Archive | Barcelona

Gràcies per tot, Maki!

 

camp nou

 

November 6, 2004: F.C. Barcelona – Deportivo de la Coruña, 2-1

It was cold. Not as cold as Montreal winters, but I was back in Europe and had spent the last four months living the good life in the south of France where, beautiful truth be told, other than attending parties and chilling at various family-in-law’s downtown apartments or country mansions, I spent most of my time doing a whole lot of rien. On the sixth of November of 2004, however, I had finally made it to Barcelona to fulfill a longtime dream: to see the club of which I had been a fan for over fifteen years play a game of football.

I had timed it to perfection. It was the season in which a five-year trophy drought would finally end. Laporta had taken over the presidency a year earlier and, after a difficult start to the previous season, optimism reigned among culers. Players like Luis Enrique and Marc Overmars had retired, Patrick Kluivert had gone off to compare nightclubs on Tyneside with the ones he knew so well in the Raval and Frank & Henk were in their second season at the helm of the team. Ronaldinho, who I had wanted us to get ever since he debuted for Brazil**, was steadily winning hearts and minds of lovers of the game worldwide. We had taken Mad Sammy Eto’o off the hands of our most hated rivals for 24M and the Brazilian Portuguese midfielder Anderson Luís de Souza, better known as “Deco,” had joined us from Porto off the back of their historic Champions League campaign. The point is, I sat in the top row of the Camp Nou behind the northern goal and I was cold. Really. Frickin. Cold.

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May 23, 2015: F.C. Barcelona – Deportivo de la Coruña, 2-2

The weather was perfect. While it was definitely warm enough for my 2010/11 blaugrana football shirt, a cheap replica of which the letters that make out UNICEF have all but disappeared, clouds were preventing the sun from attacking one’s eyeballs and making the unprepared watch the whole game with both hands stuck to their foreheads to form a sunshield***. I sat up high enough to see the wannabe skyscrapers of Plaza d’Europa in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat some 2 miles south of the stadium. Tucked in my seat was a blue plastic banner for my piece of giant mosaic I would create with the other 93742 fans in attendance. Correction, not all 93742 were of the same mind. There was a small contingent of Depor fans looking down upon the pitch from their corner way up behind the southern goal who did not feel the need to participate and curiously, the club president along with assorted directors and guests seemed to have lost their banners.

It was a special day. I had not planned on going because I could ill afford to buy a ticket, but the day Xavi Hernandez officially announced his departure to greener pastures**** it started to itch. It itched and itched and itched, and the only way to scratch it was to sigh, log onto the club’s website and pay the damn money. I will never see Xavi Hernandez receive and pass the ball again. That’s basically what he does, he receives the ball and he passes it. Xavi excels at receiving and passing a football like perhaps no man has ever done before. I would have regretted not getting a ticket to see a man receive and pass a football for one last time so there I stood, in Boca 541, row 29, seat 22 in between a Catalan season ticket holding husband and wife on my left and a family of Norwegian tourists on my right (you hold the blue banner up in the sky, dummy!). The mosaic was marvelous, and beneath my banner I sang the Cant del Barça from the top of my lungs.

mosaic

November 6, 2004: F.C. Barcelona – Deportivo de la Coruña, 2-1

High up in the stands, I felt as if in Siberia instead of Catalunya as the wind ripped through my sweater. I looked at the two middle-aged Englishmen in front of me with unhealthy envy and imagined throwing them over the outer edge of the stadium after robbing one of them of his jacket. Nevertheless, I was happy. It was dark out and the stadium lights lit up the pitch. Plaza d’Europa had not been built yet – indeed, I had never even heard of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat – but I could see the monastery of Montserrat looking down on Barcelona from its surrounding hills.

The players had gone back to the dressing room, but not before offering me a detail that years later I would remember most from my first visit to the Camp Nou – Ronaldinho wearing golden boots and warming up separately from his teammates. Building up momentum for the match were video images on the giant screen on the other side of the stadium: Cruijff’s flying heel against Atletico, Maradona chipping a lob over (I believe Atletico’s) goalkeeper, Koeman’s free kick at Wembley and Rivaldo’s chilena that assured us of Champion’s League football but a few seasons ago. I pulled my arms out of my sleeves and further into my sweater and I rubbed them with my hands. I couldn’t wait.

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May 23, 2015: F.C. Barcelona – Deportivo de la Coruña, 2-2

Upon his first touch, we broke out into applause and when he touched the ball a second, third, fourth and fifth time, too. Some of us kept up the applause for up to another 30-40 touches and at times we chanted “Xaaa-vi, Xaaa-vi, Xaaa-vi.” Of course, culers being culers, we grew tired of applauding as the first half was coming to its end. As for the Norwegian sitting next to me, I suppose he uses his hands sometimes, but just not for clapping (you’re at a football stadium, dummy!)

We applauded Vermaelen for his first four to five touches as well and we encouraged him whenever he did something noteworthy, like taking a shot or making an intervention. We gave Douglas some love when he came on, and I think the stadium would have exploded had he taken his chance and scored when the opportunity arose.

The nice thing about being champions was that although I still wanted us to go for a winning goal after Deportivo de la Coruña equalized, I felt no anguish about drawing the match. Most of us in the stadium stayed what we came for – the celebration of the league title and our goodbye to an extraordinary football player. Needless to say we had given Xavi a standing ovation when he was subbed out for Iniesta and we were all elated to see him – who else – pick up the trophy before all others. The players celebrated the championship with their families and it was nice to see their kids running and jumping through the confetti. It had gotten windy enough for some pieces of confetti to blow all the way up to where I stood so I caught some and put them in my wallet. Both Luis Enrique and Iniesta made a short speech, after which we watched some highlights of Xavi’s career. We cheered the goals on the giant screen, especially his 85-minute winner at the Bernabeu. When it was time for the captain to grab the mic, I dare say he was not the only one with a lump in his throat. Xavi made one last tour to give us all the chance to say goodbye. I clapped until my hands were sore and then some more.

xavi

I had not given it any thought previously but during the second half, that cold autumn night of more than a decade ago crossed my mind. It often feels as if I’ve lived a couple of lives since November, 2004 and there were a couple of years during which I wondered whether I would ever have the chance to come back to the stadium. Whenever I used to tell someone about the time I went to the Camp Nou, I called it my “pilgrimage.” I have since been married, divorced and married. I’ve lived in snow and in tropical heat. I’ve known wealth (though not immeasurable) and poverty (though not extreme). I’ve dined in the homes of Turkish transvestite prostitutes and dug for gold in the Andes with Aymara Indians. I am now of course on my greatest adventure of all – the one in which the hero tries to be a good husband to an awesome and beautiful wife and a good father to a wonderful and amazing daughter. She has her soci card and when I wear one of my Barça shirts she laughs and points at the emblem and yells “Ba,” which makes me feel I’m doing something right at least.*****

And so I thought back to my first time at the Camp Nou. I remember Ronaldinho’s golden boots and one or two pieces of magic that I wished I could have seen in slow motion replay.****** I remember going down one goal because of a mistake by left back Giovanni van Bronckhorst and I remember thinking, “oh my God, we can’t lose the one match I am finally in the stadium.” I remember cheering the goals during the second half comeback, even though I do not clearly remember the goals. And I remember being really, really, really impressed by one particular homegrown player. Not because he equalized in the second half – his goal was a consequence of the sequence of play rather than a moment of individual brilliance. It was plain to see, however, that this player was very special… I dare say, he was brilliant. What he did was, well, he was just brilliant.

He received and he passed the ball.

FC Barcelona v Los Angeles Galaxy

 

 

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*“Gràcies per tot” means “Thank you for everything.”

**This was before Ronaldinho had ever even made the move to Europe. No, I had not scouted the player intensively nor did I know him from whoscored.com, Sport / MD or Football Manager 2004. I simply had never forgiven Gaspart for selling “big” Ronaldo and since Barça has a penchant for Brazilian superstars I felt “little” Ronaldo would be Rivaldo’s natural successor. Like one of those things that you can’t explain, when I saw Ronnie in his nation’s yellow canary shirt, I knew he had to play for our club.

