Rafinha is back, and Ballon of taste

In the best news the team has received in a while, Rafinha Alcantara has returned to training with the squad. And dependent upon your views of grim Alcantara confluences, maybe there is something to footballing karma only allowing one Alcantara brother to be fit. Rafinha’s injury history is almost heartbreaking.

It’s has been a very long time, a downhill spiral that began with what is still a horrorshow tackle from Radja Nainggolan in a Champions League match against Roma. The knee injury led to another injury, which led to another injury, which led to surgery because that last injury didn’t heal properly. He has been out for 249 days, and returned to training. He’s happy, and if you’re a culer who understands what the team is trying to do, so are you.

His injury last season derailed potential success because of his unique skill set. Luis Enrique’s system needed that shuttle between the back line and the danger players, a player who could take the ball, dribble, make moves and a smart pass. Pique wasn’t really Piquenbauer or allowed to be because of how opponents attacked Barça. Umtiti wasn’t fully unleashed in the way Valverde turned him loose. That link was needed. Rakitic wasn’t that player, Gomes wasn’t that player. Iniesta was, but he was occupied. Turan sure as hell wasn’t that player. Rafinha was it.

Absent that, longer passes became the thing, efforts more easily dealt with by opposing coaches who packed the midfield, and the attack struggled. Many deride Rafinha as “not Thiago,” or “not Barça quality.” He is. As an exceptional squad player, which every team needs, Rafinha has a unique skill set that Luis Enrique missed, and that Ernesto Valverde will find handy for those same reasons. The closest player that the club has to Rafinha is Alena, who is doing his thing at Barça B.

For Valverde, Rafinha’s return comes at a great time, because with Umtiti out, there is a missing link in attack, the same one that Luis Enrique was missing in building from back to front. And with the return of Dembele, who is scheduled to return to training with the squad next week, Rafinha becomes even more valuable as he will allow Messi to take station near the box, rather than having to drop deep to take the ball and help build attacks. Because Rafinha also runs quite well with the ball, that gives Dembele a moving playmate. This is all good.

Rakitic won’t be celebrating Rafinha’s return all that much, because he is a player that Rafinha makes expendable at a time when he’s wrestling with form. And yes, it will take time for Rafinha to work his way back into match fitness. But this could be a season of wonders, as players with terrible injury luck find their way back. Thomas Vermaelen is another, who has played in four matches, started two, and is still going strong. And that’s pretty awesome.

Welcome back, Rafinha.

Ballons and GOATS

Cristiano Ronaldo won his fifth Ballon d’Or on Thursday, matching the total of five won by Lionel Messi. And the culerverse went into a tizzy of snark, arguing that the award is meaningless, but here’s why Messi deserves it. It all misses the point that individual awards have no place in team sport. Nonetheless, the ongoing Messi v Ronaldo debates reared their heads.

One person on Twitter said to me, in response to statement that Ronaldo made that he considers himself the best in history, how could he be with such a poor pass completion percentage? But that isn’t Ronaldo’s context. And even if you look at his statement as the marketing device that it probably is (people are talking about it, so job done), the question of Messi v Ronaldo just isn’t valid. It’s apples vs oranges.

This is a smart piece by BFB guest contributor Ahmad (aka Barça Chief), which puts that into stark perspective. it is an argument for Messi, but it also makes us understand that we can’t compare them because they aren’t the player, even as they are united in scoring absurd amounts of goals, and the marketing machine that has created that rivalry.

I said to someone the other day that “For me, the Subaru Legacy GT wagon in the best car on the road.” Why? Manual transmission, all-wheel drive with a 50/50 split, cloth seats and can take a mountain bike in the cargo bay with both wheels on. Now. A Ferrari driver would say, “Nonsense. Here is why the 360 is the best car on the road.” And we are both right, based on our own needs.

Statisticians can make the case for either player being “the best.” And their arguments will make sense. Is it team winning stuff? Sure, why not? But Barça won only a Copa, so why is Messi in there? Buffon was in fourth place. Why? Such ambiguity ensures that there is no way to properly judge an individual award that isn’t a simple math test. Pichichi is one, even as that one has been cast into dispute by what goals are or aren’t allowed.

