Archive | Goodbyes

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

I can’t remember the first time I “spoke” with Kevin via the Internet, though I can remember the first time I met him in person. I was in Chicago visiting a couple of friends, taking a much needed break from New York, and I was sitting in a high school gym watching roller derby for the first (and to date only) time in my life. It was Kevin’s first roller derby match as well and he was giddy with finding this sudden and apparently rather serious subculture within the confines of his own city. Because my friend was reffing the match and I was otherwise alone, I had been instructed to watch a video detailing the rules of roller derby and I think I might have even had it on my phone at the time to give me a refresher when I had no idea what was going on. I probably prattled about the rules, thinking I understood things, since I tend to prattle. Kevin just grinned and nodded, so consumed with watching this whole thing, that pretty quickly his general approach of all in or nothing was infectious enough to shut me up and focus me on the women speeding around a track.

It’s that same intensity and all-consuming fire that Kevin brought to BFB for so many years. And it’s that same fire and intensity that kept him going through the “lean” years when he was virtually the only voice on the blog. I calculated that he wrote infinity kajillion words over the last 2 years and that he did it in the amount of time it’s going to take me to write this single post. He and I disagreed on a lot of Barça things, possibly on more things than we ever agreed on, but he always brought his willingness to write through the growing pains, which fascinated me as a writer and continues to fascinate me as a thinker. I always secretly compared him to Andrew Sullivan, whose voice and style were for years a somewhat under-the-radar pleasure of mine. Like Sully, Kevin has been accused of “blog first, ask questions later,” but, as with Sully, that’s a mistake.

Kevin may be a lot of things but a bad writer he is not. He is always straight to the point; often I disagreed with the gist of an article, but I never disagreed with his willingness to state his opinions in bold letters, which, if you were around this blog more than 2 years ago, you know can be somewhat of a issue for me. Beyond that, he is a fantastic editor. Whenever I send him a post or an article to edit, his thoughts are straightforward; the knife he uses to destroy my pieces is sharp and exacting, but always pleasant, like some sort of anesthetized medical procedure where you thank the doctor before the pain sets in and you curse him until you realize how necessary the surgery was. My favorite part of that analogy is how Kevin is currently cringing and thinking I should get to the damned point. Sorry, bud.

Behind-the-scenes here at the blog we keep in touch with email threads, sometimes blending shop talk about who will post what and when with small scale threads and or large scale link explosions. In one, Kevin was compared to Xavi, going out with a treble because, like Xavi, Kevin is leaving the team. It’s a nice comparison, but I’d like to think instead that Kevin is going out like Guardiola the coach: on his own terms at his own moment. Burnout is real and the constant nattering of small-minded commenters will wear on you after a while, regardless of whether you’re part of a blog team or a world-beating football team. I feel like Tata Martino right now, jumping in on the heels of dynasty, just hoping that things go well enough to not get fired. We’ll see about that, I guess.

And so here we are, saying goodbye. It’s been many, many moons since that day in Chicago, but someday soon, we’ll have to go see the Outfit (Chicago’s derby little secret!) again and maybe we’ll talk about Barça or maybe we’ll just watch in silence as the wheels roll around. Sometimes it’s nice to just relax and be where you are.

Posted in Goodbyes, Thoughts15 Comments

Changes and farewells

What a ride. When I started as a commenter over at The Offside Barcelona, who ever thought a space with a few voices would become something as interesting as it did. Back then, when I was just another voice in the crowd and Isaiah asked me to consider becoming a moderator, I was, frankly, terrified. I was then (and still am) learning about the team, the players, the history and how to watch and explain matches. Thoughts became reviews became something else, etc, etc.

When The Offside/Barcelona expanded into Barcelona Football Blog, leaving the comforting arms of The Offside corporate family, it was a risk. As the space grew and grew, into what I still believe to be the best English-language Barça site out there because of what it does, it also seemed something of a family because the comments space was a significant part of the feeling and mood of the space. We developed one hell of a powerhouse team for a while. Mods came and went, commenters came and went but through it all, the sense of pulling toward a common goal and a common love always remained intact.

I’ve tried to walk away from this space more than a few times for many reasons, and could always find a reason to stay. Time crunches were worked around by not spending more than an hour on any post, etc. Someone or something, usually me, has always worked to keep me here, often a sense of obligation in not wanting to see something that was so much fun wither on the vine. It’s huge fun thinking about the club in ways that are outside of the norm, being able to roll in after an event and contribute something that I hoped would spark discussion. I learned a lot, and hopefully shared something of what I had with people.

