Andoni Zubizarreta: Time for a reassessment?

As tough jobs go, it’s difficult to think of a more complex and thankless one than sporting director. At least coaches get to do the work on the pitch, get to share in the victory parades and champagne showers. Being a sporting director is an unending sea of blame.

When you are an unpopular sporting director such as Andoni Zubizarreta, the stakes are even higher, because you have a lot more to contend with. Recently there have been two excellent interviews with the former Barça sporting director, a man who will have to go through life with tire tracks on his back. One is at Grup 14, translated from El Periodico. The other is at Total Barça, translated from an extensive Marca interview.

The sense that you get from both of them is of a thoughtful, dignified man who loved, and loves, the club. There seems to be no ill will or resentment, only the calm reflection of a man who understands that even as he did exceptionally well, he could have done even better. He supervised the biggest spending summer in the history of the club, moves meant to preempt the two-window transfer ban, decisions that carried the added effect of being functionally irreparable for two transfer windows.

What is even more fascinating is that Andoni Zubizarreta is only a few moments of panic away from possibly being the best sporting director in the club’s history. If he was still on the job, he would have been the one to spearhead the deals for Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal, two players who complete an already world-beating Barça side.

Supporters always tend to focus on what wasn’t done, In many ways this is fitting for ZubiZa, an ex-keeper, that special breed of player who can stop 9 shots but if the tenth gets past him, he is judged to have had a bad match. Supporters feel rage, and the keeper feels shame. “My greatest defeat was Guardiola’s departure,” Zubizarreta says in the Marca interview, even as supporters can honestly acknowledge that he would have had about as much luck stopping that train as slowing down the AVE express train from Barcelona to Zaragoza.

In an Internet world that runs on hostility and recrimination, we will never know what happened in those boardrooms — the decisions that were taken, moves that were and were not made. And this is true even as a fan base, even now, excoriates Zubizarreta, who was working with a coach that he recommended, to try and build a good team. Enrique had the advantage of being a Mister type, a strong hand that was needed to help heal a damaged squad after a year in which anything that could happen, did. Over the clarity of time it’s clear that Tata Martino was a caretaker manager, a man described in the Marca interview as ” honest, coherent, consistent, able of accepting a very delicate role at a very difficult time for everyone else. He was always loyal to the club and the dressing room.”

January was when it all seemed to fall apart but again, there is perspective. ZubiZa described the seeming atom bomb between Messi and Luis Enrique as a “small flare up.” As we can all recall then, it was Armageddon, and Messi was all but out the door and there was a hue and cry for the firing of the team’s new coach. On Barça Twitter, people were saying that there was a two-match ultimatum, that Luis Enrique was as good as gone, and should be. In the midst of that shitstorm, two things happened, and only one should have: early elections were called, and ZubiZa was fired.

When asked about the FIFA ban by Marca, this is what ZubiZa had to say:

They asked me about the FIFA ban at Anoeta and I responded with something obvious: the one who knows my work best is Bartomeu, who had been the director responsible for sporting matters during Rosell’s presidency. The one who knew most about the team plan was he. Two days after, came the club’s decision.

It is no surprise that, back then, he says that he felt alone, and picked on. ZubiZa had few defenders then, and those who did had to tread carefully over two of the key planks of the Barça fan base, hostility and hyperbole. When he was flung under the bus by a thoughtless board as a sacrificial lamb, a few people called it for what it was: a distraction. It was like giving someone a big project at work, then firing them after they came back from lunch, because of a glitch in a line of code. As he said in one of the interviews, it was January, and a sporting director is usually judged on his work in June. But it also sounds as though he quite clearly understands the complexities of being technical director at a club such as Barça, to the good and the bad. Yet the inescapable fact is that he helped build a team that culers now celebrate to high heaven, a team that won the Treble and was a clunker of a match away from doing the sextuple.

