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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

Ones that got away, aka “I love him so much! How can he DO that to me!?”

Thiagopep

Just had an interesting discussion on Twitter that, of course, became the seed for a post, on the ones that got away and the reactions of supporters.

These days, no word can spark a spirited discussion like “Thiago.” Culers are never on the fence with this one, be it that Vilanova and the board cast him to the waves in a little papyrus basket, or he’s a little ingrate. After all the club did for him … .

There are many ways to look at the situation, but let’s take a broader view, for all the exes out there.
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Posted in Soap Box, Thoughts, Transfers/Transfer Rumors125 Comments

Myths, legends and difficult times for a football club, aka “The myth of Pep”

bunyan

So, there was this lumberjack named Paul Bunyan, and what a lumberjack he was. When he came into the world, it took not one, but five storks to bring him home. His hand claps and laughter broke windows and he was sawing legs off beds even though he could barely walk. He made a mountain, though he didn’t really know he was doing so, simply by piling rocks to put out his Bunyan-sized campfire.

Mes que un lumberjack Bunyan is described as being “64 axe handles high,” which by the 18-inch measurement of the average axe handle, makes him about 95 feet tall. And he traveled with the only blue ox in the history of mankind, Babe, who was sized to the same colossal scale as Paul Bunyan.
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Posted in History/Culture, Soap Box, Thoughts129 Comments

The burden of expectations, aka “We’re doomed … I think”

"Didn't I used to suck?"

“Didn’t I used to suck?”

I just want to make sure that I understand this correctly:

FC Barcelona won its opening Champions League match 4-0 over Ajax. The team is still unbeaten this season, and perfect in two competitions.

Okay. Got it.

Like Victor Valdes, Barça is this thing that nobody will realize is as good as it is, until it is gone. And make no mistake, this glorious, winning, conquering team will, at some point in the not all that distant future, be gone.

I’m not sure how people will take it. Will buildings have to bolt windows shut to keep people from leaping from them? Will the FC Barcelona bandwagon blow a strut from all the people leaping off it at the same time? Lord knows. (Shudder!) Meanwhile …
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Posted in Soap Box, Thoughts151 Comments

More Than A Slogan: Eric Abidal and FC Barcelona

“Abidal’s new contract has been written and as soon as he plays his first game, we’ll put pen to paper.” – Barcelona vice president Josep María Bartomeu, 12 December 2012

At the time, Eric Abidal accepted his departure with the grace that characterised his behaviour at Barcelona. He could have raged then about broken promises, about the club’s failure to communicate with him over a period of at least 3 months. He could have said many things, but he didn’t.

Instead, this is what he said:

“I didn’t take a decision because when your contract isn’t renewed, you don’t have a choice,” Abidal said. “The club’s decision is difficult to accept because part of my battle was for my family but also for the club. I would have liked to have finished my career or had another year here at Barcelona. I respect the choice of the club, the staff and the board. I leave with six years of happiness, titles and good friends.”

To many, the image of Abidal raising the Champions League trophy at Wembley was the pinnacle of the Guardiola era. Maybe the pinnacle of modern Barca. It was perfect – the club’s triumph interwoven with a personal triumph that touched so many. We cried and cheered for him. His struggle was our source of strength, as the slogan went.

When Barca subsequently renewed his contract in January 2012, it was a fantastic gesture of faith, a recognition of the role he had already played in making the best Barca ever possible, and an acknowledgement that he was important to the future of the team.

So what changed a year later, beside the glaring fact that Abidal was now, by the club’s own admission, healthy and cleared to play, having made a Herculean effort to recover from a liver transplant?

No explanation has ever been offered for Barca’s decision, as an institution, to go back on its word and decline to offer Abidal a new contract. Or, depending on how much of a fib Bartomeu was telling, to withdraw any standing offer. This in itself was insult enough – by dodging the question, the club implied that maybe Abidal wasn’t quite as fit as they’d made out when he made his emotional comeback months earlier, and made it harder for him to find a new club.

I doubt we’ll ever find out the truth behind the decision to let Abidal go unless someone involved has a decisive break with the current regime. And the fans aren’t the only ones wondering. Some of the players are, too.

The reality is that the decision was and is unjustifiable, even taking the most cold-eyed, pragmatic view. Barca needed and still need a player like Abidal. They scoured the transfer market without finding anyone they could buy to fill that gap this summer. We don’t know if the club doctors genuinely thought he couldn’t play on, but the club certainly never said so and subsequent events make it seem unlikely.

If the club had thought better of its earlier stated decision and wanted to mitigate the risk of offering a multi-million contract to a player with potential health problems, it could have set up a pay-as-you-play deal. Even if they had cold feet about the supposed contract that was ready to sign as soon as Abidal played a game, they could have sat down with him and at least tried to work something out. That would have been prudent and humane, and in line with Barca’s previous treatment of him. Instead, the club ducked all attempts by Abidal and his agent to set up a meeting for 3 months, leaving him in limbo until the end of May, when he was told that despite the club’s public promises to the contrary, his contract would not be renewed.

