Lost Ballons and departures, aka “Ain’t the vicarious life grand?”

messred

Football is us. It explains so much, really … the passion, the way we defend our teams and players, our views of those teams and players. It’s a game that we carry in our hearts and minds. It’s pure.

And because it is us, it makes us feel things that are in many ways, irrational. We take a player to heart so that when things happen, it feels like they happen to us, in a strange way. “How DARE they not give Messi the Ballon d’Or?! He is the best!”

It also makes us feel it more acutely when players we lionize are suddenly not those players any longer and sometimes stuff starts to make sense, even as you don’t really believe that it does, as you grasp for tenuous links to make seeming crazy talk make just a shard of sense.

What is the job of a football club? It depends on who you ask. To win? Okay. To make money? Sure. To provide a gentle place for its iconic players to be put out to pasture?

Hang on there, ace. Surely even the most devoted supporter of a player can see how that last isn’t even remotely compatible with that whole winning business.

On yet another level, a football club and the team that represents us, exists to meet a need that so many of us have — to feel something. We don the replica kit, find our way to a gathering place, or hunch over a laptop and a fuzzy stream that gets Whack-A-Moled by those pesky rights managers, and we are united in that one thing … Barça.

Because of that thing, that nebulous thing that unites us all as fans, be it Barça, United, Bayern, RM, Galatasaray, whatever side, the team becomes us, it is us. So we feel things. It isn’t logical. The millionaires capering about don’t care that you are laying on the floor, trying to will a shot just inside the far post. They don’t. They lose, shrug their shoulders and say “Tomorrow is another day.”

No it isn’t! The world has ended today!!”

We sometimes don’t understand, because the vicarious thrill, the living of life via sport, 90 minutes at a time, is a need. And it’s pure.

This week, on three separate occasions, we have been slapped in the face by that vicarious life of a supporter, the pain of things beyond our control, outrage, denial and disbelief. It isn’t just FC Barcelona that is wrestling with notions of identity in the face of what some call foreign ownership, crazy coaches, etc, etc. It is wrestling with what will be a great many changes not only in this summer coming, but in subsequent years. As the club wrestles, so do we.

On Monday, Lionel Messi didn’t win the Ballon d’Or. On Saturday, Carles Puyol was left out of the squad against Atleti. Also on Saturday, some people dared to utter something about Xavi, something odd and unspeakable.

No Ballon for you

When the word came down that Cristiano Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or, many reactions happened. Strong-hearted culers congratulated a man who probably doesn’t care what they think. Many, many more scoffed and hurled spiteful barbs about tantrums, tainted Ballons and bought awards. Why? Because dammit, Messi is ours. The vicarious life that we live through his exploits demands that satisfaction, that affirmation that he is the best, and therefore our blind trust in a diminutive genius isn’t misplaced.

Messi went to the ceremony, probably already knowing that he wasn’t going to win. He spent much time injured, and despite the calculations people used to insist that he still deserved it, despite a club president saying what he had to say as he called into question the fairness of an award that wasn’t going to his brightest star, it went to the right player.

But vicarious life tells too many that this is immaterial. To hell with that. Ronaldo whined and pouted in the aftermath of an old man’s terrible impersonation. And the voting was reopened with one thing in mind … to steal the award from our Messi.

Mmmmm, no. Congratulate Ronaldo, and fear not for Messi, because he has plenty of baubles for his trophy case, and will acquire plenty more. And even as football is life, stuff happens, and life does what it does.

One operation too many

puyol

On Saturday, in the biggest match of the season to date, Carles Puyol didn’t make the squad. Let’s think about that for a second: Captain Caveman, Tarzan, Lionheart, whatever you want to call him, wasn’t picked by Tata Martino to be part of the available match squad. How, and when did that happen? It seems like just yesterday he was slamming headed goals home, running pell-mell as he kissed the badge, emitting a leonine roar of triumph.

Then an elbow, a knee, another knee, and suddenly he’s a Cup player. Does it really happen that quickly, and is Barça guilty of hanging on too long? Recall that Martino was talking about Puyol as a “signing,” one that he was excited about. I don’t know what it does to him to leave Puyol off the squad. He doesn’t have the deep Barça roots, but he has a heart, so he understands.

Every coach has seen an athlete want it desperately, work hard to come back only to find that their performance is shaded by their desire. Someone once said that Barça needs to be “no team for old men,” and that is the struggle. In the constant turnover that happens at a club trying to stay at the top of world football, is there room for sentiment, for the kind of stuff that allowed the great defender Maldini to retire, massive ovation and all, from the Milan club to which he devoted the entirety of his playing life?

It’s painful to watch the players who we admired so, bought jerseys of, fiercely debated performance pluses and minuses of, become human. Even as someone who isn’t a fan of any particular player, I understand what Carles Puyol means to FC Barcelona. Everyone does. He is the fire at the team’s core, the thunder that always threatens to come down from the heavens at the slightest sign of things going awry.

And yet, Pique and Mascherano held down the fort and did so beautifully. Did anyone really ask about Puyol, or expect that he would be in a squad? Not much. A few of us noted it in various forms of social media, but there wasn’t much, probably for a number of reasons, all having to do with denial, and vicarious reality. If Puyol can’t do it any longer, then what? There was a curious silence about the absence of Puyol from the squad list. Nobody seemed to want to say it, or talk about it, but it was there — the end.

It SUCKS when our heroes can’t cut it any longer. Nostalgia is something that everyone, young and old, subscribes to. Puyol represents a period for Barça, a time for many culers that is so hard to let go of. Just as the sale of Ronaldinho closed the door on an era, when Puyol leaves this club, it will be even more momentous.

But make no mistake, leave the club he should. It’s time. I like to think that he understands this. He has been quoted as saying he will retire when he feels that he can no longer help the club that he loves, that he has fought so fiercely for. Unfortunately for our delicate psyches, that time has come. But how will it come? If there is any justice, Captain Caveman will make an announcement before the end of the season, and the last home match will find him at the microphone as ear-shattering waves of adulation rain down upon him, from culers who understand how absolutely titanic this man has been for this club.

Yes, there will be sadness, but that sadness shouldn’t be selfish in that we won’t get to see him charging up and back, matted locks trailing as if trying to keep up with a maniac. Spare a little for a lion whose heart has plenty left but is betrayed by his body and its accumulation of rips, tears, contusions, bruises and various knocks.

