V is for Victor: Real Sociedad vs Barcelona Preview

He wasn’t going to make it, they said. As much as we’d love him to, as proud as we’d be if he overcame the odds, he just wasn’t good enough.

Sitting in a bar, or cafe, or even in the living room, the main talking point during the summer transfer window always remained the same: the team needed another goalkeeper.

“His feet are too shaky!” one exclaimed to their seat neighbour. “s’like he’s got lead in his boots. Or bugs down his pants…”

“He always gets beaten at his near post. It’s so irritating!” another griped. “And he can’t command his area to save his life!”

“Our team would be unbeatable if we had a world class goalkeeper.”

The rest could only sigh and nod their heads, raising their glasses in a general sign of agreement. The ‘here, here!’ went without saying.

Victor Valdes simply wasn’t good enough to be first team goalkeeper at FC Barcelona.

The team was incredible upfront — a Ronaldinho in his prime, Samuel Eto’o scoring goals like a madman, and the impish Ludovic Giuly bombing down the flanks; not to mention a shaggy haired wonderboy coming through the ranks, one Leo Messi — the midfield contained the mercurial Deco, the cerebral dictator Xavi, hardman (ahem) Mark van Bommel; and yet another golden boy ready to replace anyone if need, the one who was going to retire both Xavi and Pep: Andres Iniesta. Carles Puyol and Rafael Marquez had a strong accord, with the Brazilian Juliano Belletti at right back and Dutch left back Giovanni von Bronckhorst completing the defense. Good lineup all the way around, if they would say so themselves. They could just pretend Oleguer didn’t exist.

Goalkeeper? Oh. Right. Well… He came from the youth teams. He’s young. He’s Catalan.

…And he’s not very good.

That was the general consensus.

Real Madrid had Iker Casillas come through their ranks, so naturally cules wanted a rebuttle, a counter argument; someone they could serve up as example that was just as good. W-well, we have an amazing goalkeeper from our youth teams too!

Like fine wine, they believed, he’ll get better with time.

Or rather, they hoped.

Sometimes, they weren’t so sure. Even when he won the Zamora trophy at the end of the 2003/2004 La Liga season, some felt it was due to the defense in front of him. After all, a goalkeeper is only as good as his defense. And their defense was amazing.

It wasn’t hard to poke logic sized holes into that reasoning.

However, through the doubts, through the harsh, unforgiving criticism from media and fans, through the pressure of being the last man between victory, stalemate, and failure, he persevered. More sit ups, more push ups, more chin-ups, more everything. He was going to prove them wrong, he was going to make himself better. Faster. Stronger.

And he was going to make it.

So when May 17, 2006 arrived, the long anticipated Champions League Final between Arsenal and Barcelona, it might as well have been D-Day. The Gunners were coming into the final with a record number of clean sheets, the Boy Who Left was starting in the midfield, and most terrifying of all*: one Thierry Henry upfront. Ready and firing.

Just make sure the ball doesn’t get near Valdes and we got this. If the team followed that simple rule, the CL trophy would be going back to Barcelona.

A minute in, and Thierry Henry was through on goal, had only Valdes to beat. Cules feared the worst. They covered their eyes. Damn, we’re 1-0 down. Already!

Except they weren’t. Valdes stopped him from point-blank range.

Wait… wut?

In case some people didn’t see it the first time, Valdes then stopped Henry again. From point-blank range. Again.

Valdes had made two crucial saves within the first three minutes to keep the game scoreless. It started to look up. After 18 minutes, Barcelona were up a man after Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was sent off for a foul on Eto’o — until they went down in the score board 19 minutes later, Sol Campbell heading in freekick. 1-0 to the Arsenal at half-time.

Uh oh.

Second half started and after some good chances, Henry was put through on goal by Alexander Hleb. (Note: that was not a typo). Only had Valdes to beat. Again. Surely he would score this time.

He was stopped.

Again.

Then Eto’o scored after a pass from Swedish legend Henrik Larsson, the supersub, and the score was tied 1-1. And then Belletti scored that goal after another pass from that man Larsson. 2-1.

And then Barca won its second CL trophy.

After the game, what did then-coach Frank Rijkaard have to say?