 ***Experience has taught me to wear a hat and/or sunglasses in the Camp Nou. If ever you go, I suggest you do likewise. Unless you sit on the side where the roof is.

 ****Greener. Ha… ha…ha.

***** “Ba” is “Barça.” My daughter excels at the first two letters of words. “Wa” can be both water and wallet. “Ti” means titty and teeth. “No” is no as well as nose. And so on and so on…

****** This was before YouTube.

Posted in Barcelona17 Comments

The Coach, The Player, The Enemy and The Treble, among other things…

Some of my thoughts of the last nine days for you to chew on. Click here for Kxevin’s latest.

1. The Coach (A)

Pep this, Pep that. Thank heavens I don’t have to listen to any of it anymore. I got especially tired of reading about people writing about being fed up with people talking about Pep. Even more so because I don’t even know that many people that keep talking about Pep in the first place. It will have been three years soon, and our victory over Pep has finally exorcised the deity. As he had gotten his tactics right on his return to Catalonia, regardless of what scoreboard journalism heads will tell you, culers got their priorities right. He might as well have been any other coach on the night, for the Camp Nou only cared about Barça. Nevertheless, Pep’s culer credentials, in case they could ever be in doubt, remained intact. Messi is the best player in the world? Check. Barça the best team? Double check. Now go win the final.

Of course there is that pesky detail of the distant coach who is no longer on speaking terms with the superstar he helped guide into greatness. Marca reported that after the semi Pep entered the dressing room to congratulate and to hug each player, including Messi.

2. The Coach (B)

He must be doing something right. Apart from that we can safely assume that Luis Enrique Martínez García knows more about football than us (minus Euler, of course, that goes without saying), Enrique sure has received his generous share of criticism this season. For a football manager that is on the doorstep of a treble, no less.

Barcelona Football Blog writers, among whom yours truly, have staunchly defended his rotation policy against early criticism. Nevertheless, to the sensible, plenty of technical decisions have seemed nonsensical. Not preparing Matthieu to start as a left back in the Bernabeu? Rakitic and Rafinha together in midfield against Celta Da Vigo? No Messi or Neymar at the Anoeta? Mascherano subbed on for Dani Alves during the Málaga home loss? Repeating the Mascherano / Busquets double pivote against Valencia?

Yet, here we are, alive and kicking balls into the back of a whole lot of nets. Of course there is that pesky detail of the distant coach who does not get on with his stars. Marca reported that after the semi Lucho entered the dressing room to congratulate and to hug each player, including Messi.

3. The Player (A)

The best in the world, according to Coach(A) and Coach (B) and anyone who has any sense. A popular narrative is that Lionel Messi needed that January bust up with Luis Enrique before, in, around and after Anoeta. It has also been said that the gauntlet thrown down by he of the sun tan during his Golden Balls acceptance speech have motivated the Flea to its core. This might both be true and especially the latter. They say that since then he is “back.” Hogwash. Unless they mean “back” from scoring three consecutive hat-tricks from November 22 to December 7. You know, one month before he came “back.”

Narratives be damned. Leo Messi has been playing a complete game since the season started: scoring, assisting, dribbling and defending. Yes, defending. He might not be the exact same player who ran through entire defenses during his prime, and some even wondered if the days would ever return when he would leave a defender on his butt before chipping a wonderfully delicate lob over an onrushing goalkeeper. Ha… ha… ha.

4. The Enemy (A)

Twitter and sports outlets, especially Spanish ones, have told you that Real M*drid really sucked this week. In my opinion they were very unlucky against Valencia (which makes us, the good guys, lucky by extension – ying, yang, we don’t exist in isolation) and they were this far from blowing Juventus out of the water in the first half at the Bernabeu.

Not that it matters one bit. I’ll enjoy watching them burn over the next couple of weeks. Can Ancelotti raise his eyebrow high enough to see the axe coming down on his neck? I wonder whether president Florentino Perez will make the smart move and hire Klopp – if he wants to come, that is – or whether he will usher in the Zidane era. I am not sure if Zizou has the chops to actually create an era, but I do know that, despite the ridicule we smear on their team like doodoo on sprinkly white toilet paper, they will again be a club to be reckoned with next season.

5. The Second Half

Hats off to Bayern for never giving up. Both their effort and their actual play should be stuff of legends, as they reduced what is the best team in the world on form to blindly booting balls out of the defence for 45 minutes. Without Robben, Alaba and Ribery. But of course, with Müller, Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Lewandowski. The fact that the blaugrana turned down the intensity button by half a notch does not take away from Bayern’s performance which, incidentally, may have saved their coach’s job. It also shows how important Luis Suarez has become to our team.

6. The Trident

Messi, Suarez and Neymar look really happy to play together and genuinely don’t seem to care who puts the ball into the net, as long as the ball goes into the net. Suarez passed to Neymar for Barça’s first goal in Germany from an awesome position because the Brazilian was in a really awesome position. In the dying minutes of the second leg Neymar broke free and could have scored a hat-trick which would have firmly established his reputation as an elite player in Europe. There wasn’t any good reason for passing the ball. He denied himself a Champions League semi-final hat-trick to try and give his friend a goal. Incredible as it may sound, the Trident might just get us the Treble. And the joy that they receive from not just playing together, but playing for each other is a big reason why.

7. The Enemy (B)

No, not the enemy. Our Opponent. We “only” have three enemies: Real M*drid, Esp*nyol and whichever team Mourinho coaches. Juventus have done an excellent job at eliminating our Enemy from the Champions League and are now, like us, in contention for the Treble. They know we are the favorites, but they have a very united squad and a coach who has played us various times while at his previous club. They are under no obligation to attack us and we should not expect an open game. As is often the case, an early goal can turn the final into an easy affair. If none is forthcoming or if, God forbid, they score first, expect to go through hell.

8. The Player (B)

There’s a picture of Pedro (remember Pedro?) in which he celebrates one of the goals scored in the Camp Nou against Bayern Munich. Here’s a man in the prime of his life who, after previously scoring in a CL semi final, a CL final and a Club World Cup final and after winning the World Cup and European Cup with his national selection has not only lost his spot as starter, but has hardly gotten any minutes as a sub this second half of the season. Nevertheless, when one of the star forwards that have relegated him to a bit part and who can’t stomach getting subbed even ten minutes before the final whistle scores a goal, Pedro jumps up and down the sideline with clenched fists and an expression on his face that would make William Wallace flinch. Praise be lavished upon the stars that shine, but it’s the ones that don’t that make a squad.

9. The Treble

Four games left. Three victories to an unprecedented second treble. We can afford to drop points at the Calderón, after which it is three games in three weeks. If there was ever a “business end” of the season, this is surely it. How will Luis Enrique keep his players concentrated during this final stretch? Or should he do the opposite? If we win the league, will he call for a three day booze fest to make sure the players blow off steam? Will the manager rotate, even if we don’t beat Atletico? Will the same eleven start the Copa final as the Champions League final? Will the trident? What about Suarez’s hamstring? We were at this point of the season six years ago and, incredibly, two years after six years ago, too. The first time it felt that we might never get here again. I’m not sure how it feels now. If you are a culer, rejoice. For we are truly blessed.

the player

Posted in Barcelona, Champions League, Messi, Thoughts48 Comments

Barça 3 – Bayern 0, report from Barcelona

Posted in Barcelona15 Comments

Barça, Bayern, and Time

“FC Barcelona”, someone tweeted on my timeline. I realized the Champions League draw had started and Barcelona’s name came up first. I started refreshing my timeline like a maniac.  The next tweet I saw read “Bayern Munich”.

For the next few seconds, I received notifications from almost every possible application and source of information available on my phone. The world was simply buzzing with the news.  To many, the biggest match of the year was finally here. As for myself, I just thought: “It’s time”.

How people deal with time differs. Some are deeply attached to the past, while others choose to let go of it, live for the moment and aim for a better future.

Speaking of time, let us go a few years back.

In 2008, FC Barcelona announced that their former player, Pep Guardiola, has been appointed the new coach of the first team.

