Archive | La Liga

Celebrating without wrecking: Munir El Haddadi, aka “The next nothing”

"Hi, Mom! Am I famous yet?" (Photo by Miguuel Ruiz for FC Barcelona)

“Hi, Mom! Am I famous yet?” (Photo by Miguuel Ruiz for FC Barcelona)

Football is a weird, often absurd thing that makes us forget what it in fact is, which is entertainment.

As young people caper about a flawlessly manicured lawn in a quest for an inflated sphere, the next fat paycheck and maybe, just maybe, glory, supporters forget all of that. We clutch our replica shirts, scream invective or exultation after the result of an athletic clash which is nothing more than an entertaining game. Yes, football is life. But it is, at its core, a game.

Within that game things happen, moments of magic that elevate via that weird, vicarious thrill that makes us live through the athletes or teams that we support. Sometimes, like an electric shock an athlete jolts us into life and because of how the sporting world exists now, via 140-character blasts that vie for attention like newspaper headlines in massive print, there is hype. And where there is hype, there is scorn and cynicism, sarcasm and calls for calm.

It has happened before and will happen again, just as it is happening right now to Munir El Haddadi.
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Posted in La Liga, Messi, Thoughts13 Comments

The Andoni Zubizarreta Show has ended, aka “Now we wait and see”

Photo by Victor Salgado/FC Barcelona

Photo by Victor Salgado/FC Barcelona

Even though it’s early days, it is safe to say that that man in the middle of this image, Andoni Zubizarreta is, along with folks like Ed Woodward and Jorge Mendes, one of the winners of this summer transfer window.

I know … he finally did something, right?

Wrong. It’s because in grading the Barça transfer window, my vote is for a B. What keeps things from an A … two things, actually:

– Vermaelen risk
– Douglas who?
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Posted in Analysis, La Liga, Thoughts, Transfers28 Comments

A nou season, with hope and uncertainty, 2014-15 as foretold by …

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Barcelona 2014 – 2015 as foretold by Levon

Last summer I predicted we would be trophyless at the end of the season (I was a wrongfully disallowed goal off) but that it wouldn’t matter as we would have a transition year. Which we did, until we stopped transitioning halfway through. Since enough has been said about who’s to blame, this post is about looking forward to the 60+ games to come.

It’s easy to become optimistic after a transfer kitty excavation operation that rivals our eternal enemy’s most ambitious summers. Contrary to public opinion, Zubizarreta gets things right more often than wrong. This time round I’m not so sure. For the record, I think we’re idiots for letting Alexis go so easily and for wasting money on the likes of Claudio Bravo, Vermaelen and Douglas, money that would have been better spent on quality rather than quantity. Jeremy Mathieu could have been got for less than half the price 12 months ago, so there’s that, too. I’m on the fence about Suarez, happy for Rafinha and happy with Rakitic, a player I was against coming two months ago but already looks like the guy to watch this season. Marc Andre Ter Stegen and Alen Halilovic seem like the only transfers that were planned at all. Take from that what you will, but those last two have a Z for Zubi written on their foreheads. 

The most significant transfer of course is Luis Enrique. Much has been said about Tata, who seems like such a good person it feels immoral to criticize him too harshly, but he messed up the second half of last season so much I really want to use another verb instead of “messed up.” If nothing else, Lucho inspires leadership which is something that was obviously missing last year. Whether his tactical acumen is up to par with some of his more successful predecessors remains to be seen. People love to compare this upcoming season to Guardiola’s first, but La Liga has changed since then. Every draw didn’t feel like the coming of the apocalypse and Pep didn’t yet have to compete against an Evil Empire so studded with stars you have to glint your eyes when you look at their shirts (or Gareth Bale’s teeth). Still, I’m optimistic about the Lucho era, and even more so after his first press conference and especially after the way he sent Deulofeu packing. If Luis Enrique manages to infuse a team this talented with the fire of its leader there’s no telling what they can achieve.

