Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Some Barcelona matters

Quick notes on some of the things that have been on this fan's mind lately, including the tour, formations (yeah, I've finally jumped on the bandwagon) and the pecking order for the starting line-up.

Things to take away from the Scottish mini-tour
"At Barcelona, full-backs are auxiliary strikers. Midfielders are auxiliary strikers. On occasion, even Presas Oleguer is an auxiliary striker." - The Herald match report of Hearts v Barca.
(Yeah, but Oleguer, bless him, is rubbish at it, whereas some of our fullbacks and midfielders are fairly good at 'playing' strikers.)

Brilliant quote. To be honest, under Rijkaard we've actually gotten more into the revolutionary concept that defending might be a good idea, but we're never going to look like Capello's Juventus. (On the other hand, I'd never slag off Capello's Milan for obvious reasons.) On a related note, see the Barcelona Offside for a fun cartoon making fun of both Capello's defensiveness (exaggerated, IMHO, in the Spanish media) and your average Barca fan's, um, considerable zeal for attacking football (spot on).


  • Apparently some good physical work done in a cool climate.
  • Allowing Rijkaard to see most of his new players in action and think about formations.
  • Facilitating Henry's recovery after not playing for five months.
  • Further emergence of the two brilliant youngsters, Krkic and Dos Santos. The latter is scarily like Ronaldinho, even in looks - think the hair's on purpose?
  • By all accounts a successful PR exercise (hey, we aren't the 'club who are most anxious to be well liked and look good' for nothing).
  • The sight of Ronaldinho reclining on the far end of the away dug-out overspill, wearing flip-flops and a floppy sun-hat.
  • The cash, obviously, because after all we do need to fund our transfers somehow.
  • Xavi's been looking very good indeed.
  • Good planning overall, although with a tour two years (!) in the making, you'd expect that.


  • Still can't defend freekicks and corners, although that may improve when we get 3 of our central defenders who can head the ball back. Or it may not. At this point, I pretty much take for granted that both my club team and my national side suck at defending set pieces as if it's genetic for both.
  • Not sure how well the travelling will go down, especiall combined with the trip to Asia and then Germany to play Bayern.
  • Is Henry really going to sit on the bench? I can see Rijkaard's (entirely sound) logic in not starting him with Ronnie and Eto'o - because it would unbalance the tactical formation - but we all know that the Frenchman, wonderful as he is, does have his prima donna side.
  • Related to that, what's going on with Deco? I wouldn't mind rotating the 3 attacking midfielders according to opponent, as long as we're not looking to sell him.
  • I'm still not sure our increasing problems with breaking down teams who know the 4-3-3 inside out by now have been solved.
  • Need to score more from open play that's not the result of a cross. That's the true measure of fitness and fluency for this team. For long periods last season our play stuttered and we only scored from penalties, freekicks, even some corners and from crosses but not by playing through midfield. In fact, we were frequently overwhelmed in the middle of the park. That can't happen again.

My two cents about likely formation and pecking order this season, given what we've seen so far (4-1-2-2-1):

(Excuse the rubbish formation diagram, as blogger hates me today.)







Where --> means preferred to, and = means equally preferred:

GK: Valdes --> Jorquera

RB: Zambrotta --> Belletti (if he doesn't leave) = Oleguer.

CB: Carles Puyol --> Gabi Milito --> Rafael Marquez (if he gets back to form) = Liliam Thuram --> Oleguer

LB: Eric Abidal --> Sylvinho

DM: Yaya Toure --> Rafael Marquez (if he gets his form back) --> Edmilson (if fit and not sold off)

CM: Iniesta = Xavi = Deco (depending on form and opponent)

RW/LW: Ronaldinho --> Leo Messi --> Samuel Eto'o --> Thierry Henry --> Gio Dos Santos --> Bojan Krkic

ST: Samuel Eto'o --> Thierry Henry --> Ronaldinho --> Eidur Gudjohnsen (if he stays) = Bojan Krkic

The squad does look fairly well-balanced, although as always our problem DM spot still looks a little lacking in proper cover. More on this later, definitely, especially given the fact that every single Barca fan has spent what seems like the entire off-season since Henry's signing discussing formations.

Lastly, to balance out my doom and gloom about our new no.14 (how ungrateful of me to despair at such a great player joining, right?) an interesting quote from vice-captain Xavi:

"Henry's arrival was the key moment. It was as if everything was erased and we could begin again. For us and the fans," the midfielder said. "In the streets I see people full of enthusiasm, which is not easy to achieve. There are only a few players who can lift a depressed club."

That, and the added competitive incentive for Ronaldinho, is for me the best part about Henry's arrival.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

La Liga Round-up: pre-season madness

Don't you love the pre-season? You're free to feel ridiculously optimistic for the season to come, with hopes and dreams yet to be shattered by the rigours of competitive games, and seeing changes take effect is always exciting. Here's what's been going on in the last ten days.


At the beginning of the week, cules received the happy news that every single player had managed to return from their holiday on time to report for training. This may seem unremarkable to many of you, but trust me, it's an achievement.

We also saw Gabi Milito presented before he went off to enjoy his holidays, which will see the Copa America trio of him, Marquez, and Messi begin training on the 7th of August. Therefore the three will be missing the Asian Tour. With the injury to Puyol, we're being forced to play Thuram with Oleguer for every single game in Scotland and Asia. Oh dear. (Just to clarify - I think Thuram is class, it's just the combination of him and Oleguer that worries me.)

Iniesta's not going anywhere, although I do hear rumours that him and Messi are both up for (entirely deserved) contract renegotiations this season.

Thank God for Xavi Hernandez for articulating the mixed feelings of a sizeable contingent of Barca supporters regarding the transfer of his close friend Javier Saviola to our friends in the capital. Sensible as always.

Poor Eidur Gudjohnsen's been denied a chance to compete for a starting spot in pre-season as Rijkaard experiments, since he was left behind in Barcelona due to a troublesome injury.

Barca played their first pre-season game against Dundee United (a marginal 1-0 win), with all three present new signings making their debuts and doing fairly well.

The second game against Hearts bought an improved performance and a brace from a lively-looking Ronaldinho. He had so many false dawns last season that I'm loathe to hope, but from all reports Ronnie's finally stepped up with the added competition of Henry and started working hard again. Great news and possibly the best thing about the Henry signing so far, if it continues.

Speaking of which, in stark contrast to Freddie Ljungberg, Titi remains convinced that Arsenal can win the Premiership this season and refuses to say a word against his former club. Good. I hate it when players do what Ljungberg's just done. It almost always comes off as petty, and why do that to the fans who've loved the player for years?

In the aftementioned friendly against Hearts, youngsters Bojan Krkic and Gio Dos Santos both impressed alongside Henry in attack. I'm extremely pleased with the technical team's decision to keep the two of them as cover for TREM (typing out their names everytime gets a bit annoying in those formation discussions everyone's engaging in now, but there's no way I'm touching that 'fantastic four' stuff - hype like that never helped anyone).