And as with Laporta, ZubiZa’s fate was shaped, in part, by a transfer not made. He said that their initial target was Kun Aguero instead of Luis Suarez. (Recall that Laporta settled for Ronaldinho when David Beckham couldn’t happen.) When Aguero wasn’t going to pan out, Suarez became the one. Then he bit Chiellini, and the list of suitors cleared out a bit. Barça struck while the iron was hot. Many will believe that Liverpool could have been haggled down in price on Suarez, that he was damaged goods and the club overpaid for him out of desperation. This is another knock on Zubizarreta, part of a sea of disdain that still exists today, even in light of what has happened with the team that he helped build.

But Zubizarreta’s work as sporting director, judged as a complete body of work, was excellent. The coach came that worked with the team that worked within the club structure and philosophy to kick the crap out of everybody and everything last season, and looks on course to do the same this season. Now let’s have a quick look back, in grievance bullet points:

— Douglas: It’s difficult to think of a more reviled player who has played so few minutes. If he played more, an obvious nickname for him would be MacGuffin, that plot element that isn’t really the point of the drama. The animosity toward him is completely out of proportion to his pitch time and cost. Luis Enrique didn’t have a single transfer come in that he didn’t approve, even as this one is usually considered all on ZubiZa. Douglas was a low-priced punt on pace and Brazilian ball skills. Whenever he got time, he was tentative. When he began to show signs of something or other, he got injured. Twice. The punt didn’t pan out, and he will be gone in the summer. Transfers fail all the time, and Barça have a litany of them, from Overmars to Keirrison to Henrique. As the stick still being used to flog a sporting director, it’s a pretty weak one. But don’t exempt the coach from that flogging.

— Eusebio and the B team: What a mess that situation was and is, in the wake of the cabal that worked to damage one of the fundamental planks of the success of the team. ZubiZa was definitely part of that, and should accept some of the blame, as should the board, who back then overrode the technical staff on key decisions. Would ZubiZa, given full power of decision have jettisoned Eusebio? Good question. Hard to believe that one perceptive enough to recommend Luis Enrique would be on board with Eusebio, if left on his own.

— No CB: Barça needed a CB, went the hue and cry, and ZubiZa didn’t get one. It’s worth considering the circumstances of that situation, while we note that Pique and Mascherano are still the gala XI CBs. The false austerity program of the board affected everything, but most notably signings. Without loose purse strings, a sporting director is powerless. Despite all of the rumors about this player, that player and so and so being “interesting” and the like, the money was never going to be shaken loose for the necessary signings. So the team didn’t get the reinforcements that it needed. Was ZubiZa guilty of being too much of a company man, and not saying “If they would give me the money I would show you what I could do?” Yes and no. Never bite the hand that feeds you. But what he and the staff did when they finally got money makes a rather eloquent point.

Never forget that a sporting director isn’t independent of the board. We remember well the days of Txiki B., and a coach who was like a fop in a shoe store. “I’ll take one of those, and one of those, and … “Anything Guardiola wanted, Laporta made sure that he got, from Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Dmitro Txigrinski, the last expensive CB that Barça plumped for. The only impediment between us and a superstar of choice was writing a check. Rosell and his board made an austerity war against Laporta a reality. “Look at the damage that spendthrift did!” We didn’t know how false it all was until the details of the Neymar deal made themselves apparent.

— Thiago: The negotiating committee that agreed to the link between playing time and buyout clause was crazy. ZubiZa was part of that group. But how bad a decision was it? A club should never keep a player who doesn’t want to stay. Would he have stayed had he gotten playing time sufficient to trigger the higher buyout clause, or would he have been held hostage by a big clause? And would he have still agitated for a way out when Guardiola came calling? Presumably the “Thiago or nothing” demand wasn’t contingent upon price. Maybe. But it has been said before that in balance, everybody who could screw up that situation, did, from technical staff to player and his entourage. So everyone wound up making the best out of an undesirable situation. The club got decent money for the player (who was overvalued by most of the Barça fan base, but this isn’t unusual), and the player got his wish to leave the club.