Valdes played a decisive role. He saved us at crucial moments.

And no-one disagreed with him.

Without the final in Paris [in 2006], I wouldn’t play at Barça anymore. That was my key game, my most important night as player

— Victor Valdes, a couple of days ago.

And it was that night that cules realized hey, we might just have a goalkeeper after all…

Fast forward five years, three Zamoras later, and many people are wondering why Victor Valdes can’t get a game for Spain.

“His feet are incredible for a goalkeeper!” one says to their neighbour. “It’s like he’s another outfield player!”

“His reflexes are amazing!” another booms. “Not to mention he almost never gets beaten one-on-one.”

“World class. The guy is world class. Would be starting for any other national team, for sure.”

The rest could only sigh and nod their heads, raising their glasses in a general sign of agreement.

The ‘here, here’ went without saying.

So when Victor Valdes steps onto the pitch at 12pm EST on Saturday, he will overtake former starting goalkeeper and current sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta as the goalkeeper with the most appearances for Barca with 411.

He made it alright. And now he’s making history.

Who woulda thunk it?

His BFF Iniesta
——————————–
A tribute by allasFCB2:

We salute you, Victor.

——————————–

Carles Puyol, Ibrahim Afellay, Adriano, and Maxwell have all been given the green light. They are in the 20 man squad travelling to Sociedad.

——————————–

*You guys don’t know how much I wanted to write:

“[…]and most terrifying of all: Alexander Hleb was starting.”

A serious internal struggle took place. For real.

By the way, whatever happened to Oleguer? Last I heard of him, Ajax was paying for his, uh, services.

Man, he was so bad.

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Just your neighbourhood Barca fanatic

43 Comments

  1. The__K__Man
    September 9, 2011

    I like the post Kari but there’s no need to torture my brain cells and make them remember Oleguer Presas? Why for God’s sake? :'(

    • September 9, 2011

      Who is this Oleguer you speak of? ❓

    • Chiu
      September 10, 2011

      Kari, was Oleguer so bad? I dont remember his play. any video link to remind us hahaha..

    • barca21farid
      September 10, 2011

      seriously? you dont know who Oleguer is or you are just being sarcastic? if you dont know him then i gotta ask, when did u started watching barca?

      btw last i checked after leaving Ajax he returned to spain playin in segunda division for some local team in barcelona if im not mistaken.. if im not miskten yeah

      he was not a great player but come on, he was an outspoken catalan (reason him being booed whenever barca play outside of d cam nou)

    • Xingxian
      September 10, 2011

      As someone who’s only been following FCB for a year, I happened to luck out(?) and find about Oleguer and his more edgy views on Spanish nationalism/provincialism. But I didn’t hear he was bad. I assumed being Xavi’s age that he wasn’t as good as Xavi but I figured that was no shame and therefore assumed that he was neither too good or too bad.

      Any good horror stories about the man?

    • ooga aga
      September 10, 2011

      he wasnt bad. he wasnt a speed merchant, and he wasnt dani alves. but compare many right backs to dani a. and you might say they are ‘bad.’ oleguer was just fine, and a great guy to boot. be nice.

    • Xingxian
      September 10, 2011

      @ooga aga
      If my offense for horror stories offends, I apologize. But I like hearing them 🙂
      I like telling people about Busquets’ own goal last season and I think he’s a fantastic player. It was still a good horror story XD

  2. Triplo Volanti (formerly Cesc Pistol)
    September 10, 2011

    Some more perspective from older days: Most cules in the know, knew he was good (we’re talking like 2005 here)- he had good reflexes and would cover his angles well, that’s what made him good one on one then and it remains his best quality till date.

    What troubled everyone especially the new fans (post 05 ones) was that he made amateurish mistakes alot. He’d do the tough things well and screw up the easy stuff and end up looking like a clown. The worst was he could never handle aerial balls. I remember one comment in particular (which led to the user getting banned cos he got so pissed & went on in an abusing frenzy- good times 😀 ): “The f*&k happens to him when the balls in the air?? does it f*&$ing disappear in the sky? FFS it’s like he has aspergers* or something.”
    And his kicks were always horribly inaccurate and didn’t have much range either.