I know some people would rather see the two of them loaned out to get top-flight experience playing regularly, but here are my reasons:
  1. Most of the young players we send out on loan don't come back. Either something goes wrong, they're forgotten in favour of the next big star being bought in, or some other big club comes in and snatches them away right under our noses.
  2. Related to that, both Krkic and Dos Santos are in danger of being tempted away by clubs who seem to love scouting around our cantera (youth system) the same way Cesc and Pique were. No big club is going to offer them anything better than squad player status at first, so a promotion to the first team is the best advancement they could hope for.
  3. Rijkaard did a great job bringing Messi into the first team gradually, and I'm sure he could make sure that Krkic and Dos Santos progress properly too.
There's some good news on the financial front for the club. I have to say, much as I may criticise the board for a lot of things, one thing they've done absolutely right is to manage the club in a fiscally responsible manner. The horrible financial situation we were in just 4 seasons ago is unimaginable now.

Having said that, I can't help but be angry whenever they do something like this. Yes, financial realities of modern football and all, but surely it's a bit much to dirty the great stadium like this in its 50th anniversary year, which is being celebrated with such fanfare? I've long had my problems with the club's association with Nike in the first place (being so entangled with a company accused of unsavoury labour practises, some involving children, seems like rank hypocrisy of the kind people love to accuse us of, especially since there's an Unicef logo on the shirt just below the Nike swoosh), but this is really cringe-worthy.


Bernd Schuster fires the first shot in what should be an interesting war of words between him and Rijkaard this season. Frankie might be generally a mellow guy, but if anyone has been proven to get under his skin other than Jose Mourinho, it has to be good old Bernd. (Rijkaard's claim that myabe he could agree with Schuster's assessment of the Barca-Getafe game if he was drunk out of his mind was one of my all time favourite Frankie-isms.) We're set for an interesting season.

More trouble for Antonio Cassano, the most unpopular man in the Real squad. Gonzalo at All in White has a post up about this.

Miguel Torres and Iker Casillas are recovering well from their injuries.

Real's first pre-season game bought a win against Stoke City (2-0), with Raul scoring.

Schuster speaks about what he needs to complete the squad.


The club were fined for incidents in last season's UEFA Cup match against Osasuna.

Exciting but mentally fragile young winger Jesus Navas was going to miss the pre-season due to his homesickness and anxiety problems, but changed his mind at the last minute. I wonder if that has anything to do with the scolding he's gotten in the press from some team mates and the fact that apparently negotiations for a more lucrative contract had stalled over his problems. In general, I'm quite sympathetic towards players with issues like Navas (Riquelme's depressiveness is like a distant cousin to Navas' anxiety), but you do have to wonder if his promising career will be derailed by this if it isn't at least manageable by therapy.

In quite unfortunate news, captain and hardman defender Javi Navarro is going to be out for 2 months with an injury. Let's hope by the time he's back, Sevilla have safely gotten through the Champions League qualifiers and claimed at least one of the two pieces of silverware they're up for in pre-season (the Spanish Super Cup and the European Super Cup), especially since they'll be defending the latter title.


Former Real Madrid defender Ivan Helguera was presented before Valencia took off on their pre-season training camp. Can I just say how weird it is to see Helguera in another team's shirt? But then I'm going to take a while to get used to a lot of the transfers of players who've been at their clubs for a good few seasons to pastures new (Klose, Toni, Torres, Henry, Forlan, Atletico's Luis Garcia, Ayala, Gabi Milito, not to mention Saviola).

Valencia beat Inter comfortably (2-0) in the Emirates Cup, a pre-season tournament hosted by Arsenal.


Atletico had a scare in their Intertoto match, losing the first leg 2-1. This prompted emergency measures like cutting short the holidays of Diego Forlan (having played in the Copa America) and Sergio Aguero (having just won the U20 World Cup) to have them play in the second leg at home.

They won the second leg on a single Forlan goal to go through on away goals, so I guess it paid off.

Speaking of Sergio Aguero, he's come back from the U20 World Cup laden with silverware, including a winner's medal, the Golden Boot and the MVP award, just like a certain Leo Messi did at the last tournament (and Javier Saviola before that in 2001). Congratulations to him, and - drifting off-topic for a moment - to the young Albiceleste in general, for continuing Argentina's proud tradition and strong track record in youth football. I was very impressed by Aguero's desire to participate in the tournament, even going so far as to call up the coach and ask to be included in the squad. This eagerness to serve will probably help him get imminent call-ups to the senior side that may be denied others who decided to go on vacation instead of playing for their country.

Getting back to Atletico, their adventures in the transfer market continue, having signed Simao Sabrosa from Benfica and let Martin Petrov leave for Manchester City. I have to say, I'm kind of sorry that Petrov is gone, but Simao looks like a sensible purchase (although, 20 million euros...how much did Chelsea pay for Malouda?). He's matured since his last stint in La Liga, and will probably settle better this time.

Everybody's saying that Jose Antonio Reyes has signed, but there's been no official confirmation ( that I know of) yet.


New signing Hugo Viana has unfortunately injured himself on his first day and will be out for 3 months (!).

But the club has something to be happy about, as they've got Arsenal's vastly promising young Mexican Carlos Vela on loan for a season. My understanding is that Vela's only being loaned out at this point because of work permit issues. Definitely looking forward to seeing him play in La Liga.


Good news - Turkish forward Nihat has recovered fully and is ready to have his first proper season for the club. With the departure of Forlan, Villarreal do need all their existing strikers at their best.

Even with Nihat fit, coach Pellegrini still reckons that they need another striker, and a couple of centerbacks. I couldn't agree more. The departure of a lot of experienced defensive players means that Villarreal certainly looks a bit light at the back right now.

Here's something that happened a while back, but which I completely forgot to mention - the club have signed Real Madrid's backup keeper Diego Lopez.

Real Betis

Betis have been very active in the transfer market, but the latest news has been more about who's not going than who's arriving. Firstly, midfielder Assuncao's not going anywhere, but 'striker' Robert has been booted out the door.

A lot of sides are looking for decent centerbacks in this transfer window (a topic which is probably worth a post, actually), and Betis captain Juanito has become sought after. The club are determined to keep hold of their talisman, though.


New signing Boca centerback 'Cata' Diaz arrives.

Uche signs from last season's miracle team Recre, and makes all the right noises about looking forward to working with Laudrup.


Tim from La Liga Loca has some friendlies news amidst his usual excellent round-up.

Mallorca have signed David Navarro - he of the infamous Inter fist-meets-nose incident - from Valencia.

Free agent (and incredible sulk) Diego Tristan signs for Livorno.

Valladolid's Diego Figueredo can look forward to a stern punishment for being six days (!) late to pre-season training.

Iago - who surely has one of the greatest literary names for a footballer ever - wants more playing time at Depor. No word on whether he will hatch a nefarious plan that involves slandering one of the starters' wives to get what he wants.

Non-La Liga

Hilarious offering from Eurosport: what if all those crazy transfer rumours were true? What kind of bizarro world would European football be?

Lastly, a thought-provoking piece from the Guardian about the somewhat snobbish designation of the 'true fan'. While I wouldn't go as far as the writer, I do find it problematic that just because by the accident of birth I wasn't born in Barcelona and in fact ended up living half a world away that I'm automatically less of a fan. It would be odious and hypocritical of me to rant about my fan credentials, but I would hope that if there had to be some test of 'true fan', my writing on this blog would be the subject under scrutiny, not whether or not I live in Spain.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

La Liga News Round-up: the real silly season

'Tis the season for players to be presented and for coaches to hold press conferences, apparently. Well, that and increasingly ridiculous transfer speculation. On with the news.


Vice-captain Xavi talks about each of the new signings, the disappointments of last season and Frank Rijkaard.