Of course life, and even football, is about more than just results and trophies. The first Barça match I remember watching live was the 1989 Cup Winners final against Manchester United in which Mark Hughes scored a monster of a goal to seal our loss. That was more than 20 years ago and I already supported the club before that match, but it just so happens that this is the earliest game I remember vividly – where I was, who I watched the game with, how I felt and yes, that Mark Hughes goal. Here’s the rub. I was just a boy of, I guess, nine years old. Who ran the club didn’t mean squat to me. Now this was definitely a good thing since the man in charge Josep Nuñez. As far as I was concerned, Johan Cruijff was the boss. Mes que un club? Never heard of it. Heck, at nine years old I’d never heard of Catalunya either, for that matter. I thought Barcelona was in Spain. It wasn’t until much later when I learned about our club and its history that I fully understood how special Barça really was… and still is. I like to think that I felt this before I learned it. And I like to think the club is special despite of its directors rather than because of them.

Thank God we got rid of Nuñez and Gaspart. We should really thank Laporta, Johan Cruijff and Sandro Rosell (yes, Rosell). In this case God came in the form of a blue elephant, which I guess means that in some corners of this wondrous world people can say “see, we told you so.” The Laporta administration had more than its fair share of mistakes and who knows the state our club would be in if they had continued. But Sandro and Bartro have given us Johangate, Qatargate, Guardiolagate, Neymargate and Babygate. The biggest one of all is probably the new Camp Nou renovationgate except we won’t know it as such because the corruption many suspect behind this potential scandal will never see the light of day. Anyway, the idiots even flirted with Messigate and the next time our brilliant new striker sinks his teeth in a defender’s biceps we’ll have Draculagate. The only gates that have remained firmly closed are the ones a top notch defender was supposed to walk through at some point during the last four summers. Oh well.

2016 is, after all, an election year. If we don’t win anything this season the chronies will not survive. All of the “gates” for which they are responsible will come back to haunt them. But if we win the Liga (who knows) or the Champions League (even more doubtful, but who knows) they can play their favorite “poor us the whole word is against Barça but we are such great directors we still managed to give you a winning team” card and they will be re-elected. Whatever happens, I hope those in charge will keep Luis Enrique on as our coach for the foreseeable future. Nothing good ever comes from the usual hiring and firing. Besides, I like the sound of it, the Lucho era… The Lucho Era. Let the Lucho Era begin.

Barcelona 2014-15 as foretold by Isaiah

A season we will all fondly remember as the year we finally lost our faith in everything. Or, I mean, maybe not, but that’s certainly how it feels to me, going in. Let’s start here, where we should probably always start when we’re talking about mes que un club: the official sponsors list is nothing short of a list of kind of shady corporations that do pretty much the opposite of stand for Catalan identity or the concept of morality. Nike is a global brand bent on unifying everyone under the roof of similar footwear and viral marketing videos and Qatar Airways is the state-owned airway for a small country currently accused of killing thousands of workers in an effort to turn a desert into a preening World Cup resort destination. At least La Caixa is a local-cum-national bank that has an extensive social program and non-profit status including a charitable foundation, but the overwhelming sense is that Barcelona is not a club moving towards its motto, but away from it. Luis Suarez might be an incredible player, but then again, he’s also a violent racist. A club that once proudly boasted Lilian Thuram in its ranks has gone so far as to hire a guy who would call his compatriot a racial slur and refuse to apologize about it.

FBL-WC-2014-MATCH39-ITA-URU

If I sound somewhat depressed about all of this, I do blame Suarez and the terrible hangover from watching that slow motion insanity develop into expensive, court-case-laden reality. It brings back memories of the Busquets “mucho morro” affair where the club dodged all responsibility for what was likely a similar situation to what Suarez perpetrated. Or maybe Busquets did use an outdated term in the middle of a heated match. And maybe Luis Suarez really does mean his racial terms affectionately. And maybe I’m stuck in the past and this is just the new Barcelona, where social agreements are that I pay money and they let me watch Messi, with no consideration for the long-term investment in youth for the sake of youth (but for marketing purposes, sure, and for transfers later, sure). It’s not that Barcelona was ever the thing it billed itself as under Laporta, but under Laporta there was at least the homage to the idea. At least UNICEF made it onto the front of the jersey. I wonder what Oleguer thinks of the club he left behind. I wonder what Thuram thinks of the club he left behind. I wonder what Abidal thinks of the club that left him on the wayside, collateral damage from world conquest.

