Archive | Thoughts

Adeu, Andreu Fontas. Alas, we hardly knew ye ….

“All systems go. Ready for launch, Mission Control.”

Players come, and players go. The club announced today that Andreu Fontas, last seen sitting in the stands next to Jonathan dos Santos, giggling, is going on loan to Mallorca until season’s end. As many of you know, in the case of a serious injury, a club can be granted an exception to the normal transfer window.

Will Fontas return? Good question. Botia didn’t. And nobody speaks of Oriol Romeu any longer. But it seemed that Fontas had the stuff. On the other hand, a club without two healthy defenders to rub together, wouldn’t be sending him away if he had the stuff, right? So who knows.
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Posted in Team News, Thoughts, Transfers/Transfer Rumors123 Comments

Fan support, aka “There’s no ‘me’ in ‘affirmation’”

“No, it isn’t THAT finger …. but it could be!”

Fan (fan) n.: A person who has a strong interest in or admiration for a particular sport, art or entertainment form, or famous person.

During Sunday’s brilliant, almostthisclosetoawin El Classic, I Tweeted that I had heretofore thought it impossible for me to hate Wrongaldo more, but I was wrong. It wasn’t just the repeat of the “calm down” gesture that he made after scoring their first, or the way he grinned and winked at the camera. It the “Oh, my poor widdle shoulder” bollocks, etc. Argh!

Now. To RM supporters, his gestures were brilliant, those of a great player making opposing fans understand exactly what the deal was, and they were genuinely concerned about his shoulder.

Ah, perception.

Recently, as the entire world knows, even folks living under assorted and sundry rocks, Lionel Messi had a shouting match with David Villa. No, this piece isn’t about that long-forgotten hooraw. But some of its roots exist in an adjunct that has been turning over in my fevered little brain, that found its voice in the form of a question: “What if we still had Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and he was the one screaming at David Villa?” And further, does like/dislike color perception? Seems obvious that it does, or does it? Can we ever get beyond how we feel about a player as a fan?

I didn’t get many responses to my “What if Ibrahimovic?” question, but the few that I received admitted that he would, of course, have been scorned, vilified and all of that business that fans do to an “unpopular” player. Recall that Messi’s outburst was attributed to his drive, his striving for perfection and frustration at the efforts of mere mortals as they fall short of those standards. Yea, verily, his screaming at Villa was good said many, including our very own Isaiah, in a much-lauded post.

Yet Ibrahimovic would bring about a very different reaction. So all of this and a great many other things got me thinking about the nature of fan support, and the short journey from fan to “fanatic.”
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Posted in Thoughts134 Comments

Barca 2, Real Madrid 2, aka “A classic classíc, ‘Rashomon’ style”

Doorbell rings, post-Classíc-cule answers ….

Hello, is this the Cule residence?
Yes, who’s there please?
This is the SuperModel Chocolate Ice Cream supply company. We have a delivery.

(Door opens)

Okay, what’s with those shoes? What kind of chocolate ice cream is this? I’m picky, you know. Is that the supermodel’s natural hair color? It’s drafty in here …..
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Posted in El Clasico, La Liga, Thoughts105 Comments

El Clasic, aka “The biggest match EVAH! Until the next one.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the most important player in this Sunday’s El Clasic ….

No, not the one in the foreground, the one in the background, leaning forward as if to say “Who, me?” Yes, you, Cesc Fabregas. Isaiah will be in the house later with a proper preview. But here are a few thoughts to tide you over, and maybe winnow their way into your brain pan like one of those awful pop songs.
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Posted in El Clasico, La Liga, Thoughts46 Comments

Sevilla 2, Barca 3, aka “As beautiful as they are, I HATE matches like this”

The aka says it all: I hate matches like this, for so many reasons, but let’s start out with happy, Snoopy dance stuff: Improbably, we won. And we didn’t just win. We came back from 2-0 down against a gritty, resolute opponent in their house, an opponent who, in that same house, defeated our most bitter rival, an opponent who, for much of the match, came out and played us like an equal, showed no fear and almost got a result against us.

If this club pulls off what I still think will be an amazing feat, winning the Liga, it will be matches such as this one where we will look back in those season in review posts, and say “this was the one. Or that was the one. Or maybe, that was the one.”

This team isn’t just winning, it’s winning in a way that great teams do, not playing its best, with grit, determination and yes, a little bit of luck. We’ve said it before here, and it bears repeating: Last season, we lose this match.