The official website has details of the pre-season training camp in Scotland, which won't feature the players who were involved in the Copa America (Marquez, Messi and Milito).

Joan Laporta is going to sound like a broken record soon, but as long as it's necessary, he'll keep saying it: Samuel Eto'o is not for sale.

Speaking of which, Eto'o has been busy captaining an African XI against a World XI in a charity match to celebrate the birthday of that great man, Nelson Mandela. Former Barca goalkeeping great Andoni Zubizarreta played for the World XI.

Still on the topic of Sammy: he's had to come out and reiterate once again that he's not going anywhere. To his credit, this isn't one of those transfer sagas started by a star player talking himself into the papers and starting speculation. He's been consistent about his desire to remain.

Diego Milito showers his brother Gabi with praise ahead of his Barcelona presentation.

Yaya Toure has shown unusual diligence for a Barca player - Captain Caveman obviously excluded - by voluntarily starting pre-season training early. Apparently Henry has also followed him onto the empty training pitches of La Masia. Nice.

Real Madrid

Former Liverpool 'keeper Jerzy Dudek is officially a Real player.

Youth system product and Spanish U-21 international Esteban Granero commits to a 4-year contract.

Julio Baptista has returned the compliment of technical secretary Miguel Angel Portugal by saying that he wants to stay at the club.

Here's something I completely forgot to mention: Barca B weren't the only 'reserve' side of a filthy rich club relegated at the end of last season. Real Madrid Castilla were relegated from the Spanish second division, which isn't a nice experience, but still not nearly as horrible as the feat accomplished by Barca B - which was relegation from the Spanish third division, in case you haven't heard my agonised ranting on the topic before.

Real Zaragoza

Brazilian striker Ewerthon joins Stuttgart on loan for a year with the option of a permanent move.

Roberto Ayala's controversial switch has been completed. The veteran defender also announced his retirement from international football in his unveiling press conference. (I'm crushed, of course, but that's a post for another day.)

Francisco Pavon of Real Madrid (yeah, that one) and Franclino Matuzalem of Shakhtar Donetsk have signed.

The admirable coach Victor Fernandez talks about the club's transfer activity so far.

Real Betis

Hector Cuper officially takes over as coach, promising changes in mentality and praising the new signings.

Part-time Liverpool winger Mark Gonzalez set to join
. I thought Gonzalez was quite good for Real Sociedad. No doubt he'll prove useful for Betis.


Michael Laudrup speaks about the tough job he has on his hands. He's got a point, especially with an UEFA Cup campaign to deal with. (How his presence makes me wish that Hristo Stoichkov's Celta hadn't been relegated. God, imagine the cat fights.)

Kepa Blanco is presented in apparently high spirits after his transfer from Sevilla.

Deportivo La Coruna

The president maintains that Coloccini and Lopo are staying, but not very firmly.

Zaragoza's Angel Lafita has joined on loan, having been stuck on the bench at La Romareda for most of the past season. Depor could use some attacking talent, and they've fixated on signing young players, a lot of them from other clubs' benches or reserve teams in order to affect the change of generation that they desperately needed as far back as 2 years ago.


Espanyol talisman Raul Tamudo, who has I believe never played for another club has pledged that he's happy to stay, quashing rumours of persistent overtones from Villarreal.

New signing Milan Smiljanic reported for pre-season training, but Jonatas has not. Happens every season in La Liga - South Americans being back late, that is, although I think they could probably cut the Brazilian a little slack given recent events involving a plane in that part of the world. Good on Espanyol for having actual disciplinary measures to deal with this type of thing, though. Are you taking notes, Laporta?

Real Murcia

Real Madrid's Pablo Garcia joins on loan for a year, having spent the last season on loan at now relegated Celta Vigo.

Also from Real, youth team product Alvaro Mejia has finally given up the battle for a starting spot at the Bernabeu and signed a four year deal with the newly promoted team.


Sevilla's forward Javier Chevanton is suffering from a blocked vein which may keep him out of pre-season training.

Valencia's new sporting director Miguel Angel Ruiz grumbles about how difficult it is to play attractive football these days.

Villarreal coach Pellegrini speaks about the season ahead, and the need for several new signings to plug the holes left by several departures and injuries, mostly in the back but also vitally a forward. That last part won't be easy. Those who saw him in the Premiership might laugh, but Forlan scored so many goals for Villarreal and it's hard to see anyone in the club's price range who could do the same. Unless, of course, they manage to unearth a gem from South America yet again.

Osasuna, who are in desperate need of some strikers, having waved goodbye to Savo Milosevic and Roberto Soldado, has bought in an experienced hand in the form of Walter Pandiani. The former Depor player had a good season at Espanyol in the UEFA Cup, but couldn't get into the starting line-up in the league. Good buy, I should think.

From what I've heard and seen in pre-season, Racing really need help, and finally there are signs that the club will make some moves in the transfer market. Aldo Duscher, recently released by Depor and Jorge Lopez of Valencia are reportedly the first two signings.

On a final note, I usually don't deal in transfer rumours, especially those being pushed by one of the Spanish sports papers, but occasionally I come across one so absurd that I have to point it out, if only to laugh. The geniuses at Marca - which I like chiefly for not being AS - tell us that Real Madrid are thinking about paying for Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta's 60 million euro buy-out clause to prise him away. (Original Spanish version here.)

Oh dear. Iniesta's young and brilliant, it's true, and he did almost join Real as a 12 year old, coming from a town full of Madridistas. However - Let me count the ways in which this story is ridiculous:

1) As it happens, he joined Barca as a 12 year old, and he's been bought up as the club's future ever since. Why did Cesc Fabregas have to leave? Because of Iniesta's existence. They're similar players. So the club does value him - probably about as much as they value vice-captain Xavi at this point - and won't be very keen to see him go.

2) Again, he's been at the club since he was 12. We all know that footballers don't have much loyalty these days, but if I had a list of current squad members who were blaugrana through and through, he'd be near the top.

3) If Joan Laporta is stupid enough to allow this to happen, I will personally - well, I won't say what would happen, but let's just say it would involve me getting a flight to Barcelona and subsequent unpleasantness. Possibly with a hot poker.

(University has started again, so posts will become slightly less frequent, but I'll still try to keep up with all that's going on.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ludovic Giuly leaves Barca

With all the attention paid to AC Milan's Andriy Shevchenko and Barcelona's Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o prior to Tuesday's European Champions League semifinal, Ludovic Giuly barely was mentioned.

Yet the veteran France forward was the one to beat an offside trap and send a left-footed shot past Milan goalkeeper Dida in the 57th minute for Barcelona's 1-0 win.

At 29, Giuly has reached the point in his career where he can't play a full 90 minutes anymore.

"He worked very hard in the first half. I asked (at halftime) if he had maybe 15 more minutes in him and he replied that he had 20," Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard said. "I checked my watch after he scored and it was just under 20 minutes into the half. Maybe this was what he had in mind."

Roma is his destination, with the two clubs having agreed a deal worth 3.2 million euros with possible additional payments of up to 1.2 million.

Ludo was apparently told that he was surplus to the club's requirements at the end of the 06-07 season, given the club's intentions of promoting promising young attacker Gio Dos Santos into the first team, and the steady rise of Leo Messi. I'm glad that a satisfactory settlement has been arrived at that seems to suit all parties, and Giuly departs in the same good spirit he always maintained in his time at the club.

