Archive | Barcelona

Talkin’ bout differences…

I still remember the first time I went to the Camp Nou. It was in the fall of 2004 against Deportivo de la Coruña. Ronaldinho did stuff I couldn’t quite understand from my seat in the third ring on the southern side of the stadium. Giovanni Van Bronckhorst goofed up and gifted the lead to our opponents. Xavi and Eto’o restored peace and calm in the stadium.

There’s a huge difference between watching a game from 100 yards or watching it from 100 miles. From 100 yards you see the whole pitch. You watch the TEAM play football, how they move and where they move. Sometimes (in my case pretty much always) you sit so high up that the “how they move” is often the only way you can recognize an individual player. Of course if you watch the game from 100 miles or, in my case, 1500 yards, the game is shown from the perfect spot in the stadium and you have instant replay, multiple angles, high definition close-ups and even, gulp, goalline technology.

So what’s a fellow to do, when a colleague offers him his father-in-law’s soci card for a seat that would have cost 130 euros to a mere mortal? Note the difference.

On TV, Munir looks promising but, his debut aside, largely ineffective. On the pitch oh boy that kid runs his socks off. He’s still not all that effective but he runs a whole lot more than I realized during the previous games. On TV, he missed a chance in front of an open goal from less than a yard out before getting wrongly called offside. In the stands, about a 100 yards from the action, we were pissed off at the wrongly disallowed goal.

In my row, speaking about wrongly disallowed goals, we were fuming when Messi’s first (or was it 400th?) was canceled for offside. Hijo de puta, we roared. Only in the Camp Nou do the refs still screw the home team, we grumbled. In the Bernabeu they gave two penalties for nothing last week, we complained. Granted, watching the game in a bar we do the same. Until the slow motion replay puts us in check and shows us that Messi was indeed offside by a few inches. Of course in the bar a beer is one euro and it gets brought to my table faster than I can say cerveza. At the Camp Nou it’s three fifty, and I have to stand in line to buy it and they don’t give me free tapas. I digress. Let’s get back to business.

On TV you see what a brilliant passer Xavi is and how he has become really slow on defense. From the stands you see this even better.

On TV, Claudio Bravo acts like a goalkeeper. In real life, the person who is supposed to be our goalkeeper hugs the midfield circle line every time we take a corner. Why is beyond me. Predictably, it was not long before a Granada player tried his luck from his own side of the pitch. Watching the highlights on TV, the commentator said that Bravo had the situation under control. Control is clearly a flexible concept, no matter where you watch the game from.

From where I was sitting it was far from clear how Neymar’s first goal went into the net. It looked like he got lucky and it was ugly as hell. The slow motion would later show he shot it in between the defender’s legs on purpose. He often does this, just like his clasico goal last season, or the mind-blowing assist to Alexis against Espanyol. He tried it again in the second half and found his shot blocked.

On TV, Matthieu played brilliantly from the back and snuffed out a lot of counter attacks. This was pretty much what we saw also and we applauded him accordingly.

On TV Rakitic received a standing ovation as he came off. In the stadium some people stood up and applauded. On TV you hear a lot of singing. In the stadium you see it’s just a group of 100-15o supporters that stand behind one of the goals. On TV you hear the independència chant after 17 minutes of each half. In the stadium you hear it too, but you see plenty of people who don’t participate.

On TV, spectators saw Sandro play a long ball to where no player was standing. In the stadium we saw him play that ball to literally the only spot on the pitch where no player could get to. We applauded him for it because, well, at least he made us laugh. The boy can sprint, though, and it’s fun to watch him run onto the field when subbed in.

In the bar as in the street, people acknowledge Sergi Roberto isn’t Barça quality and will most likely never be Barça quality. In the stadium they support him. Even I, Sergi Roberto-doubter par excellence, have to admit he had a good thirty minutes on the pitch.

That’s it mostly, except for one more thing. On TV. In a stadium. On a Playstation. In a dream. Wherever. Lionel Messi is the best player I’ve ever seen. Truly blessed, us culers are. We can worry about whether or not we’ll win or lose a given game, cup or league and that’s normal. But having Messi on your team is not. We should cherish these years like no other.

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Once upon a time in Catalonia

Note: This article was written some time ago to be published when Suarez’s signing was made public. Things got in the way, and five weeks later our new number nine will soon be presented in front of a full Camp Nou at the traditional Gamper’s Trophy. What the hell, I might as well…

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THE PRELUDE

Little more than nothing in this article will not have been said already. As if you need reminding that Luis Suarez, the man with the mind and teeth of a Tasmanian devil has landed in Barcelona and will represent the club we love. Family man. Despicable jerk. Great teammate. Selfish superstar. Winner at all costs. Cheater with no shame. Worth 81 million euros. Not worthy of our shirt. You’ve heard it all. He splits opinions like left wing politics. The only clear consensus is that he’s a brilliant striker.

Even before he arrived at our club, culers were divided. Of course, culers are always divided, but not like this. Excited. Depressed. Proud. Embarassed. Making accusations. Making up excuses. Supportive. Disgusted. Some of us feel all these emotions, and more, at the same time. It’s only natural. Most hearts have dynamic IP addresses and we’re still trying to find out if what we purchased is the next best thing since Google Glasses or a nasty virus that will cost us a lot to finally remove.

THE GOOD

For his previous club, at least, Luis had a brilliant season. Not a lot of people expected Liverpool to even make the Champions League, but with 31 goals and 12 assists, he led a young and exciting team to within a “we will not let this slip” moment from the title.

He can shoot with his left and his right and hit it with power or finesse. He thinks quick and runs fast. He’s a good passer who involves his teammates*, but he can take on his marker with guile and swagger. He’s dangerous on the counter yet give him the ball in a small space and he worms his way through defenders before they can say “cheater.” He’s a hard worker who’s got “I want to win” etched in his heart.** A lethal scorer, his goal repertoire is as colorful as a Brazilian favela. Headers, lobs, tap-ins, 40-yard screamers, one-on-one finishes, volleys, low hard drives, rounding the keeper, free kicks, from solo runs and tight angles, penalties. You name it, he’s scored it. He’s a complete striker, seemingly without weaknesses. Really, what’s not to like?

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THE GOOD… OR BAD?

On paper, an attack featuring Leo, Ney and Lucho is salivating. F.C. Barcelona might very well have found the third man of what would make for the most naturally gifted front line to ever grace the fields. But does the most gifted mean it will be the best? Let’s examine that for a moment.

After Groningen, Ajax and Liverpool, this will be the first time in Europe that Luis Suarez is not “the man.” Every club he has played for revolves around the bucktoothed striker. Only for his country he played a comparitively modest role next to Diego Forlán some years back, as they formed a forward tandem that reached the semifinals at South Africa 2010. Of course, a club as big as Barça will always look to add the best players, whether from other clubs or from the Masía. It’s rare to represent the club at its highest level without having been “the man” somewhere else. But sometimes, too much can be too much.

Although he won’t occupy the space Messi and Neymar love when they drop into the midfield to assume playmaking roles, his natural game does demand protagonism. He’s always been the focus point of his team, a player who wants the ball – a lot. When we bought O Ney, Cruijff famously said that you can’t have two captains on one ship. Getting the best out of a Neymar and La Pulga combination is quite a challenge for the best of coaches, so now we have three?

I absolutely agree with the need for a striker, but would it not have been better to get a slightly more modest talent, like Higuain or Mandzukic, who would leave our two superstars with more space to run the team, similar to how Karim Benzema is the perfect B to M*drid’s CC? When Florentino Perez was adding a Galactico every year, did it not get to the point that every summer move instilled laughter rather than fear in the hearts of culers worldwide? Are we not making the same mistake right now?

And what about the overall balance of the squad? Will all three defend? Will Suarez get frustrated when he sees Neymar and Messi defending less? Will Neymar get frustrated with Messi, for that matter? Will Rakitic succeed where Cesc has failed? Wouldn’t it have been better to spend at least some of those 81 million euros – 81 million euros – on say, a defender? Suarez might very well be a better player than Alexis, but taking into account the amount of work the Chilean puts in and how well he has finally adapted to playing on the wing, will he be worth having sold Lexus for?