There is a hunger in this group, an edge that wasn’t there last season, an advantage that finds its face in late goals of the sort that kill opponents and make shoulders slump. This team is a killer.
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Posted in La Liga, Review, Thoughts65 Comments

How to Give Yourself a Rating (And Win Friends While Doing It)

When you’re new anywhere and you’re interested in being liked, it’s usually a good idea to hew to the party line, make yourself look humble, and generally not rock the boat. In football, this is a pretty good way of winning over fans. It can become something of a burden on teams that fan favorites are sometimes not anywhere near the best players on their team yet no one will stand for them not being picked (stand right on up, Steve Gerrard). To become a fan favorite, you often have to stress how hard you’re working and how you’ve got so much more to give to the squad. You do have to perform sometimes, but whenever you have a bad game (or string of games), coming out and saying “I have to play harder” is pretty much the best thing you can do.

Alexis Sanchez graded himself in a press conference recently as 5 out of 10. Most cules probably nodded so hard they gave themselves whiplash. And now they’re likely to be less harsh on him. So, good job, Alexis, you’ve given yourself a little cushion in your upcoming couple of performances. Yet, has he also been entirely truthful? He’s not the goalscoring machine some would like him to be (15 goals in 47 competitive matches), but he was never a goalscoring machine: with Udinese he scored 21 in 112 matches; with River Plate, 4 in 31; with Colo-Colo, 9 in 48; and with Cobreloa, 12 in 50. Technically he’s scoring more often than he has at any other time in his career; in fact, he’s scoring at a higher rate than Pedro has scored throughout his Barcelona career. And since Alexis arrived at FCB, Pedro’s performances have suffered a rather steep decline: 15 goals in 56 appearances.

Goals are, of course, not the only way to define players, but it goes a long ways when you finish passed Iker Casillas from what felt live like infinity far away to even up a clasico. Speed, precision, and technique are the hallmarks of Alexis’ game. He’s not overly fancy with his dribbling, preferring to beat people the simple way (by making the earlier run for the pace into space), but he’s no dud on the ball either. Yet the Barça system isn’t designed for him to speed to the corner on a diagonal run and then flip in a cross, so he’s had to relearn the timing and angles of his runs. And he’s done that.

Against Spartak Moscow, Alexis injected spacing, width, and workrate into the front third. His murderous tempo allowed Tello more freedom on the left while also allowing multi-pronged attacks through the middle. Still, he’s fallen over easily a few times and received a bit of stick for that from around the world. He’s missed some opportunities and failed to communicate with some of his teammates. But 5 out of 10? If 10 is Messi and 0 is Hleb, then sure, but direct comparisons to players playing in different positions are hard (can you compare QBs with WRs in the NFL?) and who wouldn’t want to be a 5 on that scale anyway?

Alexis is often talking with teammates about where to go, what to do, which is a good sign. It suggests that both he and his teammates are invested in his contributions to the team. I would rate him higher than 5, but then again, each performance demands something a little different out of him based on his alignment. He’s better as the point forward, causing havoc, but he’s learning to be the wing forward, dragging defenders out of the way.

Whatever he’s done incorrectly, I think he’s made up for it with work rate and footballing intelligence. And also unlike Hleb, who didn’t even bother learning the language, at least Alexis has picked up pretty good Spanish. Did you hear his accent? It’s pretty good!

Posted in Thoughts40 Comments

The Art of Yelling at Friends

If I were to retype the exact words said between my teammates in my last pickup game, I would probably be banned from the Internet. Suffice to say that they were of the aggressive sort. And that was during a pickup game. The clean version: get there, get the ball it’s that round thing the other guy just put between your legs, why didn’t you shoot, you’re so lazy, it’s called passing maybe you’ve heard of it, he’s obviously never heard of it, if you’re not going to play defense at least play some offense, you were just beaten by a 10 year old!

Here we are, looking at highly-paid athletes and wondering if the world is going to crumble in upon itself because Lionel Messi yelled at David Villa during a tense match. Messi was unhappy with a lot of things on Saturday, but he very pointedly called Villa out for having, it would appear thanks to hand gestures, failed to deliver a picture-perfect pass at the right moment. Villa retorted something and they jawed up the field, gesturing and pointing like they were doing Guardiola reenactments.