Which doesn’t mean it ain’t going to be weird.

Nonsense as a possible portent

xavi

This week, when Sandro Rosell said that Xavi basically helped to invent tika taka, many cringed. Lots of folks were making lots of invention claims this week as we rolled our eyes and said “Man, what a bunch of fools.”

And then, suddenly out of nowhere, came the wild rumor that Xavi would be leaving Barça this very summer for a team in the American professional football league, MLS. Suddenly, if you really looked at them in a way that is unacceptably crazy, maybe, just maybe, those Rosell natterings might seem, if you look at them just so, to take on the form of a valedictory for a great player.

None of us want to believe, even as time says “Go to hell” and takes things from us. Someone whose opinion I value said on Twitter during the Atleti clash that Xavi should no longer start the big matches. Wee, under-breath mutterings that maybe our metronome is past it have been going for a while. Then suddenly, one rumor came from one source, then another. Who picked what up from whom? Then a Catalan radio station with a good track record reported that a bid from the New York Red Bulls (yes, the same team Thierry Henry is aging gracefully at) had been tabled.

It’s hard to know what to think, even as a story quotes an MLS source with knowledge as saying that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to the rumors. Two years ago, even one year ago, something like that comes out and we laugh so hard we almost rupture something. Today, suddenly, even if just for a second, we pause.

Like Puyol, I can guarantee that Xavi does not want to stay at Barça for one second longer than he is useful. Their love for the club is too deep and complete. We have said that he needs more rest, that the forwards aren’t moving, that everything is fine and he just has to pick his spots. And he will pull out a performance that makes a liar out of the “he’s done” crowd, and people will stick out their chests and say “See? He still has it,” without analyzing what or how the performances happened. Vicarious life needs that, as we want our heroes to be as they were. Who wants to face an uncertain future? Hang on, Champ.

Yet as Barça face more and more teams that are physical, pressing and aggressive as they flood the midfield, the times that Xavi seems like a raft cast adrift become more frequent. The giveaways come more often, two within minutes vs Atleti, from a player who previously wouldn’t misplace two balls in an entire match. Past it? I can’t say. Past it against certain opponents?

Uncomfortable silences can sometimes be deafening.

Teams turn over personnel. They have to if they are to keep functioning at the highest level, as their supporters demand. AC Milan jettisoned Andrea Pirlo on a free. He then went on to play, define and star for Juventus. Was Milan stupid? Did they err? Nope. He just wasn’t, in light of the demands of that particular team, a player they were willing to keep. Football life is hard.

But MLS? Really? The rumor is almost certainly hogwash, as so many transfer rumors are. If there is any truth to it, I can see it because I just can’t see Xavi playing for another European side, even as I can see him wanting to keep playing for a bit longer. He isn’t ready to retire. Is he ready to dial things back a bit? Quite possibly, possibly not. But I do know this: the best way to honor our heroes is to look at them as they are, even as we remember how they were. It’s magic, it’s powerful. Just as we age, as friends come and go and life takes us through changes, there is one constant, and that is the team, whatever team that is.

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115 Responses to “Lost Ballons and departures, aka “Ain’t the vicarious life grand?””

  1. G6O says:

    The truth is that this club has no history of homegrown players retiring while still playing for it. I just can’t think of anyone in recent memory. Luis Enrique is the only club legend in the last few decades to retire as a Barca player and he was not a homegrown player and retired quite early (he could have still played elsewhere for a few years if he wanted to).

    Puyol will be the first exception from that pattern and it will be forced by injuries preventing him from playing altogether.

    It’s just a very high-pressure environment, which does not tolerate players who are not at the very top level, and it has only gotten worse in recent years. Eventually players enter a stage of their career when they are still good to play (and want to play but are not good enough for Barca).

    Milan managed to have a lot of club legend retire with the club but this was in a significantly less competitive situation.

    It would therefore not be a sensation if Xavi, and then Iniesta, at some point even Messi (it’s way too early for this, but Messi is the kind of character that lives for the game and I can easily seem him being 38 or something and still wanting to play) do not retire at the club. It’s sad that it is this way, but it’s a brutal business.

  2. fotobirajesh says:

    The whole football world seem to realise that had Messi was fit the whole year, this would have been the same story. So its fine. It was nice to know that Ronaldo needed this award so much. May be Messi is good in controlling his emotions better, not better, perfectly. Ronaldo must have earned a lot of well wishers yday night.

    I think the club should give a big send off game to Puyi and he should retire. We must not forget that he has a whole life ahead and any more injuries would not be good for the rest of his life. He deserves a healthy life after.

    We should not do what Milan did to Pirlo. Xavi will be with us at least for a couple of years. May be his playing time can go down, but he is important.

    • barca96 says:

      I actually think that Puyol is still good enough for us. He looked rusty this season but give him a run of games and then he will be at least good enough to be a reliable back up.

      His touch and decision making was off but that’s normal when you’ve been out for so long and only played a handful of matches in 2 seasons. His experience will still make him a valuable squad player. I am pretty sure if he can stay injury free for a few months and he gets to play regularly, he will be 50-70% of his old self.

      If Tata doesn’t think that he can’t even be 3rd choice, I would like Puyol to move to another club, preferably in another country where the defense sits deeper. At Barça, we play a high line, it requires the defender to have pace. Something that can’t be expected from a player of his age.

      I have Milan in mind. It would be good for Puyol. Classy historic club. Xavi too.

  3. ian_percival says:

    Nothing hurts me most than to see Penaldo blab about how he ”deserved” ballon d’or, ”i deserved it,i won it”, I cant wait for messi to start banging goals again

  4. allasFCB says:

    Hey guys, don’t worry – Cristiano has probably peaked in his career and that’s his highlight of his career. It’s his 5th season with the most expensive team in the history and they are still behind Barca (and Atleti) and are chasing their magical 10th CL. And with Portugal, he can’t even qualify from the most easiest groups.

    Messi is just going to peak and start to play at his best and he already has 4 Ballon D’ors so don’t worry at all ; )

    2014 is going to be one of the most exciting seasons. The race for La Liga is closer than ever, there are most contenders for the CL this season more than ever, and it’s the World Cup year! I wish all the Barca players best of luck and can’t wait for May/June already!

  5. barca96 says:

    Man…, how do you always come up with this? I don’t understand you writers, where does the inspiration come from to constantly write, daily or every few days. It’s so tough!

