The Inheritance of Hleb

One man. One innocent question. One theory that may change the face of the world as we know it.


It started on an average Tuesday afternoon. Dr. Ramon Cugat was working hard as usual.

“And this, nen, is where Valdes throws the ball to Abidal who passes to Puyol who passes to Busi who sidefoots the ball back to Pique who launches a cross field pass to Dani who crosses to Villa on the left who passes to Xavi who through-balls it to Iniesta who croquetas it to Messi somehow to GOLAZO, carajo!”

The boy in the hospital bed shifted. “Doctor, I heard this story from a friend of mine…” The boy trailed off then fell silent, as if he would be reprimanded if he went any further.

Cugat put his book, Barca Team Golazos (written form edition), on the table. “What is it, Ibi? Don’t worry; no one but me will hear it.”

Ibi pursed his lips, and then softly said, “I heard of this guy named Hleb who used to play here. Some say that he might come back in January, but people really don’t want him to come back… Was he really that bad?”

There was a long pause before Cugat spoke. “Everything you think and worse. His brother wasn’t any better I heard…”


A long winded story filled with exaggerations and hyperbole ensues.

“I have a question…”

“Go ahead. There’s no football science related question I don’t know.”

Ibi blinked. “Well, you said his brother also Hlebbed teams he was on, so I was wondering… Is Hlebbing hereditary?”


Outside the joint Barca laboratory-library, Camp Nou: 13:34 CET, Barcelona, Spain.

“Stop this insanity now, Ramon.”

“Step aside, Zubi. I need to get to the lab.”

“I dare not. This is preposterous—”

“This is science.”

“This is madness.”

“Madness? THIS. IS. BARCA.”


“…Sorry. I thought we were still playing that game.”

A cough. “In any case, I cannot let you go further. The files of He Who Must Not Be Named For Fear Of Being Forever Hlebbed are confidential and, more importantly, dangerous.”

“Boulderdash. I was responsible for The Yaya’s files and that information was even kept from The Pentagon.”

“Oh, for the love of all that is good and Messi, Ramon, think of the children–!”

“—Bojan’s not here anymore!”  A harsh intake of breath. “As for Ibi, I left his falafel stash and bedtime stories with Unzue. And for Alexis, marshmallows and a ‘Where’s Rodolfo?’ picture book. ”

A heated glare. “And Thiago?”

“You and I both know he never needed babysitting.”

A pause. Inhale. Exhale.

“Don’t do this, Cugat. You know how this will end.”

“And even so, I must. It will be a great victory, not only for science, but for all of football.”

Zubi held his gaze for a moment and looked away. Slowly, he stepped aside.

“Do what you like. But remember, we need you for Hlebruary.” A nod. “…And be careful. Who knows what’s in there; what you will read…”

Cugat gripped the door handle. “I know. But there’s no need to worry; if it’s for a victorious football, Xavi will guide me.”


“This is it. I’ve done it! After brutal weeks of research, the secrets of HLEB are mine! All mine!”

A pause. Then, “No, actually, I don’t remember the last time I took a shower. Been dying for one though.”



“Is this for real?”

“I can’t believe someone thinks they know what makes Hleb tick.”

“Unbelievable. I’ll have to read it to believe it.”

A door pushes open, revealing a dark haired man with glasses carrying a portfolio. He makes his way to the podium. The packed auditorium falls silent.

“Welcome, everyone. Today, I will release my highly anticipated book, ‘The Origins of HLEB.’ After many weeks of painstaking research, after many days wondering if I’ll ever see the light of day again, I’ve found the secret.

“The process was a difficult one. I had to go through many theories and explanations to develop my own thesis.

“In 1894, the poem ‘The Road Less Hlebbed’ was released in obscurity, and many researchers believed it was the key, but it goes deeper than that. Much deeper. I have found the genetic makeup that makes Hleb, Hleb.”

Collective gasps ring around the auditorium.