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We all know the details to that story. However, to sum it up, let us just say that the club witnessed its best period (from 2009 until 2013) in history with Pep and Tito in charge.

Pep left the club after a league failure and a Champions League heartbreak against Chelsea in 2012. Pep’s era came to an end.

Tito took charge of the first team the following season while Pep was taking a year off in New York. While Tito was helping the team accomplish a very successful league campaign, Bayern Munich announced that Pep Guardiola will be their coach in the 2013/2014 season.

Pep Guardiola watched as his former team faced his future team in April of 2013. Sadly for Barcelona, however, the tie turned out to be nightmare. The first match in Germany ended with a pure show of dominance from the German side. With Lionel Messi injured, Tito Vilanova battling cancer and a visible lack of structure in the club, the tie was over with yet another Bayern show of dominance but this time in Camp Nou in front of our home fans.

Barcelona v bayern 0-3

I heard the phrase “end of an era” a lot in that period. It came from a Robben quote after the two matches (4-0 and 3-0): “Barcelona have dominated Europe for the past five years. We can be very proud.”

Gerard Pique didn’t disagree either as he said: “When another side is so much better than you, there isn’t any option except to congratulate them”

Barcelona fans suddenly started waving their white flags and on those flags, written in bold letters, it said: “End of an era”.

After that period came a long period of sorrow and sadness. While Pep Guardiola was breaking Bundesliga records, Tata Martino had to deal with a relatively broken Barcelona. Barcelona fans truly realized, at that point, that their team is no longer the best in the world.

However, they found some happiness in cheering for their former savior and hero Pep Guardiola as he led Bayern through a fairly successful season. The peak of the support for Pep Guardiola came when Bayern Munich faced Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final in 2014. Barcelona fans witnessed a failure for their former coach and hero when Real Madrid stunned Bayern with a 4-0 win in Germany. Adding insult to injury, Barcelona’s biggest rival enjoyed their best year in ages in 2014 by winning the Champions League trophy.

The world came crashing down for Barcelona fans. From ruling the world and dominating their main rival continuously to witnessing this rival win a Champions League trophy as Barcelona came out empty-handed, the club, players, and supporters declared absolute failure.

In the summer of 2014, FC Barcelona announced that their former player, Luis Enrique, has been appointed the new coach of the first team.

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Several players started coming in as Luis Enrique assembled his team. It was the start of something new.

With one defeat against PSG and one against Real Madrid, Luis Enrique was not exactly every fan’s favorite.

When 2015 started, however, things drastically changed. The team suddenly had its most successful winning streak in ages, started playing great football, and defeated literally all major rivals. The fans started to regain hope.


 

“It’s time”, I thought. It’s time to put our past and present in one ring and let them fight it out. It’s time to see if our ‘new’ style of play will defeat the style of play that put us on top of the world years earlier. It’s time for the present to prove its existence and send the past away forever.

Past events and failures aside, Pep’s team portrayed a certain style of play. It involved the evolution of players like Sergio Busquets. It depended on players like Xavi Hernandez to dictate play. While in Luis Enrique’s team, Xavi is a substitute. Lucho’s team tends to have a much more direct approach than Pep’s.

This, however, did not convince some of the fans.

“Wait! Pep didn’t do it that way”, one yelled.

“Yeah, well, Pep has been gone for years”, the other replied.

“It doesn’t matter, it’s our identity”

“This is how we are right now. This is how we were at least once before Pep. Are you saying that Pep’s football is our only identity?”

“The midfield doesn’t control matches anymore. They just push the ball to the attack”

And the discussion lasts for hours but one thing remains: the present.

The present involves a team led by Luis Enrique. It’s a team that depends on attacking brilliance for success. In this team, players can score and defend set-pieces. In this team, the ball is not circulated around midfield continuously. On the contrary, the players never hesitate to choose the riskier pass instead of the safer one. In this team, you witness the peak of attacking football with goals scored from all types of situations.

A lot of phrases could be used to describe Lucho’s team but my favorite has to be: It’s not Pep’s team.
It’s not the past. It shouldn’t be. It’s something different. It’s something new.

Lucho’s team can end this season with three trophies, no trophies, or somewhere in between. However, this team proved that a footballing success is possible even without the dictations of the past. After all, sticking to the past and its rules shows a lack of ambition and imagination regardless of how successful this past was simply because it shows that you’re afraid to open your eyes and see what the present has to offer.

Who knows? Maybe the present will provide something worth remembering in the future as well.

So, here we stand in May of 2015 ready to take on our former coach and style (with completely different players). We’re ready to face the club that forced us to pull out our white flags and surrender after 7 painful goals. In other words, we’re ready to face our hero and our nemesis. We’re ready to face our past.

As soon as Barcelona qualified against PSG one thought truly came to mind: the need for closure. This club, team, and fanbase need closure. We need to witness Lucho’s team lifting a league trophy, a Champions League trophy or maybe even both. There is something much more symbolic than a trophy in this situation and it is the true signaling of closure. The past is truly over and the present is beautiful and exciting.

There is no sweeter way to get closure than by defeating your past.

The world was simply buzzing with the news.  To many, the biggest match of the year was finally here. As for myself, I just thought: “It’s time”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Barcelona111 Comments

All Eyes on Barcelona

Luis Enrique became Barcelona’s coach in the summer of 2014. Throughout the rest of 2014, people doubted what he is capable of. He did not start off so well. His side lost against PSG and looked clueless against Real Madrid. The team even ended up losing at home against Celta Vigo. Back then, many people called for patience because every coach deserves a chance.

Why did he deserve a chance? There are certain details that went unnoticed regarding why Luis Enrique’s job was not as easy as it seems:

  • Newcomers: In addition to the existing players in the squad, Luis Enrique’s team was formed of newcomers like Mathieu, Suarez, Bravo, Ter Stegen, Rakitic, Vermaelen, & Douglas. With Rafinha returning from Celta as well, Luis Enrique arrived with a completely vague squad. Any coach in the world knows that a group of new players that have never played together before require patience and development. Unlike coaches who were already fully aware of the squad they have at hand, Luis Enrique was forced to test different players in different positions to come up with the best lineup(s) and this required time in the year 2014. Along with needed rotations, Luis Enrique was still discovering his options by the end of 2014. He was clueless about how Luis Suarez’s return is going to be like and had to wait for him until the end of October. He had two great goalkeepers at hand however the matter of selecting which of them should start was very difficult. He was not completely aware of how much Mathieu should play and if playing him as a fullback would prove to be successful. He had to find a way to force Rafinha into the starting lineup while having midfield legends like Xavi and Iniesta running the show for years.
  • Identity: I have always believed that Barcelona’s coach in recent years has the toughest job in the football world. The reason I say this is because this coach is forced into a style of play that was owned and ran by Xavi Hernandez. Luis Enrique arrived with players like Rakitic. The two have several similarities but their differences are way more significant. Luis Enrique was forced to deal with a club legend who is approaching the end of his top flight career and who symbolizes a certain style of play which is much less direct than any other style of football. In other words, he arrived trying to remind us of a life where the team is not forced to pass 30 times while moving from the midfield line towards the opponent’s goal. And, gladly, he succeeded.

So, what did Luis Enrique accomplish after overcoming these obstacles? And does he deserve the praise?

  • Pique: Some decided to praise Lucho for Pique’s “return”, others (including myself) believed that Pique simply seemed more focused and determined this season. Regardless of who deserves the praise, Luis Enrique definitely played a role in giving Pique enough responsibilities and made sure Gerard was up for them.
  • Defense: Pique happens to be part of one of the best defense lines in Europe. Whether it was Mathieu or Mascherano partnering up with Pique, it didn’t exactly make much of a difference as the defense almost always seemed solid this season. The fullbacks, Dani and Alba have also been a crucial part of Barcelona’s defense. But most importantly, Barcelona’s set-piece game has improved drastically. For once in these past few years, Barcelona fans don’t feel insecure when our players lose the ball.
  • Midfield: Barcelona’s midfield received a lot of criticism for not controlling matches as it usually does. However, the passing game remains the same. The major difference between this midfield and the ones before it (in recent years) is that midfielders in this team look forward twice but only once sideways. In previous years, circulating the ball and basically “looking sideways” was the more common technique.