And the cule world freaked. They’re fighting! They hate each other! Terrible leadership skills! Villa is just returning from injury, poor him, how can Messi be so cruel? Villa should always pass to Messi!

But on the field, where there had been vociferous discussion, there was now silence as the two players in question closed down a ball together on defense, harried their opponent, got to work. The very next time Messi got the ball, only a few seconds later, he looked directly for Villa. The pass was errant (and not the best of ideas, actually), but it didn’t matter. While Twitter reacted with its typical grace, the players were suddenly working together better, were slightly more energized.

It’s a thin line between love and hate and as teammates you must tread that line every day. It’s not about how happy so-and-so is when they have the ball, it’s about winning. It’s about playing the way you should be playing. The way your teammates know you can, the way you know your teammates can. I used to play in a corporate league at my old job and one of the players was an extremely gifted dribbler. He could squirt between any number of players and suddenly be 1v1 with the goalie. More often than not he scored on those runs, but once he cut the ball back unnecessarily and failed to find me, wide open on the back post for a tap in, and instead lost the ball for a goal kick as the defenders recovered.

“Pass!” I screamed. He glared at me. I glared at him, pointed to the ground beneath me to show him where I was. The next time he had the ball, I made the same run and the ball was at my feet.

A good friend of mine was on that team and he definitely screamed at me constantly. Get back, defend, where are you running to, what are you even aiming at? That sort of thing. I returned fire, of course, and it kept us communicating, kept us from going into a lull where we lost track of each other on the field. Most importantly, though, it took care of the aggression you feel whenever you play a competitive match. It doesn’t happen when you’re up 5-0 and it doesn’t usually happen when you’re down 0-5. In those moments you’re either clicking and there’s nothing to say or you’re internalizing how much you want to stab the opposing striker in the eye for that hat trick. But when it’s 0-0 and it’s been a physical match, you can direct your ire towards a teammate and that will get both of you working harder. “I just yelled at him, I better make sure I don’t screw up again” “Why is he yelling at me? I’ll show him who doesn’t know how to pass.”

It would be a weird night in the Camp Nou if someone didn’t yell at someone. Maybe Messi was just making up for Puyol’s absence? Whatever it was, it worked. That or Xavi subbing on worked.

Posted in La Liga, Thoughts85 Comments

Barca 2, Granada 0, aka “Why must EVERYTHING be a lesson?”

“Calm down. I GOT this.”

I rather imagine that we are going to be repeating this question a lot this season:

What did we learn today?

To start with, we learned that yes, an opposing player can be MOTM. “Tono” Rodriguez, a 32-year-old keeper formerly of Racing Santander, was spectacular today. No. He was absurd, that kind of head-smacking good where you make yourself wonder what just happened, that forces players to change their performance expectations.

We hit shots against that dude that go in against 99.9% of keepers in the world, on any given day, but not against him. It wasn’t that the shots weren’t good, it was that he was better. Fabregas missed a wide-open net, we thought. But the slightest of touches pushed the ball wide. Granada’s keeper was astounding today, and is easily my MOTM.

That’s one thing.
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Posted in La Liga, Review, Thoughts149 Comments

You Cannot Win: Cesc Fabregas and Press Conferences

On Monday, Grantland, that special place on the web where Brian Phillips’ unrelentingly wonderful writing* vies with YouTube mashups and discussions of the latest pop culture trends, posted a podcast in which Dan Lebotard and Jon Sciambi hosted guests Jeff and Stan Van Gundy. While the vast majority of the podcast deals with rather inane moments in Stan Van Gundy’s recent dismissal as head coach of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, there is a terrific point made toward the end. To paraphrase: coaches and player are subjected to such a constant barrage of media questions that after a while you’re either put on autopilot and become a drone or you make a mistake.

In essence, this is true in all sports, not just the NBA. In a humorous moment, Jeff Van Gundy refers to not telling the truth in press conferences as “modulating the truth.” While an absurd turn of phrase that he got a lot of wonderful stick for, Jeff does make the larger point that no matter what is said, the media will turn those words against you. There will be a picking and choosing of statements, a dissection that can lead to out-of-context headlines. But, because you have to speak to the press every single day, have to have practice and speak, have to have a game and speak, you can never say nothing. Words of some sort have to come out of your mouth. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” really.