And Lucho. I don’t know what to make of Lucho just now. He smiles in the pictures he posts on Twitter. He bikes a lot. He was a glorious captain (who also played for Real Madrid at an earlier time that we should never mention again). And he seems to have brought some energy to things, but that’s what we said about Tata as well. Maybe I just miss Tito, maybe I just miss Pep. Maybe I just miss the days when it was all so unexpected, when winning was a thing maybe we would do and then when it would happen we were thrilled. Now it feels like there’s an expectation of success that doesn’t quite mesh with the reality of what it means to watch a team play. Imagine if we lose to Elche on Sunday. It wouldn’t be the groan of “Aw man, that’s too bad,” it would be the merciless cry of crisis, of Lucho fuera, of I told you so. And then imagine if we draw the next match. Imagine. 1-0 to Numancia would be absolutely unpardonable now. Sure, I mean, Madrid aren’t carrying the dead weight of Christoph Metzelder and Royston Drenthe around, but we’re not wondering where Keirrison fits in the plans either. I mean, this preview is hardly a question of how we bloggers (if I may still call myself such) think the season will go, but ratherhow many trophies will we win.Last yearI made no particular prognostications, which was probably for the best since I would have said we would win one trophy (and I would have been wrong, just to remind you), so this year I’ll go ahead and stick my head in the frying pan:

This team is stacked. Stacked like pancakes in a lumberjack breakfast hall. But trophies? None. Whatever, call me pessimistic or call me lacking in faith, but I don’t see this team being anything but what it was last year: fantastic to watch and overburdened with the needs of its fan base. But yes I’ll be watching whenever I can and I’ll celebrate every one of our goals. Except maybe the Suarez ones. I still haven’t come to terms with that and won’t have to until much later, thankfully.

Barcelona 2014 – 2015 as foretold by Linda

  1. Post-World Cup seasons are by nature unpredictable.
  2. I don’t like predicting things.
  3. But I’m here to try anyway.

I won’t pretend I have no doubts about Luis Enrique’s brave new world. Quite the contrary. But there are also many reasons to feel optimistic. Whatever Lucho’s flaws as a manager who is still developing and learning, his appointment is a step in the right direction. He knows the club, has allies both in the club and in the local media, and seems to be convincing the players of his ideas. I hope he feels supported, and free to implement his vision, and that the fanbase as a whole is kind to him if the team start slowly.

enrique1

Many things went wrong last season. There was a total breakdown in relations between the club hierarchy and segments of the fan base, the club and several important players,  the players and the club media, and ultimately, as a consequence, between the fans and the players. (Not to mention the club’s relations with the authorities.) All this just a few years after we all glutted ourselves on unprecedented success. It’s a very Barca story, going from one extreme to another. But lost in all that is the fact that there wasn’t that much wrong with the team. The squad was too small to cope with demand and injury, and wasn’t always used in the best way, but it had a reasonably good backbone. It just needed a jolt. And it needed supplementing.

Thankfully, the people in charge of the club have seen fit to do that. As a result, I feel much happier going into this season than I did last year. There’ll be injuries, and we’ll be horribly short-handed occasionally, but there are less gaps than before. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I can’t see all the new players integrating immediately. There will be mistakes. We just have to be patient, because I think we’re going to have fun this season. And yes, win a title or two.

But only if all of us – fans, media, club hierarchy, Lucho himself – refrain from turning every draw or defeat into a crisis. Otherwise, we might be out of a manager by Christmas.

Kxevin says …

We raise the curtain on yet another season of uncertainty. It seems like it has been a very long time since things have NOT been uncertain, so you’d think we would be used to it. Instead, besotted on a wondrous season of excellence, the ghosts of the past have become the burdens of the future, and everything is the “next” something … next Messi, next Puyol, next Treble. And culers turn on someone, anyone. It’s Martino’s fault, it’s the board’s fault, it’s Song’s fault, as if any one of those things was the complexity instead of all of them, and an additional set of circumstances to boot.

So people crack jokes about Song, who didn’t play all that much, instead of riding the folks who DID play all the time and who, as Dani Alves said in his Friday presser, didn’t meet standards. Because that’s easy, and who wants to kick the golden goose, even though the only player who was consistently at standard when it counted, and even he had a crappy first part of the season, was Iniesta. Last season was a mess.