“So without further ado…”


The Origins of HLEB

by Dr. Ramon Cugat.


A forewarning for those reading this: This tale is not one for the faint of heart. It delves into the real, terrifying, and extraordinary secrets that make up the creature Aliaksandrus Debblehneebtsujevahuoya Paulaxvichae !xohlebcus, known to us as simply HLEB.

The creature HLEB has long since been an enigmatic being to all of football mankind. Famed for its futility, nomadic since creation, its whereabouts were generally unknown, though many have claimed to have once seen HLEB.  Some tell of German myths which assert that HLEB has been frolicking about in their lands for years; others situated in English shores speak of tales of an Alexander The Hleb who twice came to their island and stayed for many winters. In Asian folklore, there was a story of a failure so large; it went viral on the internet. All nations claim to have empirical evidence to support their claim.

However, even if the above were true, it did not answer the true questions people had. Questions such as: why did offensive moves dawdle or fail whenever the ball reached HLEB? Why was it that fans and players alike felt an unrelenting feeling of despair, helplessness, and foreboding whenever HLEB had the ball? Was its failure contagious? What made HLEB become the way it was? And more pressingly, was the ability to Hleb someone or something hereditary?

No one dared to answer these questions.

Until now.


Many seem to believe that the famous poem ‘A Road Less Hlebbed’ was the key to finding out the origins of HLEB. That is not true. While it is a brilliant work as a standalone, it does not delve into the true mechanics, the raw details, of what makes up HLEB.

After spending many weeks in the bowels of Camp Nou, I have read many books — so good, some not so good — and have developed my own theory. The discovery I have made is so ground-breaking, it may create a new field of science.

The discovery? The existence of… The H Genes.


CHAPTER H: The H Genes

The modern science of Hlebbing Genetics, which seeks to understand the process of inheritance of Hlebbing, only began with the work of Gregor Mendel in the mid-nineteenth century. Although he did not know the physical basis for heredity, Mendel observed that organisms inherit traits via discrete units of inheritance, which are now called H genes.

H(leb) genes correspond to regions within DNA, a molecule composed of a chain of four different types of nucleotides—H (hlebenine),L (lebthemine), E (ebtosine), B (buanine).  The sequence of these nucleotides is the genetic information organisms inherit. DNA naturally occurs in a double stranded form, with nucleotides on each strand complementary to each other. Each strand can act as a template for creating a new partner strand—this is the physical method for making copies of H genes that can be inherited.



So to answer your question, Ibi, yes: Hlebbing is hereditary.


[insert YT video of fail]


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Just your neighbourhood Barca fanatic


    • blitzen
      October 12, 2011

      (This is a map of the 41 passes leading up to the goal, in case you aren’t sure you want to click on the link.)

      • just listenin
        October 13, 2011

        How many Xavi’s were on the field? If you actually trace the passes, he’s everywhere. in left midfield at the start, then forward right around midway through the sequence, and then you can really see how he orchestrates these build ups as the passes get in to the 30’s. The map gets a little dense in the middle of the pitch but I’m pretty sure it may indicate that he even completes a pass to himself across some distance. Thanks – nice chart.

        • blitzen
          October 13, 2011

          Yes, he either passes and then runs onto the ball himself or dribbles with it at least twice.

          And this is why Xavi is regularly the player who runs the longest distance in any given game.

          • just listenin
            October 13, 2011

            I was trying to be funny about the passing to himself 😉
            But, that said, what he does, does in a sense accomplish that very feat. This chart shows really well as you say about just how he covers distance (and why his achilles must be aching after all these years), and that effect he has of just seemingly appearing when needed to show for a pass. I really thought this a good illustration of classic Xavi pulling the strings.

    • mom4
      October 12, 2011

      Impressive! Imma go to ESPN3 and rewatch that goal!

    • nzm
      October 13, 2011

      Holy crapamole – that’s good!

      Xavi was all over the pitch – Silva did some moving too.