It is the reason why our attackers have the ball more often and are the ones creating or scoring.

  • Rakitic:
    Rakitic was given complete freedom by Luis Enrique. In other words, he didn’t want Rakitic to “adapt to Barcelona’s system”, he wanted Rakitic to be himself and take the decisions he found suitable. And although Rakitic is shooting less, he is still passing those long balls that have proved to be effective throughout the season. After all, when you have forwards who are simply too talented, you need to make them run and fight for the ball to make use of their pace and talent.
  • Iniesta: Although he is not the best playmaker in the world this season or anything even close, Iniesta’s defensive contribution is a crucial part of Lucho’s system. Some believe that Iniesta is a victim in this. However, if you ask Iniesta himself, and knowing that players don’t actually go home and count their assists, he’ll say that he is happy he is contributing to the success of the team. Every system requires some players to lose their former status or simply gain a new one. As long as it involves the success of the team, these players will never/ shouldn’t mind.
  • Attack: Although there isn’t much to say about attack because it is easy to recognize how talented and intelligent the front three are, the most interesting thing to look at must be Neymar’s confidence. Luis Enrique was definitely an important factor in letting Neymar know that he needs to do what he finds suitable rather than stick to passing or looking for Messi whenever he has the ball.
    As for Luis Suarez, Lucho had complete faith in him and his abilities. They are the reason he insisted on signing him instead of other forwards to begin with. Even when Suarez struggled Lucho insisted on making him regain form. Even though this seems trivial, some actually insisted on benching Suarez. Luis Enrique, however, realized that when May comes, he would rather have an on-form Suarez than an on-form Pedro(who actually contributed perfectly to the team’s success when he was included this season).Most crucial part of all: I still remember yelling out “SHOOT” and “PASSING IS KILLING THIS TEAM” throughout the past year. Even when the 14/15 season started, I was still yelling out these phrases. However, I stopped. The reason behind this is that our forwards have been pushed to realize that what makes them truly special is their ability to kill off an opponent in a matter of seconds. I tweeted about “identity” and how this supposed “philosophy” ended up eating up the team when people like Luis Suarez happen to be passing in front of goal instead of putting the ball into the net. In conclusion, our attack became very direct, very clinical (with some exceptions, as usual), and for once in some time our attack became a force I personally trust to get the job done.

The team went from a defeat against PSG and Real Madrid to a victory against both, alongside Atletico Madrid, Man City, and several others. Luis Enrique’s team was all about progress and change. Players improved, hence the entire team improved.

In the end of April 2014, we stand with a Copa final in hand. We are on top of the league with only ourselves to depend on. And we confidently reached the Champions League semi-final. In terms of achievements, we can still win all three trophies. But will 90/180 minutes truly change my mind about how I see this team? The answer is no.

This team has entertained the fans and defeated rivals. More importantly, this team has regained Barcelona’s status whether in Spanish, or European football. For once in the past few years, the world is anxious to see what Barcelona has in store. After all, isn’t that what the club is about? The club’s history has been focused on entertaining the fans and achieving victories. Lucho’s team has definitely achieved both. We remain excited from match to match. We’re curious to see what our team has in store. We like the feeling that our players are powerful again.

What is better than seeing Gerard Pique back in form and his effect on set-pieces or seeing Bravo and Ter Stegen saving the toughest chances?
What is better than seeing Mascherano tackle someone, send him flying, and finally feel that safety in defense?
What is better than seeing Alba or Dani running their butts off the entire match to either create a chance or catch up to any attacker?
What is better than seeing Busquets do what he does better than anyone in the world?
What is better than seeing what Rakitic has to add or how Iniesta has displayed how effective he can be defensively?
What is better than having Xavi Hernandez to sub on in order to take control of any match?
What is better than looking at our attack and knowing that the entire world is worried and wondering what these three are going to accomplish?
Forget the attack for a second. What is better than knowing that we can score from set-pieces?
What is better than looking at the entire team and seeing it in great physical condition and in place to win all three trophies?

Luis Enrique’s team put Barcelona back on the dance floor. The only questions that remain are: Will Barcelona go out with a big finish? If yes, how big will that finish be?

Barcelona truly is on top of the world right now. After all, that’s where it always should be.

Posted in Barcelona64 Comments

Calling all stars …

Buenos días, B’Foobers!

It’s been a while, huh? I’ve been busy pursuing an imaginary career in radio broadcasting. It’s something I just do, you know, while I’m on the road. The side of the road. When the road is under construction.

Anyway, there I was, wondering what happened to all the attractive ‘flag ladies’ when I got the strangest call … I swear on Brian Williams it’s the truth!

Me:  … and today’s topic is ‘Green is for Going’. Caller, you’re on.

downloadCaller:  (sotto voce) Theese are my bestiiiees

Me:  Caller? You there?

Caller:  (sotto voce) all the restiiiees … Hello?

Me:  Hello, you’re on my radio show …

Caller:  You’re welcome! So yesterday my agent calls and says, ‘Hey, they’re talking about you on TV’ and I was like, ‘Me? Omigod, I love me!’

Me: Do you have anything to say about green lights? Like, how they’re for going?

Caller:  And it’s Terry Henry or whoever, and he’s saying nice things about me, and I can’t just let someone say nice things about me and not say something, you know, so I thought I’d call and say something nice about me right back at him!

Me:  Wait … who is this?

Caller:  I know I said I wasn’t going to talk to real people anymore. I prefer to let my actions speak on the pitch, and all that yadda yadda …

Me:  I can’t believe it. This is Pulitzer-worthy. Do they even give Pulitzers for radio? Sure they do. My Pulitzer. Eat it, Carl Kassel!

Caller: … like when I point to where I want the Knuckleheads to pass me the damn ball every once in a while.

Me:  Go on!

Caller:  Well, T-Bird was upset because the little dude, the one who plays for us …

Me:  Chicharito.

Caller:  God bless you. Well, after I made the winning pass against Atleti yesterday, he made this Big Deal falling down on the ground, and Tee-Ree thought that he should have been congratulating me instead. Durr!cronie

Me:  Yeah.

Caller:  I think, though, that he didn’t mean to be mean. I think he was just imitating me, you know? Like how I fall down whenever I get near those little white lines?

Me: I do.

Caller:  They let the white grass grow higher. It’s dangerous. Also it’s dangerous to lay down near the flag, bcause everyone came running to congratulate me, and they started tripping over him and falling down too.

Me:  Uh-huh.

Caller:  I myself am generous that way. I’ve instructed my fans to applaud him. When it’s all me, I’ve even commanded them to be quiet.

Me:  I remember.

Caller:  Stop interrupting. ‘Cause I’m modest like that. Speaking of people who love me, have you seen my ex lately?

Me:  Ah, not around, no …

ririCaller:  Well, I saw a picture of her going to some guy Oscar’s party, and dah-yum.

Me:  Yeah.

Caller:  I mean, when I was with her, she didn’t wear those long dresses. She walked around in her undies. Hey, babe, lay off the celery sticks! No more water for you! Not even the diet kind, am I right?

Me:  Um …

Caller:  She’s an emotional eater, you know. And she’s all alone. Did you see that? Not even any paparazzi. When you’re famous, there’s paparazzi.

Me:  Uh …

Caller:   ‘Famous’ is not no paparrazi. Famous is when there’s so much damn paparazzi you can’t push your cart through the luggage claim at Barajas. Famous is when you walk out on the lawn and fifty thousand people boo you. Has that ever happened to you?

Me:  Can’t say that it has.

Caller: You’re damn right it hasn’t. And not to Little Miss Missy-Miss, either. But you know what they say: ‘When you’ve loved and lost Cronie, you’ve got a sad corazonie’. You stoked for Juve or what?

Me:  Actually …

Caller:  (bursts out laughing) Oh, no. No, please. No way. No *&^#@ way.

Me:  Well, you know …

Caller:  Yeah. I get it (guffaws). No, seriously, it’s cool. So … you got issues with your ex now, too, huh?

