Hello and Happy New Year, everybody! I know it’s been a long time, so here is a bumper edition of blitzen awards to start 2014 off on the right foot! Enjoy!
Busquets d’Or: A new award, for the most perennially underrated player of the year/game/moment. And the inaugural winner is: SERGIO BUSQUETS! Although most of the top pundits these days seem to appreciate what Busi brings to the team, and he even appears on Top Ten Players lists with increasing frequency, no one so far has had the courage to place him at the top, or even in the top three. For my money, Busi has been by far the best midfielder in the world so far this season (yes, even better than Xavi or Iniesta), and should be on the shortlist for that golden trinket they are handing out in a couple of weeks. Of course, he never will be. But we know, don’t we? WE KNOW.
Pabst Blue Ribbon Award For Unabashed Hypsteria: The Barclay’s Premier League and English football teams in general, for whom the must-have accessory of the year is a Spanish football player, *any* Spanish player, regardless of actual talent or experience. To be an English team without at least a couple of Spaniards these days is downright shocking.
Prodigal Sons Award: Gerard Deulofeu, who injury notwithstanding, has been making quite an impression at Everton where he is on loan for the season (possibly two?). His current coach, Martinez, has expressed surprise that he has adapted so easily to the English game, and been more than effusive in praising his skills and “arrogance, but the right sort of arrogance”. It seems his year away has helped Geri mature and rise to the level expected of him, while losing some of the selfishness that has previously tainted his game. I don’t know about you, but I am very much looking forward to seeing what this can do when he plays alongside Messi, Neymar, Sanchez, Iniesta, ect. Runner-Up: Rafinha Alcantara, who has carved out a place for himself at Celta Vigo and become one of their most important players. While the club itself is stuck in the lower half of the table, it is clear that ex-Barça-B coach Luis Enrique values Rafinha highly and has a lot of faith in this young star’s talent. I see bright things in his future when he comes home.
Good Things Come To Those Who Wait Award: Marc Bartra, who did, and has earned his spot in the first team. Maybe he isn’t playing as many minutes as he deserves or as some would like to see, but he is still a junior player. He has the respect of his teammates and his coach, and if all goes well should be a fixture of our back line for years to come.
Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow Award: Isaac Cuenca, as all signs are pointing to a January exit for this talented young striker. He has been extremely unlucky, first with injuries that deprived him of playing time for the past two years, then with the arrival of Neymar whose presence is already impacting the minutes of Pedro & Tello, and lastly with being closely associated with Pep Guardiola, without whose attention he would still likely be playing for Sabadell. Although I would love to see Cuenca stay and be given a chance to prove himself, the fact that he has been healthy for a month without even being named to a match squad (much less actually make the bench) makes it pretty clear that he will be moving on. Runner-up: Ibrahim Afellay, see above points 1 & 2.
We Don’t Need Another Hero Award: Centre-back? Who needs a centre-back when we have four perfectly healthy ones right here? Lalalalala I CAN’T HEAR YOUUUU!!!!
Three Wise Men Award: The entire FCB board, who took turns dropping clangers that undermined the team, the coach, and their fans around the world. But the award goes especially to Javier Faus, for implying that Lionel Messi was a moneygrubbing diva, to Toni Freixa, for saying that Tito was better than Pep in every way, and to Jordi Cardoner, for dismissing foreign cules as “outsiders” whose value lies only in what the club can sell them. Well done, gentlemen!
Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire Award: Faus again, who got his toasted well and good when an obviously angry Lionel Messi responded to his remarks about renewing his contract. Our little Leo may seem meek and mild, but when you question his motives or the integrity of his family, the shields go up and the shit goes down.
Lo Puto Amo Award: Gerard “Tata” Martino. You may disagree with his tactic, you may disagree with his lineups, but you must acknowledge our coach’s masterful handling of the Spanish/Catalan press, even under extreme provocation. His press conferences have been a joy to behold, as Tata cuts through the usual bullshit with forthrightness, straight talk, and self-awareness. The media don’t like him because he calls them out on their crap and gets impatient when asked the same questions again and again. He can’t charm the journalists like Pep did, but his intelligence and no-nonsense approach are equally delightful.
The Mouse That Roared Award: Rumours of Pedro Rodriguez’ demise have been premature. Over the last two seasons there have been (and still are) those who underestimate him, who think he reached his peak under Pep and should be moved on, sold off so we can buy a “big name”. It’s true that last season was far from Pedro’s best, but this season has seen a resurgence, a refreshed, confident Pedro, as our little roadrunner simply cannot stop scoring for both club and country. Who would have thought that at the midway point Pedro would be our joint top-scorer (along with Messi)? Pedro has always been valued for his hard work on behalf of the whole team and for his relentlessly positive attitude. It’s really nice to see him being rewarded with goals and the confidence of the coach.
Nice Work If You Can Get It Award: According to my extensive research (I asked twitter and this was the result, can’t be bothered to check for accuracy ), Jonathan Dos Santos has played a total of 17 minutes this season, 181 minutes last season, and 288 minutes in 2011-2012 in all competitions. Now, admittedly, Jonathan has suffered a major injury that will rule him out until at least April, but I don’t imagine he would have played all that many minutes this year even if in full health. I don’t know exactly what JDS’s base salary is, but it seems to me that he is earning pretty good money to not do much of anything. JDS should have moved on 2 years ago and found a club that would be happy to use his considerable talents. I can only hope that this summer, when he is healed and ready to move on, he will find a forever home. Maybe he could go play with his brother Gio at Villarreal?