— Guardiola: The one that ZubiZa, it is now clear, feels worst about is the inability to retain Guardiola as coach. This was, as with Thiago, never going to happen but it’s illustrative that ZubiZa is still beating himself up for it.

— Sales: There is a general belief that the club didn’t get enough from the sales of Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas, a notion that is debatable. It isn’t as if the half-season performance of Fabregas was a secret, or his desire to see the back of Barça. Same with Sanchez. With big clubs and big fees, the world is limited to who can pay a fee, and the needs of the people who can pay that fee. Bidding wars are a thing of the past, despite fanbases who believe that every player is worth at least EUR 50m. This just isn’t so.

ZubiZa made mistakes. But from this chair he is, in many ways like one of the coaches he helped bring to the club, in Tata Martino, a coach who came within 5 goals of being in with a shout at a treble, leading a squad that was emotionally, mentally and physically damaged. Martino is considered a failure, and a running joke among the Barça fanbase is the Martino bbq outings. As with ZubiZa, it’s the two H’s mentioned above: hostility and hyperbole. Guardiola’s legacy is, many think, tarnished by some bad calls against Inter Milan in that famous Champions League shootout. Much more easily forgotten is the blown offside call that would have been the difference in the Liga title-deciding match between Barça and Atleti.

As a sporting director, Andoni Zubizarreta is in that same category, and he shouldn’t be, just as Martino shouldn’t be. Context is crucial. One worked wonders with a busted squad. The other, once the restraints were removed, helped build a treble-winning squad that is still dominant today.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

29 Comments

  1. Dar_vincy
    January 19, 2016

    Excellent piece, Kexvin, like i anticipated.

  2. georgjorge
    January 19, 2016

    As someone who completely missed those interviews, thanks for a very good article shedding light on someone I knew little about.

    Just a point on Douglas: I don’t hate him at all, but this was really a somewhat shady deal. A player no-one ever rated as Barca material before was bought, and then – much to nobody’s surprise – wasn’t Barca material and hardly played at all. There are transfers where you think “I’m skeptical but this might work out”, and then there are transfers like this one. And the very little pitch time he got is exactly the reason for the animosity (not towards the player but towards those who did the deal).

    As to the Martino season, talking of wrong offside calls and five goals to the treble is really a far shot. Wrong calls happen all the time, and I’m sure there also were a number of them which got us favorable results we shouldn’t have gotten that season. And you could probably say the same about M*drid being only five goals (spread over the right matches) away from the league win last year, or Bayern being five goals away from a Champions League win in 2015, or whatever. Let’s stick to what really happened. I don’t have anything against Martino either, but he either was given a job that was too much for him, or was hindered a lot by other people in- and outside the club (verticalidad as “losing the way”, the “victory-defeat” over Rayo etc).

  3. January 19, 2016

    Most here know my opinion of Thiago’s leaving, but just to reiterate:

    Thiago decided to leave. He wasn’t pushed out, like some of the most vocal “supporters” of the previous board would like us to think. He saw he had Xavi, Fabregas and Iniesta to beat for one of two midfield positions on the starting XI, balanced it on the better paid offer coming from Guardiola and the promise of a dedicated starting spot and decided to leave. The club got 25 million Euro and offloaded around 7 million in overall salary costs for him. So how did it pan out?

    In the two and a half seasons with Bayern, Thiago has played a total of 58 matches, scoring 5 goals. (goals vs Raja Casablanca, Stuttgart, Hoffenheim, penalty vs Bayer Leverkusen, two goals vs Porto).

    For comparison:
    Rakitic, in one year less, has played 82 games, scored 12 goals
    Rafinha, in one year less, has played 42 games and scored 3 goals.
    Now to twist the knife:
    Sergi Roberto has played in that same time 70 games and scored 3 goals.
    The oft-derided by the culerverse resident ginger and smoker extraordinaire Mathieu has played 61 games and scored 3 goals (vs Real Madrid, Celta and a free kick vs Elche) in one year less.