Things are very different these days, and not just the state of discourse. The site’s spiritual father has returned, which is huge. Isaiah is a writer whose quality attracted me to The Offside/Barcelona back in the day, and still makes me green with envy. He loves this club just as much as any of us, even if, as with all of us, real life conspired to intrude on his active demonstration of that love. His return makes me a lot more comfortable and confident in being able to move on with a clear mind.

Being better at “Hellos” than “farewells” (and who isn’t?), it’s easy and pleasing to say that the blog will be in excellent hands with Isaiah and Levon, and probably a few other mods who will be stepping up to the plate. Don’t be shy about shooting Isaiah a note. There have been some top-quality comments flowing here. In the past, commenters such as Kari, Euler, nzm and blitzen moved up from the comments space, and I am sure that will happen again. It’s the way that it always does, as in many ways a comments space is like Barça B, right? There will also be the likes of SoccerMom, whose stuff deserves a lot more love than it gets. She’s also in my “green with envy” group.

But my time here has run its course. I will certainly find other outlets for writing about Barça and the beautiful game, as that’s just too much fun to stop. But as with any family, there are changes: divorces, kids growing up, and the like. It’s part of the deal. The fun that was had here was huge, and there have been some memorable commenters along that road, from Euler to Ramzi, ciaran and Jim, Jnice, Jawsytown who always held my ideas’ feet to the fire, Peter, barca96, CuleToon with the insider’s view and so many, many others who shared knowledge and insight that I, and hopefully others, learned from. Frankly, the smartest thing we did was opening comments to one and all registered users. So much good has come from that, things that have made this space and its writers better.

Most important is that the space isn’t going to die, most assuredly. I’m over the moon to be able to hand it over to its father. And as much as I dislike official goodbyes, just wanted to put something up for folks who might wonder, “Whatever happened to that jackass?”

Thanks again, and for anyone interested, I am @kevvwill on Twitter. Visca!

Posted in Goodbyes, Thoughts25 Comments

It’s the big one! Barça v Bayern, and why the Blaugrana will advance

It’s boxing day.

Not the traditional kind, but my gloves are on. Why? Because of the Champions League draw in which Barça drew Bayern Munich and culer boots began to tremble in fear.

If Bayern advances against Barça, fair on them, but I don’t think that they are going to, the magic elf that is coaching them notwithstanding. I have my reasons, that boil down to something more than “Because Barça is the best team in the world right now.” So let’s get to it.


Why does it always come down to Messi? Because he is the best player on the planet. But it’s a bit more complex than that because he is also a whimsical force of nature who can alter a match whenever he decides. Atleti discovered this in the 3-1 Camp Nou loss that wasn’t as close as the scoreline indicated. Atleti flooded the midfield, deciding to contest the battle on Barça’s traditional battleground. But from that first attack in which Messi took the ball and ran, pell-mell at the Atleti defense in a way that left it completely devoid of any and all options was when his real power as a player became clear for many.

It has always been true that people assumed that Messi could be stopped in a traditional sense. Foul him, put 4 defenders on him, etc. In the past that has certainly been the case. This season, as he has embraced a true leadership role in doing whatever he thinks needs to happen to help his team win (given carte blanche to do so by his coach), it is increasingly true that the only person who can stop Messi is Messi. Some matches he is unstoppable, other matches he is closer to “normal.”

But I think it is ultimately the player’s choice of which Messi shows up. Messi also knows that he has a limited number of matches at that level in his tank. I would argue for more rest for him to ensure that he has even more matches of that level in his tank, so that he doesn’t have to shuffle around against Almeria, but that ship has sailed. Messi is going to play every match that he isn’t injured or suspended, and that’s that. So it is up to the player to pick and choose which matches That Messi is going to show up.

As pertinent to matters is that Bayern don’t have a player like that, a player who can decide that “Today will be the day that I will win this match for my team by being unplayable.” Robben is an exceptional player, but you know what you are going to get. Ribery isn’t what he once was but even at his best, he wasn’t the kind of player who made the other 21 players on the pitch irrelevant. Yes, Bayern have a fine system and an excellent coach. But sometimes, when you have two teams who are close to equals – and make no mistake, that situation exists here – one player can turn the tie.

Barça has that player in Messi. (I know. I hate him, blablabla. But still.)

The new (old) Barça

Henry/Eto’o/Messi is now Neymar/Suarez/Messi. What are the differences between then and now? In the past, the attacking trident was being fed by a fully in-prime Xaviniesta, and it was amazing. In the present, Xaviniesta is diminished by time, so Enrique has had to devise a different system to work within and around opponents, while still getting the ball to the right players at the right time.