Smells Like Team Spirit Award: I don’t know if you have noticed, but there has been a lot of shit thrown at our team this season, and not only from the usual madridista suspects. Even the Barcelona press has published stories about unrest in the dressing room, players wanting to leave, and unhappiness with the coach and his tactics. Messi in particular has been targeted with rumours about his finances and his personal life, to the point where the club has actually (and unusually as compared to their inaction over the last several seasons) issued statements defending him. If the intention was for the Barcelona dressing room to descend into the morass of intrigue, jealousy and unhappiness that we saw in Real Madrid last season, the campaign has backfired. Our players have rallied around their coach and each other and seem closer than ever. This. Is. Barça.
These Are Not The Dro’s You’re Looking For Award: Sandro Rosell, for his impenetrable web of misdirection and deception surrounding his murky business dealings in Brazil, the U.S., and Andorra. You would need an advanced degree in Forensic Accounting to illuminate the morass of dubious payments, ill-defined “services rendered”, shady “representatives”, offshore accounts and shell corporations that represent Rosell’s sporting and marketing “interests”. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!
Brass Bollocks Award: Diego “Cholo” Simeone, who, despite having to sell off his best players every year, has developed a fantastic team and molded Atletico Madrid into trophy-winners and serious Liga title contenders. I couldn’t tell you much about his tactical nous, but what Simeone has in spades is the ability to infuse his players with self-confidence and the belief that they can take on any opponent and win. He has taken Diego Costa, previously know as a solid if not gifted forward, and transformed him into a force of nature running rampant over all opposition. David Villa, whose career took a sharp downward turn as he struggled to regain his form after breaking his leg, is reborn, revitalized, and dangerous. And Koke is finally getting the recognition he deserves as one of the finest midfielders in Spain. Simeone inspires his players to find their best selves, and is the perfect coach for this Atleti. How he was not nominated for Coach of the Year is a mystery. And a shame.
Every Step You Take Award: Thiago Alcantara. Since the days of Figo moving to Real Madrid, has there been another player whose every word, action, even thought have been more closely scrutinized than Thiago? Does he miss Barça, or has he forgotten us already? Is he grateful enough for what the club did for him, or do his words reveal the self-serving bastard we always knew he was? Has he come to praise Barça or to bury it? The boy can’t even fart without people wondering if his cul is pointed towards or away from Barcelona. This level of scrutiny of an ex-player speaks volumes about Thiago’s worth and talent–we know exactly what we have lost. After all, no one is monitoring every word Bojan speaks, are they? Whether you believe that Thiago left purely by choice, or was pushed out, or was kidnapped at knifepoint, he left a hole in our midfield that no other player can fit the same way, and he is missed.
How Low Can You Go Award: Hopefully not very much lower, as Barcelona B has now dropped into the relegation zone in the Segunda division, in 19th place with 23 points (only 3 points above rival bottom-feeders RM Castilla). I have written extensively in this space about my issues with Barça B coach Eusebio and how the team has been mismanaged over the past few years, so I won’t go into detail about how things have come to such a pass. Let’s just say that it is a combination of a younger-than-normal team, numerous injuries to key players, and a coach who at best appears clueless, and at worst seems to be actively inhibiting the development of talented young players. The worst part is that the current FCB board has already stated that it is no big deal if the B team is demoted to the Segunda B, when in fact it would be disastrous for our entire youth program.
The Day Football Broke My Heart Award: No, I’m not over it. I will likely never get over it. After two years of fighting the cancer that threatened to destroy his liver and end his career, Eric Abidal was finally back. Healthy. Fit. And ready to play. And he did play. He played as if he had never left. After so long with a huge gap in our back line, here was the CB/LB we have always needed. And they sent him away. Rosell and the other talking heads on the Barça board decided that this wonderful man, this excellent player, this living embodiment of the values the club claims to hold dear, was surplus to requirements. Even though they had made a public statement during his illness, a promise, that as soon as he was healthy they would offer him a new contract. They broke that promise. Their explanation? “Technical decision.” They had a press conference. Abidal, in tears. Rosell, pursing his lips and looking like butter wouldn’t melt. Zubi, the peacemaker, saying all the right things except WHY? FOR WHAT REASON? Well, we know it was money. Money the club would save on his salary that could be “better” spent on purchasing Thiago Silva (never happened) or topping up the Neymar Fund (tell us about that 40M, Sandro). Abidal, to his credit, has never spoken a single word of recrimination, not a jot of criticism except an air of puzzlement, of confusion as to why exactly he was sent away. He is better than that. I’m not. I will never, ever, forget this.
Joy to the World Award: The last few years have seen a remarkable baby boom amongst our players, with Messi, Pique, Pinto, Cesc, Pedro, David Villa (yes he counts), and Valdes (twice!) all welcoming new additions to their families. Tello, Iniesta, and our indomitable captain Puyol are all expecting as well. Even BFB has gotten into the spirit, as three (3!) of our mods have also been blessed with mini-mods in the past year. Something is definitely in the water in these cule parts…
So that’s the first half of our season! On behalf of all the mods in this space I would like to thank all our readers and commentators for making this space so special. Thanks for your patience during our time of transition, we are very grateful for all of you (even the ones we argue with ). Now it’s your turn:
Tell us, what are your hopes and dreams for Barça in 2014? What changes (if any) would you like to see? What is the one thing you would like to see happen in the coming months? (And don’t just say “Buy a CB”, you know everyone will say that! Be creative, be thoughtful, be silly. Let’s see what you come up with!)
We wish you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2014! Visca Barça!