The club’s behaviour demonstrated a lack of basic competence, if not actual bad faith, and continued a troubling trend.

“For Barcelona to renew with Abidal when they knew he would need a liver transplant shows the greatness of this club.” – Pep Guardiola, March 2012

I cried when Abidal raised the cup. I cried again that terrible day of the press conference as I read about what had happened: the tears of Abidal and the other players, the disturbing, buck-passing performances by Rosell and Zubizarreta, and the equally disturbing failure by any members of the press to ask the obvious questions. This time, my tears were an expression of anger.

Something happened that day as Abidal dried his eyes and Rosell grinned for the press. Something that’s very difficult to overcome – a feeling that we as a club had taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Barca’s image took a hit when we let Abidal go, all the more so because of the way his story had been woven into our club’s recent history of glittering success. Because, and here comes that hated word, Barca’s support of him had become part of our ‘brand’. We didn’t just win. We played well, we won, and Abidal raised the cup. That’s impeccable. Nobody could dent that. Nobody else, anyway.

Eras don’t end with defeats. Defeat happens to everyone. Eras end when we become something other than ourselves.

“The recovery of our manager, Tito Vilanova, and the return of Abidal to active football have provoked emotions that are as intense as or even more intense than anything any title can bring. These have been triumphs of life, victories that reward the struggles of human beings that reach beyond the boundaries of sport”. – Sandro Rosell, April 2013

This is Barca. This is what we do now. We make real people into symbols of mes que un club, to make us look and feel good. We make their stories of struggle and triumph into clip reels set to stirring music, and we use their adversity to make our triumph seem greater.

That’s fine.

(Even though it seems a bit much for the club to take credit for supporting Abidal through his long recovery now that we know the club didn’t bear the financial burden. His last contract had a clause that allowed the club to terminate if he was out for longer than 6 months. He and the club agreed to suspend his contract instead, and he wasn’t paid by Barca for the 12/13 season until his comeback. But I digress. That’s not the big problem here.)

What’s not so palatable is discarding the real people after the fact. The club doesn’t get to dump the person and keep the reflected glory. His struggle is not ours to take strength from, because we responded to it with bad faith. We don’t get to talk about how special we are for supporting Abidal through his recovery when the club discarded him after he worked so hard to return.

We don’t even get to look at Abidal raising Big Ears and just feel good about it. Not anymore. Because we know what happened after.

Eric Abidal should still be playing for Barcelona. That he isn’t – and we still don’t know why – doesn’t make us just another football club. That wouldn’t hurt.

Every time Abidal plays for Monaco, every time he goes 90 minutes for France, it’s a personal triumph for him. It’s also a painful reminder for us.

We’re worse because we claim to be better. We’re hypocrites.

 

 

 

[Author's note:

I love this team. That's never changed, and it's probably never going to. Fundamentally, I derive more happiness from Barca than frustration and anger, and that's as it should be. Anyone who hasn't enjoyed being a Barca fan this past decade is probably doing it wrong.

At the same time, I have many, many issues with what Sandro Rosell is making this club into. None of these very serious issues have cut me to the core quite as deeply as what happened with Abidal. Hence this post.]

Posted in Analysis, Barcelona, Soap Box86 Comments

do not go gentle into that good night: decay, love and the winning habit

Asked what he would say to the young Barcelona fan crying for the first time last night, Guardiola replied: “Welcome to the club – there will be many more times, too.” – April 2012

It’s the end of an era! Pick up that shovel, we come not to praise Barca but to bury it. Gather around, we’re holding a bonfire of the accolades.

In the aftermath of such a traumatic defeat, that reaction is tempting. It would be easy to feel that way. I refuse.

*

Coaches are human beings. Footballers are human beings. They’re just as vulnerable to accident or depression or illness as you or I. If we ever needed a reminder of this, we need only glance at Barca’s manager on the sidelines. How many of us would be working in his state? Be honest. How many of us would be working if our job was as stressful as his and required the kind of hours we know his predecessor regularly put in?

His predecessor was a young, healthy man. The job made him sick. It made him old.

Tito Vilanova is in the second round of his battle against cancer.

Read that again. I’m not pointing this out to make excuses. I’m pointing it out because it’s what happened.

Then there’s entropy, which happens to every great team. At the simplest level, the aging process is slowly depriving some of the best players Barca have ever had of their powers. It’s hideous to watch someone that good be ordinary. But that’s what happens.

We can only thank them for the amazing memories they’ve given us; the sacrifices they’ve made, both visible and unsung, to make this team great.