Ronaldo won BdO. Does he deserve it? Sure, why not. You could make a case for any of the top four in that balloting deserving it, and be right in every case. That is the fundamental problem with the Ballon d’Or. It’s like figure skating. What makes one triple Salchow better than another, when both look the same? Ah. That is judging. Is it? People who probably don’t watch as much football as the average football junkie consumes over the course of a season, get together that decide who the “best player’ is.

It’s absurd. So whether Ronaldo, Messi, Iniesta or anyone else wins, no matter. No debate. No point. Like who you like, understand why you like them, and don’t let any golden baubles change that belief. Because it is what it is.

By Kxevin

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.


  1. Well, you can’t trust Sevilla to help you… Five goals in the first half. In the first half!!! Expect write-ups from Graham Hunter and Guilleme Balague about how Madrid will still win the league.

    1. Hmm, Sevilla just not good enough for the top teams (also supported by results in the EL), or RM slowly finding their way? Sevilla look like a disciplined and very clever team which just doesn’t have good enough players to really compete (though N’Zonzi is great and wouldn’t look bad at all in our team).

      In any case, the first goal was an incredible defensive error – I think if that had been defenders from our team, Jim would have been in serious danger of fainting ; ). Corner by RM, the ball falls to a spot with no RM player nearby, only two Sevilla defenders. One of them for whatever reason heads the ball directly towards his own goal where there are four or five attackers lurking, so one of them only has to tap it in.

  2. Thanks for the concern re my health Georgejorge but I expect teams to defend awfully against RM !

    I’m also getting used to rotten defending after watching Lukaku this afternoon. I’ve always maintained we actually have a great defence. Unfortunately they aren’t always playing defence when we need them …. Thought they were great today though. Pique didn’t put a foot wrong ( surely sits next week out?) , Alba undoubtedly MOTM and if there’s a better LB in world football at the moment let me know. Also, important not to forget the saves of TS. He’s having a great season. Happy to see that. Also, TV, despite allowing his man to get across the front of him twice early on showed why he has been a great defender. Great head on him. I’ve no worries about the Clasico if he stays fit and gets a little more match practice. Lots of positives.

    I’m not sure what to make of EV’s selection. I’ve been banging on for months now about the stupidity of leaving Suarez up front on his own. I’m not gonna cut him any slack for bringing Alcacer on once they were down to ten. To function as an attacking side we need at least two full on forwards.

    I’d just finished saying to my good lady ( who was patiently waiting for the footie to finish to watch our recording of Strictly come Dancing semi ) that folk would be shouting out Suarez if we didn’t win this game when on came Alcacer and all of a sudden we were buzzing. No surprise Suarez stepped up and scored a great goal, the kind we used to and the kind we need to. Brought a smile to an old face. Memo once again to EV. You CANT play with one up front !!! And Alcacer is really all we have at the moment. Decent return ball to Suarez as well but just rewatch the speed of that move. No defence stops that.

    Anyway, clean sheet again and we’ll have pleasant problems in a few weeks when Dembele is fit. Still need Coutinho if he’s available though. We haven’t really been in top gear for a few weeks. I thought Messi looked mentally tired today. Still great, of course, but the weight of carrying the team on his back is starting to show. I’ve talked before about watching Dalglish at Celtic when all anyone did was look for him. You could see the pressure in his face and it was no surprise when he left. We need more creative players.

    Finally, to finish with a couple of positive away from us. In the manchester game, how sad were we to see Mourinho’s player booked for simulation after he had criticised City for diving during the week ? That’s right.

    And well done to the Villareal keeper coming back after four cruciate operations. I can only imagine what he’s been through.

  3. There are two ways of looking at tonight’s game.

    The first is that we can take comfort in knowing that it was the worst game of the season, against a tough opponent, and we still got a win and a clean sheet.

    The second is that we probably wouldn’t have won without that stupid (from the player) red card, and that having a Barcelona midfield of four players of whom only one (Busquets) can create anything going forward is really embarrassing.

    I still tend towards the first one, because there have been only a few games this season like today, where it looked like we would never create any clear chances if the game lasted the whole day. But I also think this game would have profited immensely from Semedo as right back and Sergi Roberto in midfield (instead of Denis, Paulinho or Rakitic – take your pick).

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