    Now, to address the work by Zubi, from the season when he was given the money to do his work, his only “failure” is Douglas. Douglas, as of now, is a 4 million of a failure compared to 153 million of success (Mark-Andre ter Stegen, Ivan Rakitic, Claudio Bravo, Jeremy Mathieu, Thomas Vermaelen, Luis Suarez).

    Has anybody calculated how much did Keirrison,Chygrinskiy and The Zlatan cost? 40 (79 million – 15 for Chyggie to Shakhter and 24 for Zlatan to Milan) million plus Eto’o. If the current board and Zubi had bought those players, they would’ve been stoned to death in front of the Kubala statue – and I mean that literally.

    However, Zubi was the convenient target and the useful scapegoat at a time when the club lived through the most hostile and toxic artificially created atmosphere I have ever seen. I still cannot forgive the board for throwing him to the baying wolves.
    He deserved better. He deserved to pose with the Treble and he deserved to be present when Messi presented his Fifth Balon d’Or and when the team presented the Five Throphies to Camp Nou. Maybe, just maybe, five years from now we will remember him for that season instead of “You bought Douglas!!!”

    • georgjorge
      January 19, 2016

      You make very good points regarding the overall success of Zubi, and I agree that Thiago wanting to leave probably couldn’t be prevented anyway. Just a tiny nitpick, it doesn’t make much sense to compare goals from creative midfielders in different roles, else someone like Iniesta would have to be considered a massive failure as well. It’s true that Thiago has played a lot less than could be expected due to continuing injury, but his skills are very real and when he’s fit he’s definitely an important player for them.

    • January 19, 2016

      It’s blasphemous to say the least, but Thiago was/is injury prone. As a matter of fact, his buy-out clause was lowered precisely because he was out for, if I’m not mistaken, two months. This is why I’m talking about the matches. It IS the whole package.
      As for the goals, I’m not just comparing creative midfielders, but also defenders. Yes, it’s a very superficial way to compare, which is why I’m stressing the matches played.

      When you think of the fact that Sergi “why is he still here” Roberto has played 12 more games than Thiago, despite having at one time or another Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Rakitic, Rafinha and Arda Turan as competitors for the midfield spots (whereas Thiago IS the starting MF), it puts some perspective, doesn’t it?

  4. Jim
    January 19, 2016

    Interesting article and, despite my defence of the board in the face of some pretty petty hostility I have to say that I struggle with the sacking of Zubi. We are now getting his side of it and need to run that through the mill of perspective but haven’t really had any good reason from Barto for the sacking. That doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t one but I agree that his record was good, certainly better than in the previous years and I was sad to see him go. I do think he is playing down the events of the time and skating over LE’s part in it. If he’d gone ahead and fined Messi does anyone think, in the light of Xavi’s interview about Messi that Messi would have paid up ? We still don’t know what happened there and maybe never will.

    I’m gonna stick up for Tata again, although some won’t agree. He was, in our most difficult year I can remember for all sorts of reasons ( you can’t have a squad as close as ours is which isn’t massively affected by the sad events of that year) , a kick in the teeth away from winning La Liga. That we didn’t Kxevin puts down to a wrong call against AM and I put down to Masche marking Godin at that final corner with all the athleticism and talent of my grannie but the point is the same. Tata had every right to expect we would win the league in that game. That he didn’t wasn’t down to him. Caretaker he obviously was but he did it with dignity and not a little skill in man management given the wrecked nature of our squad.

    We’ve gone over Thiago time and again but the bottom line remains as it did the day he left. If he’d wanted to stay he could have. He is a great talent but injury prone as Peter says. He wasn’t putting in performances which were gonna remove Xavi or Iniesta any time soon so he took advantage and jumped ship. If I recall he also did it in a rather suspect way by becoming unavailable while he took advantage of it. Still, he’s now a Bayern player, in and out of the team, with the coach who believes in him leaving.

