Archive | Barcelona

The who to the what (2)

Part two, the defenders. For my take on our goalkeepers, check part one right here.

2

Strengths:
Off the ball movement, especially going forward. He excels at finding the space in the right side channel to receive through balls and passes that are played over the top.
Weaknesses:
Unfortunately, receiving the all in the position described above leads to a wasted possession nine out of ten times. In Barça’s universal attack, this player very much functions as a black hole.
Expectations:
Plenty of culers expected a bigger role from the young Catalan this season and felt that Tata Martino didn’t play him enough. I was one of the outliers who almost felt he played too much. His only good game in 2013/14 came in a 1-0 away loss against Granada.
His role in the treble:
Minimal. His coach trusted him so little that he hardly got any games and despite the fact that 1) the starter in his place looked more and more likely to leave at the end of the season and 2) the club was banned from signing a replacement, he preferred to hand in a transfer request.
Standout moment of the season:
Out of nowhere he started in an important CL knockout tie against Paris Saint-Germain and, truth be told, he played well. The key to his success? His teammates played him the ball as little as possible.
What’s next?
Regardless of who wins the elections, and despite his amazing footbasket skills, the number two Barça jersey will be worn by another player next season.

3

Strengths:
Positioning, passing, claiming more than half of all corners and set pieces and offensive headers.
Weaknesses:
Slow-leggedness, late night poker and well, who wouldn’t have a weakness for those hips.
Expectations:
It was arguably a make or break year for our most experienced center back who readily admitted he had dropped a yard and then some from the elite level that had become expected of him based on his early years at the club. Now that Butch had finally stopped playing for real, it was high time for the Cassity Kid to step up – for real.
His role in the treble:
Words are one thing, actions are another. After late night spats with local police and not so smart phone sessions during a match, the coach decided to sit him for a couple. Lucho don’t play. It turns out this was exactly what our blue blood needed – he’s made it hard to find a better defender in Europe right now.
Standout moment of the season:
Hard one to call. He scored a personal record of six goals this season, none of which were of particular brilliance or came at defining moments. Instead of a standout moment, I’ll give you one that symbolizes how he has become the rock of the defense. Picture the scene, during the Camp Nou Clasico, our enemies are on the break. The fasted man in football only needs to lay the ball off to the world’s most annoying git to ever score fifty-plus goals per season. For a fraction of a second and a sharp intake of breath, culers hearts stop beating worldwide… and then a thundering cheer as our man channels his inner Puyol to break up the attack with a ball-crushing tackle!
What’s next?
Hopefully this season has given him the drive and motivation to consolidate his role as a team leader for the years to come.

14

Strengths:
Leadership, kicking ass, taking names.
Weaknesses:
He shoots the ball in the exact same way that Lionel Messi does not shoot the ball.
Expectations:
Despite being a crowd favorite, it was unclear what his role was going to be. Lauded by Luis Enrique during the coach’s presentation, many hoped he would return to his natural position as a defensive midfielder. After all, throughout the previous years his inability to deal with both high balls from deep and crosses had been exploited by opponents time upon time. So much that when last season the club ended trophyless, he even suggested publicly that he should make way. Thankfully the board renewed his contract instead.
His role in the treble:
His on- and off field leadership raises the question of why he’s not one of the team captains.
Standout moment of the season:
Again, there is none. Unfortunately no secret footage exists of that magical moment when our little boss realized it is allowed in football to defend passes that are not played over the ground, but the change to his game has been massive. “Converted defender” no more.
What’s next?
I ask for only two things, both of which would make me extremely happy:
1) For him to score a goal in the Camp Nou. Please, God (and I do feel we need God’s help here), make it happen.
2) For him to manage our club one day. He has future coach written all over him.

15

Strengths:
Passing
Weaknesses:
None. If only he could add some bulk and muscles to that frame.
Expectations:
Much like the fullback Monty, a lot of fans invested high expectations in this Masía-rised defender. Besides, neither of the starters at his position had been particularly solid throughout the two seasons prior… Would this be the year he stepped up to claim his place?
His role in the treble:
He didn’t as much claim his place as simply maintained his place, which is that of a rotation player and hopeful future starting center back. No slight on the young Catalan, because at the level the players in front of him performed, he would have had to dislodge some of the best defenders in the world.
Standout moment of the season:
His best game came in the group stage game against PSG at the Camp Nou. Surprising all by starting in the right of a three-man defense, his standout moment was a goal line clearance.
What’s next?
Will he stay or will he go? In another one of the club’s brilliant contract clauses, he can be got for as little as 12 million euros due to limited game time over the last two seasons. Culer born and bred, will he fight for more playing time or decide the grass might be more treadable elsewhere?

