I admit, I’ve been off to a slow start this season. But then I heard that Rio Ferdinand was planning his own awards, the “Footies”, and I was spurred to action! Make no mistake, the blitzens are the premier football awards going. Accept no substitutes!
Falling Up Award: Neymar is a diver. Even his biggest fans admit that. It sucks that someone with the immense skills that he has also resorts to sleazy tactics like diving and simulation. He also gets fouled a lot. I think the commentators said that he has been fouled twice as much as any other Barça player so far this season. This might give him extra motivation to go down easily. HOWEVER. Tata said the other day that he expects the same of Neymar as he does of any other player when he gets fouled: “get up, put the ball on the ground & play”. To his enormous credit, this is exactly what Neymar has done.
Still Waters Run Deep Award: Tuesday’s game had several remarkable sequences of play, but none was more special than the clusterfuck in front of goal that saw Messi’s shot ping-pong back and forth just shy of the goalline, then get frantically cleared…right into the path of the one Barça player who can be relied to never take a shot on goal if he can possibly avoid it. Except this time he didn’t avoid it. It wasn’t the most elegant strike in the world, but it was powerful and straight, and when it went in, Busquets broke out in the biggest, sweetest grin ever–and once his teammates had recovered from the shock, so did they. I really hope Busi keeps taking shots like that, it was the highlight of the game for me.
The Kid Is Alright Award: I have been holding off on commenting much on Neymar’s performances so far this season, because I don’t think it’s fair to judge a player until he has had a chance to settle in properly with the team. For the record, I was against buying Neymar because I didn’t think he was a necessity and we needed a centre-back far more (still do!). I still think we overpaid for him. Neymar showed up with a good attitude and intention to work hard, but although his talent was obvious, he still lacked something in his connection with his teammates. Tuesday’s game was the first time I really felt he really got it, that connection, that seamless give-and-go, that makes this team what it is. It was a very complete performance, and I was honestly impressed. I look forward to seeing him continue like this as the season goes on.
Never Mind The Bollocks Award: You can debate Tata’s tactics* all you want, but his press conferences have been nothing less than brilliant. Our new coach is impressively straightforward. He doesn’t dodge questions, he says what is on his mind, and he is very clear on who makes the decisions regarding the team. If he is less “media-friendly” than Pep, he makes up for that by outright refusing to entertain questions with an obvious agenda. It’s pretty awesome, really.
You Spin Me Right Round Baby Award: Rotation. We have it.
Small Packages Award: So our best players in the air are Leaping Lexus, and Messi, who now scores headers at will? Um, Pique? Not to single you out or anything, but your height has always been kind of one of your best features, and it just seems a bit odd that the two shortest players on the team can outjump you. So maybe work on that?
The Kid Is Alright Award, Part 2: Not only did Bartra get to play 2/3 of a game (get well soon, Masche! Please?), but he also scored a goal! I think this is exactly what Bartra needed to give him confidence. I have been watching this kid play for several years now, and I am sure he has the quality to succeed at Barça, but he has a tendency to get nervous when playing for the first team (this doesn’t happen when he plays for the U21 team). Some serious minutes, no major mistakes, a goal–this will all help him to relax and step up his game. He has no choice now, anyway. Masche is out for another week or two and Puyol hasn’t been given the green light yet.
The Pause That Refreshes Award: Messi was subbed out with 10 or 15 minutes left in the game. Was I the only one waiting for him to go into the dressing room, then come back out holding a can of Coke and drink it right in front of Tata?
Fashion Fetish Award: It’s not just me, right? Tata has worn the same blue sports jacket to every game. At first I thought he must have very few other options, living in a hotel as he is, and his wife still being in Argentina and not being able to shop for him. But certainly the club could have found someone to pick him out some new threads by now. No, the truth is that Martino, after having made a perfect start in the league and winning all the possible points available plus a Supercopa, has fallen prey to superstition. He is afraid that if he changes his jacket, his perfect run will end. This is the only explanation.
The Kid Is Alright Award, Part 3: There was a joint training session today, with the first team and Barça B training together as well as a few Juvenil A and B players. One of the lucky Juvenil B players was 16-year-old Adria Vilanova, son of former coach Tito Vilanova. I imagine he got an extra-warm welcome from the senior players. He’s a good player, too. A centre-back. Tall. Catalan. Just saying…
*”Tata’s tactics” Say that three times fast!