*

To me, the best of Barca is this: Leo Messi bearing up under whatever burden we place on his shoulders, no matter how heavy; Xavi’s willingness to play through pain and injury (even though we should never ask that of our players); the extra effort Carles Puyol puts in to achieve full fitness faster; Gerard Pique sitting down at a press conference and telling the world this team wasn’t done; the commitment of the likes of Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano to Barca’s philosophy, in words and in deeds; the quiet labour of Sergio Busquets; the confidence and composure of kids like Marc Bartra and Martin Montoya when tossed onto the biggest of stages; the number of players who turn up on days off to work; Tito Vilanova’s heartbreaking dedication to his job in the face of a life-threatening illness; and the Herculean recovery of Eric Abidal.

I am proud of this team. I’m proud of what they have accomplished so far, and the potential they have to be greater still.

A few setbacks can’t and won’t change that.

*

’The most esteemed club side of the past decade, playing in their sixth successive semi-final of this competition, suffered their heaviest European defeat since going down by the same score to Dynamo Kyiv in 1997.’ – April 2013

Nothing reflects the esteem in which this team has been held quite as well as the media reactions to Barca’s defeat in Munich. Through seasons of consistent excellence, Barca earned its status as the perennial favourite. It became the gold standard.

From dysfunctional underachievers who occasionally got their act together Barca became a genuine force, one with a seemingly endless thirst for success and a winning formula. It also painted a target on its back. Eventually, a new challenger was going to arrive, starved for recognition and hungrier for it.

Whatever intimidating aura Barca had as the leading force is gone now, squashed down into a shape befitting a very good team. The challenge is now to build it back up, one win at a time.

*

One of the best parts of being a sports fan is the simple joy of one’s team winning a game. Depending on who we support, it can be a rare delight or a regular pleasure.

But winning should never become obligatory. It should never be something we as fans feel entitled to from our teams. Not least because that takes away the sweetness of it.

If Barca wins the league in the next two weeks, it will be a cause for celebration. A proper party, fireworks and open-top buses and speeches at Camp Nou. Don’t give me that crap about the job being done ages ago and lack of competition and Big Ears being the only important trophy. Remember how much it hurt to lose the title to Madrid last year? I don’t know about you, but to me it really fucking hurt.

Think of all this team has had to overcome to win it back.

The league is not a “clandestine tournament played between Champions League ties”, as Zubi sarcastically noted. It’s big and it’s important and it rewards consistent excellence.

Think of Abidal and Tito raising that trophy. Are you smiling now? I am.

*

The last 4-0 loss I remember was really, truly ugly. Barca were in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey, up against Getafe. In the first leg, a young Messi had scored that goal, and they’d won 5-2. Frank Rijkaard decided to leave the kid at home for the return. The team he put out was embarrassed.

Things got worse from there.

As bad as it was, and as awful as it felt at the time, those years in the wilderness passed. It took them a while, but Barca rededicated itself to its best ideas and ideals, and rose again.

This is a story you all know, so why am I telling it?

‘From Wembley to Wembley Barcelona has undergone an extraordinary process of maturing … There is no better defence of an idea than victories, but there is no better victory than the fact that the stability of a club does not depend exclusively on a final result, but on a route map. That is the greatness of this Barça, which, make no mistake, will also be the principles that will enable them to vaccinate themselves in defeat.’ – May 2011

I’m going to get uncomfortably personal for a bit. Bear with me.

Someone who was very close to me died in May 2009. But thanks to this team, whenever I think of that month, the suffocating grief isn’t the only thing I remember. I think of the only thing that managed to make me crack a smile that week – Andres Iniesta’s goal, Messi’s tears, Pep’s run the down Stamford Bridge touchline. Good memories, memories I treasure.

We cules are lucky bastards. We’ve been blessed with this brilliant team. Keep the faith.

Ser del Barça és el millor que hi ha!

Posted in Soap Box27 Comments

Whither thou goest, confidence, aka “I need my No. 10 blanky!”

psgmessi

So Barça advanced against PSG. It wasn’t luck, as some suggested in the aftermath, nor was PSG the better side. The better side won the tie, and it won the tie without playing at anything approaching its best over two legs.

As the semi-finals approach, with the draw being held later today, that level will have to rise, but people should be proud of their sprites, even as once that semi opponent is known, too many will spend time drawing out the ways that we are going to lose, instead how we are going to win. As with PSG.

“Defense is bad,” “Offense is bad,” everything is bad. But our team gutted it out against a serious opponent with quality. But that opponent just didn’t have the absolute quality that we did, and that was the difference. They have Maxwell, we have the starting LB for the Spanish NT. Position for position, we are a more talented squad, and we advanced to a staggering to contemplate SIXTH Champions League semi-final in a row. That is absurd. Magic times.

But there were some troubling things in yesterday’s match that are worth commenting on.