Me:  Uh, well, he’s not exactly an ex anymore. We’ve, like, moved on, I guess. All that was years ago. We’re fine now. Really.

Caller:  Whatever. We’ll take care of him for ya in Berlin. It ain’t no thing.

Me:  Um … thanks?

Caller:  (sotto vocethe Champeeyooons meeee … You’re welcome!

(click)

Me: Tune in next time, I guess, for ‘That Blinking Thingie is Your Turn Signal.’ G’night everyone!

Posted in Barcelona19 Comments

Bravo and Ter Stegen: The Importance of Experience In Football and The Need For Something New

For months, Barcelona fans knew that the club was close to signing Marc-André ter Stegen. Obviously, he was regarded as the perfect replacement for Victor Valdes.

Ter Stegen was known as the “next Neuer” and “one of the best young goalkeepers in the world”. I have never been a fan of young player hype because in most occasions everything that was said turns out to be false. However, it would be wrong to ignore that there is something very special about Ter Stegen.

News about Luis Enrique being interested in Real Sociedad’s goalkeeper Claudio Bravo began to emerge as well. Claudio did not exactly have the best record at Real Sociedad.

Many people doubted Bravo because of his errors at Real Sociedad. The club insisted on signing him anyway. While transfer rumors were flying in and out, Claudio Bravo was putting on an excellent performance for his country at the World Cup in Brazil.

So, Barcelona suddenly had two new goalkeepers who are both capable of being starters. Let’s take a deeper look at the two different styles of these goalkeepers.

Claudio Bravo:

Claudio is the ultimate example of a traditional goalkeeper. He does everything by the book. It’s as simple as pushing the ball away when it comes near your goal and catching it whenever you can. There is nothing too fancy about Claudio Bravo. Claudio is 31 years old and he gives the obvious impression of an experienced goalkeeper in his 30s and I am sure the examples in this category are endless. He is a goalkeeper coaches depend on purely for experience and character. Just like many of the older players on the field, he simply yells out: “Calm down, I’ve done this before”.

Experience is an attribute of extreme importance and this importance is gradually fading away because of rising young talents. This, however, is a disastrous mistake.

Many football fans, including myself, believe that having experienced centre-backs and goalkeepers is one of the most crucial parts of setting up a team. As shiny and new as young players may appear to be, chances are they might break under pressure and it happened a lot before. After all, most of the older excellent centre-backs and goalkeepers were once kids and committed several mistakes until they gained the character and experience that these two positions require.

Coaches want to look at the bench when selecting a lineup and seeing mature and confident players they can depend on precisely in defense. All of this brings me back to Claudio Bravo.

Experience factor aside, Claudio is a goalkeeper with excellent reflex and diving attributes. Throughout the season, he has shown that it takes a lot to beat him. Whether it’s a deflected shot, a header, a shot from outside the area, or any other type of danger, Claudio seemed very determined to prove what he is capable of. And honestly, he succeeded.

He managed 55 saves in La Liga this season. With the help of a very organized defense, he managed to keep 15 clean sheets. Barcelona conceded only 17 goals in La Liga this season. Obviously, the defense played a huge role in accomplishing that. To be even more accurate, it is worth pointing out that experienced centre-back, Gerard Pique, has been displaying a perfect mature character while playing. With such characters on the field, it becomes generally difficult for a defense to break.

Claudio Bravo is the traditional goalkeeper you would want to have on your team. However, he is not easy on the eyes. He won’t try to impress you or put on a show because probably he doesn’t even have the skills for it. He knows what he’s capable of, though. And from what the fans have seen this season, he is pretty damn good.

Ter Stegen

Ter Stegen arrived as the future of this club. He doesn’t completely occupy the present because Claudio Bravo is the goalkeeper in La Liga. However, many believe that this is a transitional phase for Ter Stegen and soon enough he is going to be recognized as Barcelona’s main goalkeeper.

Ter Stegen’s style of play is completely different to Claudio’s style of play. He has always been recognized as a goalkeeper who is good with his feet and it was the reason that made him a main target for a club like Barcelona. He crosses with both feet with excellent accuracy. He maintains a very calm attitude when dealing with the ball. He is more focused on how he is going to help start another attack for his team than simply saving the ball or pushing it away.  In many occasions, people tend to trust him much more with the ball.

Ter Stegen previously displayed how great he can be when he is forced to dive or jump for a ball. His athleticism is outstanding. He saved multiple shots that required excellent reflexes as well. Ter Stegen played against attacking giants like Ibrahimovic and Aguero in just a matter of months and has displayed a very confident growing character.

His character makes him stand out. Ter Stegen can shift from being confident to being cocky in a matter of seconds.  Deep down, fans love Ter Stegen because he brings something different and relatively new. He is the exciting young goalkeeper the world awaits. Let’s be honest, everyone loves a young exciting face.

Not so much could be said about Ter Stegen as fans have seen him much less than they’ve seen Claudio Bravo but Marc-André is definitely a keeper. (I’ll get my coat)

There has always been a debate around these two great goalkeepers. On one hand you have Claudio Bravo who expresses pure experience and the traditional image of a mature goalkeeper and on the other you have this exciting kid who adds something new and contributes to Barcelona’s style of play while being excellent between the bars as well.

Who do I pick? I pick both.

Bravo will continue to be the wall Barcelona depends on when the defense suffers while Ter Stegen will continue to grow to represent the unknown future that excites everyone.

 

 

Posted in Barcelona, Thoughts60 Comments

This Is John’s Story: The Art of Football & Messi

As people who love watching Messi, we always had one question on our mind: Why do we?

For that, I decided to do a little research. Sadly, this research lead me to two other questions: Why do we love watching football to begin with?

And how are these two things even related?

Let me explain.

A few years back I found myself watching this kid play football in the street. He looked so full of life. His opponents struggled to get the ball off of him which struck me even more. He would dribble multiple players and end up scoring. This kid was no professional athlete. This kid was no superstar. Yet, for some reason, I watched him anyway. This kid is why we watch football.

In most stages of football’s history it was considered a source of entertainment. And, obviously, it still is.

A new football fan, let’s call him John, would sit down and watch two teams play. He has little or no knowledge of the players, the teams, or even the sport but he watches anyway. All of a sudden, one of the players on one of the teams does something John’s mind cannot comprehend. Whether it’s something that seems physically impossible to him or basically something he considered creative, John has just been entertained.
This when John smiles, looks at the rest of this player’s team, and then looks back at the player and thinks: “Hey you! Do that again.”

John remains oblivious to anything related to football at this point. Yet, he knows one thing: he witnessed a different type of art that grabbed his attention and he probably wants to witness it again.

He’ll probably leave even before the match is over and have no clue who actually won that match but be sure that he will come around again asking to be entertained.

So is it really just a sport in which a spectator sits down and hopes the team he likes wins? Or is it actually one big show of what the human mind and body are capable of?

John will return and start actually supporting the team that entertained him. He’ll even bring friends this time. However, one of his friends might be pleased by a player on the opposite team.

Just like in a movie, spectators are presented with a villain and a good guy. But, the interesting thing about football is that each fan chooses his own villain and his own good guy. Each fan expects his team to entertain him again but also crush the villain.

The fans wait to see the next big creation of art on the field. Dramatic moments overwhelm the spectators. Some might yell. Some might cry. Some might laugh. Some, especially those who get too excited, might even refuse to watch because their heart and mind can no longer handle it all. Adrenaline levels hit sky high. The fans are cheering as they suddenly hear music in the back of their minds and they just KNOW that it’s show-time!

Give me something to watch. Entertain me. Show me your talent. Show me what you have been working on for years. This is not a ball. This is a paintbrush. Paint something I’ll remember. Take your body to the next level and show me what human intelligence is all about. Give me a story to tell.

This is why we watch football.

