What is supposed to be the most-wonderful time of the year is starting to look anything but that for football fans.
To the traditional threat of games being KO’d by bad weather, chuck in the renewed threat of Covid call-offs as managers north and south of the border call for circuit breakers, and government leaders warning of the super spreader potential of large crowds.
On top of that, as we have just been reminded, there is Sod’s Law, which tells us that if something can go wrong, it will – usually at the worst possible time.
Spare a thought for those Manchester United supporters, who watched last week’s Champions League draw with an arrow poised over the “Buy” button on an airline website.
They could hardly have imagined what madness lay in store for them over the next couple of hours.
Any flights to Paris they snapped up to see Cristiano Ronaldo up against Lionel Messi – possibly for the last time – would now only be of any use if they were set on instead on catching Real Madrid’s visit to the French capital.
If they wanted to see CR7 and the Red Devils in action, they had instead to head for Real’s home town because they had actually been drawn against Atletico.
In the time it took to play a regulation 90 minutes, and media everywhere to draw up some mightly-impressive – but ultimately useless – Ronaldo v Messi graphics packages, UEFA declared the initial draw void.
Why? Because of “a technical problem with the software of an external service provider that instructs the officials as to which teams are eligible to play each other”.
Well, that is OK then.
Except, of course, it was anything but. Europe’s governing body needed no telling that had there been a Richter scale for embarrassments, they would be pushing it to its upper limits.
They got slammed anyway, with some of the most high-profile criticism coming, pleasingly in this context, from a man nicknamed “The Vulture”.
As his record of 26 goals in 69 appearances for Spain suggests, Emilio Butragueno was a prolific goalscorer and, in his current role as Real Madrid’s director of institutional relations, he showed he still had sharp claws, with a damning summary of events.
“Unfortunate, surprising, regrettable and very difficult to understand, considering the millions of fans who were waiting for the draw, as well as the entire world of sport,” was his withering verdict.
Now, cynics might suggest that the scale of Real’s displeasure was proportionately linked to their disappointment at having to swap a cosy tie with Iberian neighbours, Benfica, for a clash against super-rich Paris Saint-Germain.
No matter, making such a mess of what should be a straightforward process left UEFA open to all the flak.
Suspicions had first been raised over Manchester United’s ineligible draw against Villarreal.
Both had won their way through from Group F, and so should not have been able to meet at this stage. That they came out together showed that something was wrong.
With clubs from the same country also not able to meet in the Round of 16, things get even more complicated.
And in the process, logic would suggest, more open to human error.
Anyone who caught any of the draw in Nyon live would doubtless have taken a second to try to figure out what on earth was going on, with the seemingly random set of bowls scattered around the table like it was a Tupperware party.
It was hard not to imagine things were better back in the days when it was just a simple draw, and you got who you got.
Yes, that would mean you could have Liverpool v Nottingham Forest in an early clash of holders against the champions of England, as happened in 1978.
That, though, would surely be a better system than one that gives Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United the advantage of avoiding each other when it is clear the English Premier League is currently Europe’s strongest.
Of course, the tried-and-trusted does not always guarantee an uneventful draw.
Just ask the SFA, who notoriously got more than they bargained for when they asked Rod Stewart for his help with a Scottish Cup draw four years ago.
Then, to the bemusement of host and SFA president, Alan McRae, and fellow picker, Alan Stubbs, the veteran rocker, who had clearly partaken of a refreshment or two, performed an exaggerated “Rod Hull and Emu” dive each time he had to reach for a ball.
As an example of how to hold a draw, it was probably a study on what not to do, not least because Stubbs – who must have felt he had wandered into the wrong movie – got the numbers 6 and 9 mixed up.
As a piece of light relief for what ails them at this precise moment, though, UEFA’s administrators could do a lot worse than search it out on YouTube.
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