On the weekend, Barça laid a manita on Mallorca at home. No, PSG is not Mallorca, and not just because of the price tag difference. They are stronger, faster and more aggressive than us. The difference is that in the past that didn’t matter, as that was true of almost every opponent that we played. The difference was in confidence, in teammates and in the system. There seems to be a lot less of those qualities now, and it isn’t just me that is noticing this. Iniesta admitted to Messidependencia in the pre-match presser. But it has gone from charming, something that we could all josh about, to something significantly more troubling for this cule, who wants the absolute best for the club that he loves.

Zonal Marking on the match

Excellent piece from Lee Roden on the match, and Bartra.

Sid Lowe hits the nail on the head.

Finally, some very astute observations from Miguel Delaney.

These pieces all say essentially the same thing, even as they draw different conclusions from that thing: Messi has become psychologically essential for Barça.

Having the best player in the world is one thing. But for me, being fundamentally unable to play to your capabilities without that player against a quality opponent is something else altogether. There were many other glaring deficiencies in yesterday’s match, on an individual and team level. But the best players in the world don’t stop being the best players in the world without their No. 10 blanky. That they seem to be now is distressing, and an ongoing bit of the psychic laziness that crept in as that last Guardiola season wound to a close.

Does opponent quality have something to do with it? That is, is our quality is so high that nobody in La Liga is capable of preparing us to face a strong European side? Some say that. I don’t think so. That quality gap has always been there, and it hasn’t troubled us before. Time and injuries contribute. None of our players, save Messi, Iniesta and Busquets, are the players they were when this run of excellence started (restricting this evaluative to players who were with us at the time). But it’s more than that. Preparation of successors is a factor, specifically in the cases of Thiago and Bartra, but it’s still deeper than that, and even outside of the match analysis from yesterday, there are problems. Against PSG at home:

Villa spent too much time standing around like a disinterested has-been.

Xavi had a 100% passing percentage to precious little effect. He is clearly not 100%, but we have no option in that spot.

PSG very intelligently attacked us in a way that isolated Busquets. Same as at their house.

Lack of pressure meant that PSG could run at our defense, which infuriated Valdes, the man who saved the day for us. Look at their goal. If you pause it when Pastore gets the ball, he is already behind the two players with the best chance to stop him. Alves and Adriano are chasing back, but it’s already too late. A more traditional team probably doesn’t concede that goal, because its defenders are closer to the box, but Barça isn’t a traditional team. Always risk. Pedro’s stray pass caught the whole team out.

Iniesta became the New Messi as the PSG defense switched its emphasis to him.

Alves had a dull match overall, but was not helped by being unable to take advantage of the space he was given because Villa and Pedro were too easily controlled by the PSG defenders.

The whole team played as if scared of something, snatching at shots and misplaying passes, including Villa’s first-half miss.

The players seemed afraid to shoot, as if they didn’t want to take responsibility. I can only speculate that overall timidity contributed to poor technical form, which is why so many shots went into orbit.

Fabregas’ companion was having a kid. During the match. He should have been with her physically. His head was.

The more time that Bartra gets, the better he looks. His play yesterday was very significant in the final result. The defense looked more assured and in control, and Valdes’ stress factor went down.

Despite all the problems, the team advanced because that is what great teams do. PSG played an excellent match, and we didn’t. That we still advanced speaks to the quality that this club has. But the loss of confidence when Messi isn’t on the pitch is at some point going to bite this team in the butt. Maybe akin to imagining everyone in the audience naked, as an aid to get over public speaking difficulties, we should imagine all future opponents in Mallorca shirts.

Was the difference between PSG and Mallorca as simple as saying that Sanchez should have started? Some say. I do think there would have been more movement to trouble the PSG defense with Sanchez as part of the XI. But that still doesn’t address the overall issue for me.

We seem like a bully who has a bigger bully waiting in the wings, when Messi isn’t playing. We can whomp on Mallorca just fine, and play the system and all. But when a bigger kid comes to the schoolyard, it becomes “Oh yeah? Just you wait until Leo comes in! We’ll fix your wagon.”

It is also absolutely true that while I am pointing out the dark side of Messidependencia, there is also the “Uh, oh ….” side that works on opponents, who have reverted to the psychological “The witch is dead” mode, who must now make the mental change. PSG didn’t, and the combo of Messi up front and Bartra at the back made a big difference.

It must also be said that Messidependencia isn’t Messi’s fault. He’s just doing what he does. It’s everyone else that is getting used to having him around, so much so that, as he becomes a more significant part of the team’s overall approach, seems to leave a Messi-less mess. This isn’t how the system is supposed to work.

To be sure, the system works better with a complicit opponent, but it doesn’t require complicity from its opponent to work. It does, however, require competence from its instruments. The spaces were there yesterday. Execution would have done the trick. It was like ultimate belief was lacking, and don’t kid yourself: belief is crucial at the highest level of athletics. Looking at a tennis player such as Andy Murray as an example, he has had the tools to beat the top players for some time. But now he has the belief, and his game is different because of that belief.

