Category:

Messi

November 8, 2014 / / Analysis
"What the hell ...?"
“What the hell …?”

“Worst game of the season. (The) second half was a bit better, but more because of the players’ desire than because of our game.

“I don’t know what happened in the first half. The result is the best thing, but the goals won’t hide the things we did wrong”

— Luis Enrique

Even in the aftermath of a narrow win pulled out against a brave, exceptionally good Almeria side, I am still not sure if Enrique was a genius, a jackass, or all of the above.

He started today’s match with a lineup that I confess to liking when I first saw it: Bravo, Adriano, Mascherano, Bartra, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Rafinha, Munir, Pedro, Messi. You get industry from Munir and Pedro, string pulling and attacking from Messi and more industry from the midfield. And if all that fails, you have Bartra and Mascherano, pace and tackling ability, at the back. It was also a lineup that made rotational and meritocracy sense.

Read MoreAlmeria 1, Barça 2, aka “We won, but we still lost … or something”

November 1, 2014 / / Analysis

celmess

“This will be an interesting week. Hunting season is open,” said Luis Enrique, referring no doubt to the massive upheaval that is expected after two losses in a row, both in pretty much the same manner when you really think about it.

— Opponents won challenges, got to loose balls, outfought Barça
— Chances not taken that can console those who crave consolation
— No evidence of a real system, a real way of attack
— Key players not on form

It feels like I have been typing this much more than usual these past few months dating back to the end of last season, but full credit to Celta and the damnable keeper of theirs. The better team won today, successfully taking one of the few chances it had and converting it beautifully. It was a deserved win, a victory forged from effort, talent and more than a little bit of luck, an alchemy that describes almost every victory by a team.

Many will seek consolation in the same libation, Retrospect, that they quaffed in the aftermath of the RM defeat. Then, it was “If Neymar doesn’t rush his chance and Messi converts, it’s 3-0 and a different match.” Today, it’s “If we just don’t hit the crossbar and their keeper doesn’t come up huge, it’s 4 or 5-1 and we cruise.”
Read MoreBarça 0, Celta Vigo 1, aka “Hunting season is open”

October 25, 2014 / / La Liga
Miguel Ruiz, FC Barcelona
Miguel Ruiz, FC Barcelona

A big part of being a grownup is ownership, taking control of the moments in life when you so desperately wish you had done better, raising your hand and saying, “That’s on me.”

Players raise their hand to acknowledge a loose pass, or a shot that shouldn’t have been taken, but who will raise their hand in the aftermath of a very thorough hiding at the Bernabeu? Xavi mouths platitudes, such as “We had ’em in the first half, blablabla,” and Iniesta says “You hate to lose matches like this.”

But who will take ownership?
Read MoreReal Madrid 3, Barça 1, aka “Ownership”

October 23, 2014 / / El Clasico

clas

If great men decide history, the effect of lesser men in steering history is often overlooked.

Saturday’s Classic boasts two of the greatest footballers in history, facing off on opposite sides. As the notion of great men and their writing a script for an extraordinary event goes, you couldn’t ask for a better moment in time. Both titans are on exceptional form, both redefining the idea of what a “good” scoring year is, as people look back on the idea of a forward banging in 25 goals being laudatory with a nostalgic giggle.

The seductive path is to simply say that as Messi or Ronaldo goes, so will go their team, even as recent history argues against that notion. Messi’s biggest role in the scoreline of the 2-1 Classic at the Camp Nou was giving the ball away and launching RM on a rocketship break that led to their only goal. Ronaldo offered threats, but no goal.

Lesser men. Neymar scored one goal and assisted the other. In the Bernabeu Classic, Benzema scored two, while Neymar assisted one goal and drew the penalty for the equalizer, while Iniesta drew the penalty for the resultant match winner. History will record that Messi notched a hat trick in that Classic, but lesser men set the stage.

But first, some reality checks.
Read MoreA Classic preview, aka “Great men don’t always make history”

October 18, 2014 / / La Liga
"Still got it? I never lost it, son!"
“Still got it? I never lost it, son!”

Football is fun, mostly because it can teach us so much about things, like a crafty old veteran who hunkers down to explain everything that we missed about what we thought we had just watched.

One of the things that football teaches us is that expectations are illogical. As people crowed about Messi popping off the bench to bang in a brace for Argentina, and Neymar popping in four for Brazil against Japan and wondering how many they would score against Eibar, only a few cautioned that friendlies aren’t reality, and space given by a 3/4ths speed friendly opponent can evaporate when the match Matters.

Eibar rolled into the Camp Nou, a newly promoted side who sat in the top 10 of the Liga standings, ready to do battle for the point it arrived with, but willing to take three if fortune smiled upon its eleven warriors. And this wasn’t no stinkin’ friendly.
Read MoreBarça 3, Eibar 0, aka “Football’s constant lessons continue”

October 11, 2014 / / La Liga

jordan-shrug

The Shrug. The last time that I saw a truly transcendent performance by an athlete was by Michael Jordan, in Game One of the 1992 NBA Finals. One of the benefits of being an old man is that you had the opportunity to see stuff like that, an athlete beyond compare, on the biggest stage in his sport, against the man many suggested is as good as he is, for a championship.