The official website has a comprehensive article about the Frenchman's years at Barca. He joined as part of the 04-05 revolution which bought in 8 other players and which gave the fans two years of fun, games, (an astonishing number of knee and muscle injuries), trophies and some bloody good football. During his time at the club he was well regarded within the dressing room for his cheery demeanour and for being a good squad player who would perform when called upon but also sit on the bench without much complaint.

Giuly had one great season and two more fairly good ones for us, but the one thing I'll always remember him for is the brilliant strike against Milan at the San Siro, which is of course the subject of the AP article quoted above. It sent Barca into the final, which allowed us to finally bring Big Ears home again after a too-long drought. There's no way to really articulate how much that means to us supporters.

Actually, no, I lied. Here's something else I remember lividly about Giuly: the tears in his eyes as he wandered around the pitch with his little boy on his shoulders after the Champions League final, finally triumphant after the painful defeat to Porto two years earlier when he was the captain of Monaco.

Good luck, Ludo. And thank you for the memories.

(Incidentally, I'm working on a post about Rijkaard's 04-05 and 05-06 team. Quite a number out of the 27 who participated in those two seasons have departed now, and they deserve a tribute.)

Monday, July 16, 2007

the same as always: Argentina 0 - 3 Brazil

Maybe I'll write more when the grieving stops. For now, I leave you with only this bit of personal reflection:

My club: FC Barcelona. My NT: Argentina. Both deeply neurotic and more prone to dramatic disappointment than uplifting triumph, and I end up pinging from one to the other, seeking solace from the pain inflicted by one in the temporary bursts of the sublime offered by the other, right up until the neuroticism strikes again.

So it was that one of my first thoughts after coming out of mourning for the way Barca lost the title was for the Albiceleste and their preparations for the Copa America, and one of my first thoughts while still mourning Argentina's defeat at the hands of Brazil - it's always that, isn't it - was 'so when does Barca's pre-season start again?'

To finish, I'll drag out the same quote I posted when La Liga was decided, one of my favourite things ever said about football:
In a wonderful documentary following Boca to Tokyo for the match against Bayern Munich in 2001, Argentinian novelist and devout Boca follower Juan Sasturain witnessed his team's defeat up close. As his parting shot in a film called Thank You For The Game; What We Talk About When We Talk About Football, Sasturain delivers one of the most hopeful sentiments I have heard. Not winning one trophy is not so bad, he says, because we always have next season, next time ... "it's infinite. This game is infinite".

(shorter) Argentina v Brazil preview

News first. Argentina have named an unchanged starting line-up from the 11 who defeated Mexico. Brazil are likely to field Elano in place of the suspended captain Gilberto Silva.

A few wise words from the players. Mascherano:
No-one has an advantage. We will play with eleven players, and so will they. I think if Brazil have reached the final there is a reason for this. We also have our merits and on Sunday we will show this.

'To think about the absence of Kaka and Ronaldinho is a lack of respect to the other Brazilian players,' he said. 'They weren't picked by playing in the street, they are playing in world class teams. The absence of two of them doesn't mean that Brazil don't have a great potential. We are respectful to our opponents but we want to win this cup and we will do the impossible to take it to our country.

I've already written about my feelings in regards to this wonderful team. No matter what happens, that will remain.

Vamos Argentina!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

La Liga news round-up: we love loan deals!

Lots of news this time, so little to no commentary.


Rafa Marquez has opted to sit out Mexico's Copa America clash with Uruguay for third place (which they won 3-1) in order to start preparing for the club season early and make sure that the injury problems which plagued him in 06-07 don't return.

President Laporta talks about Barca's movements in the transfer market (ignore the headline as usual from the geniuses at goal.com), blaming inflating for the amount of money we've had to spend.

The purchase of Yaya Toure has filled up Barca's 3 non-EU player spots (the other two being Eto'o and Ronaldinho). This will complicate the integration of Gio Dos Santos into the first team squad until his application for Spanish citizenship comes through. Hopefully, that will be done before the beginning of the season to avoid another fiasco like the Messi row in 05-06. He (Dos Santos will probably not be leaving on loan, contrary to what that article says.)

Real Madrid

Defender Miguel Torres signs a contract extension after a decent first season in the first team squad.

New forward Javier Saviola is presented.


Coach Quique Sanchez Flores can't wait to get Asier del Horno and Curro Torres out the door. Valencia has done some brisk spring cleaning already, with David Navarro joining Racing on loan, and Miguel Pallardo and Pablo Hernandez signing for Getafe.

Hugo Viana heads to Osasuna on loan.

Goalkeeper Butelle joins Valladolid on loan with the arrival of Timo Hildebrand limiting his chances.

Uruguayan forward Regueiro goes to Real Murcia on loan.


Boulahrouz joins on loan.

The club claims that contrary to press reports, there have been no bids for Dani Alves.

President Del Nido with a feeble attempt at topping all the other priceless statements made by other club presidents in this transfer window: "Boulahrouz has left the second best team for the first."

Goalkeeper David Cobeno goes to Almeria on loan after refusing to play for Sevilla's B team.


The club explain that they had to sell Gabi Milito because the player had asked for a move and pays tribute to his years of service.

Former Real Betis striker Ricardo Oliveira will arrive on loan from AC Milan for a year.

In a shock move, Zaragoza have stolen a march on Villarreal by paying up for the 6 million euro release clause of Roberto Ayala and snatching him from the Submarines before he'd even played a game for them. Villarreal get a nice bit of cash, having gotten Ayala for free from Valencia, but they've also been left scratching their heads and one defender short. It's kind of fitting, because Zaragoza and Villarreal do sometimes look as if they're competing for the title of Most Argentinean Club in La Liga. Round 1 to Zaragoza - Ayala is definitely a good short term replacement for Milito.

Athletic Bilbao

Joaquin Caparros has been named the new coach after Fernando Macua won the club elections.

Sevilla's Aitor Ocio has signed for the club as they begin the scramble for players in order to reinforce the squad.

The Barcelona press reckons that the club would let Santi Ezquerro go for free if he wanted to rejoin Athletic, which would be very nice for everyone concerned.


Atletico's young forward Braulio doesn't want to be loaned out anymore. He demands either a first team place or to be sold. Looking at their forwards list, maybe they could use him as backup if he's any good at all, especially since Mista seems to have misplaced his scoring boots.

Espanyol announce the signing of midfielder Milan Smiljanic from FK Partizan.

Hector Cuper has been officially confirmed as coach of Real Betis

Newly released former Villarreal captain Quique Alvarez signs for Recreativo.

Racing Santander are participating in the Peace Cup in Korea. Unfortunately, they're not doing very well. (Thrashed 5-0 by Chivas? Really?)

Finally, I fully agree with this post from Sideline Views. I hate diving, but I hate deliberate, dirty fouls more. At least the former doesn't put one's victim in the hospital and amount to a criminal offense.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Argentina v Mexico overview

We tried our best, but we must say the opponents were superior. There's nothing left but to recognize just how good this Argentina team really is.
- Mexico coach Hugo Sanchez
Argentina 3 - 0 Mexico

Goals: Gabriel Heinze 45', Lionel Messi 61', Juan Roman Riquelme 65' (pen)

Argentina (4-3-1-2):


Subs: Palacio for Tevez (78'), Gago for Veron (78'), Aimar for Riquelme (86')

...and to think, the American fans had me believing that Sanchez was a sore loser. A gracious concession from the Mexican, who has done very well with the squad at his disposal. More on Mexico at the end of this post. Argentina on the other hand gave another patient, mature performance, although the disadvantages of the favoured diamond 4-3-1-2 formation were laid bare in the first half. Those disavantages being mainly a lack of width and the possibility of being overrun by a packed, physical midfield. Detailed analysis of Argentina's performance below.