Overall, it struck me against PSG that our belief in the system seemed lost, as if so many moments of individual genius from one player has people thinking that it needs those to succeed. Messi is an awesome force who will go down in history as the best player ever. But he shouldn’t have been needed yesterday, and I find it very troubling, long-term that he was. Is some of it a coaching staff issue, as they said “We have this great thing, now let’s build around it?” Absolutely. But it is the dependence upon that great thing that can also be a hindrance.

Yes, you should want to have the greatest player in the game on the pitch. But players of the quality that we have should be able to function well enough to beat a quality side, without that player. The draw was a surprise. I was expecting a 2-1 win, but I will take it and be happy.

Now the team has time to rest, and heal. Messi shouldn’t play for two weeks. Neither should Xavi. Busquets could also use a break. Because whoever we draw in the semis (I would prefer Bayern) will be a handful. This team can win the Champions League, and I still think that we are the favorites.

But short of emergency therapy sessions, and I confess to not ever thinking I would say this, my ultimate confidence that our players can get this done even without Messi, is shaken to the core.

Posted in Champions League, Soap Box, Thoughts100 Comments

Dani Alves, as he opened his mouth

So I ended my review by saying that I was happy that our coach and players don’t complain about the referees too much, right?

Up steps Dani Alves who, when pressed by a journalist, let slip:

“When referees get put under pressure, it influences them incredibly much”

He wouldn’t mean Mou now, would he?

“It all started because of who started it. It rubs off on everybody.”

Attaboy! I hate when players always complain about the referee, but when you do, oh please go all the way:


“It’s not possible that a two-meter offside is not seen, so…maybe that is normal here…but we can’t protest too much because later people will say we are cry-babies and that we complain a lot. We don’t complain but we aren’t retards because then others will do whatever they want (ed. cheat to win) while we put on a happy face…”

 I’m not gonna put on a happy face like the others, not me. The others can put on their happy face, I won’t, when I am upset I am gonna let you know about it just like when I upset others (ed. they let me know)”

“We have to perform two or three times as well to win so that those things don’t effect the result of the game… Whatever one does, when you are on top it causes envy. When the envy is positive, that’s ok. But when it is negative it ends up contaminating everybody”

“We can’t complain, because in the end people will hold it against us. But the ones outside (the dressing room?) are the ones that have to go out and protest.”

dani alves

“I am not putting on a happy face”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So where do you stand? Do we have more dubious decisions going against us or not? If so, should we shut up and get on with it? Or should the board protect us more and lodge official complaints?

Also, do you think Mourinho’s constant pressure has influenced (some of) the referees? Do we indeed have to play twice as well to win because of the amount of games that are unfairly officiated? And what the hell is he wearing?

Discuss, and I will join you in the comment thread!

 

 

 

 

 

*additional source: http://www.sport.es/es/noticias/barca/dani-alves-acusa-mourinho-provocar-mal-arbitraje-stark-paris-2355217

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Barcelona, Quotes, Soap Box, Team News, Thoughts55 Comments

The Great Soci Debate

This could be you! Or could it?

One of the things that makes BFB so special is the level of discussion in this space. We can debate issues of importance to the club or to football in general respectfully, without it degenerating into a simple back-and-forth of which side is more wrong. Recently a few of the mods were involved in a discussion on twitter about whether FCB membership should be open to all who want it or if the club’s current policy of restricting membership has some merit. Not surprisingly, there were some strong differences of opinion on the subject. Today I would like to present the case for one side of the debate (with thanks to nzm for her contributions and suggestions!) . Afterwards some of the other mods will present the opposite view. We hope this will generate some interesting discussion and look forward to reading your thoughts as well.

When Rosell was elected club president, one of the first things he did was to change the official club policy regarding who was eligible to become a soci. Previously membership had been open to anyone who was willing to pay the fees, and socis had the same rights and privileges no matter where they lived, including the chance to be a delegate at the General Assembly and to vote in presidential elections. Rosell’s board passed a resolution restricting new memberships to a) children under 16, or b) relatives in the first- or second-degree to existing socis. You can find details here.

As you can imagine, when the board brought in these new restrictions, there was quite a reaction. Some saw it as a sensible measure brought in to preserve the essential character of the club in reaction to the ballooning number of foreign members that characterized the Laporta years. Others were outraged at what was seen as an elitist and xenophobic policy. Even many Catalans were disturbed that those who live there but happen not to be related to any current members would be ineligible. In reaction to this (or possibly as had been planned all along?), the Board of Directors quietly introduced a plan whereby eligible adults (even foreign ones!) could still qualify for membership after showing showing “commitment” to the club for a period of three years. Details on the “commitment card” can be found here.