It’s worth noting again that the natural state of a footballing club is to not win. Even the best sides don’t win everything, all of the time. Tito Vilanova stepped in after Pep Guardiola, who failed to meet his own lofty standards as the team started to slide downhill. Vilanova picked them up a bit, then fell prey to that awful thing called Life. Then Tata Martino came in to work his minor miracle of getting a damaged, mentally and physically hammered team to somehow, within 5 goals of being in with a shot at the Treble.

Martino’s feat last season speaks to the quality of the core of this team, an astonishingly talented nucleus that, like that flawless cut of steak, needs only the right garnishment and a well-chosen wine to be perfect. So the board, terrified at losing those posh seats in that wood-paneled office and facing the specter of a two-window FIFA transfer ban, went hog wild in the market this summer, adding (yet another) new coach and plenty of side dishes to accompany that tasty main course.

Which all means, of course, more uncertainty.

This club, and this culer, have a love/hate affair with uncertainty. Only a madman would predict championships galore at a club with a new coach and eight (count ‘em, EIGHT) new squad additions. I am a crank, but not a madman. Let’s look at what has the potential to upset the apple cart, shall we?

Enrique: What does he want? How will he get at it? How will his charges react to his high-energy, high-effort style? He put the hammer down on Deulofeu, sending him off to Sevilla for the crime of not impressing and needing more time. That move also sent a very clear message to the squad. The pressure on him is immense, and it’s difficult to think of a hotter hot seat in world football.

Vermaelen/Mathieu: A broken-down has been and a chain-smoking derelict, right?. THESE are the players those idiots signed to fill our centerback slots? Fools all of them, right? Well, maybe. Mathieu has been very, very good this pre-season and a healthy, on-form Thomas Vermaelen is an excellent center back. Or they could suck, leak goals and the Liga will be lost by December.

What’s funny is that for all of the whining about inadequate center back signings that should have been somebody else, the real complexities with Barça defense have to do with a short, easily bullied midfield and more importantly, still no replacement for Eric Abidal, who was the key to that back line. He made Pique better, he made us all forget the times that Puyol was off being fireman and caught out of position. He saved Alves, saved Valdes, working beautifully as a human eraser. Forget about CBs. I want me an Abidal.

abi

Messi: We still don’t know which Messi we are going to get, the sulking dude out for a weekend stroll or the rapacious battler who reared his head some during the Gamper. This is Messi’s team. As he goes, so it will go, despite the steps taken to end Messidependencia. If he is on — not goals, necessarily — with committed, fully involved play and he stays healthy, look out.

Neymar: The Brazilian legal complexity is fit, stronger, more mature and based on the little we have seen this season, ready to be an even better and more effective part of this team, unless, driven to star cravings in the presence of Messi and Suarez he reverts to the occasional ball-hogging, attack stopping logjam that he was at times last season.

Suarez: The club paid 81m for a player who won’t be able to kick a ball in anger, or even moderate vexation, until the end of October. He misses not only pre-season, but match fitness, on-pitch sync and other complexities. We might not even get the opportunity to really see what the club has paid for until late in the season. Will it be too late? In four months away from the competitive side of things, you can train and train, but match fitness will be many, many weeks away when Suarez can finally play for Barça.

Reasons for optimism

Weaknesses have been addressed: Team speed is up, team height is up, strength in midfield is up and the press is back. Everything that caused complexities last season are, at least on paper, improved.

Iniesta: Swagger, style and a more than capable slot into the playmaker role are all the reasons that anyone needs to worry about getting your ass kicked by the team led by Iniesta.

Great players: On paper, a 3-man attack of Neymar, Messi and Suarez is devastating.

And so?

Despite all of that, I think that Barça will be out of the running for major silver this season, marking two seasons in a row in which that has occurred. It isn’t that they don’t have the talent — far from it, as this team is STACKED. But I think that with so much new, and a key signing not being able to play with the club until November essentially means that performances will be erratic, and the front three will have a difficult time gelling.

