the next year, who joined Van Gaal in Barcelona.
2019 is the closest the club has come to winning Europe’s top prize since.
The Euro elite were much smoother some 20 years later when Monaco’s strategic investment in young players paid dividends as they were asset-stripped following an unexpected European run and domestic success. They defied PSG’s financial might at home by winning the title, and charged through to the Champions League semi-finals, seeing off a sky-blue petrodollar powerhouse from Manchester along the way.
Most impressive of all was teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe, whose broad shoulders and lightning fast movement lit up every game he played, though Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy also showed they could play at the very highest level throughout their surge.
So naturally, City and PSG filleted the team the following summer, taking these three players off Monegasque hands for a fee total of something above £135m.
You could give Alexis Sanchez a five-year contract for that money!
Midfielder Timoue Bakayoko also left that summer for £36m headed to Chelsea, but he turned out to be sh*te, so no loss there.
Just two years later and Monaco are straining to stave off relegation this season. More humiliating still, they had to deal with Thierry Henry role-playing as a manager for three months at their expense.
The shame of it.
The much-vaunted “last team outside the big five to make the Champions League semi-finals”, PSV Eindhoven’s 2005 crop were a real mixed bag. Continuing their tradition of fielding imposing Brazilians (Ronaldo before Barcelona, Romario the goal-machine), Guus Hiddink’s side was built on Huerlho Gomes’ idiosyncratic goalkeeping style and Alex’s gravity-shifting presence at centre-half.
He was only on loan from Chelsea for their run to the semi-finals, but Park Ji-Sung, Mark van Bommel and Wilfred Bouma were all permanent members of staff who’d up-sticks following their agonizing exit on away goals to Milan in the semi-finals.
Swiss midfielder Johann Vogel would attempt to keep the Rossoneri’s midfield ticking over as effectively the following campaign after leaving the Dutch side, while coach Guus Hiddink would also leave after the season, and it’s a testament to his ability that he did so much with a team that relied on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and former Sheffield Wednesday battering ram Gerald Sibon as centre-forwards.
Fair to say Guus deserved a break after drawing such a run out of that team.
The collapse of the Yugoslav state led to a years-long civil war that scars Europe still and cost countless lives. While it is undeniably trivial to lament the dissolution of a football team in the face of such events, it is impossible not to look at the generation of footballers that region produced wonder what might’ve been if history had run differently.
Owing to the tensions within the country at this time, various iterations of the Yugoslav national team featured the names of Stojkovic, Savicevic, Prosinecki, Boksic, Boban, Mihaljovic, Pancev, Stimac, Jarni, Suker, Mijatovic, Jugovic and Katanec, a group of players of such quality it’s redundant to list the great clubs they represented, though the histories of AC Milan and Real Madrid in particular in the nineties and early aughts would look a lot different without their Balkan imports.
Traces of the potential of this side were evident in the 1987 Under-20’s world champion team, the Red Star Belgrade team that won the 1991 European Cup, and in Croatia’s run to 1998 World Cup semi-finals in France.
As if to underline all that was lost to the football pitch, a workmanlike Danish team replaced this golden generation at Euro ’92 and won the tournament without their one truly world class player, Michael Laudrup, who had fallen out with their coach. Many of these players would collect some of the game’s highest accolades, but the major international tournaments of the mid-nineties would’ve been within their reach in different times.