What hasn’t changed is that the front three is not only potent as hell, but the best attacking trident in world football, each capable of individually deciding a match. Suarez isn’t as blindingly fast or as capable of the constant, crazy movement that Eto’o was, but in place of that he brings an array of passing and shotmaking that Eto’o didn’t offer. Henry was Henry. But Neymar, with his array of skills, is a combination of Iniesta and Henry. He can score and create, make space from nothing or drive to the goal himself. And Messi is Messi.

The Barça midfield isn’t the metronomic force that it was back when a world wasn’t ready for what it was about to see. Some of that is a consequence of time, some how opponents are lining up to face the team, in a way that can disrupt a precision attack. The versatility that has been added in the form of Ivan Rakitic is not to be underestimated. He is more than Dani Alves’ babysitter. His movement and intelligence of movement leaves him more often than not, in the right place at the right time. Alves has benefited from this, as has Busquets.

As the players have said, Barça isn’t playing all that differently from how it always has, despite the necessity of people to believe that it is. But the team has added wrinkles and adaptations that I believe make it better equipped to manage against a top-quality European opponent.

The power of memory

In that now famous, epoch-defining 7-0 aggregate loss to Bayern, that distracted, injured, coach-less mess of a team that lacked its best player went down to an opponent that was allowed its way on the pitch. This time, it’s different. There is a coach, the team is fit, focused and in form. There is no sadness, no tragedy or illness of beloved colleagues – just a fit, nasty bunch of players that has delivered against big opponents all but two times this season. And those two times were in the balance, lest we forget. Against RM, imagine how different the match would have been had Neymar and then Messi notched chances that they usually score. Against PSG at Parc Des Princes, the last half-hour of that match has PSG cowering in front of its own net. Only a couple of off finishes and a heroic Marquinhos intervention against Alba prevented that loss from becoming a draw or even a win.

Players remember humiliations, and the core of this Barca team was there for the 7-0. I can assure you that it hurts, even today. Ugly losses always do, and players always crave chances to avenge a beating. Our team has its chance, and rest assured they are relishing and anticipating it.

And I, for one, hope that the Camp Nou gives Guardiola the greeting that a rival coach should get in a Champions League semi-final home leg. Save the respectful applause stuff for later. I don’t expect a blizzard of flying pig heads, but if my Barcelona-based culers make things all nice and cuddly, I will be disappointed. This should be a hostile, away crowd, no matter who coaches them and who is on their roster. The players will need that edge, that buzz. For anyone who has ever been in the stands for a Classic as the RM players take to the pitch for warmups, if a home team can’t hear … nay, FEEL that ire and get pumped to give those folks a beatdown, that team isn’t human.


This history, this karma is the reason this tie is happening, the “ex” factor. Guardiola is the most successful coach in Barça history, and culers still get misty-eyed when his name comes up. Even those like me who don’t, still have the deepest respect for what he did while at the club. He is a brilliant, innovative coach who has an intangible in that many culers believe that much of the reason that he isn’t still at the club, despite what Guardiola has said, is the board. That makes the relationship kinda odd, because the board sucks, so an enemy of my enemy is a friend, right? Well, not quite exactly fully. But that history, those memories of victory parades and dominance will make the feelings of that home leg very odd for many.

I don’t know the “real” reason Guardiola left. Only he, his friends and family do. But I know he left in circumstances that were complex. In many ways he’s like the ex that just moved on. You still love them. They cooked, cleaned and the house always smelled like peppermint, except on waffle days. That’s what you remember. And it’s wonderful, right? Good.

And then there is Thiago. Many workplaces have challenges retaining young, talented employees, who are in demand. They leave for better jobs, and as much as employers gnash teeth and rend garments, the person is gone, nonetheless. Football is different from the real world in that you often get recompense for losing an employee in the form of millions of Euros, which leaves a fan base to debate whether the fee was sufficient/board was stupid/etc, etc.

Irrespective of the real reasons, which are as murky as the ultimate reasons for Guardiola leaving, Thiaga Alcantara left for a better job. Guile, a mean ol’ board, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, a coach who didn’t cherish and play him enough, ambition, who the hell knows. But he activated his buyout clause that was low because of a negotiated contract stipulation, and left for a big European rival. And you know what? I would do the exact same thing in his situation. At Barça you have tradition, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and a Neymar running around. At your potential new job, you have a beloved former coach (at both key levels) who is saying “I want him and only him,” and that team is a European juggernaut. You get a raise, primo status and you start, without question. I wouldn’t be able to pack my bags fast enough.

But that complex history makes both the Thiago and Guardiola situations fraught for so many culers. Both are the “ones that got away,” history that will make this tie pulsate with even more of that “morbo,” a word traditionally reserved for Spain-on-Spain encounters.

What about weaknesses?

