It's a nice little story, reflecting the kind of relationship Rijkaard has with his troops
("One thing you can say about me is the good relationship I have with my players, from No. 1 to No. 24,")but it also illustrates a potential problem that Barca have to confront sooner or later. While Giuly is playing wonderfully right now, just when we need him to, he has rarely been able to play out the full 90 minutes since joining in 2004. The 4-3-3 employed by Rijkaard is physically demanding on all the players, but the man on the right wing has an especially heavy burden. His counter-part on the left, Ronaldinho, is the only one exempt from defensive responsibilities (which is just as well since he defends horribly - are you listening Dunga?), but he must track back constantly into midfield, or to put pressure on the opposing side's winger and fullback, as well as running all over the business end of the field, interchanging positions with the striker and Ronaldinho.
In one match last season, Messi - who is better at defending than most realize - lost the ball to his fullback (not exactly a regular occurance), chased the full length of the pitch and won it back, by which time he was almost by his own side's corner flag. Similarly, the sight of Giuly chasing the fullback all the way into their final third is a familiar one. Messi is a young man with frightening pace and power, so he can cope just fine, although I'm still uncomfortable with him playing 2 full matches in 4 days - he inevitably runs out of steam near the end of the second.
Giuly, on the other hand, is a fabulously commited and elegant player who runs his heart out, but in Barca's system he fades after about 75 minutes into a game. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he's the first player to be substituted every time. I admire him greatly, and he is one of the most popular players in the dressing room with his easy-going manner and good sense of humour, but he is 30 years old. If he cannot cope with 90 minutes of football now, what about 2 or 3 years down the line?
He considered letting his contract lapse and going to a club where he would be playing more regularly during last season, when Messi was keeping him out of the side, but decided against it in the end. Congratulations are in order to the Barca managament on this, by the way. Good work securing that contract extension quickly instead of letting the rumours (Liverpool were apparently interested) run and run. After how injury-prone Messi has proven to be this season (no thanks to defenders like Zapater, Emerson and Ricardo Carvolho), Giuly might actually end up seeing more playing time than his rival for the spot yet again, after the Argentine's frustrating injury setbacks last season kept him out of the later Champions League games.
My point in discussing Giuly and Messi and their respective issues (one is injury prone, the other can't play 90 minutes) is to express concern about the right-wing position. It's a good thing Gio Dos Santos might possibly have a future in this position, although of course despite the hype he's totally unproven at the top level.
The other point in talking about Giuly is to lament his bad luck with the national team. Through first injury and then falling out with the coach, he's missed every single major tournament going despite being undoubtedly good enough to start for France. The likes of Malouda and Ribery are great, but I don't see how one can doubt Giuly's claim to a place, given his ability. At the age of 30, he has only 11 caps. Missing the World Cup this year must have been a major blow. Unless Raymond Domenech regains some of his sanity (not too likely) he looks set to miss out on Euro 2008 - his last realistic shot at an international tournament - as well. Incredibly sad. But having won the Champions League days after he failed to make the World Cup squad must have been sweet.
(Incidentally, with all the press laments over the lack of an outstanding striker at the World Cup - hey, with all respect to Miro Klose, they said it, not me - how sad is it that Cameroon missed out? If you saw the brilliant hattrick Sammy Eto'o scored against Angola - who qualified, unlike Cameroon - in the African Cup of Nations, it's hard not to think about what he would have bought to the tournament. His tears after they failed to qualify is one of the saddest things I've ever seen in football. Ah well, he's young, there's always the next one.)