  • El Pato looked a bit more nervous than he did against Peru, but he did keep the clean sheet with the invaluable aid of the woodwork. My measure of how well a 'keeper has done aside from goal mouth incidents is whether or not he transmits a sense of security to his defence, and I'm sorry to say that Pato did not meet that criteria in this game. Still our no.1, though.
  • Zanetti had a couple of lapses, but I'm willing to ignore them because of the rest of his performance. Tireless as ever, and he had a couple of very good attacking runs.
  • Ayala made me nervous a few times, particular with a tough tackle early on that could have seen him ruled out of the final if the referee had seen fit to give a yellow card. A couple of lapses, but overall I was satisfied with the way he organised the defence.
  • Milito had his best game yet in this tournament. Maybe the transfer speculation was unsettling him, and now it's done he can play without it weighing on his mind? Whatever the reason, he was solid in the back and did a good job dealing with Mexico's long balls out of defence.
  • Heinze also had his best game yet in the tournament. Aside from scoring an excellent goal, he contributed well to the attack in general. The most improved aspect of his performance has to the balance he seems to have finally achieved between attacking and defending. Perhaps Basile had a word? Defensively he did a good job shutting down the left side.
  • What can I say about Javier Mascherano? What a player. Tireless as ever, and always in the right place at the right time, marking, tackling and passing to our creators. Plus, about 80% of his tackles are clean ones where he ends up with the ball. Almost the perfect holding midfielder performance.
  • Juan Sebastian Veron has finally convinced me that he deserves to be in the starting line-up alongside Roman. It took some doing as he had a few wobbly performances, but his long-range passing has improved massively from the first few games, and his work rate has been impressive. Somehow, him and Roman are working together, although conventional wisdom says that there's no way they could. His only problem right now is that he doesn't seem to be able to last the full 90.
  • Veron's replacement Gago has also improved from his prior showings, with better passing and better judgement with his tackling. I still wouldn't play him ahead of Mascherano, but a combination of the two does work very well in bossing the midfield when Veron needs to come off to rest.
  • Cambiasso gave a satisfactory performance, continuing to improve upon his earlier showings. His movement and passing in attack is much better now, and defensively he's always done well to provide security for the main creators.
  • I can't tell you how pleased I am reading all these reports about how happy and relaxed Riquelme is feeling right now. It's long been established that the key to getting great performances from Roman is to make sure that his head is in the right place. Easy to say, not easy to do, so much credit to 'Coco' Basile. Another impressive performance, not only in the passing, the impressive freekicks and corners, but also in the determination and effort displayed. Interesting thing about Roman - he's depressive, sure, but he's not unconfident. That chipped penalty took some nerve.
  • Aimar didn't play long enough for an assessment, although I will note that he (still) combines really well with Messi.
  • Who said that a Messi and Tevez strike partnership would never work? Alright, I did, now I'm eating my words and loving every bite. Perhaps they could both pass to each other a bit more rather than make a difficult attempt on goal sometimes, but then we'd never have those spectacular, showy goals the two of them love scoring so much. A great performance from Tevez, not measured in goals scored but rather in his work rate, his wonderful assist for Messi and the powerful runs which eventually won that (slightly dodgy) penalty.
  • His replacement Palacio did a decent job running the Mexican defence down with his pace, and had a good opportunity to score from Messi's throughball.
  • I wouldn't say Messi was MOTM, but he put in another solid performance, never compromising his style of play no matter how many times he was fouled. That little incident early on in the second half where 3 Mexican defenders surrounded him and hacked him down, only for him to get back up and attempt to keep going twice (before Marquez effectively body slammed him to the ground) perfectly sums up his attitude. While Marquez did make contact on the penalty/dive incident, it wasn't a penalty. Neither was it a dive, but that was the easy call to make and I can see why the referee went for it. What else can I say? Oh, alright, that goal. Brilliant.

They've been the most positive team Argentina have played in this tournament. Sure, they get by in midfield by fouling all over the place, but they're not as rough as the Columbians and the strategy was effective in containing Argentina's attack in the first half, in which Mexico were perhaps the better team for large stretches. They did try to keep possession, build up attacks from the back and take the game to Argentina, and they were unlucky to be denied by the woodwork on a couple of very good opportunities.

If I have any criticism of Hugo Sanchez, it's that his double substitution at half-time effectively game Argentina free rein through the midfield, but he was forced by circumstances to be chasing the game at that point. Substitutions or not, Mexico had to come out and attack even more for the equaliser, and Argentina have gotten very good at killing off opponents who are chasing the game by keeping the ball and hitting back on the counter attack.

We all know about Nery Castillo now, but that kid Guardado is some player. I can't wait to see him playing with the likes of Gio Dos Santos and Carlos Vela once the latter two have 'graduated' to the senior team in a couple of years time. I hope Mexicans are proud of El Tri's efforts and their remarkable achievements in this tournament, given the averse circumstances. They've got good reason to look to the future with hope.

Another news round-up to come, and then some words before the final.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

La Liga news round-up: more transfer market insanity

Transfer insanity continues apace, with the rich clubs splashing the cash like there's no tomorrow and the less rich clubs trading players like a particularly demented version of Wife Swap. If you speak Spanish, reputable newspaper El Pais has a good list of all the transfer activity so far.


Our 4th and last signing of this transfer window, barring any unforeseeable events, has finally been officially confirmed: Argentinean central defender Gabriel Alexander Milito is now a Barca player for a cool 17 million euros, with an additional 3.5 million conditional on trophies. The Real Zaragoza captain will arrive after the conclusion of the Copa America, where he is currently preparing for the final against Brazil, and sign a 4 year deal.

Most Barca supporters seem quite happy with this move, although some are wincing at the price tag. Given the currently ridiculous levels of inflation in the transfer market, though, I'm not sure we could have done much better. If you've been watching the Copa America, you'll have noticed that Milito's pretty slow. But having said that, he's also got a fantastic sense of positioning and I've been particularly impressed with the way he copes with high balls.

Welcome, Gabi.

The club have indicated that having achieved their signing objectives of a forward, a centerback, a leftback and a defensive midfielder at considerable expense (65 million euros total, and that's not counting the trophy bonuses), they will now turn their focus towards ushering those deemed surplus to requirements out the door. Rijkaard's preference for a small squad of 23 players or less is well known, so we can expect at least 3 more players out of the current group of 26 (including Gio Dos Santos and Bojan Krkic, who are being promoted to the first team, with both expecting to agree professional terms with Barca) to leave.

For those of you who were concerned about the various transfer rumours surrounding Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o and Deco, president Joan Laporta has promised that none of them are for sale. Although, frankly, if Milan really were crazy enough to shell out for Ronaldinho's buy-out clause, I could see the logic in letting him go, much as I admire the Brazilian's skills. That buy-out clause? 125 million euros. Some second division teams' entire first XIs aren't worth that much money. More to the point, that much money could fund Barca's transfer spending for a good 3 seasons.