This is why when Zinedine Zidane got up in the air, took the ball on his chest and turned his entire body in order to execute the most elegant pass in a matter of seconds you stood by and said: “Hold on just one minute. That was amazing. How did he do that? That’s not even logical”

This is why when Ronaldinho danced around the ball making his opponent look like a complete fool and yet also managed to pull off the most unexpected pass the fans gave him a standing ovation. And sometimes, even rival fans joined the party. The millions watching at home clapped. A man smiled, put his hand on his forehead and yelled for his son to come watch what just happened. And you can be sure that that little boy has just been entertained as well.

Hundreds of players have come into the game and had major impact on it. Fans worldwide have been entertained and have a lot of stories to tell. However, one man has always kept people on their feet. This man was once very similar to the kid I watched on the street. His goal was to enjoy what he was doing and entertain whoever came to watch him. This man is called Lionel Messi.

As soon as Lionel Messi grabs the ball fans worldwide know that something special is going to happen. In fact, his first flick has the power to electrify an entire stadium. His ability to predict what his opponent is thinking leaves you shocked. His ability to crush everything you learnt about physics is enough for you to turn off your television and say: “Umm, how did he…Hell, I don’t think I should know.”

Just smile, my friend. This is art. This is a show. And you have just been entertained.

Posted in Barcelona, Thoughts29 Comments

Attempting to understand what individual brilliance means

Throughout the season, I came across the same phrase multiple times. The phrase is “individual brilliance”. Knowing that I don’t have enough knowledge about football and mainly my own team, Barcelona, I decided to ask people about the correct definition of individual brilliance in football.

Apparently, individual brilliance is an uncommon case in football in which players use their individual talent to score and create chances. In other words, scoring and creating chances become dependent on the players themselves instead of an amazing invisible hand which controls players like chess pieces called a “system”.

I felt so ignorant so, again, I decided to ask what a system is.

Apparently, a system is a set of rules players follow in order to win a match. It apparently consists of passes in midfield and then a chance creation from one of the midfielders. In a system, no player really portrays his individual talents nor does he win matches for a team using them. In a system, the team “looks like a team” and the pieces don’t act on their own.

I felt so relieved that I could finally grasp the ideas behind “individual brilliance” and a “system”.

Now, let’s move to the Barcelona side of the story.

Apparently, during Pep’s era and the eras before that Barcelona followed one unique system to win matches. This system always proved to be successful. This system never depended on individual brilliance. All the players passed the ball around in entertaining fashion until they reached the opponent’s goalkeeper and whoever touched the ball last claimed the goal just because football rules say so. Most chances were created by the midfield while the forwards simply waited for the ball and had minimum effect on anything but scoring.

An absolute shocker happened in 2014 when the fans learned that Luis Enrique does not work under the same system. On the contrary, his plan was to completely destroy everything related to the system. And consequently, he decided to depend on individual brilliance to win matches while he asked midfielders to just stand there and look pretty.

So, I decided to dig deeper and what I found out was shocking.

What if Guardiola had a system but also depended on individual brilliance?
I’m not crazy. Hear me out here.

What if Lionel Messi involved his individual brilliance under Pep Guardiola to win matches? I know this might sound shocking to many as apparently Messi was just as effective as any other player under Guardiola. Guardiola had a plan and a system.

Messi was lucky to have a coach as great as Guardiola who implemented every single detail of the system properly. Messi was just a player who had some talent to add the final touch to every goal. Messi’s work didn’t really involve any individual brilliance.

Iniesta was just like any other midfielder. He made some good passes. But, again, he succeeded because he was part of a successful system. Actually, the same could be said about Xavi. Again, neither of them involved their individual brilliance in anything.

Wait! For a second there I thought I understood that individual brilliance was only applicable around the attackers’ zone. Does that mean that midfielders and defenders never apply individual brilliance? This is getting more complicated than I thought. But, hold on, I might just reach a point.

Rijkaard’s era is actually a great example as well. During Frank’s time as coach he applied the same system and never ever depended on individual brilliance.

What’s that you say? Ronaldinho?

Ronaldinho was just like any other player under a successful system. He barely ever involved his individual brilliance in anything. I don’t get how you don’t see that. The same applies to Deco, Eto’o and the others too. That Rijkaard team was a result of a pure system just like Pep’s.

Sadly, I never really understood football.

The thing I do know is that individual brilliance is at the heart of this sport. Coaches arrive with a style of play. They give players certain instructions and roles on the field. They do follow a certain system and a style of play. They modify this system hoping to overcome different types of opponents.

Individual brilliance exists among players from the goalkeeper to the last forward on the field. A goalkeeper can be brilliant enough to predict an attacker’s shot, save it, and then start an attack for his own team through a free defender. The defender can brilliantly control the ball he receives and then choose the right teammate to pass to. The midfielder can brilliantly switch play to the other side of the field where that place happens to be empty.
The forward who receives the ball can brilliantly get past two players and score an absolute brilliant goal.

A few minutes later a group of journalists will sit down and start writing the headline: “Club X wins because of individual brilliance”.

And again, I will read that headline and hope that someday I can actually understand football.

Posted in Barcelona38 Comments

Illusion 09

History Lesson

In the year 2009, Pep’s Barcelona won six trophies in one year.

In 2010, Barcelona ended the season with only one league defeat and almost reached the Champions League final.

In 2011, Barcelona had a very dominant team that won both the league and the Champions League.

On the other side of the land, rivals Real Madrid were building a team full of stars that managed to win the league in 2012. Mourinho’s Real Madrid accumulated 100 points that season.

Tito’s Barcelona won the league in 2013 with the exact same fashion.

Finally, underdogs(if you can really call them that) Atletico Madrid celebrated winning the league in 2014. Real Madrid also had a massive year in 2014 winning four trophies including the Champions League.

Of course, this ‘history lesson’ misses out on a lot of other trophies and events but that’s not the main concern here.

Now, here comes the interesting part.

You ask yourself golden questions: What happened to people’s perception of La Liga after 2009?

Is this ridiculous dominance from Barcelona, and at one point Real Madrid, a normal thing?

Below you’ll see a decade of La Liga records. Below you’ll see the rise of of an exception.

 

Maybe the word “rise” is not so accurate in this case looking at the above graph.

The graph shows league winners in the past decade and how many draws and defeats they suffered throughout their campaigns.

In the year 2003/2004 Valencia won the league even though they suffered 8 draws and 7 defeats.

The next two years Barcelona won the league but also with a a proper amount of draws and defeats.

Real Madrid actually won the league in the years 2007 and 2008 losing more often than they drew which in itself is another indication of real competition.

We can even go back to 2003 when Real Madrid won the league with a total of 12 draws and 4 defeats. That is a lot of draws. Similarly, in 2002, Valencia won the league with 12 draws and 5 defeats. Why not even go back to 1998 when Barcelona won the league but also suffered 10 defeats. I repeat: TEN.

In other words, these years were a normal representative of what a league competition is all about. And going back further into history that is mostly what you’ll see.

In 2009, Pep’s team also had a “normal” record of defeats and draws but that year is when things really changed.

La Liga, a league bound to the dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid, became more of a walk-through than in recent history.

Even in that 2009 league campaign, the draws and defeats were absolutely irrelevant considering that Barcelona had practically already won the league.

In the year 2010, the unimaginable happened. Barcelona finished the season with only one defeat which was against Atletico Madrid.

Similarly, in 2011, Barcelona suffered only 2 defeats the entire season against Hercules and Real Sociedad.

Real Madrid didn’t stay quiet for long either. In 2012, Real Madrid won the league with 4 draws and 2 defeats.

Tito’s Barcelona, with a similar show of dominance, also won the league with 4 draws and 2 defeats.

Finally, in 2014, one of the best things happened in terms of league competition. Atletico Madrid won the league and they did it with 6 draws and 4 defeats.

So, what really happened in these few short years?

Was Pep’s team very dominant? Yes.

Was Mourinho’s league campaign very successful? Yes.

Was Tito’s team very confident in the league? Yes.

Of course, a lot could be said when answering the question “why?”

They’re financially on top of the world and more importantly on top of all La Liga teams. But, let’s leave the reasons why their dominance was very visible aside.

Here is the most important part of all.

Perception

 

Such an era or phase in Spanish football’s recent history has influenced the way the world understands La Liga. In other words, winning the league with such records and dominance is not the norm. On the contrary, it is the exception.

