The season is half over, which means it must be time for a bumper midseason edition of blitzen awards. 2014 has been a difficult year in many ways for the club. We lost a beloved coach, a somewhat less beloved president resigned but no elections took place, the World Cup was a disaster for many of our players, and the club has been up to its figurative eyeballs in lawsuits. This summer we got a new coach and replaced half of our players–and just in time, too considering more recent developments. Despite the team performing well in all competitions, there remains a sense of disgruntlement and unrest surrounding how they are playing, the decisions of the coach, and the continued idiocy of those supposedly in charge. All in all, I think most of us are glad that 2014 is over. Let’s hope next year is a good one despite the challenges ahead. And now how about a few awards?
All The Awards Award: Lionel Messi. This is it, guys. He’s broken all the records. There are no more. He’s done it all and football is finished forever. I mean, how much better can he get?
MOTSOTM (Man Of The Season Other Than Messi) Award: Our defenders. All of them. Even Dani. I know it’s difficult to believe, but Barça has the best defense in the league so far this season. Mathieu, aka the Ginger Giant, aka Mathieuselah, has defied the naysayers and paid back Lucho’s faith in him. Pique set tongues a-wagging by being benched for a few games–but based on his appearances has been arguably our best player this season. Bartra found it tough to get minutes at first, but is now in regular rotation and putting in solid performance after solid performance. And Mascherano continues to be a rock wherever the coach chooses to play him. All this, and we can still look forward to our summer 2015 “signing”: Vermaelen!
Winter is Coming Award: Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that the Court of Arbitration for Sport has dismissed FC Barcelona’s appeal to rescind the two-window transfer ban imposed by FIFA for “irregularities” in the signings of several foreign youth players. This means that the club will not be able to make any new signings until 2016, and will have to rely heavily on the current squad, returning loanees, and players who right now are part of a B squad just a point out of the relegation zone. We can only hope that, like the Starks, the club has prepared adequately for the dark times ahead. Things worked out OK for them, right?
All About That Base (No Treble) Award: That football base, that is. Yep, 2015 is shaping up to be the year that La Masia, the pride of the club, will have the daunting task of proving that Barça really does produce the best young players in the world. Lucho will need to call on B team players like no Barça coach has ever had to before. We have several massive young talents who are willing and eager to step up and prove they are ready. Let’s hope they and Lucho make the best of this opportunity. And no, I don’t expect we will be winning the Treble this season.
Oh The Humanity Award: There was one game this season that was an absolute and unmitigated disaster. No, I’m not talking about losing the Clasico 3-1 to Real Madrid. I’m not talking about the loss to PSG either. I’m talking about Barça B losing 7-0 to Valladolid. It was the Hindenberg and the Titanic rolled into one, a slow-motion trainwreck of a game in which the “best and brightest” of La Masia were systematically sliced, diced, and pureed by their opponents, who then proceeded to pick their teeth with the bones. It was painful to watch. Especially since these young players are the only “signings” we will be able to make in 2015, and Barça B is now hovering only a single point out of the relegation zone. Oh, dear.
Here Comes the Judge Award: The entire FCB Board, with special mention for departed ex-President Sandro Rosell. I have lost track of how many lawsuits the club has been involved in just this year, much less from 2010 on. It must be some kind of Spanish record. At times it has felt like we have been watching some kind of legal reality show, with suits & countersuits, judgements & appeals, and lots & lots of shouting. It has been entertaining at times, but it’s sure not football. Shame.
Mes Que Un Club Award: FCB is known for being the club that cares about values and community, not just football, so I for one am proud of all the selfless charitable work they have done ensuring that their lawyers are fully employed in these difficult economic times. As long as this Board is around, no lawyer in Barcelona or, indeed, in Switzerland, needs to worry about not being able to feed his or her family.
Every Clown Has A Silver Lining Award: To Josep Bartomeu, who did one thing this year that every cule should be grateful for. This summer after the World Cup, when Xavi already had his bags packed for an imminent move to New York City to play for the Red Bulls, Bartomeu called him and personally asked him not to make any final decision until after he had met with Luis Enrique. Xavi rearranged the holidays he had already booked and returned to Barcelona for the meeting–in which Lucho told him that he was an important part of his plans. There were no promises of playing time–indeed, Lucho was clear that Xavi would have to compete for it like everyone else–but Xavi was convinced and decided to stay. Of course Bartomeu isn’t the reason that Xavi changed his mind, but that phone call let him know that the club still valued and wanted him, and for that one small thing this cule is grateful.
Roll Out The Barrel Award: To Nike, who thought that designing a kit with horizontal stripes would be just the thing to take the fans’ minds off the club’s footballing and legal woes. Yes, in a year when the cule conversation on whether the historical style and legacy of the club has been “betrayed” has reached a fever pitch, why don’t we just throw out the iconic vertical stripes in favour of hoops as well? Genius!
Do You Want To Build A Strawman? Award: Those raging against Luis Enrique for betraying the sacred principles laid down by Cruyff and Guardiola by playing a different system. It’s quite obvious that Lucho has no set starting XI and likes to tinker with his lineup based on the opponents he faces. For many in the blogosphere, however, this penchant for rotation has been built up into a reckless tossing of baby, bathwater, and sainted Guardiola himself out of the Camp Nou’s windows. For evidence they take every occasion where Lucho may have got things wrong, while forgetting the many times Guardiola made similar decisions with similar results. For an excellent refutation of this strawman argument I can do no better than point to Kxevin’s recent piece right here on this blog.
