Like 400 million other people, I’ll be watching tonight’s Champions League final between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Bayern Munich in the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon.
But my thoughts will be thousands of miles away from the capital city of Portugal. They’ll be in Johannesburg in 2015.
In that year, Juventus and Barcelona made it through to the championship match and the LaLiga side won 3-1, thanks to goals by Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suárez and Neymar.
Brazilian superstar Neymar has since moved on to PSG and will no doubt be one of the men on which coach Thomas Tuchel pins his hopes in tonight’s final.
Not that I can remember who contested the 2015 final, though. I’ll have to look it up.
What I can remember is that my good friend S’Bu Mseleku came to Berlin for the match – on one of those trips that made our jobs as football journalists worthwhile.
I’d known him for well over 25 years and we’d shared a house in Melville for a short while. We stayed in touch when I moved to Europe to cover sports there and when he became City Press’ sports editor, I started writing for him.
We called each other “twin brother” and had a standing joke: whenever I called his office and he wasn’t available, I’d leave a cryptic message that his twin brother had telephoned. I’d then explain to whoever was speaking that he was the wealthy twin and I the good-looking one – though, if truth be told, neither of us ever made it to the Forbes Rich List and both of us were good-looking (at least in our youth). S’Bu never failed to call me back.
During his visit to Berlin, we braaied – of course. And we talked football. We always talked football.
On this occasion, we talked about PSG. As a visitor of one of the sponsors to the final, S’Bu had received accreditation. My attempts to cover the game had failed miserably. He enjoyed that.
I had, however, been granted accreditation to the women’s final, which had been played the day before in Berlin between FFC Frankfurt and PSG (Frankfurt won). But our interest was really in the men’s PSG team and the future of the club, given the huge amount of money they had available.
S’Bu said that, within a few years, they’d be one of the top teams in Europe. A few years later, when they bought Neymar, and the likes of Kylian Mbappé, Marquinhos, Ángel Di María and Thiago Silva came to the fore, it was clear that PSG would – sooner or later – make it to the Champions League final.
And we talked about German football, of which he was a big fan. He recognised that Bayern was one of the best teams in the world, so it would hardly surprise him that they’re in tonight’s final, especially given the form of striker Robert Lewandowski, who – ahead of the final – stands on 55 goals for the season. And that from only 46 matches.
Both clubs advanced to the final with emphatic 3-0 victories in the semifinals – PSG beating RB Leipzig and Bayern gaining revenge for the Bundesliga by beating Olympique Lyonnais by the same score.
Whenever I was in South Africa, I’d go and see S’Bu at the City Press offices. The last time was last year, and we went for lunch in Melville – our old stamping ground. We talked about football, but this time also about our families.
He was a family man. His wife and children were much more important to him than his work and football, and my thoughts today are as much with them as about the sport.
I’m not sure whether my twin brother managed to see PSG’s dramatic quarterfinal win against Atalanta and Bayern’s one-sided 8-2 drubbing of Barcelona from his hospital bed.
I did talk to him at the end of July. At the time, he was in ICU. He had trouble speaking and I don’t know whether he fully understood everything I was saying. He was, however, talking about work. That was the person he was. The consummate professional.
I was not. I didn’t care about work. I wanted him to get better. I sent him a WhatsApp straight after our chat. It read: “You gave me a big, big fright now. Don’t think about work. Look after yourself. I’ll pray for you.”
Two days later, he sent me a WhatsApp saying he was out of the ICU. I responded: “I’m really pleased to hear that ... I was worried. Good luck and stay safe.”
But S’Bu didn’t stay safe and, on Monday, he succumbed to this terrible virus that’s wreaking havoc throughout the world.
I know that sometime, somewhere, we’ll meet again.
If there’s a reception room in heaven, I will go up to it and ask them why they didn’t heed my prayers. Then I’ll say that I want to see my twin brother immediately. I might even explain that I’m the good-looking one. And when S’Bu and I meet, we’ll talk football.
I’ll tell him about tonight’s Champions League final, about how PSG’s money bought them success and how Bayern brought German football back to the fore. He’ll be pleased about that, as he liked German football.
Until then, my brother, hamba kahle.