Of Maletines, Traitors, and Champions: Granada – Barça Preview

I’ve looked down on Granada from on high and I’m sure it’s a lovely city. What sticks with me, though, is the journey to get there. It has been a long, winding path, but here we are, looking down on Granada. It feels like this is the end, as if we’ve reached a pinnacle, as if we’re standing in a tower and below us is everyone else, going about their business while sometimes glancing up and sighing at the riches on display above. There is also the whiff of something not quite right, as if the tower itself is built on softer ground than expected.

Or maybe it’s that I’m leaning against the ramparts of the Torre de la Vela at the Alhambra and Granada, its fabled cathedral peaking its asymmetrical towers and buttresses above the undulating cityscape, lies sleepy in the morning haze at the foot of the hill. I stand there in September 2015, two days after Granada CF hosted Villarreal in the third round of La Liga, a match the nazaries, nicknamed for the Alhambra’s Nasrid builders, lost 1-3, dropping them to 11th place. Barça was in the capital, beating Atleti at the Caledron and gaining the top spot while just 4 days later, Granada would visit the Santiago Bernabeu.

And now that Barcelona is returning to Andalucia, so to, they say, are the capitalenos. It’s just that this time maybe they’re carrying the famous maletines—briefcases full of money—in an attempt to incentivize a team that has nothing to play for but pride. Granada is 16th, only 3 points out of relegation, but thanks to Spain’s rules that use head-to-head as the first tiebreaker, they’re safe thanks to having drawn 18th ranked Sporting Gijon away and defeated them at home and because they beat 17th ranked Getafe in both of their encounters. So they’ve got nothing to play for except, as I said, pride. Er, well, and Isaac Cuenca, that former prodigy from La Masia whose Barça career was derailed through injury, has claimed that he would love to score the winning goal against his youth club, effectively handing the title to Real Madrid.

First, the money: Ivan Kelava, Granada’s Croatian goalie in his first year in La Liga, made statements that suggested Real Madrid might be giving Granada’s players a financial incentive to win against Barça, an act that is clearly against the rules. He then walked those statements back a day later, claiming he was mis-translated or taken out of context or, or, or, well something. But he didn’t ever say, as far as I can tell, that there were suitcases full of money being dropped off at Los Cármenes, Granada’s stadium. He merely said, possibly jokingly, that RM should offer them a financial incentive now that their season is complete. It’s all a storm in a teacup, though, because no matter whether or not there are maletines being shoved through mail slots throughout Granada, Barça will not cease to be the talented team they are. And Granada won’t cease to be the team of professionals who are, you know, paid to win matches. Which they are, because they’re professionals. Who are paid. Err, I guess it’s Spain, so maybe they’re not? But anyway.

The next thing is a bit more interesting given that it’s a former player smirking about how he wants to crush his ex. Only, as with Kelava, Isaac Cuenca never really said that. He gave a couple of interviews, said he’s super happy in Granada, and that he’s a professional who would love to score the winning goal against his former club because, well, he’s a professional who would love to score the winning goal against anyone. He’s coming off possibly his best ever game—2 goals and an assist away to Sevilla in a match that ensured his team of top flight status next year—and obviously he wants to score again and again and again. This isn’t controversial in the least, it’s just that it happens to be Barça in front of him and it happens to be an easy headline to write and it happens to be that a goal for Granada might ensure that a bitter rival wins the title.

That El Mundo article I linked above about Kelava’s waffling include a brief discussion about Pedro Mosquera, a Deportivo player who will face Real Madrid on Saturday, claiming he’d like to see the merengues leave the Riazor as champions. That is a lot more concerning than Cuenca wanting to do what he’s paid to do. Mosquera is, of course, a former Madrid player so his sentiments must be taken with some semblance of context, but they’re still troubling. Less troubling is his teammate’s assertion that they’ll do their utmost to ensure Barcelona get the trophy. That player is Oriel Riera, an ex Barcelona youth player whose allegiances don’t conflict at all with his current goal: winning the next match. What Mosquera says is, effectively, that he wants to do his job, but well, he’d love to have his cake and eat it too. David Barral, a Madrid youth product, and Isaac Cuenca joked that a suitcase full of fake money wasn’t even enough for snacks, but then intoned seriously that they would try their hardest to win, regardless of their opponent (and that no one from either club had contacted them). Cuenca went so far as to predict a 2-0 win for Granada while Barral said 1-1.

But do they really have a chance? They’re not 16th in the league because they’re really good, they’re 16th because of stats like this: they’ve lost all 9 matches they’ve played against the top 5 sides in La Liga. The combined score in those 9 matches is 20-3, including a 4-0 drubbing by Barcelona in early January. In the other 28 matches they’ve played, they’re 10W-9D-9L with 43GF and 46GA, which, while not scintillating (they’re still in 16th, after all), is not particularly worse than Valencia in 11th. And Valencia in 11th did a number on Barcelona just a few weeks ago and Granada in 16th just did a brilliant 1-4 victory at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Granada were just the 4th team to win there this season, a feat that neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid could muster. Cuenca, as mentioned, grabbed 2 goals and an assist, and Granada grabbed onto a lifeline and hauled themselves to safety.