Laporta also spoke his mind on Javier Saviola joining Real Madrid as a free agent, more on which later on in this post. He didn't condemn the move, but he didn't exactly sound approving, either. Not that Saviola will care what Laporta - who, it must be said, was the cause of some of Saviola's problems at Barca - thinks.

Confusingly, Belletti's agent claims that his client isn't looking to leave Barca, despite having complained loudly about lack of playing time at the end of the 06-07 season and having threatened to look elsewhere for opportunities. He also confirms Roma's interest. So let me get this straight: he's definitely leaving, and you're just trying to drive down the price so he can get a decent deal. Great.

Lastly, Yaya Toure speaks about his desire to win the Champions League with Barca (join the club, lad, you're far from the only one thinking that) and his admiration of Frank Rijkaard.

Real Madrid

Real shocked everybody by announcing the prompt signing of Porto's young Brazilian-born defender Pepe for - allegedly - a whopping 30 million euros. At first glance, this is a puzzling bit of business, although the quiet efficiency with which the deal was done is very impressive. Real are probably in need of a defender, but they just signed the highly rated Christopher Metzelder for free. Surely 30 million euros is a bit much to be spending on an uncapped young player who's unproven in Spain. I have no doubt that Pepe is very talented and will prove useful for Real, who've had trouble with the centerback position in the past. (For more discussion of Pepe's signing and issues associated with Real's defence, see the recent posts by Gonzalo at All In White.)

Iker Casillas has already come out in defence of the price tag. He makes a lot of sense, as always, although my personal theory regarding the price tag is that the 'blame' can be laid squarely at the door of the Porto chairman, who has done some very good business in the past: 30 million euros for Ricardo Carvalho, 20 million euros for Paulo Ferreira, 15 million euros for Maniche (!) and so on.

More boardroom business: Sergio Ramos has got himself a much deserved pay rise after his impressive performances of the last few seasons and striker Roberto Soldado has earned himself a nice five year contract after having a good season on loan at Osasuna.

I'm going to remain in denial about the latest Real signing until he's presented in a white kit, but it seems to be official: Javier Saviola has joined as a free agent. Isaiah over at the Barcelona Offside and most of the commenters there are taking it much better than I am. It's not that I dislike him - far from it. I'm quite fond of Saviola. But I'm cringing in anticipation of his first visit to the Camp Nou now.

It wasn't a wise move in that sense, in my opinion, although it's nowhere near a Luis Figo-type case, but also I can't see how he's going to get regular playing time, which is a concern of mine because I support the Albiceleste. This is Real's current striker list: Ruud van Nistelrooy, Raul, Robinho, Gonzalo Higuain, Antonio Cassano, Roberto Soldado. So how many of those are Schuster going to play in his formation? 2 or 3, most likely, and you'd think van Nistelrooy and Raul will be default starters. We'll see, I suppose. (Please correct me if I'm wrong about any of this, Madridistas.)


(Allegedly) batty president del Nido has reacted predictably to Freddie Kanoute's frank request for a (probably deserved) pay rise - I'm pretty sure he doesn't have a massive contract right now - by pretty much flipping him the metaphorical finger. Kanoute has already had a 15 million euro price tag slapped on him, so watch this space.

Meanwhile, the club have signed Malian international Seydou Keita from Lens on a four year deal for an undisclosed fee.


Atletico presented young Brazilian striker Diego Costa da Silva, but confusingly enough he's probably not going to play for them in 07-08.

Their failure to qualify directly for the UEFA Cup in 06-07 has seen Atletico's players 'punished' with having to cut their vacations short and start pre-season early to get ready in time for the Intertoto Cup. Coach Javier Aguirre held his first press conference of the season and discussed the impending campaign.


New Recreativo coach Victor Munoz spoke about the difficulties he anticipates for the club in their second season, and having had a glance at that list of departing players at the end of that article, I agree with him. Yikes. They need some signings, alright.

In departures, having already lost captain Arruabarrena to AEK Athens and Diego Forlan to Atletico Madrid, Villarreal have also lost influential midfielder Alessio Tacchinardi, who has ended his loan period and returned to Juventus, where he's looking to join another Italian club.

Relegated Real Sociedad have let midfielder Mikel Alonso - brother of Xabi - go on loan to Bolton. I promise I'll stop writing about La Real soon, but they've just been relegated after all.

Lastly, Depor, Mallorca and Betis can give themselves a pat on the back for one excellent signing each. Betis have secured themselves a replacement for dodgy 'keeper Toni Doblas in Sporting Lisbon's Ricardo Pereira - yes, that Ricardo, and he only cost 3 million euros. I'm looking forward to having the Portuguese no.1 in La Liga.

Mallorca have signed Cameroonian forward Pierre Webo, who just left Osasuna on a free transfer. They do need a goalscorer, especially after selling one of their only decent attacking players in the form of Bosko Jankovic (the other one is the Venezuelan Arango) and Webo's a fairly good one who knows La Liga.

In my last round-up post, I wrote about the hole Depor have found themselves in. They avoided a relegation struggle in 06-07 chiefly because they could defend a bit, and now they've sold several of their best defenders (Capdevila to Villarreal, Andrade to Juventus) and are looking to flog another decent one in the form of Fabricio Coloccini to Zaragoza.

Not sure how they're going to line up defensively in the new season, but at least they've started splashing some of the cash they got from those sales in order to solve their attacking problems. Signing promising young Mexican Andres Guardado from Atlas for around 7 million euros is a good start. He's a fine midfielder and I'm very much looking forward to seeing him play in Spain. Depor fans must feel slightly better about the next season now - although they're not out of the financial doghouse yet.

Argentina es un sentimiento: happiness, pride and the Albiceleste

Genius, genius, genius. Absolutely superb strike. And look, not a smile! What makes this guy smile? I mean, come on, Román, give us a look, give us a smile, baby.
- GolTV's Ray Hudson, after Juan Roman Riquelme scored a fantastic free kick for Villarreal in 2005.
Argentina 4 - 0 Peru

This is a different type of match report to my previous ones, which were based on individual player assessments. Because I wanted to say things that wouldn't have sounded right in that format, and the first of those is that watching Roman play right now reminds me over and over again just why I love football. I've never seen him play like this, not only passing brilliantly as always but running from box to box, tackling, and with a lethal finish. It makes one feel privileged to witness such an obviously inspired performance.

Ray - bless him - lamented the melancholy that we've all seen seemingly etched into his face, but now smiles from Roman have become far easier to come by, and from all indications, he's happy. In a way, Roman's quite easy to understand: when he's happy, he can play. And that's all you need to win games.

Bless 'Coco' Basile for grasping that.

Bless him also for recognising the worth of Javier Zanetti. You may say that everyone knows how good the Inter captain is, but his recall only looks like the most obvious move in hindsight because it has worked so beautifully. Zanetti sets an example for the team, because he never seems to get tired, he never stops working, looking for opportunities or defending with class.

I'm writing this just a few hours before the semi-final game against Mexico, and I feel a need to get this down: I believe in this team and their ability utterly. No matter what happens, I'll still feel proud to support the Albiceleste, and proud of this incredible squad of players.

How could I not be? Look at the fighting spirit, work rate and wonderful skill of Carlos Tevez, even though he's had to come off the bench. Look at the never-say-die attitude of Leo Messi, who takes the hard hits and keeps going, never letting fear dictate his style of play. Look at the absolutely masterful and tireless performances of Javier Mascherano.