    And I love the way you write so much, that I love to read the sentences or every few sentences twice. One silently going normal speed and the next one out loud reading slowly like it’s a story book.

    You used to be funnier though as I mentioned many many times before (2 or more years ago). You were like a comedian lol. Now you hardly attempt. Your pieces used to leave me in stitches in the past. Now it’s more like a book from a wise man.

    • Kxevin says:

      Thank you for the very kind words. I confess that I don’t feel very humorous these days given all that surrounds the team, and there are others on the team who are better at lighter pieces than I. Truth to tell I have an idea, then sit down and start typing. A half-hour or so later, I’m done.

      Humor tends to require more thought and high concept, so I am happy to leave that to others with more time.

    • fotobirajesh says:

      Kevin, thanks for the links, afraid you have given the same link for both West and Winter.

    • barca96 says:

      If you ask me, Sergio Busquets should have at least been on the shortlist. I watched nearly every Barcelona game last year and he was outstanding in pretty much all of them. But Busquets doesn’t score goals, provide assists, embark upon mazy dribbles or produce flashy skills, so he was never going to get a look-in.

      Andy West hit the nail on the head! Btw, he is a writer from UK but he’s writing for a Malaysian newspaper? Correct me if I’m wrong. Usually foreign newspapers buy the articles from the writer’s original newspaper and when that is the case, it will say at the top or bottom but i couldn’t find anything here.

      Quite strange that he will write for Malaysian’s version of Daily Fail. It”s a very small company that has the lowest readership in the country.

      Btw, the link for Henry Winter is incorrect. And Sid Lowe is always on point with his articles except for his predictions and the jinxes lol

  6. bhed says:

    Beautiful piece. Nothing to add, but thanks for taking the time to write it.

  7. norden says:

    I don’t care about Ballon d’Or sice Cannavaro won it :) But the other part of the post is more interesting for me.

    I don’t think it’s time for Puyol to retire or move to another club, because he is still be a very good backup CB. Not to mention all the things he brings to the team off pitch.

  8. PrinceYuvi says:

    Appreciation comment for kx.

  9. njwv says:

    Love this. The endgame for legendary players is tough to think about. And most fans let their emotions get the better of them.

    I’d love to see Xavi or Puyol retire with Barça. I’d also love to see them keep playing as long as they can for whoever they want to. I don’t want to see either of them playing in the colors when they’re no longer able to perform as they need to.

    I also can’t help but read this and think of Valdes and how a lot of culers gave him crap when he decided he wanted to see out his contract and move on. Valdes gave us two years to figure out his replacement and helped us avoid all the angst we’re dealing with with Xavi and Puyol.

    Oh, and good luck to whoever wears the 5 and 6 shirts next. Holy crap will that be a heavy number to wear for a while.

  10. Levon says:

    Loved the article. If it is between remaining competitive or having certain players retire at the club I chose the former. Then again, the way Abidal was sent packing was a disgrace.

    I believe Puyol and Xavi have contracts that will keep them in Barcelona for the next couple of years, so technically it is really up to them where they retire.

  11. Huckleberry says:

    Funny reasoning of the agent of Sanabria that he was not a member of the B team. “3M or 12M buyout fee? For us, 3M. If shirt number is higher than 25, you’re not part of the team. He has 28.” (via barcastuff on twitter)
    There were 6 numbers free below 25…

  12. DianaKristinne says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for the great piece, Kx. The Puyol part brought tears to my eyes….

  13. blitzen says:

    Xavi’s agent says there is no truth to the rumours about him going to Red Bull NY. So y’all can settle down.

    And I will bet Kxevin 10 units of the currency of his choice (except not bitcoins, because what am I, a millionaire?) that Puyol does NOT retire at the end of this season.

  14. Ultraculé says:

    Just popped in to say that this is a lovely article.

    I cannot imagine a Barcelona without Puyol or Xavi. or even a Valdes for that matter. But its all going to happen soon. I can only hope and pray (even if I don’t pray) that our next captain tries to emulate Puyol in the kind of heart and commitment he constantly shows when he puts on this hallowed shirt.

    On the Ballon D’or and Ronaldo :
    I had mentioned earlier this year immediately after the Blatter blabber that, if anything, he had damaged Messi’s chances to win it as some corrective measures would have to be taken. How right I was. The extending of the voting deadline also lays further proof to that suspicion. In any case this whole prize is a joke, and we mustn’t dwell too much on it. Lets hope that this motivates Messi and the other Barca players to perform. One wonders what would have happened if Messi wasn’t injured.

  15. rocherto says:

    Kxevin Thank you as always for a piece that makes us cherish what we have been fortunate to witness over these many years. Thank you for calling him “Captain Caveman” that is how he is known in my house :)
    There is not a whole lot I can add to the speculation… But I did want to share this with everyone. One of my favorite moments of BFB.

    Type into the search of BFB “Post Clasico: Where I Spam You With Awesome”

    That first picture has been the background to my desktop ever since.

  16. barca96 says:

    To those that frequently visit the Guardian should know this person. He is a creepy Ronaldo fanboy. This is what he had to say after CR7’s Ballon d’Or win. It is pure GOLD!! My stomach is in stitches from laughing.

    tommoman
    13 January 2014 11:27pm

    Recommend 250

    Ronaldo is one of the truly greats.
    Not just this era but of any era.
    His transition from the scrawny kid who took to the pitch in the Home of Football, Old Trafford, to the colossus who has elevated the beautiful game to new heights at Real Madrid is truly mesmerising.
    He is a comet blazing across the sky of our consciousness.
    Some nights I get down on my knees and thank God I was born in this era which has afforded me the opportunity to witness this god.

    Sir Alex Ferguson will be a proud man tonight.

  17. ian_percival says:

    Uhhhh spare me the ”god” part,If all that is said about Penaldo,then what would be said about Ronaldinho,who is more legendary.

  18. psalmuel says:

    Messi’s reaction and comments after Penaldo was proclaimed the winner is classic for me. Can’t recall penaldo congratulating Messi on any of the 2( or 3?) occasions he was present when Messi won. Am sure Messi knew he wouldn’t win it but still turned up. Haven’t seen this level of maturity from penaldo

  19. Huckleberry says:

    Would have liked, if Messi had voted for CR7 and Ribery. instead he does like his competitors, voting for teammates…

  20. Kxevin says:

    Bartra has renewed. 25m buyout, contract until 2017.