One thing’s for sure, the purchase of Lucho raises a lot of questions. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t any answers. Some culers, and I count myself among them, have been making the argument for quite some time that Messi should move to a playmaker role. If you put Suarez in front of him, and heck, Pedro on the right, we’ll have, for the first time since Eto’o left, two attackers who can make runs that invite through balls, a characteristic which has been lacking in our squad for some time now.

No matter how you look at it, from a purely tactical point of view, this monster move by the board represents a huge risk. But don’t worry. If it works, the board is a genius for signing him. If it doesn’t, they’ll blame Luis Enrique. Or Lionel Messi.

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THE BAD

For perhaps the first time in football history fans are unanimously satisfied that their club sold its star player at the heights of his powers. Think about that for a second. Luis had just come off of his best season ever during which he was absolutely integral to his team’s title run. He made the crowd oooh and aaah with his flair and unpredictability. Liverpool hadn’t had a player like this since… Maybe they’ve never had a player like this. He’s at his prime, at a moment where if his club had continued building the team around him, who knows, maybe they could actually win their first league title in over twenty years. And yet, 99% of Liverpool fans were glad to see him go.

What does that tell us? I could just say “enough” and leave it that.

I have to be honest. I find it incredibly hard to dislike Luis Suarez. I’m talking about the person here, not the player. He has always come across as likable in his interviews. He takes his job seriously and he gives his 110%. There’s the fairy tale story of how he was motivated to the core to play in Europe, which is normal for South American football players, but with the twist that his main motivation was to be closer to his girlfriend who left Uruguay for Barcelona when Luis was fifteen. How can you not a story like that? Girls, say “aaaaaaw”. Funnily enough, as despised a figure he has become, I think I would’t have disliked him even if he had signed for M*drid.

It’s tragic therefore that he betrays himself so often and that he always ends up repeating the same mistakes. Just when the world falls in love with him he’ll bite someone. Again. Or demand a transfer two weeks after he declared his never-ending loyalty. It’s moments like these that make you realize that the man is his own worst enemy. It makes you grunt, scream, roll your eyes so far back your head hurts. And it makes the press and a large contingent of (especially Anglo-Saxon) fans vilify the man.

So when he dives to get an advantage he is bashed over the head with the proverbial sledgehammer – but when Stevie G. does it the public hear no evil see no evil. When he batted the ball out of the goal mouth to deny the first African semi-finalist ever fans call him a despicable cheat, knowing (I suspect or I hope) full well that he did what every player would have done in a similar situation, which is of course what every fan would have want their player to do. Ooooh, they say, and he had the gall to laugh when Ghana missed the resulting penalty and kept hope against all hope of advancing alive.

Is he the devil incarnate? I know I’d rather be bitten in my shoulder than have my leg or back broken, but while people call him an animal and inhuman and they mean it, too, in my view biting a man on a football pitch is just weird. More than anything it’s plainly bizarre. A four-month ban for club and country for an offense which Chiellini probably didn’t even feel anymore the next day seems unjust to me. The Italian defender himself said as much, and other players have gotten away with a lot worse during this tournament, under the all-seeing eye of the camera, no less.

You can’t have a team of only nice guys, said Cruijff, who would know because the Clockwork Orange of 1974 featured players who would saw off an opponent’s kneecap for tugging at Johan’s shirt. Except Barça did have a team of nice guys, and they were arguably the best team the world has ever seen. They were the exception rather than the rule. I’m too young to remember if there were many complaints amongst culers when Hristo Stoichkov stomped on a referee’s foot shortly after arriving in Catalunya. I definitely don’t want Suarez to gouge anyone’s eyes while wearing our shirt.*** His hunger and aggression, however, if channeled correctly, can prove a catalyst to bring back those intangibles our team have lost. Likewise that same hunger and passion can see him banned for life. Especially his hunger.****

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THE UGLY

It’s funny how we don’t pay much stock to the rumor mill. Every summer another target, and every day new names find their way to the headlines of SPORT and Mundo Deportivo. What’s even funnier is how from the first day Luis Suarez graced the local covers, that sinking feeling started surging, that “oooooowwww I know this ain’t no rumor” feeling. Presidents come, presidents go, their strategy remains the same. “The whole of Barcelona wants Luis Suarez” blurts SPORT. “Culers undivided in their desire to see Luis in our colors” claims MD. Things of that nature. ***** 

Try as they may, culers I speak to in the city of Barcelona are not convinced. Many say he’s not worth the risk. The smart ones – rare and in between – wonder how Messi, Neymar and Suarez will play together. The ones who love our club because the values they thought it represented are disgusted. Of course many also think, as is inevitable, “what if it works?” All in all, he might not be as disliked here as he is in England, but culers are nowhere near as close to ecstatic as we are being told that we are.

It’s just another thread of the carpet of deception that’s been laid out in front of us week in and week out. If the board wants to buy a player, by all means buy him. If our new coach loves him, all the better. They want to take that risk, then take the  risk. Just don’t tell us it’s what we all want. Don’t take us for the fools that only half of us are. Is that too much to ask for?

FIVE WEEKS LATER

So now we’ve had a good five weeks to get used to the idea that Luis Suarez is a Barça player. For many, the original disgust has died down. I personally remain more disgusted with MD and Sport for their “FIFA ban injustice” campaign than with the original offense that caused it – not because I don’t think the ban is injust, but because the fact that our board knew full well he was banned before they packed a record amount of money in a record amount of suitcases and sent them Merseyside. I still don’t see quite clearly how our superstar frontline will work together, but that doesn’t mean I’m not carefully optimistic. I know we’ll see some good football and, although it would be presumptuous to count  on anything, I hope we’ll get to celebrate a trophy at the end of this season, too.

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* Ironically the season that finally saw him win the golden boot coincided with the first season that he impressed for having left his selfish play behind.

** The facet of his game which epitomizes his will to win is the way he dribbles. He’s not a close dribbler, like Neymar, Messi or Iniesta. Nor does he blast by people like C. Ronaldo, Bale or Robben. No. When Luis Suarez dribbles past his marker, the ball will hit his opponents legs and sometimes even more than once. How does he still get past them? Call me dirty, but I like this man’s intangibles…

*** The eye-gouging, to me, is a lot worse than biting and it amazes me that it didn’t cause even a tenth of the uproar. I didn’t even know he committed the act until the video went viral. Following the same train of thought, a video surged of Jermaine Defoe biting another player. You guessed it, he did not get banned seven games for his first offense. Hypocrisy some? For sure. Not that it makes Luis look any better, though.

**** The more I hear and read about it, the more I think the ban is disgraceful. FIFA actually had the police (!) come and get him from the Uruguay training grounds. The idea of a player not being allowed to train with his teammates or even enter a stadium is absurd, as is the fact that they punish Liverpool for something their player did at a tournament in which he didn’t represent their club. Never mind them, they’re laughing their butts off for finding a suitor who coughed up 80M. They don’t have to worry about that nutcase anymore. His next transgression, and there will be a next transgression, he’ll be lucky if they allow him to play FIFA on his Playstation. Watch a game with his father-in-law. Talk about football at the dinner table. Pass the ball around in his backyard with his daughters. Walk on grass. He’ll be the first ever football player to go into hiding. A pariah, playing illegal pick-up games on the parking lot of a seedy bar at three in the morning on a Saturday. It won’t be long before he undertakes extensive plastic surgery and signs up for the Pyong Yang Red Stars. You heard it here first.

***** One of the most ridiculous “advantages” they keep writing is that because of his wife and in-laws, Suarez will adapt to the city very quickly. You know, because Barcelona is such a notoriously difficult place to adapt to for professional footballers. And while I’m at it, another disgrace is how Barto, Zubi, SPORT and MD are the only ones who tried to sell us his (read: his lawyer’s) apology.