16

Strengths:
Unknown.
Weaknesses:
Being unknown.
Expectations:
Fair or not, the only expectation was that the transfer fee the club dished out was a favor to someone and not to the player for whom the money was paid out.
His role in the treble:
Tested out during a 0-0 draw at Málaga only to be never ever seen again in any game in which points were on the line, his role was even more limited than expected.
Standout moment of the season:
He was subbed in during the last game of an already-won Liga and looked decent.
What’s next?
Although the notion that a 25-year old player was bought for “the season after” is and remains completely ludicrous, a loan move to Sevilla has reportedly been blocked by his coach, Luis Enrique. During his few Camp Nou appearance, the crowd often chanted his name in jest. Will the Brazilian end up having the last laugh?

 

18

Strengths:
Technique, passing and a blistering speed.
Weaknesses:
Aerial duels.
Expectations:
His first couple of months at the club had been amazing, as adversaries simply had no idea how to stop a player that best resembled an atomically enhanced humanoid squirrel. Over the next two seasons, however, it appeared that he lacked the cutting edge that separates the men from the boys when playing against top tier opposition. With the arrival of his former teammate to the club, a man just as fast and five times as tall, some wondered if he might end up losing his starting spot.
His role in the treble:
His role was quietly impressive. Although it is hard to stand out among Messi, Neymar, Suarez, Iniesta, Piqué, Xavi, Mascherano and the best version of Dani Alves, whenever he was not playing, his presence was missed.
Standout moment of the season:
For the first goal in the Champions League final everybody talks about Iniesta’s assist, how Neymar drew out the defense, and even how Messi started the attack with a long pass across the pitch. But who one-touched that forty-yard ball to Neymar? Right, that’s who.
What’s next?
According to Xavi he’s the best player in the world at his position. Long live the king.

 

21

Strengths:
Passing, long range shooting, versatility.
Weaknesses:
Aerial duels.
Expectations:
The question was whether we would see the 2012/13 version who scored screamers against Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Athletic de Bilbao of if we would see the 2013/14 version who uhm, did not score any screamers.
His role in the treble:
Turns out 2014/15 was his least impressive version. Despite remaining largely injury-free, he only started twelve matches and, although he never played badly, he was never great either.
Standout moment of the season:
I suppose I could choose one of his two goals this season, but they were both scored during routes against Copa del Rey cannon fodder. The image that comes to mind is his intense on-pitch celebration with fellow Brazilian party boy and fullback after winning the Champions League.
What’s next?
Rumor has it he will leave this summer. We will wish him best.

22

Strengths:
At his best? Attacking, defending, passing, combining, an exquisite first touch and crossing. Yeah, I said it. Crossing.
Weaknesses:
Aerial duels.
Expectations:
Much maligned and underappreciated, there are only a select few fans who can raise their hands and say that at no point during his time at the club have they uttered the wish for him to be sold. Even I, a staunch defender of the fullback, took into account his age, his expiring contract and the rumored possibility of one of the stars of a very impressive Colombian national team to take over his position, and thought our best bet was to replace him last summer.
His role in the treble:
Cuadrado? The incumbent might be getting on in years, but he can still run circles around a square.
Standout moment of the season:
In what was one of his best games in our colors, the first leg of the Champions League semifinal, he robbed the ball from Bernat to feed Messi for the opening goal.
What’s next?
It looked like he wouldn’t, then that he would, wouldn’t and then, after one of the most entertaining press conferences ever, he wouldn’t. Of course then they won everything which led to him getting drunk on the top of an open bus touring the city on the way to the Camp Nou where he cried in front of 70,000 culers who pleaded that he stay. All of which made it easy for Messi to tell him, dude, just sign your renewal.