And Jordan, simply put, lost his mind: 39 points, 11 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals. Jordan dropped in 6 3-pointers and after yet one more, shrugged as if to say, “I don’t believe it, either.” Football has no analog for that kind of performance. Ronaldinho’s standing ovation game against RM wasn’t one, neither are any of the 4+goal hauls of Messi or Ronaldo.

What was most interesting about Jordan’s performance in that game was that it illustrated that reality of an athlete becoming his own standard, someone who can only be compared to himself. Such things are worth noting the next time anyone thinks of choosing a side in the eternal Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo debate.
Read MoreA personal standard, aka “Messi is better than Ronaldo is better than Messi”

October 4, 2014 / / La Liga

rayomess

Winning is kinda weird when you think about it, because it isn’t supposed to happen.

Even if you consider what has to happen for a goal to be scored, never mind enough goals to win a match, the mind boggles at the amazing complexity of it all, the chain reaction of attackers doing the exact right thing, a sphere being struck by a running foot also doing the exact right thing on a playing surface that contains dips, bumps and other imperfections, finding another running set of feet in the exact same way, as the people trying to stop the ball from going into the net have to do the exact wrong things.

This absurd high-wire act has to happen again and again and again. A cycling coach once told me that to win a race, you have to do 100 things absolutely right. Do 99 of them right, and you finish second. 98 spot on, and you finish third.

Winning can best be described as a state of grace, because it is something of a seeming impossibility even as usually, someone wins and someone loses a match.
Read MoreRayo Vallecano 0, Barça 2, aka “Achieving a state of grace”

October 1, 2014 / / Champions League
Image courtesy FC Barcelona
Image courtesy FC Barcelona

The away Champions League leg to Paris St-Germain was like the baseball pitcher who has a perfect game going. Then he walks a guy. Next guy gets a hit. Next guy hits a home run and suddenly, it’s all gone.

Barça rolled into Paris on the heels of a single draw as the “negative” result, and no goals conceded. This was to be the match, the team’s first match against a grownup, where we would see what this group was really capable of, and a number of things happened.

— Barça conceded
— Barça lost
— Barça was easily controlled at times
— Barça committed absurd defending mistakes that would be a shame for Barça B, never mind the first team.
— PSG played its collective tails off in an excellent display.
— Barça didn’t

Seems simple, right?
Read MorePSG 3, Barça 2, aka “Okay. So what happened?

September 27, 2014 / / La Liga
Photo courtesy FC Barcelona
Photo courtesy FC Barcelona

Two tales from life, both having bearing on this post.

1. One of my bikes was making an odd, cricket-like noise. This brilliant mechanic checked everything, even pulling the bottom bracket. We scratched our heads as a much less talented mechanic said, “Hey, a chainring bolt is loose.” Voila.

2. My training week is Su: hard; Mo: rest; Tu: very hard; We: long moderate; Th: long hard; Fr: easy; Sa: moderate. On Sunday or Thursday, nobody can beat me. On Friday, my Mom can beat me. It’s the cycle of a training week, and the effect that it has on an athlete.

Which brings us to a pair of matches, and their effect on culers and analysts.
Read MoreBarça 6, Granada 0, aka “What a difference two days make”

September 21, 2014 / / Champions League
"What did that Dutch guy say about us?" "Dunno."
“What did that Dutch guy say about us?” “Dunno.”

There is as much danger in being overly pessimistic as there is in getting overly excited, but it’s very safe to say that there isn’t a culer who, even in a most optimistic moment, would have thought that after 5 matches Barça would be perfect: 5 wins and 0 goals conceded.

Last season Barça delivered the best start in the history of the club as a Christmas present, before fizzling to a trophyless conclusion. Whether you want to place the blame on the loss of Valdes, heartache, fatigue physical and psychological or whatever is up to you. Maybe it was all of the above.

Yet it isn’t misguided to suggest that this season feels different, even if the future might yet make this gaudy start a fond memory. Let’s have a few looks at feelings and why they matter:
Read MorePerfection, Barça and notions of stability, aka “Foundations are important”

September 6, 2014 / / La Liga
"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.
Read MoreCelebrating without wrecking: Munir El Haddadi, aka “The next nothing”

July 14, 2014 / / Messi

messi

The World Cup is over and now the debates begin about Messi, roiling tempests that reduce the actual winner of the tournament to a seeming afterthought.

And they are so predictable that it’s almost lazy, as if by rote the same lines are drawn by the same groups of people:

— Look at the stats. He’s the best.
— He failed on the big stage, so he isn’t the GOAT.
— Y’all need to leave him alone, he is still the GOAT.
— Etc, etc, ad infinitum.

The truth is that there is no truth. It’s all immaterial.
Read MoreGOATS, success, failure and Lionel Messi, aka “Be here now.”