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Immortality

 

6 Ligas

2 Copas del Rey

6 Supercopas de España

3 Champions Leagues

2 UEFA Super Cups

2 FIFA World Cups

1 Olympic Gold Medal

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Posted in Barcelona, Player Profiles, Preview80 Comments

Myth vs Reality

Disappointed by the season? Ready to kick some internet ass and spray your opinions throughout the four corners of the cyberworld? You gotta do what you gotta do. But first, let’s separate the bull from the crap, the pimp from his hoes and hit the judge with its own hammer. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, with no further ado…

 

Myth: We had a bad season.

Reality: Any culer worth its salt knows we didn’t. You don’t even have to be that old. Only seven seasons ago we ended third in the Liga with a whopping 18 points below Real M*drid. That was pretty bad and guess what? We still reached the semi-finals of the Champion’s League, a competition we didn’t even participate in five years prior. In the Gaspart years the club spent boatloads of money to be only equaled by an incredible amount of frustration felt by its followers. As a fan of F.C. Barcelona since Cruijff took over, I’m not even an old-timer. The old guys don’t remember the bad seasons as much as they remember the occasional league championship every decade or so. To sum it up, the only way this season qualifies as “bad” is when we compare it to the most successful period any club, not just ours, but any club in the world has gone through in the last forty years of the game.

Myth: Pinto sucks.

Reality: He’s our backup goalkeeper. Let me repeat. Backup!!! How many squads have had such a good backup keeper over the last five years? Really, people need to wake the hell up before they judge. Even the newly crowned champions of Europe almost lost out on their décima because of a horrible mistake made by their backup goalkeeper. When I think of how Pinto has played since Valdes’ injury, I don’t remember him costing us even one goal. He has induced the occasional heart attack, for sure, but he has not cost us. To a lot of fans he has been our most entertaining player of the season. Culers giggle and laugh in bars throughout the city whenever he goes on one of his crazy dribbles. Give that man a one-year contract. Let him be the third goalkeeper and tutor a young Marc-André ter Stegen and Jordi Masip. Not only because he deserves it, but because it’s the smart thing to do.

Myth: Neymar and Messi can’t play together.

Reality: The truth is we haven’t got the faintest idea. While true that they rarely looked good together, that can almost be said for the team as a whole. Besides, Leo was injured for two months and when he came back Neymar got injured. When Neymar came back, the team collectively slumped and our coach seemingly gave up on coaching his squad. I say seemingly because we don’t know that either. What I do suspect is that the team will be better off with Messi as a no. 10 and a selfless striker who moves around a lot and doesn’t need the ball at his feet. Higuiain would be perfect in that regard. Mandzukic intrigues as well. Time will tell, and whatever the technical team decides, it’s up to our new manager to make it work.

Myth: Tata was given a raw deal.

Reality: He knew what he was coming into. We had a bad board then and we have a bad board now. You’re gonna tell me he was unaware that SPORT and MD print their dailies with poison instead of ink? Without any European experience, Gerardo Martino was given the chance to lead an extraordinary group of players who had won it all and then some. That was precisely the challenge: how the heck are you going to keep them winning. He failed, and I don’t blame him. Without a proper pre-season, no reinforcements, and the drama of replacing a manager who fell out with cancer, this was a damn near impossible task. But let’s not kid ourselves. A lot of coaches would have signed up for that deal, regardless of the circumstances. Heck, they dream of that chance to come along. And the majority would have won squat, just like Gerardo Martino. It doesn’t make him a bad coach. But it definitely does not make the board wrong for replacing him with Luis Enrique.

Myth: If Lucho chooses to play a vertical game, Cesc will flourish.

Reality: It’s true that Fàbregas plays better when we play more vertically, but he has only ever really flourished at Arsenal. Why? Because he was the best player on a team that was built around him. A squad that features Messi, Iniesta and Neymar will never be built around a less godly talent such as Cesc. And if he doesn’t have the freedom to go where he wants on the pitch and do what he wants, the attributes that made him such a great player are severely compromised. Has he ever looked anywhere close to great in a big game? He has been back at F.C. Barcelona for three years now, and has had plenty of opportunities to shine. We all know he can. Just not at his boyhood club.

Myth: We should abandon our style.

Reality: We play a formation of 4-3-3 (of which 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 are merely variations). We´ll never hoof it up the field or sit back and lure on the break. Our game has always been based on technique and passing, possession and offense. That’s what makes us us, from the Masía to the B-team and all the way up to the first team. A bad season or two (or three, or thirteen) changes not a thing. Football goes through cycles… Period. During those cycles, Barça will always be Barça and should always play like Barça. A closely related myth is that Martino betrayed our style. All because we actually scored some counter goals and even had less than 50% possession once on a potato field ploughed through by the caretakers of Rayo Vallecano, press and fans were aghast at what they considered “counter attack” football. Never mind the fact that during that same first half of the season that this particular criticism was continuously uttered, Barça actually maintained possession of the ball for 67%.

Myth: Dani Alves can’t cross.

Reality: Ok. How do you explain that during our last two games against Atletico Madrid, an awesome defensive team featuring a goliath duo of Godín and Miranda, Dani found the heads of little Messi, Xavi, Neymar, Pedro and Alexis? Not to mention the fact that our season winning and wrongly called offside goal came off of his cross also. Claiming that Dani Alves can’t cross because he sometimes mistakes the corner flag for a head is like saying la Pulga can’t score because he sometimes shoots straight at the keeper. You can argue that he shouldn’t play as many crosses because our players aren’t the most naturally endowed physical specimen to knock in header after header, but you are very much mistaken if you think he’s not a good crosser of the ball.

Myth: Our players didn’t try hard enough.

Reality: Get real. A sports team can’t just keep winning forever. Impossible. And neither can Messi. The same fans who proclaim him celestial for a standard of play that saw him pick up a historic four balons d`or in a row (and let’s not forget, saw our team haul in a historic number of prizes in the process) are dragging him through the mud now that he has “only” scored 46 goals this year and co-led the team in assists. If his winner in the last match of the season had stood? Our God and savior. But it didn’t, so let’s treat him like crap and doubt his heart. Another travesty is the comparison being drawn in some quarters between this group of players and Frank Rijkaard’s guys in their mister’s final year. Are our stars out getting bent four nights per week? Do they skip training en masse? Did they… get fat? No. They fought for the league title until the last minute of the last game. So what if they didn’t win. They made this culer proud, and I’m convinced they will do so next season as well. Visca Barça!

 

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The Boogie-Woogie Barça Boys of Company B

FC Barcelona announced on Thursday that Eusebio Sacristan has accepted a one-year renewal of his contract that will keep him at the club as coach of Barça B until the end of the 2014-15 season. This seems like a good time to take a look at how the youngsters have done this year.

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Barça B played their last game of the season on Saturday and finished in 3rd spot in the Segunda table, with 66 points, behind promoted teams Eibar and Deportivo La Coruna. Normally this would be a playoff spot to put them in contention for promotion, but of course the rules forbid a B team from playing in the same division as their parent team. Still, third place is a very strong finish to a season in which the quality of the team’s play varied significantly. Indeed, at one point the B team drifted down almost into the relegation zone, prompting the then-VP Josep Bartomeu to remark that it wouldn’t be “a tragedy” if they were relegated, much to the fury of many in this space.

So how does one judge the success of this season? A third-place finish would seem like an excellent result to most, wouldn’t it? However, we must also take into consideration that this is a B team, the stated purpose of which is to develop youth players, to give them the skills and the experience they need for their adult careers, and to provide them with opportunities to prove they have what it takes to make the first team.

Eusebio started the season with a much younger group than has been the case for the last few seasons, as several of the older players left or were promoted, and a large crop of youngsters from Juvenil A joined as either full or partial promotions. There were predictable growing pains as the team struggled to gel on the pitch, and results were less than brilliant. In one especially grim stretch, they lost 7 out of 8 games. The lack of cohesion on the field was only exacerbated by a rash of injuries that kept several key players out for weeks. The one bright spot was the 3-0 demolition of RM Castilla* in the mini-Clasico–unfortunately they turned the tables on the return leg and beat Barça B by 3-1.