  1. mom4
    October 12, 2011

    Oh my gosh, Kari, that’s funny.
    Hleb nucleotides! 😆

    “In 1894, the poem ‘The Road Less Hlebbed’ was released in obscurity, and many researchers believed it was the key, but it goes deeper than that.”
    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and Barca—
    Barca took the one less Hlebbed,
    And that has made all the difference. *forgive me Robert Frost*

  2. blitzen
    October 12, 2011

    Pique on the 3-4-3:

    It’s true that we (the centre-backs) haven’t been starters lately, but ‘Masch’ has been playing at a brutally high level, he’s been amazing as a centre-back. Alves and Abidal are the ideal players to play on the wings. Besides, this is Barca. No one should ever think that just because they did well in the past they have their spot in the line-up secure for the next match. That’s not how it works in this team and I’m perfectly aware of that.


    (Kari, this is an excellent post, but I’m not commenting on it because I don’t want to bring the curse of Hleb down on us all. You should be careful. Next thing you know, we will find out that Hleb is somehow related to Messi as well, and it is only Leo’s Barça DNA that is preventing a Hleb/Anti-Hleb implosion of epic proportions. I fear for us all! DOOMED!)

  3. October 12, 2011

    The only drawback of Markov Chains is that they are memory-less and hence the previous states don’t matter but only the current one does.

    In terms of football the only problem this has is that say Xavi played the ball to Pedro on the right which caused the defense to shift towards right leaving Villa in the space on the left. And hence the state changed because of a previous move, ie Xavi’s pass trying to stretch defense & cause gaps.


    Yes. This was my point. Football is comprised of continuous events that are very difficult to break down into discrete states that are ahistorical and memoryless. It’s difficult to discretize football and future probabilities are contingent, IMO. I don’t think football is analagous to chess (or even baseball) in this regard.

    As an example, one of the situations Sara analyzed were counters. I don’t believe counters are memoryless. Just take the most basic aspect of the counter – acceleration and cumulative fatigue. Where the move begins and the initial state of the counter matters in defining the future. Moves and players who start deeper on the pitch will likely be more fatigued and have less acceleration and even possibly control at the end of the move.

    And the kind of example you brought up is even more concerning. Because that example is at the heart of football. This is the essence of the game.

    So much of the game is about controlling space through movement. That’s how defenses are broken down (while Barca is extreme to the degree they do this – movement induced state change in defense is a fundamental principle of the game at large. This is what tactics are about)

    This is why I have concerns. I don’t think assumptions of states being “memoryless” hold and if the markov principle is violated then the methodology at large is compromised.

    Again, I applaud Sara’s efforts. Unfortunately, I think the mathematics are much more problematic – in fact they may even be intractable in certain ways.

    All models require assumptions. But this strikes me as a situation where substantive assumptions are being made that diverge from reality in order to make analysis tractable.

    I’d have to see more of what she was doing in the analysis, but these are my initial thoughts.

    • mom4
      October 12, 2011

      When football stars are being analyzed using mathematical models, do they still look hot in the new black kits? 😉

      • mei
        October 12, 2011

        no kits available most probably, but their numbers are gonna be hot no doubt about that 🙂

    • mei
      October 12, 2011

      Im going to say this without having read sara’s work , relying solely on the mathematical concepts.

      I think you are reading too much into the “memory less” definition.

      Markov chains help to, after all amongst many other things, accurately simulate posterior distributions.

      Monte Carlo MC in particular.
      Starting position,also has some effect at the end of the process when you are gonna pick your sample , so “previous position dont matter” isnt entirely accurate as well.

      The problem that arises in such methods is not what properties you are gonna include in them but after how many steps you are gonna pick your sample from.

      • October 12, 2011

        The problem that arises in such methods is not what properties you are gonna include in them but after how many steps you are gonna pick your sample from.

        Regarding Monte Carol methods – I generally agree with you – but I didn’t comment on that as I don’t believe Monte Carlo methods were part of the analysis. It was only markov chains for selected discrete, game states.