Each and everyone of them desperate to come to Venezuela, to play and win for Argentina, despite whatever travails they experienced during the club season.

Thank you, boys. Now let's go for it.

Vamos Argentina!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

La Liga news round-up

Oh boy, now that Real Madrid finally have a coach the amount of transfer news is just going to increase, isn't it? On the plus side, we can all stop talking about the soup opera that was the hiring process - or at least I will after this post.


The Joan Gamper Trophy, which is Barca's traditional season opener in which we play a friendly against a big team, preferably from abroad isn't going to be a season opener this time around, which kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise. But that's exactly the way our genius club management operates, having managed to clog up the pre-season schedule yet again.

Nevermind. The opponents will be Inter Milan this time, which brings with it the slightly scary prospect of Luis Figo stepping onto the Camp Nou turf again. I'm asking nicely, Mancini, please don't bring him. Not because I really hate Figo - that kind of thing fades with the years, and all I've ever managed is a vague distaste anyway - but because I dread the prospect of what's traditionally a day of warm fuzzy glows and celebration turning really, really unpleasant.

Apparently the revoluntary concept of having a code of conduct for the dressing room has caught on, and Joan Laporta handed down his Ten Commandments (as Sport is calling it) this week, including crazy ideas such as turning up to training on time, and, um, turning up to training, period.

I think it's especially interesting to read this in depth Rijkaard interview and this (brutally honest as ever) Samuel Eto'o interview in light of Laporta's statements. Frankie's attempt to take the blame for everything that's gone wrong is admirable, and that combined with his coaching style which emphasises respect and communication means that he's still regarded well by the players. But it's clear that some things will change.

Note this passage from the Eto'o interview:
I was the first person to make a mistake; because we could have sorted everything out internally. This is what I will be careful of next year and I will make sure that everything is kept inside and that there is no chance of things leaking out.
I was quite surprised to read that. Good on him for the mea culpa, and hopefully - given his forthright nature - he'll be able to stick to that.

Also reassuring, Eto'o on his alleged conflict with Rijkaard:
What really did hurt quite a bit was when they tried to say things were bad between me and the coach. It was partly my fault because there are times when you want to use a word and you put in another one instead and everyone is ready to pounce. But have absolutely no problem with the coach. I am delighted that he is the coach because I think that he is the best there is.
Deco on the other hand believes that an (unholy) combination of Mourinho's tactical nous and Rijkaard's man-management would make the perfect coach. He also says that good pal Ronaldinho's happy at Barca. I'm glad he is and I really hope he comes back from holiday fit and ready to play.

On to transfers:

Out: Saviola (free agent), Gio (free transfer to Feyenoord), Toni Calvo (B Team, sold to Aris Salonica), other B team players

In: Henry (24 million euros from Arsenal), Abidal (15 million euros from Lyon), Toure (9 million euros from Monaco), Dos Santos and Krkic (graduating from the B team)

Likely to go: Motta, Giuly, Ezquerro, Belletti

Motta's still demanding a free transfer, but Barca have (somewhat delusional) hopes of getting up to 8 million euros for him. He does have quite a few caps for Brazil, but based on form for the past few seasons, I can't see anyone paying more than 5 million for him at the very, very most. If we're very, very lucky.

Giuly's turned down quite a few offers and is going to report back to training for pre-season despite the club having made it clear to him at the end of the season that he was surplus to requirements, all because he wants a free transfer as well. Oh dear.

Real Madrid

First the big news: Real have finally concluded one of the sagas of the transfer window by appointing Bernard Schuster as their new coach. This after Schuster was forced to pay for his release fee from Getafe out of his own pocket. The former Barca and Real player, not to mention FC Barcelona club member - No. 115088, to be precise - also has some interesting things to say about the impact of Fabio Capello and the way his team will play in that article.

President Ramon Calderon has been singing Schuster's praises and promising entertaining football to the press, which is fine except for the claim that the fans wanted Schuster instead of Capello when polls indicated that the majority were opposed to Capello's sacking. Oh yeah, he also wants you to know that selling Ronaldo won Real the title. Alright, maybe that's true - I wouldn't presume to know - but it does sound just a teeny bit ungrateful given the seasons in which Ronaldo's goals won Real games even when they didn't play well.

In other Madrid related transfer news, Jose Antonio Reyes will most likely be joining Real if a deal can be worked out with Arsenal (and if the Londoners aren't too angry about the whole Cesc business to talk). Emerson's agent also wants you to know that he's not leaving - cue groaning from the Bernabeu's faithful.

Real's first transfer window signing - sort of - defender Christopher Metzelder finally arrives in Spain.

Some bloke named David Beckham puts forward his own reason on why the club suffered the trophy draught that ended recently.


Whatever you can say about Sevilla's president Del Nido - and there's certainly a lot to say - I quite like his club's policy when it comes to interest from other clubs in their players. Which is to slap a price tag on them and wait for the suitors to either meet it or go away. They've now done so for star striker Freddie Kanoute (15 million euros, if anyone's interested, which seems reasonable to me), who by the sound of things of things doesn't so much want to leave as he wants a pay rise. I'd say let him have one, as he is hard working, dedicated and one of the stars of that side. But then I don't own a football club.

Sevilla have also got their first signing of this transfer window in the form of 30 year old Italian 'keeper Morgan de Sanctis, who invoked a recent FIFA ruling to terminate his contract with Udinese. Looks like the Italian club aren't going to let him go (for free) without a fight, though.


The president of Atletico speaks about Torres, the disappointments of the 06-07 season, and his desire to leave the club in a better state than when he started when he does go.

Jon Dahl Tomasson is making his loan move from Stuttgart to Villarreal permanent, signing a one year deal.

New Depor coach Lotina has a lot on his plate. Despite the funds from the (already done) sales of Jorge Andrade and Joan Capdevila and the (pending) sale of Fabricio Coloccini, his club aren't exactly rolling in funds, and he's got to do something to improve what this article terms 'the worst strike force in La Liga'. I was going to protest at that, but statistically Depor did score the least goals last season along with (relegated) Real Sociedad. To make matters worse, they've sold Javier Arizmendi, their top scorer last season with a whopping 5 goals to Valencia. Luckily their young striker Adrian Lopez looks to be coming of age at the U20 World Cup, but surely that won't be enough.

Newly promoted Almeria have been quite busy in the transfer window. It's interesting to see them raiding Real Sociedad for players - I would have thought Athletic would have been eager to snap up any decent Basque players that wanted to leave La Real, despite the rivalry. (Lord knows Athletic need the help, since they've lost a few important players in the transfer windo themselves.)

Monday, July 09, 2007

(shorter) Argentina v Paraguay

Quick impressions only, I'm afraid, ahead of the quarterfinal against Peru.