    • fotobirajesh says:

      25m is quite on the lower side, isnt it?

      • Kxevin says:

        No. Here’s how a buyout clause works:

        If a player wants to leave the buyout clause is met and the player leaves.

        If the player doesn’t want to leave, whether the buyout is 5m or 500m, it doesn’t matter. He won’t leave.

        There is often confusion about a buyout clause being a sword of Damocles that is activated by a team paying the clause. The BritPress can’t seem to get their minds fully around this. The player has to want to leave.

        I also suspect that Bartra has until 2017 to prove that he deserves a bigger contract. If he does, he will get it. The player is culer all the way. He isn’t going anywhere.

      • Peter says:

        Kxevin is right, with one more kink:

        It’s the player that deposits his buy-out clause, and since players normally don’t have tens of millions of euro lying around(except Balotelli maybe), it’s the buying club that gives the sum to the player. La Hacienda considers that sum income and requires that taxes be paid. Those taxes can be pretty brutal in the case of the highest earners. What’s left after La Hacienda has taken its share is deposited as the buy-out clause.

        So 25 million is not that low. There’s a reason why he-who-must-not-be-named was purchased for 20m or 25m(depending on who you ask) when his buy-out clause was 18 million. Actually paying the buy-out clause would’ve meant a much more expensive process for FC Hollywood.

  21. K-cule says:

    - We don’t say it enough, but thanks Kxevin for keeping BFB running. That goes for rest of the mods. We don’t take it for granted that you invest your time to churn such amazing articles. Lovely writing style by the way, I have adopted some of it.Thank y’all for not splitting when things were tensed some months back. There’s still hope yet to return to the yester BFB sunny days. Shout-out to our dormant mods – euler and co. Remember your fans once in awhile.

    – It’s a sad part of life that time doesn’t choose between heroes and villains, but hopefully Puyol and Xavi will transition into other roles within the club without having to transfer. They could become youth coaches etc while playing partially. Not looking down upon MLS but I’d rather see Xavi have 15 liga games and 5 CL appearances than him chilling in NYC. But that’s me being selfish. That being said, I still see him in Barca for the next two years. Puyi, maybe 1 yr.

    – I watched Barca B vs Hercules – Dennis Suarez and Adama are doing great. Happy for Dongou’s goal but he struck me as very hesitant for a striker. For all the awesome things I heard about him,he doesn’t seem an aggressively lethal/punishing attacker. That’s not to say he’s not skilled. We could use him in that striker position we’ve all been yearning – but A team needs cold-blooded finishers. He could use some more exposure and a dose of Tata motivation, he seems to work miracles on player confidence.

    – Give the devil his due – Ronaldo deserved to win, but the whole Ballon d’Or was a sham. Messi still the best though – a graceful loser too.

    – We only have one player injured – JDS. Everyone else is fit and on form or picking some. Hlebruary, bring it on, we might be rid of that curse after all (knock on wood).

    • raj says:

      Yes, thanks for saying it. Thanks for the article. It takes great skill and patience to put out ideas so clearly from the raw abstracts in our minds. And making it in such a way to ring a bell to a varied audience is great art. I know coz I am trying to write and did not yet succeed. Thanks to Kxevin, Bltzen, Levon et all. I’ve not been around in the golden era as people here seem to remember but right now is pretty amazing too, I check here twice everyday!

    • blitzen says:

      Dongou has been in a bit of a funk for a while now. Not sure what the problem is besides the fact that he does not often get to play in his best position. He didn’t even look all that happy when he scored his goal. Hopefully it is just one of those dips in form all players experience and not something more serious. Adama, on the other hand, looked fantastic. Remember, that was actually the first game he has started under Eusebio, and I think he made his case for a lot more playing time. It seems that Tata calling him up to the first team has really given him a confidence boost. Now Tata should call up Denis Suarez—he was equally good and deserves some attention.

      • K-cule says:

        - Based on that game alone (I haven’t seen many B games), Denis Suarez > Sergi Roberto (other than the difference in physique, Suarez showed more guile and skill), Adama > Tello. Well,may be I’m exaggerating a bit. I know it was Hercules but they oozed with such confidence, and I second your clarion call for some Tata recognition of D.S. That free-kick was awesome. I actually started feeling bad for professional grown men getting their asses handed by a some teenagers. Nonetheless, I could pay to read Eusebio’s thoughts on why a player with such an impact as Adama just started under him, or why a team teeming with such quality is hovering in the relegation zone.

        – Yes, let’s hope Dongou’s case is temporary. He kinda reminded me of Alexis of last year, except that lack of joy. He just seems out of it, like someone whose mind is somewhere else – just going through the motions.

        – I call for Pinto, Puyi and Abidal for the B team coaches in 2015, who is up for it? :)

  22. Roger Evans says:

    I wish I could be as rational as Kevin is here, but the talk of Puyi and Xavi brought tears to my eyes. I can only hope to learn acceptance!

    • Kxevin says:

      I hope you don’t learn acceptance. That kind of passion is something that I am often envious of when it comes to players. It bums me out, as an aged athlete myself, to see a player who can’t cut it any longer, for sure. And only a churl wouldn’t acknowledge the loss of what those two represent to the club and team.

      But moving along older players is very important for the development and continued success of the team. Look at Xavi, for example. Depending upon whether rumors are true or not, we could well have Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Gundogan, Rafinha, Fabregas and Denis Suarez all vying for playing time next season, assuming sale/loan of Song and Sergi Roberto, respectively. We will probably wind up loaning Suarez as well, as he auto-promotes next season.

  23. ooga aga says:

    apparently Depeche Mode are FCB fans and visited the practice session yesterday.

    they told messi, done worry about all those “blasphemous rumours” coming out of madrid

    :)

    http://www.fcbarcelona.es/futbol/primer-equipo/detalle/noticia/depeche-mode-visita-el-entrenamiento-del-fc-barcelona

  24. ciaran says:

    It’s sad but true that Puyol no longer can be considered a viable option for Barca. I said this last summer and unfortunately this has proved correct. I’d love if he went straight into coaching in the youth teams or something.

