I'm not a bad guy but I'm considering leaving my girlfriend at home on Valentine's Day to spend this most romantic of manufactured holidays with someone else. I know it sounds heartless but it's just that I've been seeing someone else on Thursday nights for about two years now. Her name's Europa and I've really fallen for her.
It's funny, because when we first met in 2009 I wasn't the least bit interested in Europa. She seemed a bit desperate, was a tad too big for my liking, and, to be brutally honest, I was really far more into her elder, far more glamorous sister. But gradually I've come to love Europa, and indeed our Thursday nights together. Who can forget that magical night at Craven Cottage when Fulham routed Juventus? Or when Athletic Bilbao outclassed Manchester United at Old Trafford... Such wonderful memories.
Oh, I know it's wrong, but what started as a guilty pleasure has now become an obsession. My girlfriend recently found out about the whole thing and I told her that Europa meant nothing to me. That may once have been true, but no longer, because while I fully understand why I should spend my time and money on my girlfriend on Valentine's Day, the truth is that I'd much rather steal away to the pub to be with Europa, who's the cheapest of cheap dates. I can't help how I fell. Europa has been providing me with true passion and romance I need for a long time now...
|SECOND CHANCE AT LOVE
Poor Chelsea (an oxymoron if ever there was one) are hurting right now. They've got a serious dose of the Blues (sorry - and be warned: these are only going to get worse). They were left heartbroken after being dumped out of the Champions League back in December and, to be brutally honest, they're still a mess. Last May they felt on top of the world; by December they had been kicked to the kerb.
They rather unfairly took their anguish out on Roberto Di Matteo, who'd been so good to them, and, in desperation, briefly entertained the idea of hooking up with old flames such as Guus Hiddink after being spurned by the coach they'd always dreamed of hiring, Pep Guardiola. They ultimately settled for Rafael Benitez, and he just seems all wrong for Chelsea.
Obviously there are plenty more fish in the sea, and Chelsea are keeping their options open. But while this may only be a fling, the Blues' confidence seems shot and now they keep blowing it with everyone: the Premier League, the Club World Cup, the League Cup. Europa represents one of their last chances at love; their last chance to salvage a season that isn't just flirting with disaster, it's ready to jump in. Rafa is determined to make it work, though, and a successful trip to Prague this week might go some way towards helping Chelsea fans forgive and forget his dodgy past.
|RUNNING INTO AN OLD FLAME
Thursday night's game against Sparta Prague will undoubtedly be an emotional occasion for Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech. It was a whirlwind romance, lasting just one full season, but they had some good times together, with the Plzen-born shot-stopper breaking the Czech league record for minutes without conceding a goal during the 2001-02 season.
They parted on good terms, too, with Sparta receiving €5 million for his services, and Cech has since gone onto bigger and better things. But while they break-up was mutual, one can be certain that both parties will be desperate to show that they're doing just fine without the other. Who knows - Sparta may even be hoping to get Cech thinking about a return to Prague when Chelsea inevitably decide to trade him in for a younger model.
Elsewhere, Tottenham shot-stopper Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel (Zenit) and Inter wing-back Alvaro Pereira (Cluj) will also be coming face-to-face with an ex this week and all will no doubt be keen to prove that they are, as they say, winning the break-up.
All and sundry expect Radamel Falcao to move on himself this summer. Whether the hottest striker in Europe does indeed call time on his relationship with Atletico Madrid, there is little doubt that the Colombian will be breaking hearts in the Champions League next season.
It's something of a shame because what Falcao and the Europa League have is truly special. Not only has the 27-year-old striker been the top scorer in the past two tournaments, he was also the man of the match in both finals, scoring the only goal in Porto's win over Braga in an all-Portuguese affair in Dublin in 2010 before netting a double in Atletico Madrid's 3-0 rout of Athletic Bilbao in a la Liga love-in 12 months later.
The understandably overprotective Rojiblancos coach Diego Simeone has kept Falcao out of harm's way to date in this season's tournament, but El Tigre is set to be unleashed against Rubin Kazan on Thursday night, throwing up the real possibility of a Valentine's Day massacre at the Calderon.
|THE GUY ALL THE BIG CLUBS WANT
With Falcao having been kept under wraps this season, Edinson Cavani has become the new darling of the Europa League. The Uruguay international has struck seven times in just five appearances, thus underlining just why he has long been regarded as one of the most desirable forwards in world football.
If we are to believe the papers, Manchester City, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain have all be casting envious glances in Napoli's direction over the past 12 months and, according to recent reports, even Real Madrid are now making eyes at El Matador.
Cavani has yet to declare his love of any club other than Napoli, but his head has probably been turned by all of the attention. Europe's elite are all fighting over him, so it seems somewhat inevitable that he'll soon walk out on the Partenopei. Cavani, though, will be determined to leave the relationship on good terms and a Europa success would be the perfect parting gift.
That Cavani is considering leaving Napoli is hardly surprising. In this day age, true love seems both elusive and fleeting. Nothing lasts forever, and all that. However, there are still those who remain steadfastly loyal to the ones they love, old romantics such as Jamie Carragher and Javier Zanetti, who embody traditional values such as character and commitment.
Carragher has always been a one-club man and long maintained that so strong were his emotional ties with Liverpool, that he would rather quit the game than even entertain the thought of leaving to be with another. He has been true to his word, with the veteran defender having announced last week that he will retire at the end of the current campaign.
Zanetti is cut from the same cloth. The Argentine has only ever been with Inter since moving to Europe as a youth. Despite having had many suitors over the years, he has never strayed. Both men play with a passion that is hard to find in the modern game and they will leave a gaping hole in the hearts of their supporters when they're gone.
Still, in football just as in life, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Probably worth remembering when one returns home to no girlfriend on Valentine's night after another wonderful evening out with Europa.