Every team has weaknesses. If the front three don’t add their work rates to the defensive side of things, Barca is going to be in trouble. Robben is big, fast and strong and will vex Jordi Alba to a level that he hasn’t yet seen this season. Lucas Moura in the away PSG group stage leg might have been as close as he’s come. It will be a challenge. Might Enrique opt for a big, fast, physical LB presence and slide Mathieu over there? Possible, but unlikely. Even though the performance of Mathieu in the away Classic has grown (or more correctly, diminished) in its folkloric status, it isn’t like Enrique to disturb the balance of his gala XI, except in cases of injury or substitution. So Alba will have a hard time, which means that Neymar will have a hard time because it will be up to him to buttress the defensive efforts against Robben.

On the right, Messi and Rakitic are going to have to help against Ribery, who is more than capable of dealing killer blows. In the cases of Messi and Neymar, this will detract from their offensive efforts of necessity, but a 2-1 win is better than a 4-2 loss. It will be more important to not concede goals, as it is without question that Barça will score.

Suarez is a potential weakness even as he is also a point of unquestioned strength. This is as deep into the Champions League as he has ever been, even as he has seen big stages before in international competition. At those moments we have ignominy in a handball and an Italian meal. We also have a pair of spectacular goals against England. As the stakes mount, so does the pressure. A player will either crack, thrive or implode. Suarez has demonstrated that he is capable of the last two. Let’s hope that he isn’t capable of the first, or it will be a very long pair of matches against Bayern.

Barça should be working on finishing, because Neuer isn’t going to allow that many chances. He is the best keeper in the game, without question. But because he also functions as an outfield player, he has the opportunity to influence play in a way that a more traditional keeper doesn’t offer. So he might well be the one tackling Neymar at a key moment of a match, or stonewalling Suarez outside the box should his first touch get a bit loose.

Last season’s defense would have worried me a lot more – even as its weakness was exaggerated – than this season’s, which is demonstrating the hard work that Enrique and his coaching staff have put in.


Bayern is a formidable opponent. Even Enrique has said that Guardiola is the best coach in the game right now, even though Mourinho might argue with that (imagine that!). The strength of their team isn’t a series of transcendent talents even as they have exceptionally talented players. But they offer a depth of quality that is enviable, a depth that has served them well in this year’s European campaign.

But they are not unbeatable, not supermen. As Guardiola said, if they make the kinds of errors that they made against Porto, the tie will be over at the end of the first leg. That 3-1 away loss was cold water in the face for Bayern. Against Barça it would be a death sentence, and Guardiola knows that. He will be devising a way to neutralize Messi, Neymar and Suarez while ensuring that the flank play of Alves and Alba won’t be a problem. In the new Enrique system, the biggest passing numbers have moved from midfielders to the fullbacks, particularly Alba. This means that if Robben isn’t defending as well as he attacks, Alba will be giving Bayern almost as much trouble as Robben will, so the Dutchman had better be on his toes.

Without question, Barça will be the most formidable challenge that Bayern has faced. Last season they ran up against RM and got their clocks cleaned. That RM wasn’t as good as this Barça. The individual brilliance that has been scoffed at by purist culers this season might be the exact trick that will be required to get Barça over the edge. A system can be coached against, simulated and accounted for. A bit of crazy brilliance can’t be managed. Ancelotti had everything right except that Suarez match winner. Because you can’t control crazy.

I think that Barça will advance, but it will be tight. The first leg being at the Camp Nou is less of a disadvantage for Barça, who will be playing the same whether at home or at the Allianz. Away goals are obviously crucial and potentially tie-deciding. I think the away leg will be the decider. Though scorelines are always impossible to predict, I see a low-scoring draw at the Camp Nou and a Barça win at the Allianz, with Neymar and Suarez being more decisive than Messi.

Posted in Analysis, Champions League, Goodbyes, Messi, Neymar, Thoughts29 Comments

Going Gently Into that Good Night, Smiling

I began writing regularly about FC Barcelona in 2007. The 6 years since have been a learning experience that has enriched my life. Besides the daily interactions with “real life” friends I have met through this blog and its prior incarnation at The Offside, I have been exposed to a wide variety of information, cultural perspective, and emotions that I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered. I have written book reviews, movie reviews, silly one-act plays, diatribes about power and transparency, and countless previews (both historically accurate and patently false versions). I have had my moments of irrepressible idiocy and, I hope, some moments of true insight. Most importantly, for me at least, is that I regret nothing.