    Xavi on the other hand I would say may still get two more seasons with us even though I agree that he shouldn’t be in our starting XI for the biggest matches.
    We are at our most dangerous with Cesc, Iniesta, Neymar, Messi and Alexis playing so that doesn’t leave space for Xavi.
    Where we play 60 matches or so every year Xavi will find plenty of minutes for the next two seasons if he is happy with a rotation.

    Bartra renewing is great news. I firmly believe that by the end of this season Pique & Bartra will be our first choice partnership at centre back and hopefully we won’t have to spend €35million on the likes of David Luiz, instead maybe pick up a solid younger player with potential for less than €20million.

    • Kxevin says:

      Here’s hoping the Balanta rumors are true, but I think we will need a second CB atop any single signing, even IF Puyol puts himself out to pasture.

      But I can’t see the club spending big this summer.

  25. TITO says:

    I think it’s a bigger travesty that none of our players is included in the UEFA team of the year – though it’s according to the fans voting, but nevertheless, it’s ridiculous.

  26. Kxevin says:

    A very interesting chart that compares the BdO finalists across all metrics, rather than just goals. Gives (I think) a clearer picture of why journalists went so strongly for Ribery:

    http://media.zenfs.com/en-GB/blogs/pitchside-europe/OptaBallon.jpg

  27. Kxevin says:

    Bild is reporting (others have confirmed it) that we have had several meetings with the representatives of Ilkay Gundogan.

    The player is, by all reports that I can find, bound for either RM or United. Buzz is also that his fellow countrymen have warned him away from RM, a team that frankly, I don’t see where he would get the playing time he deserves.

    Of course, the same is true should he sign with us, even if Song and Sergi Roberto are jettisoned. Would still be Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Fabregas, Rafinha, Gundogan. But a very clear future/progression would be there.

    Anyhow, just buzz, and if I was Gundogan, I would choose United, where I could walk right into a starting slot. Then again, I thought that about Thiago, as well. Although staying at Dortmund is an option, I don’t think he will, given the damage that Bayern has done to that club in the transfer market.

    • Jafri says:

      Rumors are also intensifying that Xavi has already accepted an offer from the Red Bulls, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in them (for the sake of my own sanity, if nothing else.)

      • Kxevin says:

        Nope. Xavi’s agent has rubbished all such notions.

      • Peter says:

        Xavi demolished those rumours himself this morning, as if he hadn’t done it before when he said he’s feeling much better and fitter than any time in the past two years. He just gave Xavi’s stamp of approval to Tata’s rotation. If that doesn’t stop the grumbling against “them stupid rotations” and to the rumours of Xavi’s imminent departure, that for me means culers in general suffer from some peculiar form of brain damage.

    • egcg119 says:

      Gundogan would walk into United, but Moyes has made them about as unappealing a destination as possible. I think he’d rather be the start of a new generation of Barca than a renovation project at United under a poor manager.

      • Jim says:

        Not sure here you get the evidence of Moyes being a poor manager. How many of Utd’s first team would get into Chelsea or City’s first team. RVP. Has been posted missing and SAF himself came within an inch of the sack. At the start of his career there.

        Moyes will pull this round once (I suppose if ) he gets a chance to make the team his own.

  28. Ahsan says:

    Nice post Kxevin, agree with you on the Messi/Puyol points but not the Xavi one. I think he has a lot of great games left in him, he just has to be managed. No more than 1 game a week. And I think he has to play the biggest games, he can still control a game better than any player in the world today.

  29. Ultraculé says:

    I am loving the Gundogan Rumours, however improbable it might be.
    Apart from the injection of quality and steel he’d give to our midfield, I think if he came, he would also give our lone German in Ter Stegen some welcome company. I think a Balanta / Mangala and a striker would complete this phenomenal squad and set us up for the foreseeable future.

  30. Peter says:

    I don’t really see the reason behind even thinking about signing a midfielder from outside. Why? Sergi Roberto is getting minutes because of injuries to Messi and Iniesta. With Messi in shape Cesc will be back vying for a midfield spot, one of the two, and will have to fight for his place with Xavi, Iniesta, Sergi Roberto and occasionally Song. And there is still Rafinha, and Suarez is apparently looking more and more like an auto-promotion to the first team next season. I seriously don’t understand it. Gundogan wouldn’t even be cheap, given the attention from United and Real Madrid.

    As for Balanta, I remember a comment from an Argentinian poster after the Villareal match(either in MD or in MARCA): according to him, Argentinian football commentators were addressing the rumours of Balanta and said basically “Why don’t Barcelona just give the 20 million to Bartra, who’s much better?”. And that was during the Villareal game, in which Bartra missed Mussacchio during that corner.

    Striker, striker… This one is tough for me. Personally I’d love a tall target man, someone aging, but who still “got it”, content to sit in Messi’s shadow and come only as a sub against parked buses in order to score a header or just present a distraction for the CBs, but on the other hand such players generally head towards the USA. And it would still present a question, what to do with Tello and Cuenca, what about Dongou and Adama. Adama is more of a winger, but he’s taller than all the strikers of Barcelona, and he still has a couple of years before he stops growing.

    In the meantime, with Song, Busquets, Bartra and Pique on the field(I know, I know) Barcelona can still have enough of an aerial presence in order to score against parked buses. Practically everybody knows that Barcelona can’t score from corners, so Tata may have something up his sleeve. Yeah, wishful thinking, but still.

    • Peter says:

      Forgot about Deulofeu. If a striker is signed, that means Deulofeu says goodbye to the first team, and that would be treason.

    • Ultraculé says:

      Midfield is way too important a zone to be too one dimensional.
      I get what you are saying, but lets face it, a Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets is a once in a generation production and even that magic does not last forever. There is a reason Yaya Toure and Seydou Keita were so successful and the latter was acquired to be an integral member of Pep’s squad, even at the heights of the holy midfield Trinity of xaviniestusquets. I see more harm in retaining similar ish players than importing one or two that complement the midfield beautifully.

      Defense:
      You may be right, I ve seen precisely six seconds of all of Balanta in my lifetime and I dont know jack about him. But Mangala, I do know about and I love his game. Plus I have a soft spot for left footed black French defenders. :D

      Even though there is no current drought for goals, a squad needs atleast one striker. I think if Tello does not dazzle, he may be off, permanently or on loan. The guys u speak of Cuenca and Adama are wingers and we haven’t really replaced Eto’o. Dongou is a couple of years away from nailing down a starting berth, if everything goes well.