The important points to note about the Commitment Card are that holders do not have voting rights, preferential access to tickets, or the chance to get on the waiting list for season tickets. Also, after the three years they do not automatically become members. The holder must make an official application, which “the Club will consider in line with general requirements laid down in the Club statutes.” In other words, he or she could still be rejected, although no ones knows on what basis that could happen, since the card has only been in existence for 2 years. It will be interesting to see what will happen if the club starts taking people’s money for three years and then turning them down as members, but we will have to wait and see.

So what do I think about all this? While I disagree with the way Rosell and his Board of Directors have gone about it, I understand the impetus behind this policy and in principle I agree with it. I don’t believe that all supporters of FC Barcelona should automatically have the right to become members. I believe that membership should be reserved for those who have roots in the community that Barça represents. That doesn’t mean that membership should be restricted to only Catalans, or even Spaniards, but to those whose daily lives are intertwined with the club, the city, the locality, & the culture. It seems strange to me that someone who may never even have visited Barcelona or ever be able to should have the “right” to vote for the club’s President. Or the chance to be chosen as a delegate to the General Assembly–which they may then have to turn down if not able to travel there. Even if they are able to attend, should someone in Buenos Aires, or Moscow, or Chicago have the “right” to vote on the daily matters of the club? I don’t smoke, and I would have voted in favour of making Camp Nou smoke-free, but is that my call? I’ve never been to a match there, and I don’t know when I will able to afford to go. Should my vote then carry equal weight to that of someone who regularly attends games?

Football has become a global sport, and FC Barcelona has become one of the clubs with the most global appeal, if not the most. People all over the world are enchanted with the way this club plays, with the brilliance of its players, and with the glimmer of the trophies it has won. Many of us have been so inspired by this club that we have researched its history, internalized its values, immersed ourselves in its culture, and even learned the language of its country. Is it any wonder that we want to formalize the connection we feel with Barça by becoming part of it? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But we must also remember that Barça is not just a football club. It is “mes que un club”. From the very beginning Barça has had a “permanent tradition of loyalty and service to club members, citizens and Catalonia” which leads it to be active in social, cultural, artistic, and political spheres. This club has history, it has gravitas, it has Catalanisme. We all know (or should know) what the club meant to Catalans and Catalunya during the Franco years, but with all the knowledge and all the love in the world, I don’t believe it is really possible for someone not steeped in that experience to really understand it. Similarly, can someone not living in the area really understand the impact that changes to the stadium, the training facilities, the sporting infrastructure would have on the neighbourhood, city, or region? I don’t think they can. I truly believe I love the club as much as any long-term soci could, but I don’t believe that I, as an outsider, have the “right” to vote on these things just because the club might take my money.

So what is the answer?

No solution is going to please everybody. There will always be those who believe that full membership should be open to anyone anywhere, and those who want it restricted to those who are Catalan unto the 10th generation. Ultimately I think the best compromise would be a two-tiered membership system, but not the way the club has it currently set up. The Commitment Card seems to me like a mean-spirited cash grab without conferring any real benefits until after the 3-year “probation” period has been completed, whereupon the club will “consider” your membership application. It’s demeaning, cynical, and does not address the problems inherent with non-local members having voting rights.

Instead I would prefer a system where a “Cule” membership is open to anyone regardless of location. This type of membership would offer access to deals on tickets, discounts at the botiga and the online store, entrance to the Camp Nou museum, and access to special “members-only” online content, apps, ect. In other words, all the current perks of membership except for the voting rights. A “Club” membership, with the voting rights and eligibility for the season-ticket waiting list, would be available to permanent residents of Catalunya, regardless of citizenship. The applicant would have to prove residency of Catalunya for a period of, for example, 3 years, or 5 years OR that they are related to a current soci (similar to the current eligibility regulations).

I hate to say it, but this is an area where Real Madrid is already ahead of Barça. Although eligibility to become an actual socio of Real Madrid is even more restricted than at Barça (next to impossible if you are not a direct descendant of a current socio), the club already offers two other levels of membership, “Madridista” and “Madridista Internacional” that entitle the holder to various benefits and discounts as well as online content, but without any voting rights or representation in the general meetings. Perhaps our tame Madridista, Bassam, can give us some insight on how this three-tiered system is viewed by Real Madrid fans?

What is clear is that Barcelona is behind the curve when it comes to keeping up with the times. To quote nzm:

“The whole Blaugrana organization really needs a shake-up to make it more modern.  Their marketing sucks.  They don’t even offer an electronic version of the club magazine which hits our letterbox every 2 months – now that would save on colour copies, no?  ;.)

FCB needs to shake up its practices when dealing with the fanbase and bring some more modern approaches into their business model.  All they’re really doing at the moment is opening up new fanbases (Asia and Middle East) but not changing the archaic systems.  When trying to appeal to younger members and a younger fanbase (which is where the growth will occur), their approach isn’t that attractive to that demographic.”