    So he was basically not that good -and it shows his commitment to learning and the coaches’ ability in how he’s grown. But the fact is that the newer fans would have replaced him with a world class keeper in an instant and heck even a consistent one but the rest of us knew that all keepers suffer in barca and even if a cantera kid is semi-decent it’s better than having (cover your ears kids) Bonano.

    All in all VV would’ve had a tough time outside of Barcelona and later Barcelona would’ve had a tough time with him. Things just work out that way y’know.

    • Triplo Volanti (formerly Cesc Pistol)
      September 10, 2011

      *without him

  3. barca96
    September 10, 2011

    For the past few nights before falling asleep, I kept on hoping that when I wake up the next day, I would see a Kxevin post once again so that I can laugh and start the day brightly and finally he made a post although I have no time to read it now as I’m gonna fly soon.

    What’s the matter Kxevin?? Why don’t you post that often anymore? It has gotten to the point where every night I’m hoping to see a post of yours the next morning.
    Even the last one, “del Nido” wasn’t as funny as usual.
    Anyways, thanks for the new post.

    Euler has been quiet too lately.

    • ooga aga
      September 10, 2011

      kxevin is busy bike racing. also, some people on this board have bad or juvenile attitudes especially when it comes to reacting to his match reviews. kxevin therefore has become less enthusiastic about posting. everyone be respectful and grown up and maybe he will come back…after all he wont be racing too much in the illinois winter hahahahah.

  4. IamXavi6
    September 10, 2011

    Even after that game, criticisms were said and deserved. Valdes always HAD the talent, sadly he had massive brain fads in the games that matter, and that’s what the people always remembered.

    He DID have a great backline in front and he will always be protected by a te that retains around 65% possession of most games.

    What Valdes does now is make those 1-2 critical saves he is required to make in a 90minutr period. I personally like the guy but criticism of his goalkeeping and the chance he happens to play for the best outfield team ever to grace the pitch in modern times that means he can often go 30-40mins without making a save will always be labelled at him.

    Just sayin

    • September 10, 2011

      And what you’re saying is not wrong.

      They were harsh sometimes — the mistakes, some even world class keepers make, tended to be blown out of proportion (as fans and media are wont to do) — and unforgiving (they still hound him to this day), but they weren’t undeserved.

      Valdes was still learning. And while the backline was great, a large aspect that tends to get overlooked is the role of the goalkeeper in that. In Barca, Valdes is essentially another member of the backline. They work in tandem. A defense is as good as its keeper and vice versa.

      For clarity, I’m not trying to say that Valdes was always amazing and people were getting on his back for no reason. What I am trying to say is that he improved — he worked doubly hard– despite all of this, and got his reward.

    • blitzen
      September 10, 2011

      What Valdes does now is make those 1-2 critical saves he is required to make in a 90minutr period.

      Valdes does a heck of a lot more than that, you know. He starts every attacking play, he makes more passes than the bulk of the opposing team, and he is involved in play in a way which hardly any other keepers are.

      Rijkaard was the one who first believed in Valdes, but Guardiola was the one who changed his game into what it is now.

  5. Triplo Volanti (formerly Cesc Pistol)
    September 10, 2011

    Also, thanks for the blast from the past, Kari! That day was the best day of my life. I remember crying like a girl after seeing Belletti in tears celebrating. The impact of all those years, of hope against the barca pessimism, came crashing down in one moment.

    And King Larsson will always always be a legend, he is THE King of Barcelona.

  6. Xingxian
    September 10, 2011

    Kari thanks for writing this wonderful piece.
    If you keep ’em coming I will keep reading 😀

  7. September 10, 2011

    Thanks for reading dudes. 😀

    Oleguer was…terrible. Honestly, he was just bad. I tend to be harsh and unforgiving in my criticism, but he had no business being on the pitch.

    As for the lucky souls who never had to experience him, he’s Arsenal’s defense during their 8-2 destruction epitomized. *shudders*

    • blitzen
      September 10, 2011

      Oleguer wasn’t *that* bad, although I agree he was terrible in that CL final, hence he was subbed out.