 

23

Strengths:
Recovering.
Weaknesses:
His thigh muscle, his knees and his malleolar sulcus. His calf, achilles and groin. Not to mention his ligaments.
Expectations:
Huh, what? Ten million euros? Isn’t this guy always injured?
His role in the treble:
Injured upon arrival and injured upon recovery. Injuries to which you can add the insult of having to pay Arsenal another three million euros in variables on top of the previously mentioned transfer fee because the player picked up a Champions League medal.
Standout moment of the season:
He finally played – and started – in Xavi’s goodbye match, which was also the last league game, and received almost as much applause as the midfield maestro on his first couple of touches on the ball. His season might not have gone as he would have liked, but for many culers, putting on that shirt and walking on to that pitch is what dreams are made of.
What’s next?
This depends on your perspective. If you’re a glass-half-empty kind of guy, he’ll be injured half the time. However, if you see the glass as half full, he will only be injured half the time.

24

Strengths:
Experience, aerial duels and running really, really, really fast.
Weaknesses:
Playing the ball out of defense.
Expectations:
Many felt it was too much money for a 31-year old who was not necessarily better than any player already in Barcelona and who would have been a good pickup for less than half his price a year before. However, he did add speed and height to our defense.
His role in the treble:
His role was that of a semi-regular starter and, although not part of the gala line-up, an oft-used defensive substitute even in the biggest of games. Also, his presence made those with who he competed for a spot step up their games.
Standout moment of the season:
The first goal in the home clasico was, according to many, worth his transfer fee alone. Almost as good as the goal was the look on his face after he scored it, with the good vibes lasting a full week for him to break he deadlock late in the game against Celta Da Vigo with yet another header to keep us four points clear at the top of the league.
What’s next?
He’ll be a couple of months shy of 31 when the next season starts. At some time he’ll start to slow down and, speed being one of his greatest qualities, so will his game. Not yet, though, not yet.

 

…………………………………..

NOTE: The article was updated to include Adriano Correia. Thanks @inamess for pointing this out.

 

 

Posted in Barcelona33 Comments

The who to the what (1)

Copa America ain’t cutting it for you? Bored in anticipation of Silly Season? Unfazed by election talk? Let’s get down to some good old fashioned player evaluations. Since you like it when I make it last, I’ll split this one in four. Part one, the goalkeepers.

13

Strengths:
Who said there weren’t any jaguars in Chile? Pounce, baby, pounce!
Weaknesses:
Not carrying his league form to the Copa and the Champions League.
Expectations:
Huh, what? But…. why?? If former shot stopper Zubizarreta spent years of research and scouting to find the diamond in the rough who would replace Victor Valdes before finally, but very decidedly, settling on a German wunderkind, why would we spend 12 million euros on this guy all of a sudden? Besides, I was underwhelmed by what I’d seen from him previously, as he committed errors in roughly a third of the games I’d watched. It’s safe to say that this signing did not fill my heart with enthusiasm.
His role in the treble:
The Chilean international was one of the best keepers in Europe this season, and essential to our title run. He might have been helped by an incredibly solid defense, but if his only “mistake” was letting through a long range bottom corner power missile by Ever Banega, I’m glad to have been proven WRONG. The last word of that sentence is fully deserving of capital letters.
Standout moment of the season:
His reflection save in the second half of the home Clasico. Humongous. After that stop, Barça cut through M*drid like a red and blue knife through molten butter.
What’s next?
Another Zamorra winning title run would make this culer very, very happy.

1

Strengths:
The way he passes the ball is downright sexy. Any foot fetishists out there, this one uses both very, very well.
Weaknesses:
His oft-quoted strength of not letting mistakes affect his game doesn’t look that strong when you take into account all the mistakes he’s made this season. Also, you’d expect this tall, blond German oak to be more dominant in the air.
Expectations:
Let’s be honest. None of us here are avid Borussia Mönchengladbach followers. Cue millions of opinions based on internet articles by writers pretending to be just that, YouTube videos and Twitter hype. A cross between Oliver Kahn and Franz Beckenbauer? Fair to say that expectations were high.
His role in the treble:
We won the treble, and his very solid homecoming performance in Germany kept the second leg of the CL semifinal a relatively uncomplicated affair. He also atoned for the dreadful decision of trying to dribble past Kun Aguëro by stopping his penalty some 10 minutes later in the second round against Manchester City. Fans in love with his passing ability will overlook the gaffes he committed in each of the finals he played this season. Luckily they remained unpunished.
Standout moment of the season:
Catching a ball with his chest before volleying it to a teammate? You gotta be frickin’ kidding me.
What’s next?
Our German friend oozes class, but he is young and error prone. If his Liga counterpart maintains his level of goalkeeping, any change in the current arrangement will be hard to come by. The kid wants to be the man in the Camp Nou. For that to happen, he needs to remain patient. As do we.