What has been a journey through the Rijkaard, Guardiola, and Tito years is a journey that must come to an end. We have watched Messi grow into the world-dominating force he is. We have laughed when Pique pantses Bojan. We have cried for Abidal and Tito. We have thrown our hands up in triumph at manitas. We have jumped up and down, chanting our fool heads off at clasicos, win or lose. There have been more victories than losses, more happiness than sadness. Iniesta has emerged as a riveting magician. Xavi and Puyol have become the bulwarks of a generation. Busi is even outgrowing the bulk of his theatrical obstinacy.

When I first began blogging, it was in the second bedroom at my parents’ condo. I did it partially out of boredom, partially because I love to write, and partially because there were no bars nearby in that suburban land. Shortly after I penned the words “Welcome to the Barcelona Offside Blog,” I met the woman who would, 4 years later, become my wife. Shortly before writing the words, “Welcome to Barcelona Football Blog,” I moved in with that woman. The blog grew over the resulting two years. It didn’t hurt that the team was an all-destroying machine of victory and fun, but I’d like to think I had something to do with it as well. Shortly after Barça defeated Real Madrid 3-2 at the Camp Nou to secure a dramatic Supercopa victory, I married that woman I had met and then moved in with. And now, not quite two more years later, after the ups and downs (mostly ups) of seeing Guardiola replaced by Tito and once again shooting into the stratosphere of a league win and a Champions League semi-final, shortly after I write these words, we will welcome our first child.

It is not because of this, but in conjunction with this, that I have made the decision to retire from blogging. My pension plan will be crap, but it’s fully vested, so at least that. I want to focus on my family, on my personal aspirations that lie outside of the blogging world. I am also tired. I want to wake up in the morning and have my first thought be something other than “What should my next post be about?” I don’t want to read the news and think through how I will write about this rumor or that. I want to read about my team without considering the full gamut of what this means tactically, politically, and monetarily. I want to put Barça gear on my child and giggle like a normal parent, rather than consider how this can be worked into a Bojan joke. I want to sit in a bar with friends and laugh at Cesc Fabregas.

This morning was beautiful. The temperature is rising to the mid 90s throughout the day and high humidity is expect, but just after 7 this morning, it was a pleasant, sunny 75. I smiled wide as I walked to the subway. There wasn’t even that noxious subway smell when I descended the steps. The platform was nice and cool. As I waited for the train (delayed), I pulled out my Kindle and began reading. About Laos. Because I can.

The title of this post references Dylan Thomas, but twisted so that I do not have to rage against anything. I will not rage against the dying of the light. No, I will likely lurk here from time-to-time, grinning like an addled grandpa as the little ones surpass him in every way, because while I will be turning off the lights, there are betters and brighters just behind me to turn them on again. Some day I know I will return to reading about Barcelona, but for now, it is The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, it is National Geographic, it is the novels I have neglected over the years, it is The Little Prince on repeat for the little one.

Part of what makes this such an easy decision, such a correct decision, is that I know I’m leaving this blog in amazingly capable hands. The blog team that has been assembled is like The Avengers multiplied by the X-Men plus Captain Planet. Keyboards clack, brilliance comes out. I’m sure there will be substantial changes here, but I am confident that what will end up happening will be worth your daily visits and your occasional commentary. This is an amazing moment in the club’s history and whether or not the team and administration are able to seize it will have no bearing on the greatness of the writing that will continue to appear here.

I am happy and I want to end this with happiness: I will no longer be writing here, but I will always have Barcelona in my heart. My father, months after my wedding, showed me a picture of me signing the marriage license right before I went to dress in my finery for the ceremony. Yeah, I was wearing a Barça jersey when I got married.

Take care, it’s been fun.

Posted in Goodbyes37 Comments

Gracies Victor!

So it’s true. Yesterday the agents of Victor Valdes announced, and this morning the club confirmed, that Barcelona’s number one goalkeeper has made the “irrevocable” decision not to renew his contract, which expires in June 2014. Victor joined the club originally in 1992, at 10 years old. He left for 3 years when his family moved to Tenerife, then rejoined in 1995. Whichever of those you choose as his “starting date”, that’s a really long time to be at a single club. He has been with the first team since 2002, and the first-choice keeper since 2003. 10 years. In that time he has come in for a lot of both praise and criticism. Every mistake he has made has been front-page news in the sports press, and at times there have even been demands to replace him.

But whether you are a “fan” of Valdes or not, no one can deny that over the years he has proved himself a first-class goalkeeper and produced more than his share of brilliant saves:

Although at times he has also courted controversy:

Right now it is not clear whether FCB will try to sell Victor this summer or whether he will see out his contract until 2014. Amidst all this discussion of whether the club should “cash out” on Victor now or later, and how much for, one important factor has been overlooked. It is the player who will ultimately make that decision. Victor obviously has some plans for what he will do when he leaves Barça, and those plans may not include being sold to another top-level team just because they are the only ones who can afford his market price. He may want to get away from the pressure-cooker environment of playing for a big team. He may already have chosen what “different culture” he wants to experience and not be open to offers from teams in other leagues. Or he may already have an offer that he wants to take and insist the club let him go there or nowhere.