      Does he still play with the Catalan NT? Anyone know? I know current Barça players on that team are: Xavi, Puyol, Pique, Valdes, Busi, Bartra, Fontas. I assume Bojan would still play if called up.

    • Ryan
      September 10, 2011

      A snood-powered Bojan is a Catalan powerhouse.

    • ooga aga
      September 10, 2011

      hyperbole i say. just unfairness in an attempt to be funny, really. he was our defender for years and sure he wasnt alves, but who is. dare i say you are spoilt, child. he played almost all of our 2005-2006 champions league winning season as a starter, and you are gonna say he sucked? cmon dude. if you dont remember it was a broken hand in 2008 that began his phasing out. alves came shortly after.

    • K_legit
      September 10, 2011

      This..
      Oleguer was in no way as terrible as you have portrayed him to be..he was a defensive right back to complement Gio/Sylvinho on the opposite side..he was pretty bad as a center back I’d give you that…

  8. Lev
    September 10, 2011

    Hey now, I will always love Oleguer!!! True Barca hero-

    ¡Oleguer! ¡Solidario!
    ¡Dame tu salario!

    • K_legit
      September 10, 2011

      Uh Uh Oleguer! Uh Uh Oleguer!

    • Barcathegreatestever
      September 10, 2011

      How about Thuram?

  9. K_legit
    September 10, 2011

    Oleguer>You!

    Valdes had the most awesome hair-styles and beard too before going all cue-ball..an often overlooked fact!

    • ooga aga
      September 10, 2011

      you mean the schlong aka short-long aka mullet?

    • K_legit
      September 10, 2011

      The very same!

    • blitzen
      September 10, 2011

      You had to remind me of that beardish thing, didn’t you?

  10. K_legit
    September 10, 2011

    WTF no Messi, no Xavi, no Masche, no Abidal? Pep trolls us again!!

    • K_legit
      September 10, 2011

      scratch that , yes Xavi, no Iniesta

    • blitzen
      September 10, 2011

      Fontas starts! yay!

    • Para
      September 10, 2011

      I’m happy about this too, especially because he’ll be playing centreback and not left (?) like he did at the end of the season.

      Unless I imagined him playing on the left.

    • mom4
      September 10, 2011

      Busi and Fontas as centerback pairing? Slowest pairing ever?

      In Pep we…*trying sooooo hard not to second guess him*…trust!

  11. mega_tajh
    September 10, 2011

    Yay!! We will be playing in our black kits today!!!!!!! I actually like it now.

  12. Eklavya
    September 10, 2011

    Barcastuff
    Line-up : Valdés, Alves, Fontàs, Adriano, Busquets, Keita, Xavi, Thiago, Fàbregas, Pedro and Alexis #fcblive

    Dayum!
    Bench: Messi, Villa, Iniesta, Mashcerano, Abidal, Puyol and Pinto

    • Eklavya
      September 10, 2011

      Should be:

      VV
      Alves Fontas Busi Adriano
      Xavi Keita Thiago
      Alexis Cesc Pedro

  13. mega_tajh
    September 10, 2011

    Silva-Nasri-Agüero destroying it for Mancity right now. Their link up play…something to behold.

    • Eklavya
      September 10, 2011

      Hat trick for Aguero!

  14. mega_tajh
    September 10, 2011

    Oriol Romeu making his debut for Chelsea now…only coming on for 10mins though.

  15. mom4
    September 10, 2011

    OMgosh, Arteta’s hair is sooooo bad. Do he and Cesc have some sort of Spanish midfielders bad-hair pact?

  16. Barcathegreatestever
    September 10, 2011

    Great read about Valdes, kinda disagree about Barca having a staunch defense in front of him all those years. Even Puyol was susceptible to making those same kind of mistakes early on. Injuries sure didn’t help. Also I believe Messi and his brilliant midfield is responsible for turning Valdes into the number one keeper (1v1) in the world not necessarily the coaching staff. Valdes carries the team as much as anyone, just amazing.
    Impossible to predict a lineup these days. I kinda thought we’d see Affelay. It doesn’t look bright for him if there is any truth to the Neymar deal

  17. Gogah
    September 11, 2011

    valdes is probably the only keeper who has to use his feet more than his hands

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