After the Christmas break, results began to improve, helped immensely by the return of LB Alejandro Grimaldo after recovering from a leg injury that kept him out of action for a full year. Centre-backs “Macky Frank” Bagnack and Edgar Ie also returned to full action and formed a very solid pairing at the core of the defense. Forwards Adama Traore and Munir el-Haddadi were both still technically registered as Juvenil A players, but spent most weekends with the B team. As they were trusted with more minutes on the field, their performances continued to improve, and the goals started to come. With players like Sergi Samper, Javi Espinosa, and Edu Bedia taking control of the midfield, the B team embarked on a 9-week unbeaten run (7 W, 2 D) and looked set for a top ten finish at the very worst. The Segunda league was extremely close this year, with only 20 points separating champion Eibar from 18th-placed Alaves, so every game, every point was vital. Despite the odd setback, the B team diligently worked their way up in the standings to finish a more-than-respectable 3rd with the youngest team in the league. As a manager, Eusebio has come under a lot of criticism over the last few years, not least from myself, but this result is something he can be justifiably proud of. Eusebio will never be known as a tactical genius (some of his in-game substitutes are downright baffling), but to his credit he appears to have learned from some of his past mistakes (such as indulging in outright favouritism) and IMO has improved as a manager. I won’t say I’m happy that he was renewed for another season, but I think the current B generation is so packed with talent that they would succeed with almost any manager.

Who’s on First?

The most disappointing aspect of this season for me, and most likely for the players as well, was the scarcity of call-ups to the first team. B players were called up to practice with the first team fairly often, but only 4 players were actually called up for games–Dongou, Adama, Patric, and Sergi Gomez–and these received a grand total of 72 minutes of playing time in all competitions between them. Dongou accounted for most of that time. This is in stark contrast to the 1432 minutes B players received last season and 2298 the season before (Guardiola’s last). To me, this represents a failure on the part of the club, a waste of valuable resources, and an error on the part of the first team manager Tata Martino. To be fair to Martino, he clearly started out with good intentions. Dongou and Adama both impressed him in preseason, and Bagnack was even taken along on the ill-fated Asian tour. But as a new manager from “outside” the club, Tata was under huge pressure to impose his vision on his players and to get results, and any plans he may have had to give youth players a look-in were put on the backburner. It is understandable, but unfortunate, since the best opportunities for B players come in the early stages of the Copa del Rey and the group rounds of the Champions’ League. Tata was having an excellent run of results at the time and apparently didn’t want to bring any unknown elements into the mix. Then in the second half of the season when results dropped and injuries began to pile up, it seemed like he had discarded the option of calling up B players completely. This led to the ridiculous situation of playing Busquets as a CB when Puyol, Pique, and Bartra were all out injured, instead of calling up Sergi Gomez or Bagnack as a replacement. Busquets is one of the most talented players in the world, but a CB he is not.

Still, it isn’t really fair to blame Tata entirely for this apparent lack of trust in the youth. There were plenty of factors that need to be considered, many of which were out of Tata’s control. He was hired to manage the first team and to win trophies–and the pressure he was under to do so should not be understated. He was from outside the club and did not come through the youth system as a player or coach, like Pep and Tito did, so he was not inculcated in the mythos of “La Masia”. He did not have the benefit of having watched the B team players develop over the past several years and knowing their strengths and weaknesses. And of course, Eusebio was having his own challenges with injured players and inconsistent results and may well have resisted letting his most important players be called away. We will never really know all the reasons that so little use was made of the youth players, but I can’t help but feel that things could have been managed better. 72 minutes falls very short of what I would have hoped for.


Bojanization and You

At the end of every Barça B season the question on everybody’s lips (well, on mine, at least) is “Who will be promoted?” As of this writing, only two players have been officially promoted: GK Jordi Masip, who will be the 2nd or 3rd choice keeper for the first team next season, and midfielder Denis Suarez, who will most likely be sent out on loan (although you never know, Lucho might like to have a look at him first). Several of the senior players are at the end of their contracts and will not be renewed or have been offered renewal with the B team only and have chosen to leave. Of the players left, the most talented ones are too young to be considered for promotion yet and the older ones are just plain not good enough for the first team. What does all this have to do with Bojan, you say? Well, there are some who say that if a player has excelled in the B team he should be promoted regardless of his age, that age is just a number and if a player is talented enough he will succeed in the first team regardless. Personally I feel this view is shortsighted and does a disservice to young players. Talent is very important, of course, but talent will only get a player so far if he has not been given the proper tools and training to make the most of it. A young player needs regular playing time to gain experience and develop decision-making skills on the pitch. Why promote an 18-year-old only to leave him sitting on the bench or playing the last 5 minutes of a game when he could be playing every week on the B team or be loaned out to another team to experience different challenges? Yes, Messi was promoted at 17, but Messi is a unique case and it would be a mistake to judge anyone else’s situation by the same standards.

A better example is Bojan Krkic. In his youth career, Bojan scored something like 1000 goals (I can’t be bothered to look it up, but it’s somewhere around there). He was the Golden Boy, the Next Big Thing, and he debuted with the first team at 17 years & 19 days, the youngest ever. His “people” pushed for early promotion, and since the first team was in a bit of a bind with injuries, the club agreed. Expectations were sky high, and for a while things went very well. He played a lot, he scored some, it looked like the world was his oyster. But at some point the pressures of being expected to always play at the highest level took their toll. Bojan was called up to the Spanish NT squad for the 2008 Euros, but he withdrew, reportedly due to having a panic attack. Over the next 3 seasons Bojan struggled with inconsistent performances, sometimes showing flashes of the old brilliance, but often looking lost and uncertain. Eventually he was largely relegated to the bench. His career has never really recovered, and he is still only 23. Some might say that Bojan just wasn’t good enough and wouldn’t have made it at Barça anyway, but I disagree. Bojan was and is a very talented player. But as a youth player he was so overhyped and pushed forward as the next homegrown star that it became almost impossible for him to live up to that. If he had been left to develop more slowly, either in the B team or being loaned out to another club, he may well have matured into a very different player. This is why exciting young players like Adama, Samper, and Munir need to be managed so carefully. They are all potentially first-team material, but promoting them now after only one season with the B team would be a huge mistake.

Revelation of the Season: Midfielder Denis Suarez. Perhaps not really a revelation, as we knew he was very good when we bought him from Manchester City, but he been one of the stand-out players this season. He has a great touch, reads the game well, and is just a very intelligent player all-around. A very good buy for us. Runner-Up: Munir el-Haddadi. Technically still a Juvenil A player, he didn’t get any minutes with the B team until quite late in the season, but he had already shone in tournaments, including Juvenil A’s victory in UEFA’s Youth League, in which he was the top scorer. At only 18, Munir is still a raw talent, but he is fast, technically skilled, and has a real nose for the goal.

Flop of the Season: Winger Dani Nieto. Although he made plenty of appearances, especially in the first half of the season, and scored 6 goals, most observers seem to agree that he just does not have the quality a Barcelona player needs. His first touch is poor, and his link-up play is lacking. He spent much of the spring warming the bench. Runner-Up: Ilie Sanchez. Sadly, the Barça B captain had a poor season, mainly due to being played out of his natural position as a defensive midfielder. He was forced to cover for injured CBs, and it was pretty clear that it was not a good fit.

Comeback of the Season: Edgar Ie, who has been almost permanently injured for two seasons, and in between knocks struggled to find playing time. It wasn’t until the second half of the season that he began to feature regularly, and showed his quality as both a rock-solid CB and a marauding RB. I would love it if Lucho took a closer look at this player in preseason. Runner-Up: Jean-Marie Dongou. The striker went through a dull stretch in mid-season when he was not scoring or playing particularly well, and was overshadowed by up-and-coming talents Adama Traore and Munir el-Haddadi, but by the spring he seemed to have regained his confidence and was raising havoc on the pitch again. He finished the season with 9 goals.