Or…here is a radical thought. He may actually have decided he has had enough of football. He has been living this life for a very long time, and he has never been entirely comfortable with the way a goalkeeper is psychologically isolated from the rest of the team. In his youth and early career, he struggled with depression and almost quit entirely at one point. There is a very nice little documentary detailing how he dealt with those feelings: What He Hated

Michele made a point about Valdes not seeming to have his head in the game on some occasions recently. Certainly with the arrival of his new son he must be thinking about spending more time with his family and travelling less. Perhaps he has just decided to stop now while he is at the top of his game and indulge himself in his other passions, which include windsurfing, motorcycles:


And even a spot of modeling:


He might even grow back his hair:


I’m sure when the time comes, the club will give him the send-off he deserves. Until then, whether it be this year or next, let us just thank Victor for his long years of service to the club, and wish him well in whatever happens next!

Posted in Barcelona, Goodbyes, Player Profiles, Transfers/Transfer Rumors44 Comments

blitzen awards, the fruity cocktail edition

Here is your last lot of blitzen awards for the season. I hope you enjoy them, and thank you for all the positive feedback. This is definitely mes que un blog!

My Heart Exploded Award: This was one of the first blitzen awards ever given out, for Iniesta’s joyful leap into Messi’s arms during the CL second leg match against Arsenal in the 2010-2011 season. I had a similar reaction to Iniesta jumping onto Messi after his goal in the CdR final. Pure joy and happiness and no player deserves it more.

Waka Waka Award: Wasn’t it nice of Pedro to celebrate his second goal by flashing Pique’s 2-2 hand signs in honour of Shakira? How sweet. 😛

MOTM Award: I really don’t want to single anyone out. You could tell from the first moment the team stepped on the pitch that they were determined not to let Pep’s last chance for a trophy slip from their grasp. No one was going to be responsible for losing this cup. If I have to pick, I will give it to Pedro, for the most improved player. He worked his little butt off and scored two gorgeous goals. This is the Pedro! we have been waiting for all season, and his excellent performance has even earned himself a callup to the Euros!

R E S P E C T Find Out What It Means To Me Award: What a lovely gesture for Puyol to borrow an Ikurrina (Basque flag) from someone in the crowd and take it on a victory lap along with the Catalan Senyera. It’s so nice to have a rival like Athletic Bilbao. The way the Basques and the Catalans respected each other on and off the field was…refreshing, no?

He Ain’t Fonti He’s My Brother Award: Puyol & Fontas switched shirts, I’m assuming at Puyi’s insistence. Because he’s just like that. He has kind of adopted Fontas, making sure he feels included despite his injury, taking him out with the moc moc crew. Exactly the sort of thing we have come to expect from our Capita.

John Terry Memorial Award For Sportsmanship: Speaking of which, I guess Puyol’s arms must just be tired from all the years of lifting trophies, as he insisted Xavi do the honours. Of course, Xavi being Xavi, he insisted right back, but finally bowed to his captain’s wishes before they could come to blows over it. 😀

Copa Del Rey Abidal Award: And here it is:

El Caganer De Las Zonas Técnicas Award: I think we have found a new nickname for Bielsa.

Flavor Flav Memorial Timepiece for Superlative Swag: Pinto! For making customized SwaggaSunglasses for all the players and taking pics with all of them, even Xavi & Iniesta!

Job Well Done Award: This was a difficult season in many ways. Injuries, fatigue, pressure all took their toll. But Pep says this team played the best football they have since he took charge 4 years ago. They ended the season with 4 of the 6 trophies on offer, advanced to the semifinals of the Champion’s League, and came within striking distance of catching up to Real Madrid in the League. And they did all of this playing beautiful, technical, attacking football that was a joy to watch. All I can say is Thank you team, Thank you Pep, Thank you to all the technical, medical, and support staff. This team gives us so much, we can only be grateful for everything.

Heigh ho, Heigh ho, It's off to Euros I go!

And a few bonus awards from yesterday’s charity futsal game. If you missed it, you should be very sad because it was a ton of fun for everyone involved.

Lionel Messi Award For Being Lionel Messi: Victor Valdes, who revised his jersey with the help of a bit of tape to read Messi 10, and proceeded to be a monster for both sides playing as a pivot.

Send In The Clown Award: Pique, for being the hammiest hamster that ever hammed it up (and scoring great goals in the process, I must add). He was clearly having the time of his life playing to the crowd. Here is a typical Pique moment.