 

The average of defeats from 2003 until 2008 was 6.4 defeats per season. And going back into history you’ll probably witness the same average if not a higher one.
Between 2009 and 2012 this average dropped to 2.5 defeats per season. Such a change can’t be disregarded.

 

Many fans around the world have lost the essence of what a competition is because of this era. This, of course, does not imply that Barcelona losing or drawing matches is acceptable as such a mentality won’t lead to success. However, getting rid of this illusion that everything should and will go a team’s way throughout a season is essential. Other teams compete, mistakes happen, and tough away grounds have always proven to be difficult.

 

Atletico won La Liga last season and reminded the fans of what makes a competition great. This season, Real Madrid, arguably the best team in the world right now, have already been defeated 3 times. That is more than any season from 2009(considering that the 2009 end-of-season defeats were irrelevant) until 2012 and one less than Atletico last season. Similarly, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla have all suffered 3 defeats as well this season.

 

Could reality be rushing back into La Liga after years of illusion? I sure hope so.

 

Posted in Barcelona, La Liga, Statistics, Thoughts12 Comments

Rest In Peace, Coach Sam

For the first time in my life I’m playing football and it’s not in the streets. I’m in an actual football field and I’m overwhelmed by what is going on around me. My team gets a penalty and someone from outside yells: “You, kid, take it!”

The other players hear him and back away from the ball. It’s all mine.

I immediately realize that this guy is apparently the boss here and I suddenly feel privileged yet nervous. I walk up to the ball frightened that I might miss. You know, being the new kid on the team, barely knowing anyone, and doing something stupid or wrong on your first training session is not exactly the most comforting thing. Luckily, I score.

The guy sitting outside the field was known as ‘coach Sam’. But for now, let’s call him Sam.

Sam was my coach for the next 10 years. Every weekend, our team would gather at the field. He would have a talk with us about what we did wrong in the previous training or match and give us a proper amount of advice. We simply listened.

He had a set of Ajax training videos which we watched together. He wanted us to complete their exact training drills and we simply did that. The kids in the videos were our age and they had their own ‘coach Sam’. They listened as well.

He despised selfishness. Any player found doing something selfish or irrational with the ball would receive the same small lecture. Sam would get two balls and shoot his into a certain location on the field.  Simultaneously, he would ask the player to dribble with the other ball all the way to that location. When the player returns, Sam would say: “You see, both of us just sent the ball there. However, I did it in less time and with much less effort. Who do you think has the easier life?”

We trained for years and worked our butts off. Soon enough, no other team in the country could even compete with us. We participated in several tournaments knowing that we’ll simply walk in, play, and walk out with the trophy.

Sam managed to keep us interested and anxious to win more. Yet, his authority never faded away. When our bodies started to grow he called us up for 8 am trainings at the beach. He wanted us to complete our training drills on the sand and we were asked to run in and out of the water after every drill. If you’ve never done it it’s simply putting your body through hell in a continuous fashion. You’d ask yourself: why would a teenager wake up at around 7 am on the weekends or in the summer to put his body through hell?

That is what people around us would ask. We all had the same answer: “We enjoyed it.”

Sam created a need to compete yet also maintained a bond between the players. He had our respect and we listened to him. He wanted us to suffer in training, use our bodies and intelligence to the full extent, and eventually come out as winners when it mattered.

Of course, everyone is asking: what does this have to do with Barcelona, Luis Enrique, and the players?

There are vast differences between the two situations. Most important of all, these men are mature professional players getting paid to do their job. While, on the other hand, we were just kids and teenagers wanting to take a medal home to show it to our families.

Luis Enrique, or be it any coach who coaches Barcelona, should have a certain amount of authority over the players. This hierarchy should exist and be very clear to players. It harms absolutely no one and only leads to the success of a team.

Sam would tell us: Your ego might get you to great places in life but not on the field. It is the opposite of what makes a team successful. Always remember that this is a team sport that will only function if all members of the team handle responsibilities together and fight together. You want personal success and satisfaction of your ego? Play Tennis.

However, in professional football egos do exist. But one thing does not change: it’s still a team sport and the team won’t function with so much instability. There should be a need to impress the coach. There should be an extreme dedication to what the coach is demanding. There should be visible unity among the players and more importantly a clear and honest relationship with the coach.

Regarding Barcelona, we can’t really tell who is causing the disturbance (obviously leaving the board issues aside).  It may be the reported incompetence of Luis Enrique that is causing all the mess. It may be the players’ fault. But at the end of the day, the moment you realize that we’re pointing fingers at each other is the moment the team starts to die.

In July of 2007, my teammates and I were talking about training and we suddenly notice a little girl running towards us yelling: “There is something wrong with your coach! He is lying on the field and he is not moving”. We rushed towards the field only to see that the girl was right. Apparently, he had been electrocuted by one of the machines while maintaining the field. They took him to the hospital and we were told later on that he had passed away.

Of course, after the required procedures, the team aimed to get back on track. We lost a major factor in what made the team great. We lost a leader and more importantly we lost someone we trust. The team never got back to what it was and eventually we all lost interest.

Again, this is not about Luis Enrique. Luis Enrique could completely fail. This is about any coach who’ll be appointed, how I would like him to act and how I would like the players to treat him. Unity and organization are beautiful weapons and without them any team in the world loses its status even if you have the best players in the world.

As I said before, there are vast differences between our little irrelevant team back home and the biggest club in the world. However, the sport is the same, the dedication to what makes a team great is the same, and the importance of having a leader and correct guidance is the same.

 

Rest in peace, coach Sam.

Posted in Barcelona40 Comments

blitzen awards, the Annus Horribilis edition!

Zubi wishes you all a Happy New Year. May your 2015 be filled with love, laughter, and catnip mousies!

Zubi wishes you all a Happy New Year. May your 2015 be filled with love, laughter, and catnip mousies!

The season is half over, which means it must be time for a bumper midseason edition of blitzen awards. 2014 has been a difficult year in many ways for the club. We lost a beloved coach, a somewhat less beloved president resigned but no elections took place, the World Cup was a disaster for many of our players, and the club has been up to its figurative eyeballs in lawsuits. This summer we got a new coach and replaced half of our players–and just in time, too considering more recent developments. Despite the team performing well in all competitions, there remains a sense of disgruntlement and unrest surrounding how they are playing, the decisions of the coach, and the continued idiocy of those supposedly in charge. All in all, I think most of us are glad that 2014 is over. Let’s hope next year is a good one despite the challenges ahead. And now how about a few awards?

All The Awards Award: Lionel Messi. This is it, guys. He’s broken all the records. There are no more. He’s done it all and football is finished forever. I mean, how much better can he get?

MOTSOTM (Man Of The Season Other Than Messi) Award: Our defenders. All of them. Even Dani. I know it’s difficult to believe, but Barça has the best defense in the league so far this season. Mathieu, aka the Ginger Giant, aka Mathieuselah, has defied the naysayers and paid back Lucho’s faith in him. Pique set tongues a-wagging by being benched for a few games–but based on his appearances has been arguably our best player this season. Bartra found it tough to get minutes at first, but is now in regular rotation and putting in solid performance after solid performance. And Mascherano continues to be a rock wherever the coach chooses to play him. All this, and we can still look forward to our summer 2015 “signing”: Vermaelen!

Winter is Coming Award: Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that the Court of Arbitration for Sport has dismissed FC Barcelona’s appeal to rescind the two-window transfer ban imposed by FIFA for “irregularities” in the signings of several foreign youth players. This means that the club will not be able to make any new signings until 2016, and will have to rely heavily on the current squad, returning loanees, and players who right now are part of a B squad just a point out of the relegation zone. We can only hope that, like the Starks, the club has prepared adequately for the dark times ahead. Things worked out OK for them, right?

All About That Base (No Treble) Award: That football base, that is. Yep, 2015 is shaping up to be the year that La Masia, the pride of the club, will have the daunting task of proving that Barça really does produce the best young players in the world. Lucho will need to call on B team players like no Barça coach has ever had to before. We have several massive young talents who are willing and eager to step up and prove they are ready. Let’s hope they and Lucho make the best of this opportunity. And no, I don’t expect we will be winning the Treble this season.