  31. PrinceYuvi says:

    Song says CL is a priority this year. Oh wow.

  32. Levon says:

    - I can’t say I know much about either Mangala or Balanta, but based on their names I would consider both. A MangalaBalanta defense sounds like something an attacker can get tangled up in. Although Bartrabalanta sounds promising as well. On the real, though, both seem like good options. Mangala perhaps more so, based on the reports I have read, though coming from Porto his price will be high.

    – I actually struggle to think of someone affordable that would be a good fit, nor do I think we really need one. Let’s wait to see how Neymar and Messi will play together. If we were to get one, RvP would be perfect for us, but not at the price Man Utd will sell.

    – Gündogan, mmmm, difficult. Although he is not strong in the air, I like him. I wouldn’t mind Song/Sergi Roberto making way for a player whose name very few culés will be able to pronounce correctly. transfermarkt.com lists him at 27M. It all depends on what we are willing to spend next summer.

    – Last but not least, Kxevin posted a very interesting link in one of his above comments and I am surprised it didn’t get more reactions.

    http://media.zenfs.com/en-GB/blogs/pitchside-europe/OptaBallon.jpg

    I love the “chances created” stat. Ribery was almost at three per game last season. Staggering, really.

  33. ian_percival says:

    It baffles me how many people here talking of mangala,remember he’s linked with chelsea and man city.I love the way we dream of good defenders,but Zubi doesn’t see them,I sometimes imagine if that guy is completely normal in his head.There are good defenders out there,plenty of them.There’s this one linked with chelsea kurt Zouma,very good CB,young,intelligent.and there’s Mangala,Nastastic,even Hummels or subotic,I know if we really push as we did on David luiz dortmund will let one go,also there’s mussachio. CBs are out there getting horny about the thought of joining a club like Barca.
    Also about the Eder Balanta guy,i’v watched him severly,there’s a tv channel in my country that air live Argentinian league and i’v watched him about seven times or so and the guy is class,he plays left-back sometimes,and you hardly notices that he’s a CB. When you watch him with the ball,he has this high football I.Q more than someone of his own age,seriously speedy and has tenacity,To be honest,there’s none of our CBs that matches his skills and reading of the game presently even pique,except puyol on his greener days,but balanta is more similar to Thiago Silva or lilian thuram. The guy really good

  34. simple_barcafan says:

    I like Klose..He seems to fit the bill. Excellent in the air, old, so might be content with limited minutes, very good poacher and finisher. Also as far as I know, is humble and a nice guy.

    Dunno if it is feasible though.

  35. G6O says:

    And that it is why (among other reasons) the quality of the playing surface is so important… Let’s hope he just sprained something and it’s not an ACL or something of the sort :(

  36. TITO says:

    I can’t fucking believe it.

  37. Ahsan says:

    That did NOT look good. Like 4-6 months bad.

    • G6O says:

      This will go down as one of the biggest mistakes Tata has made (and he has not made many so far) – givne his rotation policy so far, I expected to see neither Messi nor Neymar starting. And then this happens. Extremely unfortunate :(

      • Ahsan says:

        Ironically, I think his thinking was to get them playing together in advance of the big games coming up next month. Keep in mind they’ve hardly played together all season.

        • G6O says:

          I know. I can see the rationale and I was sure glad to see them when I saw the lineup – I love watching those two play together and even though we have been playing at a more relaxed pace than usual, you saw how easily they created a chance in the beginning. Neymar had the ball and the defense almost forgot about Messi, as incredible as this might sound.

      • Serena Andre says:

        I don’t think Tata made a mistake. I asked for both Neymar and Messi to start before the lineups came out. Messi is returning from injury and Neymar barely played since mid December.
        Getting fit is one thing, getting match fit is another. A match like last night was the perfect opportunity to give them some minutes and let them get back into their rhythm.
        Neymar’s injury was extremely unfortunate, but it happens. No use blaming anyone.

    • G6O says:

      If it’s the ankle, it may be a less than that – if no bone broke or chipped off, and there was no serious ligament damage, then it can still look extremely bad but be a month or even less off. And they took off his booth suggesting it might indeed be the ankle. But it looked like it was the knee that twisted from the replay, and that is usually very bad

  38. ooga aga says:

    anyone have a good stream for the match? rojadirecta not working.

  39. stefan2k says:

    Well… its one of those games :/

  40. G6O says:

    barcastuff:
    According to the first tests, Neymar has sprained his right ankle. More tests tomorrow

    Deep sigh of relief :)

  41. TITO says:

    It looks like it’s just the ankle, with JUST implying that it’s not the knee.

  42. Peter says:

    Damn this potato field. I was so looking forward to seeing them play :(

    The doctors have confirmed it’s the ankle, now waiting until tomorrow to find out what exactly is it.

  43. Kxevin says:

    The away goal means this tie is well and truly over. Martino should pull Messi, and have the team turn turtle. Getafe would need 6 goals to advance. No way, no how.

    — Recall how Messi’s ankle looked after the Ujfalusi piledriver, and he was back in less than two weeks. Tests tomorrow. We know it was an ankle sprain, and that’s all.

    Neymar is young, flexible and almost certainly has abnormally strong ankles, as many footballers do. So let’s not worry until there is something to worry about.

    • barca96 says:

      Problem is why we we take Messi out for? If Tata would’ve called up some B players, it would’ve been possible. Adama and Dongou really should’ve been called up. I am hoping that Cuenca and Affelay get some minutes too.

  44. Kxevin says:

    Preliminary reports are 3-4 weeks but again, they are speculation.

  45. barca96 says:

    Football with Messi is so much better. What a great advertisement for the proper football as Kxevin would say :lol:

  46. Huckleberry says:

    What’s wrong with Tello at the moment? And wearing gloves at 8 Deg.

  47. TITO says:

    So it should be in time for Man City?

  48. barca96 says:

    And the same cycle will continue now that Messi is fit again. Play him for 90 mins for each match even though we’re 6-0 up.

    • Huckleberry says:

      Messi took it very easy. This was more like a training session. Part of his program to reach match fitness.

    • Peter says:

      Actually in a way that’s what Messi needs now. He needs to play, better against weaker opponents, in order to get back into the rhythm. 90 minutes against Getafe aren’t the same as 60 minutes against Real or Atletico. I suppose he may not feature for the first leg of Copa del Rey against Levante, even though he will probably start against Levante on Sunday.