But, we will see some entertaining, at times remarkable football, and as with last season, the team will come oh, so close to something big.

blitzen weighs in:

So here we are again. Seems like we have been waiting forever, but finally in a few hours a whole new season begins. We have a new coach, a new captain, and practically a whole new team. This has been a summer of slash and burn, and although it has been painful at times, it had to be done for the good of the team. Our legendary captain Carles Puyol was finally forced to admit his own mortality and retired with honour. Victor Valdes was halfway out the door in search of pastures new when a devastating injury threw him out the window instead. Cesc was seduced by the Dark Side, while Alexis Sanchez went to fulfil his destiny at Arsenal, much to the regret of many. The club cut out some dead weight and loaned or sold players like Tello, Cuenca (dammit), Afellay (DAMMIT!), Bojan, JDS (OMG finally!), & Oier (you forgot about Oier, didn’t you?), and even our resident madman Pinto was let go (BOO!). For some reason we still have Song.

In terms of signings, the most important one is our new coach Luis Enrique. It’s no secret around here that I am a huge fan of Lucho, not just as a player, but also from the days when he was coaching the B team to a 3rd place finish in the Segunda for the first time in their history. I wanted him to be appointed as coach when Pep quit, and I knew it would happen sooner rather than later. People have doubts about his lack of coaching experience at a high level, but to me that doesn’t matter. Pep only had only been coaching the B team for a year when he was appointed. Lucho has the drive and personality to take this team to the top. He demands everything from his players, and I believe he will help this team recover the intensity they lost over the last 2 seasons.

As for the incoming players, I am happy with all of them except for Suarez. My objections to him are longstanding and I won’t go into detail here, but suffice it to say that I think he is unnecessary, overpriced, and in need of psychological help. I am encouraged that in his last presser Suarez mentioned that he is working with professionals in that regard. I hope it is true and that we see no recurrence of his reprehensible behaviour. So far the best signings seem to be Rakitic, who looks like he has been playing at Barça for decades, and Mathieu, who hasn’t put a foot wrong in his appearances so far. Ter Stegen is nerveless, and Rafinha is an absolute monster. Bravo needs a little time to calm himself, and Vermaelen is still unproven, but personally I think he will fit in well. We may also still have a “surprise” signing to come, considering that we will very likely not be able to purchase any new players until January 2016. I’m giving this transfer window an 8/10. Well done, Zubi!

To my delight, most of the top top top pundits have already written off Barça’s title chances for this season. This makes us underdogs for the first time in many years, and it’s really quite refreshing. I am coming into this season with no inflated expectations. It would be crazy to expect a team with this many new players, that has lost so many key components of their past success, to win trophies or even be really competitive for the major ones. And yet…I can’t help but be excited after watching how this team has come together in the preseason and how they are all working so hard for Lucho. I have an overwhelming feeling that I am really going to enjoy watching Barcelona play this season, which to be honest I didn’t most of last season. We may not win any trophies, but I am sure we will play attractive attacking possession-based football, and that is all I really ask.


My predictions:
I think we will come second in the league to a Madrid-based team, but it may not be the one you expect. :P But I think it will be very close again, like last year. I think we may very well win the Copa del Rey, but that will likely be our only trophy. I don’t think we will be anywhere near winning the CL this year–I predict a quarterfinal exit, with honour.

Player to watch? How about players, plural? This is going to be the year when Barça goes back to basics and draws on the cantera a great deal. We already know from the preseason that Lucho counts on the youth and is happy to give them first team opportunities as long as they work hard. With Suarez banned until the end of October and various other injuries bound to happen, players like Munir, Adama, Samper & Grimaldo are certain to get ample first team minutes, and I expect them to excel. Even Lucho’s most vocal critics have to admit that he has a special way of inspiring youth players to give everything for him, and this batch of B teamers are more than ready to meet the challenge. I believe that Munir and Samper especially will make their marks this season.

Posted in Analysis, La Liga, Preview, Thoughts298 Comments

Winner of the World Cup Prediction Pool Game Thing

Nope, I haven’t forgotten about this.

(Can I get a drumroll, please?)

The winner of the first BFB World Cup Predictions Game is…

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Posted in Contests, World Cup245 Comments

The World Cup Predictions Pool Game Thing

Waka, waka — oh wait.

So, I was thinking of what to do during the World Cup and settled on a kind of predictions game. It’ll be too complicated if it was done game by game so my twitter followers kindly narrowed it down to a couple of simple questions, or for those who find it easier and/or more familiar – a kind of March Madness style bracket. I’ll detail both ways below.