        On your point above – I think that’s an example of a class of very important questions that arise when trying to use these kinds of approaches to football. The reason why sampling is a particular issue is because substantively the game is not composed of discrete states. So there’s a major question about how to generate and interpret the issues like posterior distributions.

        This is an issue I deal with regularly (though in a different way) when I work on those tactical reviews. It’s part of why they tend to be so long. I try to include still shots as evidence for what I’m writing. But ultimately football is a game of “flows” rather than “states” and how to discretize those flows into analytically tractable problem spaces is a real issue. It’s why I write so much narrative around the image – as cross sectional states they are insufficient for understanding or even predicting future states (or posterior distributions). They can highlight issues. But the prior states matter, IMO.

        I understand the issues of mathematics and analysis involved. The questions I’m asking are conceptual and theoretical in nature.

        To discretize game play into states, one needs to base that analysis on a validated body of theory. It’s theory development, IMO, that is a fundamental issue with trying to quantify the game.

    • Ryan
      October 12, 2011

      Hmmm, I might have to reconsider my preference for FIFA over PES with those kinds of goal celebrations!

  4. blitzen
    October 12, 2011

    Just to add to the weirdness of this thread and because I am procrastinating, I will share the dream I had last night:

    I was at Camp Nou for my very first time to watch a match Barça was playing against a team that seemed to be a cross between Athletic Bilbao and Shakhtar Donetsk, only uglier. It was pouring rain, I had an obstructed view, and Pep was playing an entirely youth team with the exceptions of Valdes and Puyol. We lost 0-2, and of course one of the goals was from a corner. On the bright side, I got to talk to Puyol (did you know he is fluent in Irish Gaelic? 😛 ) and had my picture taken with God Made Him. Also people kept giving me homemade snacks.

    So not quite a nightmare, then.

    Is international break over yet?

    • mom4
      October 12, 2011

      Weirdness of this thread?

      Euler and Triplo, 99 levels of intelligence above this mere mortal, continue their discussion about mathematic models and soccer, Kari is mixing Mendelian genetics with poetry, messifan is posting a vid of a (virtual) Messi moonwalking(hilarious btw), and you are worrying about adding to the weirdness of this thread?!

      Were the snacks good?

      • blitzen
        October 12, 2011

        Yes, but they didn’t come with sprinklers like yours do.

        • mom4
          October 13, 2011

          Don’t tell Bassam, but the sprinklers are red and yellow because of the Catalan senyera. He thinks they’re red and yellow for the Spanish flag 😉

          • nzm
            October 13, 2011

            I think he would catch on as soon as he started counting them.

            Catalonian snacks would have a count of 4 red sprinklers to every 5 yellow.

            Spain snacks would have 2 reds for every 1 yellow.


          • mom4
            October 13, 2011

            Nah, in the pic I usually post the sprinklers are mixed. He’ll never suspect 😉

  5. October 12, 2011

    Has this thread gotten weird? Hmmm…. Compared to our usual conversation here at BFB? 🙂

    If I couldn’t take comfort in emotionless mathematics, I would have to dwell even more on the death of creative midfield play in Argentina (and Brazil…). Venezuela? Seriously?

    Where is Lev?

    The most classically argentinian player in the world is currently a spaniard…

    I don’t know who in Argentina is capable of the showing the leadership required to change everything that is so broken with international football there. They are a mess.

    And they keep doing the same thing over and over and over. Note to the Argentinian FA: Martin Demichelis is not good. In fact he’s awful. Truly awful. Stop calling him up. No more caps. None.

    How is it possible that Javier Mascherano can anchor the backline for the best team in the world – but no Argentinian manager is capable of experimenting with him back there despite the fact that their defenders are horrendous and the squad has no lack of deeplying midfielders?

    Do something different. Anything. Just different. Your backline is uniformly awful. The CBs are horrible. And the full backs are perhaps worse.