When Cesc Fabregas “complained about playing time” the other day in a press conference, the quotes were exploded into transfer rumors. No doubt he was asked if he was happy to have been subbed out of Barça’s matches this season. No doubt he answered honestly. It was probably not an innocent question, but it was probably a tired response that, in reality, was as well-put as you could make it without either not answering the question (he’s avoiding the truth!) or complaining about his playing time (he’s not a team player!). There is no right answer. Say nothing and you are a reticent, anti-fan jerk. Say something–anything–and your words will be twisted so that you are some sort of punk who hates his team, teammates, coaches, and management. Or maybe you hate the fans.

As such, the “truth” does not exist in this situation. Cesc Fabregas was probably “modulating the truth” in that he wasn’t fully communicative about how he feels. But he would be strung up along Las Ramblas if he dared criticize his team, even if he’s right. But that, of course, doesn’t matter. Cristiano Ronaldo, hateable as he is, is probably currently “sad” because he is vastly underpaid. He is paid less than some Argentine guy you’ve never heard of playing in China. No, seriously, he is. Samuel Eto’o makes €20m a year. Messi makes €10.5. Make sense? No. But come out and say that you’re underpaid and you’re a mercenary. You’re a greedy cretin. You’re, well, all the things both Fernando Llorente and Javi Martinez have been called. You’re everything that was aimed at Wayne Rooney when he asked for more money.

You cannot win.

Because you cannot win, because you cannot possibly do anything other than hope it all blows over, there is no reason to listen to anything that any of these players say. I don’t care if Tito Vilanova comes out and says “Jonathan dos Santos will never play in this shirt again,” because he very well may suit up in the next match. Until he says my name, Tito can say whatever he wants. He’s hired to win. The players are hired to win. And they’re worth monstrous amounts of money to the club and the fans, but both treat them like toys.

“You’re not loyal!” we shout when they ask for more money.

“Traitor!” we shout when they leave for a big raise.  “Why doesn’t he stay forever like Player X?”

“Why are you bothering us?” we ask, irritated, when Player X, now retired, has knee issues and asks the club he served so loyally for help with medical bills incurred as a result of his career-ending injury.

We have no loyalty. We have no right to judge. The players play and do so under pressure that you and I cannot imagine. Brian Phillips wrote, “I sometimes crack under stress while packing the car for a road trip, or reading a book review.” Goddamned right we do, because we’re human and we’ll cop to that all day all night. But Cesc Fabregas better have his head screwed on right, better not make waves, no rocking the boat. Oh, and be sure to be at the press conference where absurdly personal questions will be asked for an hour. Failure to show up will result in a hefty fine.

You cannot win.

*Read that article. It is perhaps the best one I’ve ever read about anything ever. Seriously. Read it.

Posted in Thoughts63 Comments

A Chain’s Strength is Determined by its Weakest Link

With the Summer Transfer period now over, let’s summarise how FC Barcelona performed when it came to handling player transfers.

As a club that is not known for stellar negotiations when it comes to buying and selling, how did we do this season?

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Posted in Barcelona, Soap Box, Thoughts67 Comments

Real Madrid 2, Barca 1 (4-4 agg.), aka “Moral victories are for losers”

We lost. Let’s be absolutely clear about this. For about 35 minutes, we went into their house and got our asses handed to us. And those 35 minutes were enough. That they scored two goals from errors of the sort that humans make should in no way ameliorate the fact that mistakes were made.

And the fans on the losing side always seek a scapegoat, because we win as a team, but lose as individuals. It was XXXX’s fault, dammit. If only XXXX hadn’t done YYYY, we’d be the victors.

But is it really that simple, all the time? No.
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Posted in SuperCopa, Thoughts99 Comments

Osasuna 1, Barca 2, aka “Felix didn’t have a bigger bag of tricks!”

“Yeah, it’s another black polo. So?”

Okay. My heart is now back to a normal rhythm, so let’s look at some general impressions of this match. This won’t be a review proper, because I’m streaming, rather than DVRing, but I do know this:

Great galloping Wilfred, how did we pull that one out? Like everyone else in the known Culeverse except for nia, I figured a draw was the best we could hope for, and the evidence was abundant:

–We were terrible
–Our key players were off song
–They were insane, working a game plan to perfection
–The ref was letting (as usual) the more aggressive side dictate play

We were, frankly, in trouble.
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Posted in La Liga, Thoughts139 Comments

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