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Posted in Analysis, Contests55 Comments

Gracies, Equip, aka “Thank you so much for being superhuman”

atmbusi

These are tough times. Poor babies that we are, we have to suffer through a team that finished second in the Liga, in it until the final match, made the Copa final and Champions League quarterfinals. In a sport in which a two-year cycle is extraordinary, our team has been at or near the top since 2008. Six years.

The club has been, and is under assault from every direction from media to its own supporters and people who have been lined up, waiting for Barça to fall as “I told you so” rings throughout the halls of the Camp Nou, shrieks from the fronts of newspapers and websites, a conga line of people who are lining up to kick dirt on the face of the prom king.

So this post is going to start and end saying what I think every last culer needs to say, right here and right now: Gracies, equip. Thank you for the fun, the joy and tears, taking kicks and various fouls, scoring goals and making the effort to do the colors that we love proud. Thank you for everything.
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Posted in Analysis, La Liga, Thoughts345 Comments

The value of something worthless, aka “The Cesc Fabregas saga continues”

Cesc

Value:
noun
1. the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
verb
1. estimate the monetary worth of (something).

Value is a fun notion to contemplate. I like to think of it as two cars that passed through my possession. One was a big ol’ red sedan that looked really cool, but had … erm … mechanical complexities. It stranded me once, and I drove from the mechanic’s about a half-mile to the local Subaru dealer to trade that thing the hell in. Didn’t get max value, but part of that value was in having that thing GONE.

The other car, a hotted-up Subaru, I sold for something around 2k over its value, a price I could demand and hold out for because really, I didn’t want to sell it. It was one of those, “If you want to give me this much for it, okay.” And someone did.

Which brings us to players, transfers and in particular, Cesc Fabregas.
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Posted in La Liga, Thoughts, Transfers, Transfers/Transfer Rumors179 Comments

Barça vs Atleti match comments post

We all remember this match. Falcao scored first, then Adriano did what Adriano does. The final was 4-1. Still feeling like today is a 2-1 in the offing, as I can’t see this Atleti conceding 4 goals to us. But a win will be in the offing.

For those expecting a trophy ceremony at the Camp Nou today, forget it. Liga chairman is “traveling.”

Anyhow, here’s your match comments post. Have fun, and don’t hurt anyone.

Posted in La Liga, Match comments post179 Comments

One match, for everything, aka “Deserves got nothin’ to do with it”

Saturday.

It’s difficult to adequately explain to someone without a sense of humor and embrace of the absurd about this La Liga season. On Saturday, at the end of a logic-defying series of twists and turns, first and second place will battle. At the end of 90 minutes, a Liga champion will be crowned.

And in yet another season, Barça is being consumed by other stuff that shoves the Liga to the psychic back burner. “One trophy? Phfft! We should be winning the Treble!” Last season, the Bayern beating rendered the Liga anticlimactic, a status that took on a bit of extra disdain when common wisdom became that Thiago Alcantara was sacrificed on the altar of a 100-point season. There was a parade, and the celebratory feel of past victory fetes was displaced by a drunken edge.

This season, however, has been sufficiently crazy to make people wish for the days when the biggest problem was a young player not getting his due.
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Posted in La Liga, Transfers114 Comments

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

Tito

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

Spot the writer!

Spot the writer

So, are we finished then?

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

Taking the blame

Taking the blame

The blame game

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

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

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

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

It's over

It’s over

Death of tiki taka

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

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

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

Posted in Barcelona, La Liga, Review370 Comments

Buses and institutional arrogance, aka “Barça take planes, not buses”

bus

This has been the Champions League and week in which football has taken it on the chin.

– Chelsea beat Liverpool.
– RM stomped Bayern

It has also been a week in which the phrase “parking the bus” has acquired a heretofore unseen malleability as counterattacking football has become “parking the bus,” for reasons that are certainly valid in the heads of the folks who misuse it.

“Parking the bus” is when an inferior team stacks 10 behind the ball, with no real interest, barring some fluke, in scoring. You see it in league matches sometimes, when a team has an unlikely lead in a knockout tie. You might also see it when a cynical coach tactically misplays the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie (cough! Mourinho. cough!) A parked bus doesn’t want anything to happen as differentiated from counterattacking football, which wants something to happen but waits for an opportunity.
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Posted in Champions League, La Liga, Messi, Neymar, Thoughts41 Comments

Dani Alves and the perfect gesture, aka “Your stupidity is soooo tasty!”