    Try playing Mascherano at CB. Try Di Maria and Lavezzi at the full back – just experiment. Play Pastore. Do something.

    Make Kun a starter (yes I know he wasn’t dressed yesterday – in general. How can’t he be playing alongside messi?)

    Math is happier today than the Albiceleste today…

    • blaunero
      October 12, 2011

      I’ve come to the conclusion that not even God can make the albiceleste win again. No matter who it is that’s in charge, that man seems unable to motivate his players. They were like zombies yesterday. The only good passes were backwards, and there was virtually no movement without the ball. This team will go nowhere. There has to be a revolution of how the Argentinian FA does things, otherwise they will have wasted the talents of their second best player ever. Sometime I (Argentinian fan to the core) really think Messi should have played for Spain…

    • October 12, 2011

      I can understand them having bad full backs, because really, since Sorin, they haven’t had anyone decent on the left. And Zanetti is past it.

      I think it’s time to use a certain CB in the name of Garay. How he doesn’t get called up and game time is beyond me. Him and Mascherano can make a really good CB partnership, and one that plays the ball really well from the back.

      And I think you are spot on in saying Di Maria as a left back. He has the work rate to bomb back and forth. I don’t think Lavezzi AND Di Maria can both play in the full backs position, as it will be too risky defensively, especially for a NT. Di Maria can play on the left with, possibly, Bordisso on the right. When the team attacks, they can revert to 3 at the back.

      This will also free up some space for Pastore to play. Considering the players Argentina have, and while it sounds stupid, i think Messi’s best position for them is a bit less central and a tad deeper. They don’t have that player that can provide the killer pass. The further up Messi is, the less service he gets.

      Their problem isn’t the forward line. Their problem is getting the ball their and creating chances. Higuain (even though I’m biased because he is a favorite of mine) links up very well with Messi and Di Maria. He is also a striker that doesn’t need the ball at his feet to create something, as his best weapon is his off the ball movement. Combine that with Messi and Pastore passing, and you will have a winning formula.

      • blitzen
        October 12, 2011

        Yeah, I also think Di Maria could do well as a LB. When he stays on his feet *coughcough* he is a very talented player and has the speed to get up and down the full length of the field as needed. He wouldn’t be a physical threat, though, so a strong backline would be even more important. Honestly, watching how Mascherano has played over the last year, how has it not occurred to Sabello to play him at CB?

        At this point, recalling Maradona…as a starting to look like a good idea. :roll:

      • October 12, 2011

        I’ve wanted them to use one of their wide forwards at full back for quite some time.

        ARG literally has no quality options at FB to provide any width and there isn’t a great deal of quality at that position even in their younger players.

        So if they want to do something in the next WC they need to get on with it and utilize DiMaria or Lavezzi at FB (agree both may be too much – I meant more to chose one). It’s not ideal – but it’s better than the alternatives – which as we’ve well seen are awful.

        Di Maria’s skill sets would work very well at FB with time.

        The forward line is fantastic – best in the world and it’s not close. The back line is horrendous, obviously. Also really agree with you on Garay and I’ve said that here before. Unfortunately, he’s really been set back for the NT by how little he’s played at the club level over the past two seasons. Hopefully, he’ll now get the opportunity to play more and avoid injury.

        Mascherano and Garay may be their best options as a pairing. Unfortunately, neither one has played CB for ARG recently.

        The lack of quality at advanced midfield is purely tactical. The talent is there. The problem is that every manager basically has such little confidence in the back line he keeps trying to compensate for it by piling on more defensive skill sets into midfield. This drains them of creativity, isolates their front line and makes it challenging for them to score much more often than it seems they should given the frontline quality.

        Play Di Maria at LB with Messi, Aguerro and Higuain up top in some kind of arrangement.

        The reason why I think FB is so critical to them is that a 4-3-1-2 type of alignment with Messi as the 10 might be their best shape. But to play that you need two things – 1) two full backs that have strong pace, high work rates and attacking thrust to provide width; 2) A creative midfielder to make sure Messi doesn’t wind up dropping so deep he functionally turns into a central midfielder rather than a true 10.