Oh The Humanity Award: There was one game this season that was an absolute and unmitigated disaster. No, I’m not talking about losing the Clasico 3-1 to Real Madrid. I’m not talking about the loss to PSG either. I’m talking about Barça B losing 7-0 to Valladolid. It was the Hindenberg and the Titanic rolled into one, a slow-motion trainwreck of a game in which the “best and brightest” of La Masia were systematically sliced, diced, and pureed by their opponents, who then proceeded to pick their teeth with the bones. It was painful to watch. Especially since these young players are the only “signings” we will be able to make in 2015, and Barça B is now hovering only a single point out of the relegation zone. Oh, dear.

Here Comes the Judge Award: The entire FCB Board, with special mention for departed ex-President Sandro Rosell. I have lost track of how many lawsuits the club has been involved in just this year, much less from 2010 on. It must be some kind of Spanish record. At times it has felt like we have been watching some kind of legal reality show, with suits & countersuits, judgements & appeals, and lots & lots of shouting. It has been entertaining at times, but it’s sure not football. Shame.

Mes Que Un Club Award: FCB is known for being the club that cares about values and community, not just football, so I for one am proud of all the selfless charitable work they have done ensuring that their lawyers are fully employed in these difficult economic times. As long as this Board is around, no lawyer in Barcelona or, indeed, in Switzerland, needs to worry about not being able to feed his or her family.

Every Clown Has A Silver Lining Award: To Josep Bartomeu, who did one thing this year that every cule should be grateful for. This summer after the World Cup, when Xavi already had his bags packed for an imminent move to New York City to play for the Red Bulls, Bartomeu called him and personally asked him not to make any final decision until after he had met with Luis Enrique. Xavi rearranged the holidays he had already booked and returned to Barcelona for the meeting–in which Lucho told him that he was an important part of his plans. There were no promises of playing time–indeed, Lucho was clear that Xavi would have to compete for it like everyone else–but Xavi was convinced and decided to stay. Of course Bartomeu isn’t the reason that Xavi changed his mind, but that phone call let him know that the club still valued and wanted him, and for that one small thing this cule is grateful.

Roll Out The Barrel Award: To Nike, who thought that designing a kit with horizontal stripes would be just the thing to take the fans’ minds off the club’s footballing and legal woes. Yes, in a year when the cule conversation on whether the historical style and legacy of the club has been “betrayed” has reached a fever pitch, why don’t we just throw out the iconic vertical stripes in favour of hoops as well? Genius!

Do You Want To Build A Strawman? Award: Those raging against Luis Enrique for betraying the sacred principles laid down by Cruyff and Guardiola by playing a different system. It’s quite obvious that Lucho has no set starting XI and likes to tinker with his lineup based on the opponents he faces. For many in the blogosphere, however, this penchant for rotation has been built up into a reckless tossing of baby, bathwater, and sainted Guardiola himself out of the Camp Nou’s windows. For evidence they take every occasion where Lucho may have got things wrong, while forgetting the many times Guardiola made similar decisions with similar results. For an excellent refutation of this strawman argument I can do no better than point to Kxevin’s recent piece right here on this blog.

Let It Go Award: Pep Guardiola has not been FCB coach for two-and-a-half years. And according to himself, he is never coming back, at least not as coach. We will always remember the wonderful football, trophies, and international acclaim he brought to the club, but it is long past time to stop looking backwards and continually making comparisons with the present team and coach. We can strive to emulate him and to honour his legacy, but let us stop dwelling on it at every opportunity. It was glorious, but it is the past. Let it go and look to what we can achieve in the future.

Wet Tuesday Night Award: We still don’t know if Messi can do it, but it seems that Bojan can! Since joining the Potters this season, Bojan has scored 3 goals and has become one of their best players. Who would have thought that our little Bobo would find his forever home in the rough-and-tumble of English football, and at big bad Stoke, no less? I’m really pleased that he is finally doing well, and I hope he continues in this form.

Invisible Man Award: It is midway through the season, and we know hardly any more about Douglas than we did when we signed him. Aside from his initial presentation, the club has very carefully kept him away from the press. This may partly be due to the spate of injuries he has incurred, which the club has chosen not to report to the media (according to Sport), but the main reason is likely due to the bad press surrounding his surprise signing. The club doesn’t want to put Douglas in the awkward position of having to answer questions about why he was signed, especially when the player sometimes doesn’t seem to know himself.

Somebody That I Used To Know Award (Gotye Part): “So when we found that we could not make sense, Well you said that we would still be friends. But I’ll admit that I was glad it was over.” After three years in which three different coaches tried to crowbar him into the team with mixed results, Cesc Fabregas departed for greener pastures this summer, and most cules breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn’t terrible for us, most of the time, but also most of the time things never seemed to quite work. Sometimes no matter how hard you try it’s just not mean to be. I hear he’s doing very well at Chelsea, I wouldn’t know, I dislike that team intensely. No, I’m not bitter, you’re bitter.

Somebody That I Used to Know Award (Kimbra Part): “Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over, But had me believing it was always something that I’d done. But I don’t wanna live that way, Reading into every word you say. You said that you could let it go And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know.” Cesc, again. His most recent soundbites in the press claim that his Barça coaches didn’t know how to use him properly, that Mourinho’s Chelsea has a similar philosophy to Barcelona’s, and that the current team is “Messi plus 10 more”. Spurned ex-lover syndrome strikes again. Are we going to need to change our number?

Push-me Pull-you Award: Dani Alves and Martin Montoya hardly know whether they are coming or going. One minute Typhoid Monty can’t even make the squad much less the bench, the next he has started two games in a row and Lucho is speaking highly of him. When asked about Dani’s situation Zubi praises him to the skies–but also makes it perfectly clear that his contract ends this summer and no negotiations to extend it are on the agenda. With the transfer ban enforced and Douglas not exactly assimilated into the team, it seems likely that at least one of these two will end up staying another season. It just remains to be seen which one.

Shooting Star Award: Like a meteor streaking across the sky, Busquets’ last-second goal against Valencia was an exhilarating flash of brilliance illuminating a pretty dreary game. OK, not really. It was a flukey rebound of a goal that Busi managed to get his foot on to save our bacon and get us 3 very important points. Like most of this season, it wasn’t beautiful, but it did the job, and right now that will have to do. People tend to forget that we literally replaced half the team this summer as well as the coach and it is very much a work in progress. This season was never going to be easy, or beautiful, and it is foolish to expect otherwise. Just strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride. “To infinity…and beyond!” (Busi Lightyear)

The Tortoise Ate And The Hare Award: Luis “Bitey” Suarez has started out this season very slowly. Even after his playing ban expired on October 26th, it took him another month to score his first goal (against APOEL in the Champion’s League), and he didn’t score his first league goal until December 20th. In contrast, Neymar started the season with a bang by scoring two against Athletic Bilbao on September 12th, and hasn’t stopped since, racking up 11 league goals and 3 in the CL. Neymar took a while to settle into his role last season, but has forged an excellent partnership with Messi that bodes well for the rest of this season. Let’s hope that Suarez can improve on his slow start as well and become the cutthroat striker we all know he can be.

Nice Work If You Can Get It Award: Puyol has completed his coursework and received his qualifications to become FCB’s new Assistant Sporting Director…just in time for the transfer ban to kick in. So he will be assisting Zubi in doing…well…not much at all for the next year, probably. Unless the rumours of him replacing Zubi this summer come to fruition, of course.

Adeu, Tito: This one isn’t an award, but a tribute. On April 25, 2014, we lost a former manager, player, and a good and decent man who deeply affected the lives of many around him. Tito has inspired many of us with his humility, bravery, and strength in the face of adversity. When I look back on 2014, instead of thinking about all the lies, mistakes, and outright crimes committed by those in charge of this club, I prefer to remember the selflessness of this man who even in the last few days of his life was offering advice and help to the club he loved. Thank you for everything, Tito. You will always be remembered.

TitoRIP

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