Season MVP: GK Jordi Masip. Eusebio’s first-choice keeper, Masip had an excellent season bailing out the often leaky defense in front of him. He has looked assured and confident in goal, and has earned his promotion to the first team. I hope he gets some real opportunities to shine and can help Ter Stegen learn how a Barça keeper needs to play.

Most Likely to Make the First Team Someday: Adama Traore, Munir el-Haddadi, Jean-Marie Dongou, Sergi Samper, Alejandro Grimaldo, Macky Frank Bagnack. I would love to add Edgar Ie to this list, but somehow I doubt it will happen.

Most Likely to be Sold for Pennies, Then Bought Back for Millions: Macky Frank Bagnack. Because that’s what we do, sell CBs.

Most Likely to Have a Solid Career as a Second-Tier Player With No Pretensions of Grandeur: Sergi Gomez (22). There are reports that Almeria may be interested in taking him on loan.

Best Player Leaving on a Free Transfer: Midfielder Javier Espinosa (21), whose contract expires this month, reportedly has offers from Valencia and Villarreal. Criminally underused in the previous two seasons, he did become a regular starter this year. Latest word is that FCB offered him a 2-year renewal with the B team, but he unsurprisingly turned it down. I wish him luck wherever he ends up.

Most Likely to Be Forgotten About Completely: Agostinho Ca. Bought at the same time as Edgar Ie, his time at Barça has been blighted by multiple injuries, and he has only ever played a handful of minutes. Currently out on loan to Girona, his contract expires in 2016, and is not likely to be extended.

So was this a successful season for the B team? I think even the harshest critics of Eusebio will have to agree that it has been. Third place in the league with the youngest squad is an excellent result whichever way you look at it. Some players may not have had all the playing time they deserve, but it was a drastic improvement over the previous few seasons. With former Barça B coach Luis Enrique now in charge of the first team, I think next season will provide a lot more opportunities for these talented players to develop.

*Speaking of RM Castilla, they finished the league in 20th spot, and have been relegated to the Segunda B, taking with them former Barça B player Kiko Femenia. You remember Kiko, don’t you? We bought him for the B team from (also newly-relegated) Hercules to great fanfare and talk of future opportunities with the first team. Pep Guardiola called him up in preseason, played him once or twice, and was unimpressed. He continued to impress no-one over the next two seasons, then left in a snit claiming the club had never given him any attention or support. Zubi was famously quoted as saying the club had done everything for Kiko except “play the football”.

A few updates, mostly via the reliable Gerard Romero:

Javi Espinosa will join Valencia this week. He rejected offers from Villarreal and Porto.

Captain Ilie Sanchez is heading to Germany to join 2nd division team Munchen 1860.

Carles Planas has offers from Spain, England and Germany and will leave the club.

Sergi Gómez and Patric Gabarron have offers but are considering whether to stay one more year at Barca B or transfer out.

And from rac1: Denis Suarez will join Sevilla on loan next season, as part of the (as yet unconfirmed) transfer of Sevilla midfielder Rakitic.

Posted in Barcelona83 Comments

Spain vs Holland: 1 + 5 conclusions



Holland’s victory over Spain was described in both countries as a historical result, and not without reason. Never before had a defending World Champion gotten their butts handed to them in such an all-encompassing manner. Sure, France didn’t manage a single goal in the group stage of 2002, and the memory of Cameroon’s upset over Argentina is still vivid more than twenty years later. However, losing by five to one? Daaayumn.

rvp

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. Please beyotch, it’s Robin Van Persie!

Flattering to deceive?

Did Spain really deserve this score line? They were on top for most of the first half, and although their penalty was given due to the fifth arbitral blunder of a two-day old tournament*, most viewers would agree that they deserved to be up one nil towards the end of the first half. Their midfield was in control, Costa looked dangerous throughout and David Silva squandered a great chance to bury the game by attempting to lob the Dutch keeper after Don Andrés carved open the defense like a Brazilian all you can eat meat buffet. Had he not gotten cute, it’s extremely doubtful the Oranje would have recovered from two goals down. Only a minute later, Holland equalized literally out of nowhere, with Van Persie deciding to finally break with his tradition of not showing up in big matches and executing one of the most beautifully headed goals seen in the history of the game. At the start of the second half, every Dutchman alive would have been happy if the game ended in a one-goal draw. Every Dutchman except eleven, that is. Was the fitness of the players the determining factor? The momentum after the second goal, which gave Holland wings on their backs and Spain lead in their feet? Van Gaal’s game plan of putting five Eredevisie players, two players from average EPL teams and a psycho maniac who makes Charlie Manson look like a teddy bear in service of two stars and a has been who plays at Galatasaray? Whatever the case, if you combine Spain’s defensive mistakes with the quality of Holland’s goals, five-one was an accurate reflection of a game that could have gone very differently.

casillas

When sainthood is not all it’s made out to be…

 

What a difference a season makes

With football’s governing bodies conspiring to squeeze maximum profits out of the game by filling calendars so much it’s rare to turn on the TV and not see a live match, it is no surprise that at a lot of international tournaments the star players underwhelm more often than they shine. Bring forth La Furia Roja, whose players have a combined gazillion minutes in their legs versus the Dutch, a team with five starters that had not even played European football last season. Couple that with Brazil’s heat and humidity and you can start to understand why Spain got overrun in the second half. To cite Louis Van Gaal, after modestly claiming he did not expect his team to win by that much, said that the key to Holland’s first game was to arrive fit and well-prepared for the climatic conditions.

Spain’s (and Barça’s) defense

One of the more interesting conclusions one could draw from this game is that it might not have mattered one iota if Barça had bought a much coveted central defender during the last three years. After all, Sergio Ramos pretty much fits the bill of what we need, right? Speedy**, physical and strong in the air. Yet their defense leaked like a zinc roof under a tropical rainstorm. There are of course some mitigating factors. Two goals were completely down to Casillas (of which one the argument can very well be made that he was fouled by Van Persie) and the other three were moments of such individual brilliance that I still can’t believe they all happened during the same game. And let’s not forget that in two years worth of competitive matches  before this one, Spain conceded a grand total of, you guessed it, five goals. Nevertheless, vast improvements under Gerardo Martino notwithstanding, the parallel with Barça’s defense stands. It will be interesting to see how Luis Enrique is going to address the balance of our team.

xabi

Possibly Xabi Alonso’s last World Cup game.

 

Arjen Robben

I can’t stand the guy. He’s arrogant, petulant and generally insufferable, or at least he comes off that way. I don’t know, maybe his mother likes him. Or not. But boy, is Holland lucky to have him. From his defense-splitting pass that put Sneijder eye to eye with Casillas to his sound barrier-breaking volley that La Roja’s captain miraculously kept out, the Dutch winger put up a performance for the ages. Both of his goals were a delight, and although the first one could have been prevented with a bit more solid defending, his second was unstoppable, leaving Piqué and Ramos with their eyes full of dust and turning Iker into a laughing stock. The big reason I considered Ribery’s ballon d’or candidacy of last year misguided was that he wasn’t even the best player on his team. Previously egocentric enough to make Cristiano Ronaldo look like Xavi Hernandez, if Robben had seen the light earlier in his career and combined his speed and technical abilities with the solid team play he has displayed over the last two years, he could have been in the running for player of the year awards throughout a big part of his career.

robben

What’s Spanish for “he got posterized”?

 

Spain’s chances for the rest of the tournament

Disastrous. I had not predicted them to go far to begin with, for the simple reason that they already defied the impossible by winning three tournaments in a row prior to this one, but to lose the opening game by such a huge score does not spell any good. They can keep their hopes alive by beating Chile on Wednesday and do Holland a huge favor in the process. If they draw, however, they’ll be left to hope that Holland lose their next two matches which, although not entirely impossible, must be considered unlikely. Either way, most of the scenarios in which they qualify for the next round will see them pitted against Brazil, a team which last summer’s Federation Cup final proved they do not match up well with at all. Such is life in the group of death, which must be won in order to avoid the host.

xaviniesta

Living legends.