Image courtesy of Mundo Deportivo

Image courtesy of Mundo Deportivo

How often do we get to say the exact right thing, make the exact right gesture?

Many years ago, when my wife and I were urban pioneers, we lived in a neighborhood festooned with um … indigenous businessladies. One night while she was out walking the dog, a car rolled up alongside the curb and a man inside the vehicle asked my wife “How much,” presuming that the dog was a brilliant ruse, perhaps. Her response: “Just me, or me AND the dog?”

The would-be Lothario figured things out pretty quickly, and sped off. Perfect response to a ridiculous situation.

When Dani Alves strolled over to take a dead-ball situation during the Villarreal match on Sunday, it’s a safe bet that he had absolutely no aspirations to perfection, aside from a player’s usual striving for excellence. But when the banana came flying at him and he casually picked it up and ate it, attention and focus fully on the pitch and beating Villarreal, it was the perfect response to a ridiculous situation.

Neymar, not missing a beat, Instagrammed a photo of he and his son eating bananas, starting a “we are all monkeys” campaign that spread like wildfire. A Spanish TV newscaster ate a banana on the air. Players such as Kun Aguero have photographed themselves eating a banana, in the selfie as social revolt vein.

neymar

Villarreal issued a strong statement condemning the offending “supporter,” and FC Barcelona came out with a statement of its own, expressing full solidarity with Alves and condemning racism.

Once my jaw finished bouncing off the floor as a result of that last incident, something else remarkable happened. The match official, David Fernandez Borbalan, put the banana incident in his official match report so that it is there, for the record. It was as if to say “Your move, RFEF.”

After the match, Dani Alves handled everything with class and style, saying that such things have been part of the Spanish game, and you just can’t dignify them by freaking out. He added a backhanded thank you to the fruit hurler, saying that his father always told him to eat bananas to avoid cramps, so thanks to the person for providing the energy boost that helped him keep running, keep crossing the ball.

Awesome.

And this is how a football club properly deals with racism:

Villarreal CF wants to communicate that the club deeply regrets and condemns the incident that happened yesterday during the match against FC Barcelona in which a fan threw an object onto the field of El Madrigal. Thanks to the security forces and the invaluable assistance of the Yellow crowd, the club has already identified the (perpetrator) and has decided to withdraw his season tickets, permanently banning his access to El Madrigal stadium.

Once again our club would like to express its firm commitment to promoting respect, equality, sportsmanship and fair play both on and off the field and our absolute rejection of any act that is contrary to these principles, such as violence, discrimination, racism and xenophobia.

Racism is an unfortunate part of the modern game, and I really don’t foresee a point in my lifetime where it won’t be. Xenophobia is one of those irresistibly human things that takes us deeper than racism into those vile nether regions of all discrimination. Some might not be a racist, but a sexist. Might not be either, loving all races, creeds and colors, but is bothered by gay people. The omnipresence of the “other” is what makes discrimination so malleable and inescapable.

We hear of incident after incident. In the U.S., the news is filled with the alleged comments and views of NBA owner Donald Sterling. There as everywhere, strong words have come out. What makes that incident noteworthy is that “safe” players such as LeBron James and Michael Jordan, who usually shy away from unequivocal statements because of the potential image/sponsor damage, both came out forcefully against the alleged remarks, saying that there is no place in the NBA for that kind of an individual.

Boateng walked off the pitch during one match. Los Angeles Clippers players dumped their warm-ups in a pile, and loosened up with their warmup shirts turned inside out, as a form of protest. Two of the biggest sports in the world have had incidents that have drawn global attention to racism.

To what end?

Football has racism. Football will have racism. It isn’t cynical to say that, as much as it is reality. Because racism or any other form of discrimination (football has ‘em all) is the belief that your group is better, based on something that is (usually) unalterable. The object of discrimination can’t fix the thing that offends the assailant. They can’t not be black, not be female, not be gay. It’s easy, and it’s obvious to make someone the Other. And as long as humans have the trait that makes them want to be better than someone else, there will be the attendant xenophobia and its byproduct, discrimination.

