Yes, they are finally here! Just a few end-of-season thoughts from me. Thanks to everyone for sticking around and keeping the discussion interesting!
Crystal Faucet Award For Persistent Tapping Up: Dani Alves, who may have been working on some kind of commision from Sandro Rosell, considering the number of quotes in the media where he urged Neymar to come and play for Barcelona. While he stopped just short of pulling a blaugrana shirt over his head at a public event (for some reason this tends not to go down well), the constant Chinese water torture-like drip-drip-dripping of persuasion into Neymar’s ears must have had some effect on his final decision. I hope Rosell is planning to reward Dani appropriately.
Floats Like A Butterfly, Stings Like A Bee Award: We the faithful have known it for years, but 2013 seems to be the year that Sergio Busquets has finally received the respect he deserves as a player. A certain type of pundit and ignorant fan may still hate on him, but glowing tributes have flowed in from the likes of World Cup-winning Argentine manager Cesar Luis Menotti, VIncent Del Bosque, journalists such as Marti Perarnau, his Bara and La Roja teammates, and even Abdullah Otayf, a Saudi Arabian player who, after scoring a goal against Yemen, lifted his shirt to show off a picture of Busi, his “favourite player”. Respect. Oh, and also? Busi got skills, yo:
Suicidal Tendoncies Award: Xavi has been suffering problems with his Achilles tendons for several years. Xavi still thinks he can play 60+ games a year. Something has to give. Either he is going to suffer a catastrophic setback soon, or his coaches will wise up and start sitting him more often, but he cannot go on like this.
Die With Your Boots On Award: Speaking of which, Puyol. Frankly they are going to have to carry him off the pitch in a casket before he retires, and thank goodness for that! Yes, he has had a couple of very bad seasons with injuries, but people are much too quick to write him off as over the hill. I think he has at least a couple of good seasons left in him. No, he won’t be playing every game, maybe not even every other game, but on his day he is still one of the best CB’s this team has ever had. He may have slowed down, but his game intelligence, experience and leadership on and off the pitch are absolutely vital to the team.
MOTS Award: 1. Andres Iniesta. This entire season, Iniesta has been playing breathtaking football. If you can even still call it football, and not “magic dream-ball” or “unicorn sparkleball”. I have run out of ways to express the beauty of what he does on the pitch. All I know is, I don’t ever want him to stop doing it. 2. Lionel Messi. I don’t always give enough acknowledgement for what Messi contributes to the team, because he is, you know, Messi. But no one can deny that there were many games this season where Messi carried a tired-looking team to victory. His ability to rise above the fatigue and create something out of nothing are unmatched anywhere. Thanks, Leo. 3. Jordi Alba. This was a tough one, as my mind naturally defaults to Busquets as one of the essential players on the team, but I decided to give it to Jordi as I believe he exceeded everyone’s expectations. His link-up play with Iniesta and Cesc in particular has been nothing short of brilliant. If he lacks a little in height, he makes up for it in speed and positioning. Right now I would say he is one of the best LBs in the world.
Lionel Messi Award For Being Lionel Messi: Neymar! Just kidding. Lionel Messi.
Chumbawamba Award (I Get Knocked Down): Number of times Eric Abidal has had cancer: 2. Number of times Eric Abidal has beaten cancer: 2. Same for Tito Vilanova. You can talk about results (or lack of), tactics (or lack of), players (or lack of), and trophies (or lack of) if you want to, but for me the overwhelming narrative of this season will always be the struggle and triumph of these two men, and how the club and the other players also rose to the challenge. Their stories have different endings, as one man is still with the club, and the other is not–but that’s part of the narrative as well.
Bilbo Baggins Award For Unlikely Heroics: It wasn’t the job he was hired for. It certainly wasn’t the job he wanted, at least not in the way it was thrust upon him. But it was the job he stepped up and took, coaching the team while Tito was away in NYC being treated for his cancer. We spent a lot of time on this blog criticising Jordi Roura for his tactical decisions, his lineups, his lack of rotation, but I don’t think any of us can appreciate the pressure of the situation he found himself in. All things considered, I think Roura did the best job he could under the circumstances, and I am grateful to him for getting the team through a difficult time.
Trollhattan Memorial Troll Of The Season Award: Dani Alves, for his constant stream of instagram photos showcasing his “interesting” fashion choices, including such classics as “droopy diaper-pants”, giant cowl-neck sweater, and “hats of many kinds”. Runner-up: Jordi Alba, who fooled us all into thinking he was a cute, mild-mannered quokka, but is actually quite a snappy little rodent when things go against him on the pitch. Take a time out, Jordi.