Argentina 1 - 0 Paraguay

Goals: Mascherano (79)

Argentina (4-3-1-2):


The positives:
  • Abbondanzieri looks much more confident, although he didn't exactly have a lot to do
  • Zanetti is having a brilliant tournament. I can't praise him enough.
  • Burdisso looks like a solid backup for Ayala and Gabi Milito.
  • Cambiasso has improved massively.
  • Palacio: he works hard, he's got pace, he can cross, and he can hit a ball. Not bad, although it's clear he needs a more traditional center forward to play off.
  • Tevez looked very lively and created some danger.
  • Messi's supersub performance. (And the fact that he's not injured, despite being hacked at every time he runs with the ball.)
  • Mascherano. Not just a brilliant holding midfielder, but what a goal.
The not so good:
  • Ibarra and Diaz were decent but one can see why they're not first choice.
  • Gago looks out of sorts. Mascherano's a different class to him right now.
  • Someone else who looks out of sorts: Lucho Gonzalez. Dear Lord. I really wish we had Maxi Rodriguez fully fit now.
  • Aimar showed some spark, but also that he's better as an impact sub or a supporting midfielder than the starting playmaker right now. We definitely missed Riquelme.

I was very impressed with their defensive effort. They play a 4-4-2 with the two rows of four retreating very quickly and leaving little space everytime Argentina went forward, and it works very well. Offensively they were limited to counter-attacks or long balls up to their two forwards, but then they didn't have to win. If they can defend like this against Mexico, I think they have a chance.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

La Liga news round-up

My take on Argentina v Paraguay will have to wait until I've had time to see the game again, but meanwhile here's the latest on the shenanigans of La Liga's clubs, most of whom have gone transfer crazy. A Barca, Real and Sevilla heavy round-up this time around.


The first story isn't transfer related at all, surprisingly. An announcement from Barca's website states that club management have asked for the first game of the new season to be played away. You might think this is a really stupid idea, given that surely everyone wants to start the season well with a nice cozy home win, and you'd be right. However, there is (some) reason behind the club's madness, as such a change would enable the fixture on the 4th match day to be played at home. That day happens to be the 23rd of September, which is the 50th anniversary of Camp Nou. Fair enough, I suppose.

Barca's search for a central defender continues, with the rumour mill now focused on Gabi Milito of Real Zaragoza. The latest statement from Milito's agent indicates that Barca have yet to speak to him, and there's no agreement with Juventus either. Hopefully this won't drag on too much. Given Soriano's preferred way of doing business - quickly and quietly - we should expect an announcement within the next week if there's to be a deal at all.

Moving from arrivals to departures, Barca are apparently trying to off-load part-time striker Maxi Lopez to Sporting Lisbon on a loan deal. That article may make it sound like the deal's done, but apparently Sporting are still understandably reluctant, given Maxi's less than stellar record for Barca and Mallorca.

Lastly, Xavi expresses his admiration of Thierry Henry and looks back on a disappointing season. By the way, my understanding of the 'tour' of Scotland mentioned in that article is that it's not really a tour - we're basing the pre-season there instead of in Denmark where we usually go.

Real Madrid

The Schuster saga rumbles on, with Real apparently unwilling to play ball with Getafe, who are understandably a bit miffed about their coach being apparently tapped up and want Schuster's buy-out clause to be paid. Ramon Calderon's behaviour in this debacle has led to understandable frustration from Real supporters (see Gonzalo's take). As Tim from La Liga Loca informs us, even Marca are getting annoyed with the lack of certainty with the pre-season looming and transfer business to be done.

According to Calderon, though, everything's just fine and Schuster will be unveiled soon. From the way he phrased his answer, it seems he's under the impression that Schuster will pay the compensation fee that is under dispute. Along with some routine transfer talk, the article also features a charming turn of phrase regarding his stalkerish pursuit of Kaka:
The Real chief reiterated the club's desire to sign AC Milan playmaker Kaka despite the fact that the Serie A side have said repeatedly that the Brazilian is not for sale.

'We've got a problem because Milan have taken a strong line on him but we have to see if he really wants to come and is prepared to tell his club president that he wants a change. From what I've been told he wants to come.'
That's not a 'problem', Ramon. It's called 'clubs have the final say on under-contract players', also known as one of the fundamental rules governing club football. No offense, Real supporters. It's just that your president is just as much of a moron as ours.

Speaking of Real and transfers, apparently talks with Roma defender Christian Chivu have stalled over his apparently extravagant wage demands. Roma must not be very pleased about this development, given that fact that they've already agreed satisfactory terms with Real over this transfer.

Lastly, former Racing Santander coach Migual Angel Portugal is back at Real Madrid, having been named their new technical secretary. It's unclear how his job will intersect with sporting director Predrag Mijatovic's at this point. (For a bit of discussion on this, see Gonzalo's post, linked above.)


Sevilla president Del Nido has named his price to any would-be suitors for multi-purpose Brazilian rightback Dani Alves: 30 million euros.

The same article also reports that talented but troubled young winger Jesus Navas has signed a new contract, quashing rumours of a transfer to Lyon.

A few days after the above statement, Del Nido spoke to the press again and denied that there had been any bids lodged for Alves, as well as confirming that Kepo Blanco was off to Getafe.

Sevilla have also allowed Real Murcia to exercise their purchase option on Paco Gallardo, who has been on loan there. He signed a two year deal with the newly promoted side.

One player who's not going anywhere is Italian Enzo Maresca, despite rumours in Italian papers which have linked him to various Serie A clubs.


Despite the ongoing wrangling involving Bernard Schuster I discussed above, Getafe have already got themselves a new coach lined up - and it's yet another former Barca and Real legend in the form of Michael Laudrup. Everything's done, they just have to wait for the Schuster mess to be sorted out to put pen to paper.

Undeterred by their lack of coach, Getafe have also been signing players, recently landing Argentineans Oscar Ustari from Independiente and Daniel Diaz from Boca Juniors. Diaz is a solid centerback who just had a decent game playing for Argentina against Paraguay in the Copa America. If he adapts well to the Spanish league, he could go some way towards filling the hole left by the departure of Alexis to Valencia.

Ustari's case is a bit more complicated. I'd hoped for the longest time that Barca would sign him, because he's a very talented young keeper who just missed out on going to the Copa America through injury and who is going to be Argentina's no.1 someday. However, Getafe already have the current Argentinean no.1 Roberto Abbondanzieri who had a fine season for them in 06-07, so I'm not sure what they mean to do with Ustari. Perhaps loan him out to a club where he'd be playing regularly? That would be good for his development.

Real Sociedad

Yeah, I know they're no longer a 'La Liga' club, but I wanted to cover these two pieces of news. The first is rather sad, but I suppose it's inevitable for a relegated club to lose their best players. Veteran striker Darko Kovacevic, who has been with the club for many years, some of them glorious, has finally left the club under murky circumstances (he claims the club didn't contact him about a renewal) and joined Olympiacos. In his last 2 seasons at La Real he was frequently plagued by injury, but before that he was once one of La Liga's best strikers, who gave his best years to the Basque club.

Second, La Real have confirmed the appointment of Chris Coleman, formerly of Fulham as coach. Good luck to him.

Others (no discussion, just other interesting headlines)

Valencia's garage sale list: Asier del Horno, Curro Torres and David Navarro.

Villarreal's new signing Roberto Ayala was impressed by their winning streak near the end of the season.

Deportivo La Coruna's website claims that Jorge Andrade has been sold to Juventus.

Recreativo have appointed Victor Munoz (formerly of Villarreal and Zaragoza) as their new coach.

Osasuna have let centerback Carlos Cuellar sign for Rangers, pocketing 2 million euros.

Argentinean wingback Clemente Rodriguez of Boca Juniors is going to be on loan at Espanyol for a season and will be aiming to win himself a transfer to the club.