  49. ooga aga says:

    what second goal by messi. he’s back, wowie!

  50. Ultraculé says:

    What the fudge!!

    How long do Culers have to wait to see Neymar and Messi combine and form a proper partnership? Let’s hope he comes back in 2 weeks or so.

    On the other hand, that second goal from Leo was..well.. we’ve missed him, haven’t we?

  51. fotobirajesh says:

    Neymar get well soon. When can we really see both our talents together in good form.

    All those English media and fans, who are trying to find fault with Messi’s red suit, I hope, watched what he did yesterday. I am not talking about the second goal. But what he did immediately after he missed a third one because of a brilliant reaction by the goal keeper. I cant remember the last time I saw a world super star congratulating an opposition goalie, immediately after preventing him from scoring.
    He might be a shrewd man trying to play a good boy off the field, but on the field, Leo is the real model player.

    Where did all the confidence of Alexis go?
    I really hope we sell Tello. Even Cuenca is much better than him.

    • PrinceYuvi says:

      When they write something like, ”who’d vote for a man dressed like this ?” ; Have they no shame ? Quite disgusting.

      • Levon says:

        Really? A friend of mine made the same joke and I laughed.

        And I’m possibly one of the select few people on this planet who actually likes the crazy suits Leo wears.

        • PrinceYuvi says:

          I envy you. I take these potshots too seriously.
          At least Leo’s suits are memorable. Especially the Polka dot. Ha.

          • Levon says:

            Unless you designed the suit, you shouldn’t. Then again, it is very probably that Messi’s tailor has an excellent sense of humor!

          • PrinceYuvi says:

            Perez must have planted the tailor there. He’s some sort of Evil Overlord. I blame him for the suits )
            Anyway, only Leo can rock those. Can’t imagine how thong boy would look in those….

  52. jams says:

    what happend to alexis????

  53. Kxevin says:

    So. Apparently, 350m might be the price for Camp Nou naming rights. Negotiations continue, apparently.

    http://ecodiario.eleconomista.es/interstitial/volver/nuezene14/futbol/noticias/5467138/01/14/Qatar-negocia-con-el-Bara-apellidar-el-Camp-Nou-por-350-millones-de-euros-.html

    — Neymar looks to be back for the first leg of the City tie. Club says “approximately 3-4 weeks.” I bet sooner.

    — How are you feeling? Sick of it all? You can buy a spot for your eternal resting place at the Camp Nou. EUR 3k or 6k, depending on how long you want them to hang on to you.

    Note that these plans have been unveiled as part of a new Camp Nou, which, last time I checked, hadn’t been met about or voted on by the socis, and Transparency and the Trolls promised.

    Monday presser. Probably something to do with the special meeting of the board that should have happened by now, dealing with whether we will have a renovated, New Nou or Old Nou.

    And so it goes.

    • G6O says:

      How are you feeling? Sick of it all? You can buy a spot for your eternal resting place at the Camp Nou. EUR 3k or 6k, depending on how long you want them to hang on to you.

      I saw that yesterday. Was really shocked to see it – how low can a football club go in its attempts to generate revenue…

      • Peter says:

        Low? Seriously?

        Hell, if I’d lived my whole life in Barcelona and been a soci since the day I was born, I’d be more than willing, provided I could spare the money.

        We’re not so separated from the cavemen and the ancients, even if we’d like to think so. So yeah, I can see the idea. What makes a dedicated cemetery somewhere on the outskirts of the city more seemly than the wall of the stadium you went to on every second Sunday?

        • barca96 says:

          Boca Juniors does a similar thing. If I recall correctly (read this in FHM almost a decade age) , they throw your remains (is it called ashes?) into the field. That’s creepy.

  54. kosby says:

    I do still hope that the fact that its just Messi who has scored ever since he’s come back is just an aberration. Of course things are different when Fabregas plays in his place since he is more often than not looking to play someone in whereas Messi is more of solo or one-two…

    Its going to be really interesting to see how Martino enables Messi to be himself as well as let other strikers be a part of the scoresheet (especially with Neymar gone).

    Dont want Messi to be the only scorer on our team. We know Alexis and Pedro can score goals, but that will happen only if they get the ball in the first place. Question is, will they ?

  55. Peter says:

    Messi’s suit wasn’t red, it was claret. His girlfriend’s dress was blue. In Catalan that’s Blau and Grana. Blaugrana. So hell yeah it’s awesome.

    Besides, when everybody around you is dressed like the bodyguards and the headwaiter, such colorful attire is actually fitting.

    Now, as to the Camp Nou cemetery: clubs are already doing it – BOCA Juniors ultras famously sing “We will be with you even after we die!” and the club offers even official coffins. When you talk about a club in which season tickets are given as inheritance, people become socios the day after they’re taken out of the maternity hospital and on important match days people go to visit the graves of ex-players and family members to pray for victory, the club which Bobby Robson called “The army of Catalonia” there will be thousands practically begging to be allowed to be buried there, both fans and ex-players.

    About the rumored naming/trading rights negotiation. It’s lots of money, but it still hurts. It would be a great proposition if it’s just for the stadium, not the whole Barcelona complex or naming/trading rights and shirt sponsorship, and only if there’s a provision to return the money left after a number of years the way Bayern are doing now.

    It’s still a giant step, because you cannot keep from thinking “aren’t there any other ways to generate that money?” True, the sum would make it possible to start the reconstruction immediately after the ink has dried, without hurting the financial position of the club, but you’re talking about names that have become in a way iconic. Off the top of your head, what’s the name of Arsenal’s previous stadium? What was the name of Bayern’s? And while it’s true that this will mean a legacy not just for the football club, but for the Club Barcelona in general, it’s still a lot of hurt.

    Speaking from a strictly financial point of view, the deal would be tremendous, the most expensive naming rights deal in the history of sport for a single club. As of right now, the most expensive is MetLife Sports Complex in New York, paying 500 million USD for 25 years for the whole Metlife Sport Complex, not just the stadium but the whole complex – to two NFL teams, the NY Giants and the NY Jets. As of this moment the 350 million Euro deal would mean 473 million USD, and if it’s just for the stadium it would be huge. BTW, in case you were wondering, the reconstruction of Camp Nou is so expensive because it would include the construction of a new indoors arena, an auditorium and more. So yeah, it would be taking money from the football club to finance the other sections.