It is a big, big ask of Granada to win against Barcelona, who should be motivated, fit, and ready for a team that, as Kevala admitted, hasn’t been training well because of the survival celebrations. Cuenca’s prediction aside, this is a team that faces an enormous uphill battle against a team that has allowed exactly 0 goals in the last 400 minutes of play while themselves notching 22. It’s hard to fault their focus and their work, but Barcelona’s players will have extra motivation going into Los Cármenes given that any slip whatsoever will mean the end of their title hopes. It’s hard to hinge everything on one match, but this is a final, a one-off winner-takes-all game that we simply cannot do anything other than win.

Standing at the Alhambra, looking out at Granada, that city of historical and cultural significance, there was just that subtle whiff of something not quite right. Maybe it was that both my daughter and nephew had just vomited from car sickness thanks to the winding road that led us here. You can never really get rid of that smell until bathtime. Or maybe it was that empires crumble and eventually the peasants are atop the castle walls, having conquered the unconquerable. The question isn’t whether the end is coming, the question is whether the end is today.

And I say no.

Granada 1 – Barcelona 3.

Alhambra_Löwenhof_mit_Löwenbrunnen_2014

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.

14 Comments

  1. G6O
    May 12, 2016

    We can do this

  2. Problem
    May 13, 2016

    A+++ article. Thank you.

  3. Davour
    May 13, 2016

    Very nice article! It is interesting how loyalty is so connected to the two big clubs in Spain. Their influence is really all encompassing, and it shows in how many players on other teams are former Barca’s or RM’s. But once they are not, well… I sincerely hope both Granada and Depor want to win; for many of the minor clubs, being a stumble in the path of the big ones is the greatest influence they will have!

    On a different note: Michael Jordan is often used in this space (mostly by Kxevin) as an epitome of greatness (like Messi). Here’s a sour twist to his legacy: http://www.newyorker.com/news/sporting-scene/how-air-jordan-became-crying-jordan?mbid=nl_160512_Daily&CNDID=15404509&spMailingID=8914754&spUserID=MTA5MjM5ODY3OTgxS0&spJobID=921243805&spReportId=OTIxMjQzODA1S0

    • May 13, 2016

      That was a great read. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. dl
    May 13, 2016

    Davour: very interesting article. The Jordan of his playing days turns out to have been a figment of all our imaginations, just as the ‘crying Jordan’ is now an internet meme. Neither are real.

    • Davour
      May 13, 2016

      But Jordans are forever!

    • May 13, 2016

      Actually isn’t true. Everyone in sports media, especially in Chicago, knew what an unrelenting S.O.B. he was. His extracurriculars were also known. People lionize athletes in a way that isn’t healthy for anyone involved. Jordan was one of those cases. He was alleged to have ruined more than a few Bulls players who ran afoul of his unrelenting drive to be the best.

      Michael Schumacher was a nice guy and great racing driver, but he was also a cheating S.O.B. who would run over his own mother if you put her at the apex of a corner with the race on the line. It’s how those people are.

      • Davour
        May 14, 2016

        Yes. As a Swede, basketball is not really my sport… but Jordan stands out, as transcending any boundaries – a real force beyond the normal limits of his sport, and I remember as a child watching games (and even playing video games) just because of him. Mixing up person and sports persona will generally be a bad idea. Look at Maradona. Elite sports is a cut-throat business and you will rarely be the best without egotism. Well, Iniesta being the obvious exception that proves the rule (but not e.g. Messi, regardless of supposed humility).

  5. Jim
    May 13, 2016

    Great read, as always, Isaiah. I usually feel I’ve learned something of the place from your writing and this is no exception. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit but have dreaded the journey there so haven’t been yet. Still on my wish list though.

  6. georgjorge
    May 14, 2016

    This is it. Barring the perfect storm of unlucky early goals conceded, injuries to key players and hitting the post a lot, we will win this one. The players WANT it and have the abilities to do it. Visca Barca!

  7. Jim
    May 14, 2016

    Frog gin’ Sky. Changing channels at the last moment. I could’ve been sitting here waiting for Muray’s game to finish !

    Anyway, deep breath. Reckon we’ll know within twenty minutes. Is the press back ?

    • Jim
      May 14, 2016

      Well, based on that pathetic opening half from Granada I’m off to open the wine. Unless a different team comes out second half this is all over. They’re just not putting in the sort of effort you need to beat us. In front of a full house for them as well. Mind you, not sure I want to see Pique leading the attack again just in case.

  8. Davour
    May 14, 2016

    Champions! Solid win, well done. We really need to appreciate how the team got up after the knock and took all the points and didn’t concede. We could lament the timing of the dip, but let’s instead celebrate this great win! Neymar back to his rightful level and Suarez pichichi! Interesting to watch Messi: I think he looked divine until 2-0 – sharp as a blade. Then… relaxed with a few gems (like the pre-assist to 3-0. Also, funny to see how our players seem used to camp nou pitch – consistently under-hitting the pass slightly! Served us well for 2-0. And TS with another clean sheet and fine performance. Let him stay put.

    Congratulations, team!

  9. Jim
    May 14, 2016

    Yup. Most important trophy for me. Team has deserved it over the season. Everybody played well and I’m glad Granada made more of a stab at it second half. Onto the Copa final now !

    Suarez again outstanding. What a signing ! That presence continually moving the CBs around and giving them no rest. Is it right Ronaldo came off at half time because he had lost the pichichi ? Surely not.

    Oh, and the fairness committee wish me to point out that Alba had another belter . . . 🙂

    Just watching Iniesta close to tears being interviewed. I love that man and everything he stands for. When he retires I’ll be making a trip to bodega Iniesta where hopefully we can sit down and sample some of his wine.

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