FCB was taken by surprise by the huge influx of foreign members, and in scrambling to protect the cultural heritage of the club, they have managed to offend and alienate just about everybody. I believe they need to take a different approach that more fully addresses the needs of their global fanbase, while ensuring that the club remains firmly rooted in the local community it represents. I fully expect that this point-of-view will be unpopular in this space, but I truly think a two-tiered system of membership would be the fairest way to solve this conundrum.

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And here is Kxevin with an opposing view:

For this soci, it’s simple: If FC Barcelona is in any way to be a closed society, then close it for real. Don’t bother with socis, supplemental members, commitment cards or any other such bollocks. Put the club out there as a closed entity that supporters can choose and become a fan of. Done.

But if it IS going to be a “club” that people can join, to parse devotion in any way is so much bullshit. The implication is that because a soci lives in New York, for example, he isn’t bothered every bit as much by who will be the next president of the club that he loves as a soci who lives in Perpignan or L’Hospitalet. If the club matters to them … all of them, then all socis should be the same.

I can see offering a choice of membership levels, from “Hey, I dig this club” to a full-monty soci that includes voting rights. People can then choose the level they wish, *not the club.* I can’t see or countenance someone telling foreign socis that just because the Camp Nou isn’t in their backyard and they can’t attend matches regularly, that they should be some sort of a second-class citizen. Raise the price of the full soci status, require a Catalan language test, I don’t care. People who want that level of commitment to the club, should have access to it. Period.

There are many kinds of socis, even in Barcelona. There are foreign socis who just love the club, and will never do anything beyond that. There are also foreign socis who visit the city, attend matches and even learn the
language. They follow the club’s politics and are every bit as concerned by what the club does and who runs it as anyone else.

But let’s be clear about this: FC Barcelona is a global entity that offers up sporting teams in many different disciplines, the most popular of which is football. That’s the way that it has always been. When that club was crowing about being the only club “owned” by its members, it was without caveats. Now that the barn door is open, so to speak, and those silly furriners want to show the same love and devotion to the club as any other soci, it’s becoming a contextual problem.

I consider that to be the profoundest nonsense. And as a black person and citizen of a country whose constitution for too many years said that I and my kind were but 3/5ths of a person, with no voting rights or very many rights at all because of that status, my views of “citizenship” and “membership” are shaped by that worldview. You’re in or you’re out*. Citizens
vote for this country’s president, whether their family has been American for generations, or just swore the loyalty oath to America.

As a sporting entity, does FC Barcelona represent something different to a supporter in Dubai as opposed to one who lives IN Barcelona? Both live and die with the club. Attending a match might mean even more to the soci in Dubai, who holds it up as a dream, than one who has a season ticket but rarely attends matches, like so many season ticket holders.

Deeper still, as a global sporting entity, FC Barcelona needs to figure out what it wants to be. If it wants to be Athletic Bilbao, then that’s fine. Dump all foreign socis, restrict it to Catalans only and circle the wagons at the social club. It won’t lose very many fans, even as it sows ill will among foreign socis, the critters who if you ask some, shouldn’t matter anyhow.

But if FC Barcelona wants to be a participant in the world with its multi-national conglomerate, then let the world in, up to and including foreign socis.

People misconstrue the “mes que un club” business as some sort of pious thing. In fact, it speaks to the tentacles that the club has sprouted, its deep roots in the community and its extra meaning to not only Catalans, but people who understand the before and after of the Civil War period. It was the only place that Catalans could be Catalan, and it only makes sense that
in this nationalist fervor, some should want to “reclaim” the club, shaping it into some sort of “for us, by us” deal.

Which, for an organization started by a Swiss businessman in company with English and Catalan athletes, is a pretty slick trick.

Now lets hear your views. Do you have a strong opinion either way? Or do you have a different solution to propose?

Posted in Barcelona, Soap Box, Thoughts24 Comments

Appearances and bullying, aka “Hee-hon better have my money!”

I will begin by saying that I understand precedent, I understand that legally, a deal is a deal, even if it might not be a deal. I get it. All of it.

But surely, there is a more effective way for our club to extract what it asserts it is owed from Sporting Gijon for the Alberto Botia transfer than to institute legal proceedings. For those who don’t recall, when Botia was tranferred to Sevilla, we were due 30% of the 2.5m transfer fee. That money wasn’t paid, so now we’re exploring the possibility of going after those deadbeats.

Gijon says that it doesn’t owe us anything, and everything was legal and by the letter of the arrangement. So preliminary proceedings have been instituted by us, and we’ll see what transpires. So as I said …. I understand all of the legal, globosocial and potentially nuclear ramifications of Sporting Gijon not ponying up. But there has to be a better way.
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Posted in Soap Box, Thoughts36 Comments

Your superstar and you, aka “Managing up”

“Was this trip really necessary,” muses the driver, gazing at the wrecked Ferrari after a trip to the local 24-hour grocery store for some chips became something much worse. Had chips at home, but wanted a certain kind, didn’t have to mash the throttle so hard, could have taken the Ford, dammit, dammit, dammit!