Life Is A Cabaret Award: The Autonomous State of Catalunya, for proving that they are the world capital of cheesy song-and-dance numbers. Seriously, if they were allowed to compete in Eurovision, they would have it all sewn up!

Mes Que Un Goalkeeper Award: Let’s see, you all want a tall, mature player who is content to sit on the bench and come in and be our goalscoring Plan B? Look no further than Pinto! He scored a beauty today, charging out from his goal into the opposition’s box and putting it away with style! Done and done.

Posted in Barcelona, Copa del Rey, Goodbyes, Nonsense35 Comments

And now, the end is here.

The last game of the season. The last Liga game for Pep before he leaves for a life of not being bear-hugged by Pinto, or being tossed in the air each time the team wins another damn trophy.

What the heck are we going to do over summer?  Feed Cuenca? Thank goodness for the Euros.

Barça travels to Seville to play Real Betis Balompié who are going on a promotional pre-season trip to China in July.  I’m sure that Roque Santa Cruz would much rather spend time on the beach working on his tan, but this is the price when you make it into La Liga.  There are bigger bills to pay.

Betis is mid-table with nothing really left to play for except pride, and the chance to brag about beating Barça on the green, green grass of home.

Puyol, Pinto and Alexis are out and injured. Blaugrana thoughts are already on the Copa del Rey, so they just want to get the game done and dusted, without further injury.  Messi will be looking to score at least 10 to match the number on his back.

The game happens at 22:00 local time.  Use this link to see what time that will be in your little corner of the world:  Real Betis Balompié vs. FC Barcelona

If you need to watch the game and it’s not on a TV channel near you, look here:  Links

If you were Barça Manager for tomorrow’s game, who would you play from who is available?  Should Pep play in midfield?

Go wild in the comments.

Posted in Goodbyes, La Liga69 Comments

blitzen awards, the antepenultimate edition!

You didn’t think I could let this game pass without handing out a few awards, did you? Only two more games to go this season, though. I’m going into withdrawal mode already.

Pintocalypse Award: Javier Mascherano, for his brilliant headed save in the box after Pinto got caught out metres outside his box. Yet another reason why Masche has been worth every cent they paid for him.

Barça DNA Award: It’s always good to see former players doing well. Victor Sanchez has played for a few clubs since leaving Barça, first on loan in 2009, then permanently in 2011. He joined Espanyol in January 2012 after being released from the disastrous Swiss club Neuchatel Xamax. He knew Guardiola well from his days as part of his B team, and I’m sure he appreciated the sendoff Pep was given. He had a cute moment during the game when, after picking up a yellow card for barrelling into Iniesta, he trotted over to pat him on the head in apology. Because everyone loves Iniesta.

Room For Improvement Award: Speaking of Iniesta, he takes free kicks now. Because he needed to be even more awesome than he already is. This is one of the (many) reasons I love this team: No one rests on their laurels. Everyone can still learn things, can still get better. That’s what Pep brought to the club, and what I expect to see continued under Tito.

Perpetual Motion Machine Award: Pedro, who is darned close to earning back his punctuation, and had another excellent game with full windmill action activated. See, he just needed some consistent playing time to get his groove back! Sadly, he will likely miss out on going to the Euros as VDB has plenty of other options to choose from, and these last few games may not have been enough to get him back in the running. I think Pep actually feels a little guilty about that, as he mentioned something in a recent press conference that he thinks he could have played Pedro more. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Keita Face Award: Huh? What?

Closing The Barn Door After The Horse Has Bolted Award: Four Penalties in 2 games? Little late to start getting those calls now, guys. I’m waiting for Marca to break the story that we are bribing the refs to get penalty kicks now just to drive up Messi’s pichichi stats. I’m sure that’s what they are thinking. (And on a serious note, something has to be done about these ridiculous handball penalty calls. Whether for us or against us, there have been so many bad calls where it was a clear case of unavoidable ball-to-hand. It’s madness.)

Resistance Is Futile Award: Pep, pretending to throw a punch at Puyol in an effort to avoid being given the bumps. Trust me, if Puyol wants to throw you in the air it’s going to happen. Just resign yourself and enjoy the ride!

Next Generation Award: Marius Guardiola i Serra, who has already been practicing his coaching technique on the sidelines of Camp Nou. Future head coach? Watch this space!