    • Davour
      January 19, 2016

      I agree Tata did reasonably well, and does not at all deserve to be a figure of fun. But the question remains whether they were close to titles because of, or despite Tata. With this I mean that he did, after all, lose some control after new year, and it was obvious that he was not properly in charge, or managed to assert himself enough. Be it Xavi’s insistence to retain a particular philosophy, or failed backing from the board – there was a clear decrease in quality, and while he shouldn’t be mocked, nor should he be celebrated. I think Zubi has the right idea, here, stressing the person and his flexibility, rather than his ability as a coach.

  5. Jim
    January 19, 2016

    It’s a difficult question to ever answer. Did LE win his five trophies because of him or because we pulled together probably the best forward line the world has seen in club football ? Are we really saying Tata wouldn’t have won the league and more with them ? We were in a position to win trophies despite half a forward line compared with what we have now. It’s difficult to think back but I think I also remember Pique not playing in the last league game, the away CL tie or the Copa final ( Tata’s choice ? )

    What I’m trying to say is it was very close and imo he deserves at least a bit of respect for his efforts in a horrendous situation.

    • Davour
      January 20, 2016

      Yes, that he does!

    • January 20, 2016

      But Jim, the difference is the LE asked for and insisted on the players he thought would improve his squad, the he wanted to be. Whereas, with Tata, I remember him saying Puyol would be our new signing, inspite of we having serious defensive issues in those days. He was just a yes man to the board, which is exactly what he is doing right now too, for AFA.

    • Jim
      January 20, 2016

      Fair point, Fotobirajesh. Puyol himself though has said he fully expected to be able to make a complete recovery and I’m guessing that came from the medics. That would have put off any problem for at least a year. In the end I suspect all mangers are to some extent yes men to the board or they will pretty soon be out of a job. Given that he probably knew he was a caretaker for a year or at most two it’s maybe unrealistic to expect a board saying they needed to watch expenditure to open the wallet for him. As we saw its also very difficult for us to buy any player for a reasonable fee and most of the CB possibilities touted around here at ridiculous prices at the time and since haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory.

      It was difficult to judge Laporte in the last game but I’ll be interested to see how he does tonight up against a much reduced Barca attack.

  6. G6O
    January 19, 2016

    People probably don’t remember that moment well,, but it’s worth recalling that Zubi also got kicked out quite unfairly and unceremoniously from the club as player back in 1994 after the lost CL final against Milan.

    And then the club entered a long period of unsuccessfully trying to find a stable and reliable replacement between the posts.

  7. luisthebeast
    January 19, 2016

    One thing i liked at Zubi most.Austerity for CBs.If i was the sd of Barca i would never spend more than 20m for a CB.We are not City or Chelsea or whatever.Our power is attacking football and we need the best forwards.We can do the job without to spend 50m for Laporte Stones or whoever have a price that is out of any logic.Today i read that the price for Mangala to City was 54m.That is ridiculous.And we all now that Txiki is behind a lot of their transfers.So for me Zubi did a good job but not perfect.Like almost any sd in a big club.

  8. ooga aga
    January 19, 2016

    Folks here probably have heard, though I haven’t seen it written, that Gonzalez Gonzalez — the same ref that allowed Espanyol to kick us around the pitch in the Liga match a couple weeks ago– will referee the first leg of Bilbao-Barca tomorrow.

    • Davour
      January 20, 2016

      Good thing, then, that we are not facing a physical team with a point to prove…

  9. lala10
    January 20, 2016

    Enter Your Comment…That Guardiola was/ would have left at some point was inevitable given his obsessive all out approach. But infering from Zubi’s comments it seems pretty clear that this was not just a case of the coach reaching the end of his battery life.

    That Zubiza admits that his friendship with Pep is not what it was attests to the frictions that existed during those fraught final days. Its a shame that we will never really know what happened there.

    Zubiza appears the perfect gentleman as he took it all with humility and became the fall guy. That undoubtedly opened his eyes to the nature of men and power. That that realisation has not made him overly bitter is testament to his humility and personality

  10. Jim
    January 20, 2016

    Yeah, much though I loved what Pep gave us anyone who falls out with Zubi and Tito you have to wonder about. As you say we’ll never know.