        • mega_tajh
          October 12, 2011

          They do have the Rubin Kazan fullback who impressed me alot when we played them, Cristian Ansaldi his name was and he played LB I think. He goes forward quite well just defending is a bit iffy.

    • Lou
      October 12, 2011

      Regarding Mascherano at centerback, isn’t the issue that Barcelona plays defense quite differently from most other teams? In particular they play with a really high backline. Masch is an awesome CB for that system as he is fast, well positioned and a great tackler. But Argentina can’t defend the same way because they don’t have pacey defenders and they don’t press as well, so I wonder if Masch would be as effective. Certainly he has a height disadvantage in defending crosses.

      I wonder how he would do as a right back though. Maybe you could have Mascherano on the right for pace and steel, and a converted winger like Di Maria at leftback for width.

      • October 12, 2011

        These are all very good points. It’s clearly an issue and challenge for the ARG NT to use Masch at FB – they aren’t Barca and don’t defend like them.

        All that said, the decision to play Masch has to be seen in terms of alternatives and trade offs.

        Let’s put it this way – Martin Demechelis actually played for them in a world cup qualifier.

        That’s how bad the situation is.

        Compared to that – Masch at CB is something they need to at least experiment with.

        Sure Masch may struggle with crosses if they defend deep. But Demechelis and Burdisso and Otamendi, etc. struggle with far more than crosses alone. Those players have no pace for example and get beat regularly. At least Masch could stop that.

        At this point you have to try because the alternatives are both awful and have a track record of failure.

  6. barca96
    October 12, 2011

    I didn’t watch any of the NT’s games but how did Messi play? I saw no one commenting on it. So I guess he was below par???

    I was reading this interview of Villa yesterday morning and I was sobbing while I was in the loo letting nature run it’s course(?).


    it was everyone’s dream to be the first to lift the cup at Wembley, and he gave it up so Abi could do it


    To be honest, playing by his side has made me a better footballer. Look, when in the future people see a photo of Messi and I’m also in the picture, I’ll be able to say “I played with Leo Messi.

  7. Triplo Volanti (formerly Cesc Pistol)
    October 13, 2011

    @mei & Euler: You guys brought up interesting elements which allow me to express why I think it’s useful:

    Euler you’re absolutely right in that in theory it does not capture flows of the game. But the issue at the heart of modelling is that a new model should be able to improve over existing ones even though it is flawed itself. Secondly it captures broader essence of the reality it is trying to model and gives useful outputs that have insight.

    The best way to look at this model is similar to taking pics of the field at various intervals.
    While reality is a continuum (not going in physics here 😛 ) the sampling is done at certain intervals (in her analysis at every touch of the ball)

    So what we have is a picture at every touch but this picture isn’t a complete one, it misses out a large chunk of data and simplifies alot of it as well. What it does do is convert significant details into usable numbers as state.

    For example: If a player is marked or open, how many defensive lines are between player and goal, in which part of the field is the player situated (distributed into zones) and which players ahead or just behind him are passing options etc. (the last one her analysis doesn’t take into account but I assume will evolve to incorporate)

    Why I think it’s useful is that it takes into account far more things compared to the best your avg user has now: chalkboards,442 stats app etc. use highly disjoint info. They almost never take into account the defensive state(marking, defenders before goal or even the basic offside defensive line) or offensive state(no. of open players ahead etc.)

    So it builds greatly over the existing methodology which has independent events such as passes, tackles etc. but never tries to take into account a state (and one which will give a better picture as it is developed)

    It’s extremely early in it’s conception so there is ALOT of things it misses out but the idea is better than most existing ones despite being imperfect.

    • nzm
      October 13, 2011

      Too late – messifan posted this way above. 😛

  8. nzm
    October 13, 2011

    Kari – whatever you were on when you wrote this, can I please have some? 😀

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