25

Strengths:
Shot-stopping, never-say-dying and pine-riding.
Weaknesses:
Not having made the jump to top flight football until he was 26 years old.
Expectations:
Before the season started, an avid Barça B follower assured me he would relegate both Bravo and Ter Stegen to the bench before all was over.
His role in the treble:
When all was over, the only homegrown goalkeeper of an all-conquering behemoth of a team that made history had played 270 completely inconsequential minutes.
Standout moment of the season:
He might not have been given the chance to make a difference during our treble run, but he did pull off that save against Espanyol during the Supercopa de Catalunya.
What’s next?
Since Bravo is our best option between the sticks and MATS is being groomed for the future, it’s hard to see any more game time for Jordi. He’s too good to be a third goalkeeper and should look for a future elsewhere.

Posted in Barcelona14 Comments

Ri-FI-FA!

On May 20, 2015, US Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch declared charges against fourteen FIFA officials, media managers and marketing executives, while federal and interpol agents swooped down upon organizational hubs from Miami to Zurich. Admist the scandal, Sepp Blatter has resigned as president of the organization, mere days after his re-election.

My fellow Americans, who were anticipating legal action against, oh, I don’t know, police brutality, anti-gay discrimination, warrant-less data searches, etc., etc., were stunned.

seanAfter all, as right-wing über-citizen Sean Hannity put it on his June 1 radio show: “I don’t like soccer. I just don’t” (1). Hannity went on to mispronounce FIFA as ‘fie-fa’. Just to show he don’t know.

The rest of the English-speaking media, meanwhile, rushed à la clusterfoo to the airwaves, desperate to explain why Americans shouldn’t switch the channel from C-SPAN to “CSI: Podunk” in terms we can understand – entertainment!

Continue Reading

Posted in Barcelona4 Comments

I got 99 problems but M*drid ain’t one

 

1. Blessed

2. Beloved

3. Admired

4. Idolized

5. Celebrated

6. Applauded

7. Worshipped

8. Deified

9. Envied

 

10. Humble

11. Enigmatic

12. Patriotic

13. Silent

14. Stubborn

15. Determined

16. Generous

17. Joyful

18. Fearless

 

19. Skillful

20. Inventive

21. Efficient

22. Precise

23. Fast

24. …er with the ball than without it

25. Intelligent

26. Visionary

27. Complete

 

28. Proficient

29. Instinctive

30. Predatory

31. Accurate

32. Powerful

33. Delicate

34. Imaginative

35. Relentless

36. Decisive

 

37. Brilliant

38. Gifted

39. Sublime

40. Prodigious

41. Excellent

42. Unlimited

43. Special

44. Masterly

45. Genius

 

46. Great

47. Phenomenal

48. Magnificent

49. Incredible

50. Amazing

51. Wonderful

52. Marvelous

53. Superb

54. Fantastic

 

55. Sensational

56. Awesome

57. Spectacular

58. Wondrous

59. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

60. Extraordinary

61. Stunning

62. Awe-inspiring

63. Playstational

 

64. Incomparable

65. Singular

66. Exceptional

67. Inimitable

68. Unique

69. Matchless

70. Unsurpassable

71. Pre-eminent

72. Best

 

73. Alien

74. Supreme

75. Celestial

76. Omnipotent

77. Divine

78. Monstrous

79. Extraterrestrial

80. Heroic

81. Human

 

82. Pibe

83. Culer

84. Albiceleste

85. Blaugrana

86. Latino

87. Pulga atómico

88. …y diabólico!

89. Inmessionante

90. D10S

 

91. Glorious

92. Relentless

93. Champion

94. Purposeful

95. Unstoppable

96. Triumphant

97. Exalted

98. Victorious…

 

99. Finalist

 

Messi

 

By no means is he Infallible. But come Saturday, let’s hope he has that chip on his shoulder. Take us to the Treble. Let’s scream our lungs out.

Posted in Barcelona47 Comments

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.

——————-

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.

——————-

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

 

 

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

*“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.

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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

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