  11. Jim
    January 20, 2016

    Really looking forward to tonight’s game – not because I particularly rate the Copa but we will find out a lot about how some of the players in our lineup deal with pressure and heavy pressing. It’s an important night for me for SR who has done way better than I ever thought he would but he didn’t look too clever at times when under pressure in the last game and it’ll be much worse tonight. Rakitic has to do something if he is going to keep getting the major minutes in the midfield and TS is going to have to turn in a very steady performance which will also test his undoubted passing skills. Oh, finally, Neymar just needs to escape with both legs still pointing downwards in straight lines.

    Back on the laptop and streams tonight. I HATE that. No rewinding and watching again at my leisure. Come on, Sky . . . Although I could warm to Ray Hudson and his ” sharp as a bag of wet mice” style.

    • Tommy11
      January 20, 2016

      Great point of expectations from you Jim, but I’m particularly interested in Sergi Roberto’s performance tonight mainly because of his ‘new’ position coupled with the fact that it’s against a tough opposition in a tough stadium. In any case, I believe we will see a good match and I hope that Gonzalez Gonzalez will not give allowance for too much aggressiveness.

  12. Tommy11
    January 20, 2016

    Great points of expectations from you Jim, but I’m particularly interested in Sergi Roberto’s performance tonight mainly because of his ‘new’ position coupled with the fact that it’s against a tough opposition in a tough stadium. In any case, I believe we will see a good match and I hope that Gonzalez Gonzalez will not give allowance for too much aggressiveness.

  13. georgjorge
    January 20, 2016

    Wow, the team really weathered the storm in the first fifteen minutes. Great defensive performance. And Munir maybe can be a bit more at ease after that important goal (though he really should have done better right before the halftime whistle).

    I’m amazed that in such a physical match the ref has only shown one yellow card so far, and that to Iniesta (!) for mouthing off. One or two yellow cards for some of the more dangerous fouls (from either side) would have gone a long way towards not letting the match get out of hand, which I fear is what will happen soon.

  14. georgjorge
    January 20, 2016

    I’m sorry to drag the level of this space down a bit, I’m sure a sophisticated analysis could be made, but for me it boils down to this:

    Fuck Gonzalez Gonzalez. This could have been a football match, but he chose to turn it into something a lot uglier.

  15. January 20, 2016

    What a fantastic professional performance against a tough team away from home. A team that played very aggressively and with a ref who really has no business officiating any professional games let alone ones at this level.

    I think more than anything the team and system really shone tonight. It wasn’t our best performance by far but it was never going to be. What impressed me most was the clear and obvious belief that every player on the pitch has in himself, his teammates and the system. That is down to the coach, so kudos Lucho.

    Shame we conceded a goal at the end, a bit sloppy from Alves, but really with two away goals I can’t see this tie going any other way at home and with Messi and Suarez back.

    Sergi Roberto has to be the most versatile player in world football. Lucho must love him. He can play him pretty much anywhere on the pitch with confidence that without doing anything spectacular he will just get the job done. There was a clear hole on the left when he came off.

    Ineista is in the form of his life I reckon.

    One last point. Ter Stegen has to be our no 1 next season. I get that Bravo has served us well and he is an excellent and reliable keeper but TS has the potential to be absolutely world class but he really does need to play every game to reach that level. He is still young so I am not worried, but I think he has shown more than enough to earn the spot from next season on. That save at the end. Brilliant,

  16. kosby
    January 20, 2016

    Aduriz (Athletic): “Kicking Neymar when on ground? Can happen, I apologize. He’s world class although sometimes I don’t like his attitude.”

    WTF. This “Can Happen” has been happening far too often. Stomping on Messi, kicking players when they are already lying done is JUST NOT DONE.

  17. Jim
    January 20, 2016

    You know, despite roaring at him for much of the match, I’m not sure there was much more he could have done, other than maybe to give a card out to one of them near the start to let them see it wasn’t going to happen. All the cards, bar Iniesta’s maybe, were deserved but I didn’t see a straight red. I also thought Masche had brought down Williams inside the box and it was only on replay I realised he’d pulled his foot back. So well done to the ref there. No, my beef is with AB who played a cynical game.