Here we all are, breathing an immense sigh of relief after the knowledge that our best player is going to be okay, and might even be fit enough to play on Sunday. But, for about an hour, from when he took the shot and crumpled to the pitch, everyone was thinking, This Is It.
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Posted in Injuries, Messi, Soap Box, Thoughts98 Comments

When Sports Should Be Left For Later

There is a generally accepted idea that group healing is important. Argentina in 2002 was reeling from economic devastation and there was a lot of talking going into the World Cup that a win by the albiceleste could put the country back on track through some sort of cathartic party. Or something. Japan, the conventional wisdom went, would be aided in its recovery from the March 2011 tsunami if only their women could win that year’s World Cup. You’d have to ask the Japanese if that really did work.

This past week the eastern seaboard of the United States was hit by Hurricane Sandy. I blogged during the middle of it and referenced some of the disaster that had befallen people here, but my glib mention of yoga and surfing the Internet was before the reality truly set in. And, to be honest, I’m not sure it really has. As of now, there are millions of people without electricity, running water, and access to basic needs like food and warmth. The temperature is going down, thirst is creeping in, and people are trapped in their apartment buildings by the lack of power. The Rockaways were devastated. Red Hook was submerged. Coney Island lost its boardwalk. And that’s just in Brooklyn. The Jersey Shore is almost nonexistent. North Carolina’s coastal highways are buckled into Dr. Seuss stairways that lead to nowhere.

And on Sunday, the New York City Marathon will go off as planned.

Take Staten Island: 90% without power, flooded basements, destroyed homes. There are reports (as of yet unverified, but making the rounds on Twitter and via network news–I heard it on CBS this afternoon) that hotels are kicking out people there to make room for marathoners with reservations. The city has set up generators and water stations while swaths of the city remain without power or access to that vital, liquid substance that will be doused on runners. There will be foil wraps and orange slices for the finishers while there will be long lines and handouts of batteries and candles for those lucky enough to live near relief centers.

And on Sunday, tens of thousands of men and women will run through all five boroughs for recreation.

Sure, if you look hard enough, you’ll find a few pictures out there of me cleaning up small businesses in Red Hook, Brooklyn, but the total hours of that volunteering (8 or so) is less than I’ve spent playing FIFA13 or sitting on barstools since Sandy came through. I watched the disaster porn that is network TV news and Twitter for hours. Since Tuesday morning, I’ve cycled through hundreds of pictures of boats on streets and train tracks, lines at gas stations and food banks, and flooded subway stations. I’m getting paid to sit around and have a staycation.

My point is that I’m not a moral authority on anything and I certainly can’t point the finger at anyone for not helping on a personal level. The argument for the marathon is it will be cheering and a sense of normalcy. There will be hugging and crying and people running on costumes to remind us all that human spirit conquers adversity. Maybe the world will see what is really happening here and react accordingly. The marathon is a major charity event, with millions of dollars pouring into the coffers of various groups. We’ll be conquering so many things with this money.

Except, of course, that this rings hollow when the camera pans to the side and there’s a family hunkered down for the night against below freezing temperatures. The news coverage is 24/7 already. People have seen Atlantic City being overwhelmed, they looked at videos of the Breezy Point’s fire, and have gasp along with the workers going down into the subway for the first time. Most of us can pick the fake pictures on Twitter out from the real ones without batting an eye. What catharsis is the marathon or any sporting event going to provide that heat to an apartment building won’t? What will giving Gatorade to joggers do to help the family that lost their house and now have nowhere to stay? The generators they’re using for media tents could power 400 homes.

I don’t claim to know what it costs to cancel a marathon, but I also don’t claim to care. I know people train for months, sometimes years to run in the NYC marathon. I know some have traveled from around the world for this. I know the organizational intensity of these things because I’ve witnessed it first hand each of the last 4 years. But no, I won’t be watching Barça-Celta tomorrow and I won’t be attending the marathon. Tomorrow, I’ll likely be knee-deep in someone’s basement tossing the rotting, destroyed remnants of their life to the curb or removing the walls of their tumbled homes from their streets so emergency vehicles can pass. People who need a place to shower and get some hot food will be at my house. Friends will be staying with us.

Sports heal us emotionally. Sports are cathartic when they’re not diverting police and emergency teams from those who are literally dying rather than cramping. Bloomberg says the city will remain uncowed by the hurricane and as such will “fight through the pain” to pull off a road race that could easily be delayed a few weeks to allow for recovery efforts. It is unacceptable and it is unconscionable to continue with this plan.

Posted in Soap Box31 Comments

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