And Holland’s…

It’s safe to say that the manner in which they beat the title holders has at least helped to get some of the stink off a team that was widely despised for having the audacity to for once actually try to win a World Cup at all costs in 2010. Never mind the fact that Manchester United fans the world over are creaming their pants at the prospect of Louis Van Gaal in charge of their club next season***. As for their chances, anything is possible. Winning the World Cup is a tall order for a country that for the first time in more than twenty-five years simply lacks the talent to manage anything near such lofty expectations, but if they can avoid Brazil in the second round they might go on a good run. Very few expected them to even come out of their group, but after an openener like this, anything less than  quarter final would have been a disappointed. Then again, it is not altogether inconceivable that they lose their next game to Australia… by five to one!

aficin-holanda

Go ahead son, make your country proud…

 

*We are three days later and honestly I’ve lost count. The biggest sport in the world in which games are generally won with the smallest margin will also be the last sport in the world to accept video technology. It’s a disgrace.

**  Yes, speedy. While Ramos was criticized for getting outrun for Holland’s last goal, he still clocked 31 km/hour. Problem is that Robben ran 37 km/hour, which is being touted as a record for a soccer player.

* * I still think he would have made for a great appointment at Barça

Posted in Barcelona140 Comments

World Cup Rules! Part II: The Venue

Excitement during the game at Caffe Dello Sport

A clean, well-lighted place

The World Cup nears its full samba-swing. As the group stage concludes, Spain (this year’s France!), Italy (this year’s Spain!), and England (this year’s Italy!) have been ushered out as Costa Rica (this year’s Paraguay!) steps into the spotlight. And you have invited an Average American and Andrés Iniesta (a little heartless of you, but Andy could probably use a night out) to enjoy a match and, hopefully, increase the chance that you can watch Champions next season on ABC instead of Roja Directa.

cerveza

This should do.

Our next step is to find a place to see the match. As PJ O’Rourke reminds us, the best place to host a party is someone else’s place. If you offer your place, other Average Americans might show up. They will budge Andy off the sectional, dust the linoleum with Chee-To dust and switch the HDMI from ESPNDeportes to EASports. They might even bring WAGs, who will leave your frozen pizza out to thaw into a soggy Frisbee while they chill wine coolers in your freezer.

bbq

Protein, glorious protein.

What about the Fellow Fan’s place? His friends will show up, too, but they’ll most likely be interesting, international friends whose sisters have adorable accents and little, WAG-size jerseys. And they’ll do you better than lukewarm wine coolers and Chee-Tos. If your friend, for example, is from Argentina, you will enjoy a wide variety of smoked meat products. If your friend hails from Mexico, you won’t go thirsty. But don’t ask them about it. You don’t want to propagate cultural stereotypes.

download

You enjoy myself!

A better option is to join a viewing party. There are viewing parties in almost all major cities; in fact, some people have suggested that the rush of red-white-and-blue painted bodies in goofy wigs and oversize sunglasses indicate a rising temperature in soccer fever among Americans. I demur. For one thing, most Americans will rush to any open urban space that promises fried food-‘n’a-stick and open containers of alcohol (Occupy the State Fairgrounds!) Half the Chicagoans in this photo, for example, think they are attending Jazzfest; about 40% are psyched for Bluesfest; and at least two-thirds are going to camp out for the July 3rd fireworks. Ring the White House to ask if anyone’s headed to “The Taste” and watch Valerie Jarrett outpace Arne Duncan from Pennsylvania Avenue to Columbus Drive.

An even better option is a bar. Bars are cool, because they are air-conditioned. Also, they have a variety of seating options so you can look as cool as you feel: the snug (where you stash the WAGs); the stool (where the international sisters perch); and the footrail (where you rest your aching feet after all that standing and ogle the barmaids. Sorry: barms’s. ).

lame

Noooooo …

You want a viewing bar, but it’s got to be a good viewing bar. The VFW is NSFV. TGIF and BW3 are plausible, because they have lots of TVs and spinach-dip appetizers for the WAGs, but there is a risk that they flip the big screen to “TriviaTime!” and refuse to change the channel back. For an international sporting event, an international bar is best. There’s the charming Caffe Dello Sport in Boston’s North End. Oh, wait, maybe not. What about New York’s Manchester Pub, or Minneapolis’ Brits? Er. On second thought. Why not Chicago’s Café Iberico … oh, yeah.

So … ten o’clock, your place?

 

 

 

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World Cup Rules! Part I: The Wingman

imagesAn American soccer fan lives a lonely life. It’s not as if Americans didn’t love them some organized sports. I live in a town, for instance, where middle-aged people ask perfect strangers to “teach them how to Bucky.” Prosperous landowners paint their barns kelly green and yellow. And it’s not as if my neighbors were provincial yahoos. Why, they travel all the way to Milwaukee to see the Brewers, and enjoy bier, wurst, and fromage, preferrably al fresco in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot. Continue Reading

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Rex quondam rexque futurus, XXXII

knight“When I left Vagon,” began the commander-in-chief, “Something happened to me which was outside my own plans.”

“What was the accident?”

“It was not an accident really. It was the first stroke of a correction which I have had, and for which I am thankful. Do you know, I shall be talking about God a great deal, and this is a word which offends unholy people just as badly as words like ‘damn’ and so on offend the holy ones. What shall we have to do about it?”

“Just assume that we are the holy ones,” said the King, “and go on about your accident.”

*** Continue Reading

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Barcelona 2 – Getafe 2: Game, set and ma…

Tito

Before kick-off the Camp Nou paid a final homage to a man who, in all honesty, has simply been more culer than thou during his forty-five years on earth, Tito Vilanova. First we were shown a remembrance video in which several players bade him farewell, which was in my very personal opinion both moving and awkward. Then both teams observed a minute of silence, one that unfortunately was not respected by all attendees. Still, I think it’s safe to say that cancer has taken its (un)fair share of victims around the world, regardless of sex, skin color or supported football club, and no family has been completely spared. I can’t speak for all who were at the stadium, but I found it quite emotional and it gave me goose bumps. I even failed to notice they had kicked off already. In a classy move, Tito’s name was put on the match shirts and I for one would not mind if we did the same next season.

Spot the writer!

Spot the writer

So, are we finished then?

About the match, let’s keep it short. Barça weren’t bad without being particularly good, which on most days means that the team were a lot better than their opponent without creating all that many scoring opportunities. The problem is that we gave up three as well, from which they scored two. Heck, if you watched the game you’d be forgiven for thinking that Getafe passed the halfway line less than a handful of times and came back with two goals, which is kind of like the chorus of this year’s song. We control the match for eighty-five minutes and draw or lose it in five. Now the season is all but over and we can only hope that Atletico prevent M*drid from winning the treble, whether they do so in la Liga, in Lisbon or in both.

Taking the blame

Taking the blame

The blame game

As has become all too familiar, certain people named Martino, Dani Alves and Song get scapegoated for the loss. Dani Alves shouldn’t have given up that foul, they say. Dani Alves should have covered his flank, they write. Yes, but he gave up the foul doing the very same thing we all say our team is missing, aggressively pressing his opponents.

Martino shouldn’t have moved Busi to the defense and taken off Xavi for Song. What an idiot, is being yelled in unison. Funny how nobody lauded him for taking off Mascherano to insert Cesc, a substitution that arguably led to our taking the lead. And are the same people who blast our coach for taking off Xavi the ones who say that Xavi doesn’t have the legs to defend?

When you look at the goals, you have to feel for Tata. For Getafe’s first, Mascherano made up for a mistake with a foul that led to a free kick at which his team got caught napping at a trick play. For the second Adriano and Pinto were left to defend by themselves. I don’t think any coach makes those decisions for their players. I am not saying Martino should stay, but it’s a damn shame nevertheless, because for those first six months of the season it sure looked like we had a Barça coach.