    A great fighting display from our guys against a real physical onslaught. You have to credit AB for keeping up that running and pressing throughout. Not easy. They must be knackered. Quite cynical at times from them. They were all prepared to get a yellow if they could kick lumps out of us yet none of them committed a second book able offence so not a case of loosing the head. Calculated in my book.

    I said I’d be interested in how some performed under that pressure. I thought SR answered some of my questions. He brought great passing and wholehearted effort to the position so well done to him. He was knackered when he was subbed. Not sure about Rakitic. Beautiful ball for the first goal. Why can we not have a RB who can do that regularly ? However, I thought Rakitic was slightly the poor relation in terms of frustrating them with our passing and movement game. Iniesta and Busquets were on fire for me whereas he offered a lot of effort but needs to be able to carry the ball out of tight situations a little better. Despite that he leaves nothing on the pitch in terms of effort so well done.

    I thought Pique was immense especially dealing with some of the passes played to him under pressure and with his tackling but I’m still amazed he gets his head to so many cross balls. Why were they lining up at set pieces with Aduriz and Laporte standing together allowing Pique to effectively cover them both ? Turan I thought looked confused as to what he was meant to be doing with the result that he didn’t have a huge contribution, for me. Lovely ball for the first to Rakitic though. Three men round him ( shocking defending) but the ball he played was inch perfect and even swerved into Rakitic’s path.

    My slight dilemma is TS. His two saves at the end were awesome and let us escape with a result. No question. However, his passing from the back was at times flaky and, for me, he comes out too often. Still it was a cauldron out there and overall he did well, giving them no joy in his assured handling of the ball.

    Pity about that last goal. But for that I’d have been thinking that we leave Messi out for the return or maybe rest Neymar and play Messi but it’s still a little close. Mind you, it’ll be a lot harder for them to press as tightly as that in the Camp Nou. So, again, well done to us. It was lovely at times to see them chasing the ball from side to side and unable to pin us down.

    • January 21, 2016

      Rakitic was bought for other reasons than his skills in retaining balls in tight spaces or bringing it forward. So I think its ok. But I do wish if he had that ability. However, Turan seems to have that. I loved his ball to Rakitic too, but really, that was criminal negligence by Athletic players to completely ignore the rushing Rakitic. Its interesting that both our goals came of two horrible defensive mistakes. Still great result for us. That must be the most important goal of Munir, yet.
      Sergi Roberto deserves a special award, right now.

    • georgjorge
      January 21, 2016

      Regarding the referee, he really only started handing out cards from about the 65th minute onwards, Iniesta’s notwithstanding. But there were at least three more cards that HAD to be given before that, either for harsh fouls or players repeating the same offence a couple of times. Most obvious was the foul on Neymar which was followed by Aduriz stroking his back with his shoe, foul as well as the stroke were card-worthy offenses but he didn’t even get one for both combined. Some of the attacks on Iniesta also went unpunished. If he gives those DESERVED yellow cards, the game doesn’t come down to who can kick the other side most, and he doesn’t need to give as many yellow cards later as he did.

  18. luisthebeast
    January 20, 2016

    One thing i cant understand after the game.People say the tie is not over but in the second leg we will have Leo and Suarez back.Well for me we must play with the same line up as today and maybe Vidal only for Alves.We have a so great squad and a great coach and i know that even without 2-3 starters,the team is the best.We play a game every 3 weeks and it s normal the guys are a little tired but we can rotate and that is huge.

  19. luisthebeast
    January 20, 2016

    There is a team in Europe and a coach that dererves a lot of attention.I am a little bored with all the talk about Klopp Pep.For me after Lucho,i am very impressed with Allegri.His team after a slow start,seems to go for a repeat of last season.Maybe we will have again a Barca-Juve in Italy:-)

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