Clubs can make statements, football can have campaigns, players can be banned for x or y number of matches, stadiums can be empty. These gestures make some feel like “See? They are doing something,” even as we acknowledge that a big part of such gestures for many is palliative. It’s like an apology, which too frequently serves to make the person making the apology feel better. “There. Glad that’s over.”

Then the game returns to “normal.” Everyone wants things to be back to normal. When you fight with a friend or loved one you regret the fight, but what you most regret is the upset to normalcy. Strife is nasty. So is being confronted by the tangible evidence of man’s inhumanity toward man. It makes us uncomfortable. So let’s don t-shirts and armbands, make a statement and return to normal.

This doesn’t mean that the efforts, the campaigns, the gestures aren’t sincere. They often are. But all of them put together don’t change a single, solitary thing about racism. We know it sucks. We know that people don’t approve. We know it’s a black eye on the game that we all love. Duh. Sadly, the gestures and campaigns also serve to remind us of something we don’t really want to admit: that maybe, just maybe, racism isn’t solvable by any of those kinds of things. That like charity, the end of racism begins at home.

Longtime readers here will recall my Camp Nou incident, where during halftime of a match I was attending a young kid from the posh seats saw me and made a clearly racist, monkey-like gesture to his father. The dad smiled, “Oh, you little card,” not at all uncomfortably until they noticed that I was watching them. Then it got VERY uncomfortable. I shook my head, predominantly because that’s kinda all that you can do in a situation like that. Show clear disapproval and the belief that while someone might think they are superior for the simple biological marker of skin color, that ain’t always the case.

That kid learned what he knew from the parent who tacitly approved it by not kneeling down and sternly explaining to that kid why what he did was wrong, laying out how absurd it was to for the kid to return to his seat and cheer for a team that included Lillian Thuram, Toure Yaya, Eric Abidal and Samuel Eto’o with a clear conscience. That is the time to stop racism. What in the hell is a FIFA campaign going to do when the people who the kid looks up to says “It’s okay to discriminate.”

That kid probably continues to go to Barça matches. Maybe an incident happens in his life that makes him understand everyone can be lumped in asshats and non-asshats. And that ain’t color, gender or sexual orientation specific. But more often nothing happens because just as we segregate ourselves into groups of Barça supporters, we tend to gather among friends who share the same views. It’s uncomfortable not to. It’s a safe bet that the Villarreal banana thrower was at the match with like-minded souls. So where is the disapproval? To that group, racism is fine. It’s what you’re supposed to do.

We scoff and snark, call them silly or worse, but they don’t care, because beliefs supersede all. Racists have kids, and those kids have kids. Allegiance to a football club is deep and usually lifelong, so the racists potentially keep raising generations of racists. You fix that not with campaigns, but in homes and seats around the perpetrators. Today, word came down that the Villarreal member has been identified and expelled. The identification came with the help of those seated nearby. And that’s how you do it. If a racist speaks up, people around him say “Hey, that is enough of that crap. It isn’t right.” And the racists learn they aren’t wanted, even if they don’t change their views.

This doesn’t augur well for a football future in which black players won’t suffer monkey chants, hurled bananas and the like. English football fans feel better about themselves because their FA has cracked down on racism in a way that makes racists much less likely to act on their views, even as that reluctance to act doesn’t make them any less racist. It doesn’t remove racism from the game, it just removes the overt gesture from the game. Dependent upon how much discrimination you have had to deal with in your life, you might or might not prefer to know who dislikes you because of how you are. The devil you know, right?

But the absence of a gesture doesn’t mean you don’t have racism. It just means that you can’t see it. Whether that is any better is up to you. For most of us, it’s better. We can’t see it, so it isn’t there. Personally, I want racists out in the open. I want to have the hope that kids will see how ugly it is. I want to have the hope that the kid who has a shirt with Alves/22 on the back of it will ask his father why those people over there are being mean to his favorite player. I want to have the hope that the kid will resolve to not be like that, and then raise his children not to be like that.

That is when racism begins to be erased from our game, which is what has to happen for the game to be truly better, rather than beautiful and “normal” until yet another incident turns it ugly again.

Posted in La Liga, Neymar, Soap Box, Thoughts165 Comments

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