Let It Go Award: Pep Guardiola has not been FCB coach for two-and-a-half years. And according to himself, he is never coming back, at least not as coach. We will always remember the wonderful football, trophies, and international acclaim he brought to the club, but it is long past time to stop looking backwards and continually making comparisons with the present team and coach. We can strive to emulate him and to honour his legacy, but let us stop dwelling on it at every opportunity. It was glorious, but it is the past. Let it go and look to what we can achieve in the future.
Wet Tuesday Night Award: We still don’t know if Messi can do it, but it seems that Bojan can! Since joining the Potters this season, Bojan has scored 3 goals and has become one of their best players. Who would have thought that our little Bobo would find his forever home in the rough-and-tumble of English football, and at big bad Stoke, no less? I’m really pleased that he is finally doing well, and I hope he continues in this form.
Invisible Man Award: It is midway through the season, and we know hardly any more about Douglas than we did when we signed him. Aside from his initial presentation, the club has very carefully kept him away from the press. This may partly be due to the spate of injuries he has incurred, which the club has chosen not to report to the media (according to Sport), but the main reason is likely due to the bad press surrounding his surprise signing. The club doesn’t want to put Douglas in the awkward position of having to answer questions about why he was signed, especially when the player sometimes doesn’t seem to know himself.
Somebody That I Used To Know Award (Gotye Part): “So when we found that we could not make sense, Well you said that we would still be friends. But I’ll admit that I was glad it was over.” After three years in which three different coaches tried to crowbar him into the team with mixed results, Cesc Fabregas departed for greener pastures this summer, and most cules breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn’t terrible for us, most of the time, but also most of the time things never seemed to quite work. Sometimes no matter how hard you try it’s just not mean to be. I hear he’s doing very well at Chelsea, I wouldn’t know, I dislike that team intensely. No, I’m not bitter, you’re bitter.
Somebody That I Used to Know Award (Kimbra Part): “Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over, But had me believing it was always something that I’d done. But I don’t wanna live that way, Reading into every word you say. You said that you could let it go And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know.” Cesc, again. His most recent soundbites in the press claim that his Barça coaches didn’t know how to use him properly, that Mourinho’s Chelsea has a similar philosophy to Barcelona’s, and that the current team is “Messi plus 10 more”. Spurned ex-lover syndrome strikes again. Are we going to need to change our number?
Push-me Pull-you Award: Dani Alves and Martin Montoya hardly know whether they are coming or going. One minute Typhoid Monty can’t even make the squad much less the bench, the next he has started two games in a row and Lucho is speaking highly of him. When asked about Dani’s situation Zubi praises him to the skies–but also makes it perfectly clear that his contract ends this summer and no negotiations to extend it are on the agenda. With the transfer ban enforced and Douglas not exactly assimilated into the team, it seems likely that at least one of these two will end up staying another season. It just remains to be seen which one.
Shooting Star Award: Like a meteor streaking across the sky, Busquets’ last-second goal against Valencia was an exhilarating flash of brilliance illuminating a pretty dreary game. OK, not really. It was a flukey rebound of a goal that Busi managed to get his foot on to save our bacon and get us 3 very important points. Like most of this season, it wasn’t beautiful, but it did the job, and right now that will have to do. People tend to forget that we literally replaced half the team this summer as well as the coach and it is very much a work in progress. This season was never going to be easy, or beautiful, and it is foolish to expect otherwise. Just strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride. “To infinity…and beyond!” (Busi Lightyear)
Ate And The Hare Award: Luis “Bitey” Suarez has started out this season very slowly. Even after his playing ban expired on October 26th, it took him another month to score his first goal (against APOEL in the Champion’s League), and he didn’t score his first league goal until December 20th. In contrast, Neymar started the season with a bang by scoring two against Athletic Bilbao on September 12th, and hasn’t stopped since, racking up 11 league goals and 3 in the CL. Neymar took a while to settle into his role last season, but has forged an excellent partnership with Messi that bodes well for the rest of this season. Let’s hope that Suarez can improve on his slow start as well and become the cutthroat striker we all know he can be.
Nice Work If You Can Get It Award: Puyol has completed his coursework and received his qualifications to become FCB’s new Assistant Sporting Director…just in time for the transfer ban to kick in. So he will be assisting Zubi in doing…well…not much at all for the next year, probably. Unless the rumours of him replacing Zubi this summer come to fruition, of course.
Adeu, Tito: This one isn’t an award, but a tribute. On April 25, 2014, we lost a former manager, player, and a good and decent man who deeply affected the lives of many around him. Tito has inspired many of us with his humility, bravery, and strength in the face of adversity. When I look back on 2014, instead of thinking about all the lies, mistakes, and outright crimes committed by those in charge of this club, I prefer to remember the selflessness of this man who even in the last few days of his life was offering advice and help to the club he loved. Thank you for everything, Tito. You will always be remembered.