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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.