Match Of The Season Award: This has, to put it mildly, been an inconsistent season. We have seen games where the team has played with gorgeous, effective fluidity (the two league games against Malaga, for example), and games where they…haven’t (Bayern Munich comes to mind). But for sheer balls-to-the-wall craziness and entertainment value, the game of the season has to be Deportivo la Coruna 4:5 FC Barcelona from October 20. No one could say this was a “good” game, exactly, and for a cule it was heart-attack inducing, but it was brilliant to watch and for me a perfect microcosm of this season: sublime, absurd, frustrating, fun. Watch highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_E6tJS9j1w
Brother, Can You Spare Some Time? Award: 30+ mins in 60% of the games. That’s the (speculated) amount of time that Thiago needed to play to avoid activating that infamous 18M buyout clause. I’m not going to get into a detailed discussion/lamentation of how in the world the club and coaches could have let this happen (as that’s all my twitter TL talks about these days), but no one can really be guaranteed that sort of playing time, not at his age, anyway. If that was the expectation, then it was unrealistic. Having said that, though, I will be immensely pissed off if Thiago does leave simply because the club couldn’t be arsed to assure him that he is, and will be, an important player.
Pintocalypse Now Award: We are so used to laughing at Pinto’s eccentricity and occasional “walkabout” moment that we tend to forget that he is also an extremely good goalkeeper. He was consistently good all season (more consistent than Valdes, IMO), and looked very comfortable filling in for Valdes when he was injured. No one is going to say Pinto is better than Valdes, but we are very lucky to have had such a good Number 2 for several years, and I wanted to give him some recognition. Pinto has one more year left on his contract. If he continues in this form I wonder if the club would consider keeping him on as second (or even third) keeper for even longer?
Golden Gooseberry Award: You know that person who tags along when you’re out with your date, or invites himself over to your house and doesn’t know when to leave even though you keep dropping hints that you *really* need to get back to studying? But you don’t want to ask him to leave because he’s a nice guy and you don’t want to hurt his feelings, but you wish he would just get the hint already and leave so you can be alone with your special someone? That’s JDS.
Sound and Fury Award: Mourinho has left Real Madrid after three seasons, and what is his legacy? A league title, a Copa Del Rey, and a Supercup. A broken dressing-room, a divided club, and a poisonous attitude from “fans” to cherished club icons. And what has he actually contributed to Spanish football in that time? Nothing. Ultimately Mou was “but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more.”
Jeffren Suarez Memorial Cloak Of Invisibility: Marc Bartra, who has gone from being the most talented CB of his class to an unloved bench-rider who only gets rolled out when literally every other option has been exhausted (and confined to a wheelchair). Shockingly, he couldn’t even get minutes when the league was already won and the last few games were just mopping up a few extra points. To his immense credit, Bartra has kept an excellent attitude throughout this season. He never complained, always trained with a smile on his face, and never even looked sulky when sitting in the stands. I really hope Tito was watching his performance at the U21 Euros closely, as he was excellent throughout the competition.
Alexander Hleb Award For Unabashed Mediocrity: Eusebio Sacristan. The Barcelona B team finished a limp 9th in the table, which is better than they deserved after a season marred by poor defending, tactical nonsense, and outright favouritism by the coach. They even finished a place behind RM Castilla. Eusebio has been rewarded for this with yet another contract and will be benching talented players in the 2013/14 season as well. Hlebbed.
Get Thee To A Nunnery Award: The wives & girlfriends of the entire team. Next season can we have a little less babymaking and a little more attention to playing football, please?
Get Thee To A Gunnery Award: Gonzalo Higuain. See what I did there?
Bait & Switch Award: Sandro Rosell. When the news came out that FCB was selling the advertising rights to the shirt, amidst much wailing and gnashing of teeth in these parts, there was at least a glimmer of consolation in that the proposed sponsor–the Qatar Foundation–was a charitable organization with many admirable projects to its name. Two years later we found out that there was an agreement all along that there would be a switch to a commercial sponsor starting in the 2013/14 season. Starting this preseason, Barça shirts will carry the logo of Qatar Airways. “I told you about this. Yes, I did! You just didn’t read the fine print!” Well done, Rosell.
You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want To Do It) Award: To all the BFB faithful who have stuck with us all season. This blog has had its up and downs, but it is still one of the best ones out there, and I am grateful to all of you who continue to keep this conversation at a high level. Special thanks to my fellow moderators Isaiah, Kxevin, Levon, Calvin, nzm, Linda, Euler, and Soccer Mom. And a special shout-out to those who read but do not post. Stick around and say hi sometime. Things are going to be quiet around here over the summer, but we will still be here, posting occasionally as things strike our interest.