This season nobody is to blame, along with everybody. If you really want to point your finger, I’ll give you a hint. Something flows downhill and it’s brown and smelly. If the board supported anybody else but the board, like our players and our coach for example, things might turn out different next year. As it stands, however, we can fear the worst. Our problem, apart from socis that don’t want to do anything about it, is institutional.

It's over

It’s over

Death of tiki taka

Let me get another thing straight. I am sick and tired of the term “tiki taka”. I never liked it to begin with – it sounds like a cheap Bangkok bar from which the rich and sleazy take under aged hookers with fake smiles and sad stories back to their hotel rooms. If this is the death of tiki taka, it can’t come too soon. What is it anyway, other than the evolution of a football system that uses fast and technical players that like to pass the ball a lot. Tiki taka by and of itself was never “revolutionary” to begin with. It was made so by legendary players and a very good coach. And just how it evolved from something that was already in place, the team needs to keep evolving to move forward.

There are calls for more strength and athleticism, which I agree with, especially in defense. For some reason fans want Reus, forgetting that we already have Pedro, Alexis and Neymar, don’t know what to do with Deulofeu and will hopefully find a way to develop Adama Traore into a first team player in the next couple of years. There is also a lot of noise about the need for an Arturo Vidal type player. Never mind the fact that we are stacked with some of the best midfielders in Europe, and we have Rafinha, Suarez and Samper waiting in the pipeline. As for that bite we lack, we got Mascherano being misused because we never bought adequate cover for Puyol and Abidal. If I were in charge I’d move Masche up a line, Messi back a line, and get a mobile striker who can both head the ball and make runs for through passes. But hey, I’m just another guy with an opinion.

Then there are those want the club to sell half the team and buy half the world. They draw comparisons with Pep booting out Ronaldinho and Deco. Let’s stop right there. Ronaldinho and Deco spent more time on the dance floor than on the training grounds. Today is not yesterday. Our guys, these extraordinary players, have always shown respect and dedication to our colors, up to and including this season in which we have finally stopped winning anything at all. The least we can do, as fans, is to give them the respect they deserve. Make no mistake, Barça has got to change and adapt. The team needs fresh blood and some players might have to go. However, the nucleus for another best team of the world is right there, in front of our eyes, losing the league in five minutes per game.

Posted in Barcelona, La Liga, Review370 Comments

Goodbye Tito

titoleague

Today the devastating news has been reported that former FCB coach Tito Vilanova has died at age 45 after a 3-year battle with cancer. Like all culers, we here at BFB are deeply saddened by his passing. He represented all the best characteristics that the club strives for: decency, humanity, humility, strength under pressure, and above all respect for the opponent. Here are a few thoughts from Isaiah:

We can read the slightly slapstick
discussions of our team with wry smiles. We can dissect the rulings of an opaque organization with our eyes rolled so far back in our heads we can see the wall behind us. Many of us live this team, we dream this team, we make room in our crowded schedules for matches at odd hours. Many of us have matchday rituals, we read the tabloids for the latest transfer and
locker room rumors, we hashtag our sporting politics (#sandrodimisio, of
course).

And then sometimes it feels like the roof is caving in.

What was before a sporting loss, a get-well-champ kind of thing where maybe they’d get to make a Hallmark movie out of the triumphant return in a year or two, is now real.

I remember sitting in the pews of my grandmother’s funeral. There are words that have meaning. Stage 4, it has spread to the lungs, a matter of time. The last time you see someone is never what you expect. My grandfather lay on a bed miming his past, unaware that he wasn’t standing in his garage fixing an engine. My then girlfriend, then just a few days from becoming my fiancée, held my hand and we tried not to cry. I succeeded for some reason we can never know, but I wish I hadn’t.

When Abidal lifted the Champions League trophy, I cheered as loudly as any time during the match.

My grandmother’s cancer went into remission, of course. More words with meanings. I followed the journey down the road to those old church pews in rural Kansas from the comfort of my apartment in Brooklyn, receiving occasional updates by email or through conversation with my father. She was his *mother*, I have to remind myself sometimes. Of course he knows how it feels. He was the one giving the eulogy I stone-faced my way through. Of course he knows.

There are no words right now, other than to ask for the minute of silence at this weekend’s match to be a deep breath in for everyone. This isn’t about the league, this isn’t about 3 points, this isn’t about internal political crises. This is about celebrating a man’s life and legacy. Pass, offer, receive. Let the ball do the running. Smile sometimes, just because it’s nice.

Take care, Tito. I hope we can smile like you did.

tito2

Thanks for everything, Tito. You will be truly missed.

Posted in Barcelona29 Comments

Barça Be Like

Tata

Poor Tata. Called upon to replace an ailing Tito, he arrived in Barcelona with nothing but a crumpled suit and a backpack filled with pistachio polo shirts. Given a poorly balanced squad to which he could add no players he was told to smile, take a picture, and off to Bangkok for a summer tour through a smoldering South East Asia that couldn’t have been planned more poorly if they had left on a train. Looking back at it all it’s a surprise that the wheels did not come off earlier this season.

Has Tata made any mistakes? Yes, most definitely, and some were baffling. His line-up against Real Sociedad comes to mind, in which he prioritized the second leg of the Copa del Rey round by sending out his gala eleven just a few days before resting key players in a crucial league match-up against the same opponents. Question marks surround his insistence on playing an out of form Cesc in every big game in favor of Alexis and/or Pedro, especially for the last CL match and the Cup final. And he could have used the B-team players a bit more, or at least go see their games every now and then. Denis Suarez is supposed to be promoted next season but we have not seen him make a first team appearance yet.

On the other hand folks forget that he started with eight league wins and didn’t lose his first game until the end of November against Frank de Boer’s Ajax. They don’t remember that all of us applauded him for how well he managed Neymar’s integration into the squad. How Pedro and Alexis flourished during the first half of the season. How he beat Real M*drid twice after we had been owned by the blancos for most of the previous 18 months. How we went into the winter break on top of the league. How he did all that with Messi injured for two months and Sergi Roberto (!) playing significant minutes.

Poor Tata. He could have had the world at his feet if he had kept a good thing going. How, or more precisely, why he lost control is not clear. What we do know is that the media (read: the club) never quite supported him. And although I felt his “if I were Catalan or Dutch” comment was a huge gaffe, it might have been not that far off the mark. Journalists were almost waiting for the team to fail so that they could pounce on the outsider. Sometimes they attacked the coach even when his team had won 4-0, and when we finally did start losing, oh boy. Let’s just say the board has a convenient scapegoat that they can hide behind.

After all, when the question was raised to our technical director, Zubizarreta1

Come again? Complete? When for at least two summers in a row, the man in charge of building the squad neglects to buy a central defender we have been needing for three seasons running tells us that our squad is complete, you know we are in trouble. For a long time I felt Zubi was blamed unfairly for Barça’s troubles. After all, we can assume that Pep signed off on Cesc and Alexis. The next summer Tito was all about Thiago Silva and nobody else, until we ended up with Alexander Song. And with Rosell spending 97 million euros on Neymar, one can understand there was not any money left for further moves. Not much Zubi can do there, right?

In my opinion of the players Zubizaretta bought, only Fàbregas has truly disappointed, and honestly, who would have thought that Cesc, the best midfielder of the EPL, whose body was made up of Barça DNA, would fail at our club? Song was an obvious mistake, in light of the need for a defender, but has done better than some would like to admit. Alexis and Jordi Alba are simply among the best players in their position whom I think we have done well to sign. All in all it seemed that when taking into consideration the limitations he worked with, we may not have had the best technical director in the world, but certainly not the worst. Let’s not forget that Txiki bought us the highly successful Caceres, Henrique, Chigrynski and the man we owe for Hlebuary. Not to mention Ibrahimovic, for whom we only paid 50-something million euros plus Sammy Eto’o, before he almost kung fu kicked Pep across the nose just one year later.