Cast A Giant Shadow Award: What do they do with those giant banners after the game is finished? Put it in the museum, I suppose. I would love to buy that Gracies Pep banner and just drape it over my house. It would keep the sun off in the summer and retain heat in the winter. Most importantly, I could continue to live under Pep’s beatific gaze and pretend nothing has changed. Nothing at all. 😀

Never Gonna Give You Up Award: Messi, for That Hug. The hug that wasn’t only a sign of personal affection, but a public acknowledgement of just how important Pep has been to Leo as a player. Messi would probably still be the best in the world under any coach, but it was Pep (and Tito!) who guided his genius, found out how to get the best out of him, and allowed him to develop into the absolute monster he is now. 72 goals. In one season. Messi isn’t stupid. He knows exactly what Pep has done for him, and for the game he loves to play. Oh, and also? You have all just been Rick Rolled. 😈

Posted in Barcelona, Goodbyes, Nonsense53 Comments

Barca 4, Espanyol 0, aka “Now THAT’S how you throw a party!”

You’re having this party, right, and you’re thinking of every possible thing that can happen, every permutation that can go into making your party a memorable one. You have all the right foods, great music, the occasion is right, it’s all working, all planned to perfection. You have all the bases covered, then something happens, and the party is suddenly elevated from sensational, to once-in-a-lifetime.

That was kinda what happened at the Camp Nou yesterday, an extraordinary series of events that elevated a maudlin, sad event into something celebratory and memorable. Pep Guardiola coached his last first team match at the Camp Nou. The plaudits have been raining from the heavens for some time now, some beautiful, some saccharine, some silly, some heartfelt. His players had said many things, made many gestures and through it all, there was also nonsense:
Continue Reading

Posted in Goodbyes, La Liga, Messi, Thoughts40 Comments

Gracies Pep! UPDATED with new video.

Well yesterday kicked my ass, how about you? When I heard the news I was simultaneously gutted, grateful & relieved. Pep has been the best coach (and man) we could possibly have asked for. I have no words to express my gratitude for what he has done for this club. Silverware is the least of it. Pep has crafted a team that has combined fantastic football with human values and a clear philosophy (there’s that word!) and identity. There will never be another one like him. Fortunately, we have an excellent successor in Tito Vilanova, who has been with Pep every step of the way and shares his vision and football principles. I look forward to continuing this journey with Tito at the helm.

If you, like me, spent yesterday evening drinking, eating comfort food and feeling weepy, you might want to check out a few of these videos about Pep. If you can stay dry-eyed I will make you a manita on the house.

This one is an oldie but a goodie:

Pep Guardiola — The Director:

Adeu Pep. Stills. If this doesn’t make you cry, I don’t want to know you.

One of the best Pep interviews I have ever seen. Translation can be found here courtesy of the ladies of @FCB_LJlive

And lest we forget, Pep has other interests besides football:

TV3 also has a lovely musical tribute that you can find here.

EDIT: I was looking up the song in the TV3 video and found out that the song “La simfonia perfecta” by Toni Beiro was actually written as a tribute to Pep Guardiola and his Barça team. Enjoy!

Thanks for everything, Pep.

Posted in Barcelona, Goodbyes, Videos71 Comments

Goodbye Sweet Prince of Argentina

Robbed of a goal, and part of a career

Yesterday, Barcelona released centerback Gabriel Milito on a free transfer to return to Argentina and play for Independiente. Gabby, was, among many other things, full of piss and vinegar when playing for the blaugrana, if not always healthy or, in his later years, the player he once was.

I chose the picture above because it basically describes Gabby’s time at Barcelona to a T. The above picture shows what would have been a game-winning goal that was disallowed due to a bogus offside call, though Milito was still giving his all on bum legs because the team was short in defense at the time. Just like the picture, Gabby had tons of promise and executed so very well, but his acts were cut short by forces beyond his control, much like the knee injury that kept him out for 602 days.

If you remember back to the 2007-08 season, Milito was one of the better players that year, but tore his ACL near the end of the campaign, a blow that would keep him out over a year and a half and see him return to a dim shade of his former self, at least in the games. He simply lacked the pace he once had, though his technique was still there when he could summon it despite the injury. Sadly, his 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons were marred with more minor injuries, though he did fill in admirably at the back during the defensive injury crisis last year, and never seemed to complain about his station or his status within the team. From all accounts, he was a class act at all times and wore the colors with pride.

In short, Gabriel Milito is a talented player whose time was cut woefully short by a nasty knee injury that sidelined him for too long and harmed his abilities, though he still worked hard after the injury, playing in many games for Barcelona and for his country, and now he is returning to his childhood club of Independiente. He finishes his Barça career with 1 goal, 10 trophy wins to his name, and other contributions we may never know about.

Thank you Garbiel, we wish you the best at Independiente and with the Argentine national team. Goodnight and good luck sweet prince of Argentina.

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images Europe

Posted in Barcelona, Goodbyes30 Comments

Readers Online

Barca Shop