10 members of the squad are off on international duty. Details:
Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol (Spain) - the usual suspects head off for vital Euro 08 qualifiers. Puyol is suspended for the Denmark clash in the Bernabeu, which is followed by playing Iceland in Mallorca.
Gudjohnsen (Iceland) - speaking of which, captain Eidur has also been called up for the aftementioned game.
Ronaldinho (Brazil) - Ronnie will head off to Gothenburg to play Chile and then to Stockholm to play Ghana as part of Brazil's friendlies schedule.
Marquez (Mexico) - captain Rafa will be involved in pre-Copa America friendlies against Paraguay and Ecuador back in Monterrey and Oakland respectively.
Gio Van Bronckhorst (Holland) - as a senior member of the Dutch squad, Gio will probably end up playing both Euro qualifiers against Romania and Slovenia respectively.
Zambrotta (Italy) - Zambrotta returns to the Italian squad for the Euro qualifier against Scotland.
Thuram (France) - the veteran defender has been called up for an Euro qualifier against the mighty Lithuania and a friendly against co-host nation Austria.
Eto'o (Cameroon) - Sammy finally makes his return to the Cameroonian NT for an African Cup of Nations qualifier against Liberia in Yaonde.
Deco has had an operation on his finger following the injury he sustained in a challenge against Recreativo. For what it's worth, club doctors say that he will be able to resume playing with 'special protection' in 3 weeks time - which is rather convenient. He'll have to miss Portugal's qualifiers in the next two weeks, and the visit of Depor, but he was booked for the aftementioned challenge and would have been suspended anyway. So it all works out. Hopefully he will return on time against Zaragoza, as his form was much improved in his last outing.
The only credible transfer news lately has been about who's not going anywhere. Belletti renewed his contract, finally putting those AC Milan rumours to rest. The new one-year extension will take him through to 2009. Jorquera also recently agreed improved terms and will be available to give reliable if unspectacular performances in Spanish Cup games until 2008.
Zambrotta has come out and denied that he wants to go back to Italy - apparently after settling in, he's finally beginning to enjoy himself in Spain. I'm very pleased about this, as Zambro is my favourite (non-Argentinean) full-back (not just in Barca, but in European football) and I would very much like him to continue playing for us.
Rijkaard has also spoken out on the constant speculation linking him with a move to AC Milan. He feels that he 'owes a debt' to the club for putting their faith in him and basically in his own roundabout way said that he would not leave unless results compelled him to, or if the club didn't want him anymore. He's a polarising figure amongst Barca fans, but personally I would rather have him than anybody else, even with all his tactical flaws. Hotheaded he may have been as a player, but his behaviour as coach has been impeccable and many times by his words and actions he has made me proud to support Barca.
news story of the day
Most football fans could probably name a favourite retired/former player from their club off the top of their head. Barca fans have a lot of choice - Maradona, Cruyff, Rivaldo, Suarez and so on, not to mention members of the Dream Team.
My personal favourite happens to be someone who achieved nothing at senior international level and retired after years in the wilderness after being tainted by a ban for allegedly taking illegal substances. That doesn't sound too great, especially considering some of the other options, but he was and continues to be hugely respected in Spain, even amongst Madridistas. They say that he was the only Barca player the Bernabeu never booed. He is the reason Barca's youth academy has become a mass production line for a certain type of midfielder. Ask Fran Merida, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta or even Xabi Alonso who they idolize, why they became the players they are today; ask Xavi who he measures himself by; and they'll give you his name.
He was known as that rare species, an articulate and intelligent footballer whose soft-spoken elegance led to years of ignorant innuendo about his sexual orientation. He was a passionate advocate for the Catalan team and its occasional captain. He gave up law school for football.
I am of course talking about the inimitable 'Pep' Guardiola.
Guardiola's understanding of football is total and intuitive, but he is also capable of explaining the concepts with clarity in simple terms. One day, he is going to make a fantastic coach.
When he speaks, people listen. And he chose to speak in defence of Ronaldinho:
“He’s got a right to imperfection and also needs to be judged by his performances over a period of time, not with a game-by-game judgement from critics. He may have dipped a little from what he was doing before, but it’s inhuman to expect any football player to be on the top of his form, beating personal records and carrying a team on his shoulders the whole time. Nobody in the history of football has maintained that standard all the time."He also said that he wanted Rijkaard to stay, defended the recent use of 3-4-3, and praised the 'extraordinary class' of Messi while urging people not to pressure him on the goalscoring front.
and a light-hearted note to end on...
I've been wondering where Edmilson has disappeared off to in the last few weeks. He wasn't picked for Brazil and he hasn't played for Barca for a while. I hope he's doing alright. Poor guy's not had the best of luck at Barca, injury-wise.
UEFA magazine had a rather amusing and endearing story about the Brazilian, which I'll quote in full here:
Footballers and their cars, eh? Or 'rides' as some of these whipper-snappers will have it. All flash, and no doubt with the latest mod-cons like go-faster stripes and CD players. Thank God for FC Barcelona defender Edmílson to restore some motoring sanity, professing his love for that most honest of jalopies, the humble tractor. "If I wasn't a footballer I would have become a long-distance truck driver," he told Britain's Daily Telegraph. "Even today, when I go back to my father's farm, I love to drive his tractors." Practical, reliable and sturdy. And tractors are not bad either! (Thank you very much, and good night.)