But to tell us the squad is complete? That sounds just as unrealistic as whenXavi

There is nothing more cringe worthy than hearing Xavi Hernandez speak after a loss. His “only one team came to play football” and “the grass was long” are bad enough, but when he says “we only lost because of a couple of details” after being comprehensively outplayed for the majority of the match, that really gets my goat. These kind of excuses are for footballers that play for Arsène Wenger, not for the captain of F.C. Barcelona. Can you imagine even for one second Puyol spouting such crap? I much prefer hearing Andrès Iniesta talk about how it hurts to lose then Xavi about how it is not fair that we lost.

However, the “losing because of details” quote is worrying for other reasons as well. Especially because he said the same after we got our butts handed to us in the Calderón ten days ago. I take it the details he had in mind were not the ‘getting completely overrun and being saved by the post and crossbar up to three times’ part of that game. Or the ‘barely creating any chances of note while keeping sterile possession until M*drid kills us on the counter’ part of the Cup final.

Is our captain deluded, or are those quotes self-serving? Could there be truth to the rumor that Xavi “persuaded” our coach to stop the evolution of our tactics to a more vertical approach and revert to a complete possession-based game? Because after the meeting of Martino and the captains, dani-alves-3

And this is not Dani Alves’ fault. Teams set up against us in a way that protects them against short passes through the middle and leave the flanks open knowing full well we can’t hurt them that way. And we can’t really blame Xavi Hernandez to resist the somewhat more vertical approach Tata brought to our game, because even if that is the way forward, our team is simply not built for that. We need different defenders for that, and perhaps it does not suit Sergio Busquets either. And maybe, just maybe, it does not bring the best out of Lionel Messi, although trying to play him as a 9 and sending him high crosses makes him look more useless than an eyeball in an armpit. And when he looks useless, the dumb and self-destructive side of planet Barça starts asking whether he ought be sold. And then Messi

Of course not. Messi is the best in the world, possibly ever. A once in a lifetime talent. He’s like Maradona without a drug addiction, Master Yoda without the long green ears or Micheal Jackson without the creepy operations. He is our very own footballing Jesus and you want to nail him to a cross? Everybody is asking “what’s wrong with Leo”, “what’s wrong with Leo?”

I’ll tell you “what’s wrong with Leo…”

We’re wrong with Leo! Give the guy a break. He’s been the world’s best player for years, winning four straight balons d’or and deserving of every single one. We have gotten used to his brilliance so much that we act like it’s normal, but it’s not. It’s unprecedented. He is carrying the hopes and dreams of two nations on his shoulders, not to mention his fans that don’t support his club or country but still want him to be awesome every time he steps on the pitch. And the first season he does not live up to our expectation of him exceeding our expectations, we ask what’s wrong? He’s human is what’s wrong, or rather the fact that we have never seen another human like him and have so treated him like a god all these years. He’s not, so give the man a break before we break him. I wouldn’t even mind if it he didn’t play the last five games. Renew the Flea, send him to Rosario with his girlfriend and his son and let him prepare for the World Cup.

I don’t care about the rest of the season, I just want M*drid to lose. Send all of our players on vacation early, and smack the culers on the mouth who blame those who have given us so much more than we could have ever hoped for. Let’s think about what’s next. I know 
cruijff

Which, with all due respect, just ain’t gonna happen. Guardiola won’t come back until the current board has left, and even then only maybe, so don’t hold your breath. There are those who say that he loves the club so much he would coach us again under the right circumstances, but even if that’s true it won’t be any time soon.

So then who? Martino can’t stay. He seems like a very decent guy and he is certainly a capable coach, but he has lost both the control and the respect needed to lead this group of players. I see names being mentioned. Valverde, Martinez, Luis Enrique, De Boer and Klopp. To be honest I have no idea why the first two would be considered other than with this board you never know and they are having decent seasons right now. Lucho has not really done all that well at Roma and Celta. Klopp is in love with Dortmund, and although he has obvious qualities as both a human being and a football manager it is not sure whether he would fit well with our club culture. That leaves De Boer. The work that our former defender has done at Ajax is nothing short of amazing, but he is not coming to Barcelona this summer and he knows it. He is way too smart to make that move now and way too close to Cruijff to be considered by the snakes in power.

There is one coach who is strong and has authority. A coach who knows and understands our way of playing but has the tactical fortitude to shake it up a bit (but not too much). One that can command the respect of a group of players who have won it all and then some. One who has won it all and then some himself, at club level at least. One that knows Barça well, having both succeeded and failed here before, and will have learned from his failure. He’ll be available after the World Cup, and won’t be able to bring all of his former players to Barcelona this time around because they suck. The twisted advantage for this board of directors? Cruijff cannot stand him. If only they had the balls to call on this coach, but they don’t. And they won’t.

To be honest, something is very rotten in our team, and unless new elections are called, I can’t think of any coach who could steer our ship other than Louis Van Gaal. Things are so rotten, that

Alexis

He didn’t pick up his silver medal at the Copa del Rey ceremony and reportedly called Martino a coward for not playing him. There are two ways of looking at this, but you gotta feel for the guy.

Of course he should have stood with his teammates at the ceremony. By not doing so, Alexis Sanchez disrespected his teammates, his opponents, the fans and the club. He disrespected his captain by not listening to Puyol (again, reportedly) when he tried to convince him to pick up the medal. Note that he is not the first Barcelona player to do just this over the last ten years. Leo Messi and Bojan Krkic have acted out in a similar fashion. Regardless of how you feel about yourself, you are part of a team and represent a club, and not just any team, or any old club. Grind your teeth if you have to, but pick up the damn medal.

As for calling Martino a coward, if true, he is hereby excused. Gerardo Martino was a coward for not starting him in the Calderón and for keeping him on the bench in the Mestalla. If Pedro had started it would be one thing, but after Cesc’s lame form as of late, there was simply no excuse. Lexus must feel especially betrayed because it was Martino who got the best out of him during the first half of the season, scoring and assisting at will. We are talking about a man who wanted to play for Barcelona to honor his dying father’s wishes, and his dream was finally coming true. After a second season which had the fans calling for his head, Alexis was consolidating his career at the club of his dreams. And then, like that, it all went up in smoke.

Will he be back next season? Again, who knows. I hope so, but do you know what I really hope for? Elections! But Barto

People like lists. Do you like lists? Let’s make a list.

  1. They stripped Cruijff of his honorary presidency.
  2. They cooked the books to make it look as if the club owed more than it did.
  3. They managed to get only 24M over three years for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
  4. They sold Chygrinski against the wishes of the best coach in the history of our club.
  5. They sold our shirt.
  6. They failed to create an environment in which Pep wanted to remain at the club.
  7. They lied about Qatar Airways.
  8. They lied to Eric Abidal.
  9. They let Thiago de Alcantara go.
  10. They neglected Victor Valdés to the point that our best goalkeeper ever wants to leave.
  11. With completely needless comments about his contract, they actually managed to get Lionel Messi to get mad at them in public.
  12. They lied about Neymar’s contract.
  13. They had their president step down, only for his cohorts who had worked with him all up to the decision-making processes that led to his demise, to remain in place.
  14. They neglected the sporting project, passing up opportunities to buy Javi Martinez, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos or any other central central defender. With any I mean any.
  15. In complete contradiction to the advice of all who watch them play, they have kept Eusebio in charge of the B-Team for consecutive seasons.
  16. They have made fools out of themselves and all of its supporters with what I will call Masíagate.

Quite the accomplishment in such a short time. Feel free to add to my list in the comments below. If we are not careful, they will push Messi out of the club also. So how come they are still there? Well, old soci

How is it possible that 70% of socis approved of this board’s plans for an as of yet undefined stadium project that will cost at least 600 million euros? I’ll tell you why, through their cronies in the media and through mass indifference among club members. Of course to any thinking person this does not explain why. With so many problems, failures and scandals caused by this board of directors that people can make entire lists of them, the fact that they’re still standing is staggering. What the club needs is organization on a local level. Yes-voting socis do not live in isolation. They might not be on twitter, but they have family, friends, neighbors and strangers on the street who can talk to them about all that goes on at our club.

We need organization.

We need opposition.

And in the meantimeLaporta

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