  56. barca96 says:

    All this negative talk about Messi’s red suit… Little did they know that it was for a good cause. He wore it to honor the RED foundation that supports kids with Aids.

  57. barca96 says:

    I understand that Messi needs match rhythm but we have plenty of matches coming up. 2 matches in a week for until Feb 9 with. That is 6 matches in a span of 3+ weeks. Look at the fixture list, plenty of easy to medium difficulty matches. Messi should be eased into first team action, not 90 mins in the 3rd match. Ridiculous!!

    Levante 10th spot – 3x!!
    Malaga 13th spot
    Valencia 8th spot
    Sevilla 7th spot

    Was there seriously a need to play a lot of the 1st teamers for the full match? Cesc, Alves, (I know he just came back but he will definitely play out the remaining season as Montoya doesn’t get to play RB when Alves is fit), Neymar (if he didn’t go off injured, he would’ve most likely played the whole match) and Alexis. We know it’s vital to keep the players fresh and fit for the business end of the season. QF or SF of CL is not supposed to be the target.

    Adama could’ve easily shared Alexis’ playing time and Suarez with Cesc. If not now, the tie is already won. 4-0 up. It’s only the round of 16. Perfect time to rest or not play the 1st team players for the whole match. And perfect time to give some youngsters some game time when there isn’t much pressure on them.

    We were really fortunate that the 1st leg was at home so we could’ve killed the tie which they did. So there is a great opportunity to not make the 1st team players work too hard unnecessarily in the meaningless 2nd leg. The next tie we play away first so it is much harder to finish off the tie there and then. So I really don’t expect to see any youngster in the next round, let alone in the following rounds as the opponents will definitely be tougher and tougher.

    Since I was young I love to watch teams promote youngsters. That’s just the way it is supposed to be. I used to watch the youth league matches every Sunday to see which Ajax youngsters are promising and that used to get me more excited than when the club buys new players. I feel the same way at Barca. I used to watch Barca TV but that wasn’t really helpful as they only show a very quick summary. It seems that it is so hard for the young players to get playing time here. Thankfully Frank de Boer is doing the right thing at Ajax.

    At the beginning of each season, one of the reasons I’m so excited about is to see youngsters getting playing time and hoping that one or two breaking through. And when Barca came to my country, I was really hoping that the players who were still on holiday, got their holidays extended as I wanted to see the youngsters play who were filling in in their absence.

    I haven’t watched any B matches this season but from what I read from the match reviews, Dennis Suarez is doing a good job so why not reward him with an appearance with the senior team? Adama hardly played so he might not deserve a call up but based on his appearances with the 1st team, he looks like he is already capable of playing at least 30mins in the 2nd leg. We already know Dongou but he too didn’t get much playing time in the B team like Adama. These 2 cases could be due to Eusebio’s foolishness though.

    Pep and Tito used to at least call up the youngsters to train with the club and Pep gave more than 20 youth players playing time during his time here.

    Unless we win the league with a couple of matches in hand, I doubt any of the B players getting playing time.

    • K-cule says:

      I can see your point about Messi’s playing time (the merits of easing him in), but your feelings are so strong they can be seen to imply the coach has no idea of what he’s doing. Let’s give Tata the credit he’s due – he’s earned our respect. Getting all players happy and the forwards firing in all cylinders, easing Neymar into a prominent and important role etc. He gave players such as Adama and Dongou time, and Bagnack during the pre-season, when their own coach has no or less confidence in them. So, for a moment, a minute, let’s assume he actually knows what he’s doing. Dude has had balls to bench Messi, even both him and Neymar against Atleti (Remember Tito brought in an injured Messi against PSG and was lauded for winning a psychological battle against Ancelloti). So maybe, just maybe, Tata has a plan for his team and knows what he’s doing.

      Of course we would all love to see our narratives and believes being implemented/applied/re-lived by the team. Buy Mangala, T.Silva, Vertoghen, Klose, re-sign Thiago, sell song and Mascherano, have 80& possession all the time etc. But the reality is we have what we have and we’re kicking ass with it. Song is doing good, surprise surprise, so is Mascherano. But depends on who you ask. Tata is one hell of a coach, but odds are stacked against him because there’s a looming shadow of Pep and another one of heritage – the Argentine is not a Barca or Catalonia product – so he never gets the benefit of doubt.Fact is, he’s doing better with Tito’s squad, who was lauded for being a tactical genius, the man behind Pep. Granted, effing cancer robbed us and more importantly Tito of playing an important role in the team. But for the time he was healthy and on the bench, he did the same stuff Tata is doing, if not less.

      I am not saying Tata is perfect, but he deserves a lot of credit and support from us. Less second-guessing his decisions – for all the things Barca is/has gone through, the dude is doing great. Remember, he wants Argentina to win World Cup and Barca to win everything (or to keep his job) – so he probably has very good reasons for playing Messi against Getafe. Hey, he’s got the little fella smiling and looking super-lean again.

      • barca96 says:

        It’s getting late here so I’ll reply properly tomorrow. But just last week before the Atletico match I was praising Tata like mad to the extent that I don’t mind if we draw or lose as I liked what he’s been doing so far and love that he had the balls to not start with Messi and Neymar.

        But just because he’s been doing good things and making the right decisions doesn’t mean that he’s perfect and immune to criticism? Nobody is perfect and I’ve pointed out the points that I think where Tata could’ve done better.

  58. barca96 says:

    Do you guys prefer a new stadium or a renovation? I prefer renovation. I don’t want a similar situation as Arsenal where they had no money to spend for a number of years in order to recoup the money spent on the stadium.

    If they do vote for a new stadium then I would like them to follow the CenturyLink Field’s concept of the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL.

    http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=10274096

    http://www.businessinsider.com/seattle-seahawks-stadium-loud-2014-1

  59. barca96 says:

    Do you guys prefer a new stadium or a
    renovation? I prefer renovation. I don’t want
    a similar situation as Arsenal where they had
    no money to spend for a number of years in
    order to recoup the money spent on the
    stadium.

    If they do vote for a new stadium then I
    would like them to follow the CenturyLink
    Field’s concept of the Seattle Seahawks of
    the NFL.

    *http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=10274096

    *http://www.businessinsider.com/seattle-
    seahawks-stadium-loud-2014-1

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