Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Barca v Sevilla, Nou Camp Nou and the Ronaldinho crisis

Barca 2 - 1 Sevilla

A very important win for Barca, especially given the pre-game celebrations for the 50th birthday of that beautiful stadium, the Camp Nou.

  • Henry looks better with every game. Desperately unlucky for the nth time in front of goal, but as the man said himself, give him a month to get fitter and used to the team.
  • The new signings have really toughened up the defence.
  • Andres Iniesta. He's been a victim of the good form of Xavi and Deco, which is a bit unfair given just how consistently good he's been.
  • Leo Messi. As Hernan Crespo once said, 'a promise that's turning into reality'.
  • Oleguer. Oh dear. I appreciate that it's not easy to come into a game late on having not played for a couple of weeks, but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that had he not come on, Barca might not have had to endure a late scare.
  • Ronaldinho - more on which in the next section.
Sevilla president Del Nido said that Barca deserved to win and that they had no complaints about the defeat (which frankly caused me to wonder if he's had a personality transplant), but the statement made in the spirit of fair play is very much appreciated. Coach Juande Ramos was fair and gracious, as always.

I thought Frank Rijkaard's post-game comments were very appropriate, and especially liked his remark on Messi's goal celebration.

other news

The big one in terms of the club is the unveiling of the plans for the renovation of the Camp Nou. The Guardian also has a nice piece on the news. Some of the details on the new facilities are great. Personally, I have come to like it almost in spite of myself. It's daring and different, and that's as it should be. If you're a sceptical Barca supporter, give it time. You may come to change your mind like I did. My personal favourite thing about the current Camp Nou - the open bowl shape - will unfortunately be lost, but it's a small price to pay for a roof for the watching faithful. Come to think of it, it is rather strange that one of the best stadiums in Europe leaves the majority of its spectators to get rained on.

Congratulations are due to Deco, who will play his 100th league game for Barca against Zaragoza, barring any misfortune.

However, the big story of Barca v Zaragoza has to be the duel of the Milito brothers, who have gone their separate ways club-wise once again after 2 seasons of playing on the same team. Hopefully we won't see a repeat of the incident in one of the Racing-Independiente derbies they contested on opposite sides back in Argentina, in wich Diego (the older of the brothers, incidentally) demanded that Gaby be sent off for a rough tackle on him.


Great writing as always from the usual suspects on La Liga: Sid Lowe on Ronaldinho, the stadium and Messi, and Phil Ball on the same issues. Also, for once someone makes sense at, also on Ronaldinho.

Nou Camp Nou

While I agree with Phil on the increasingly embarrassing and erratic behaviour of that megalomaniac Joan Laporta, I find his lament on the corportisation of Barcelona strange, to say the least. Surely it's far too late for that? It's a sad fact of life for fans of top-flight football in any major league, after all. Additionally, renovating a 50-year-old stadium to ensure comfort for the spectators and better access for the disabled, amongst other things, doesn't seem terribly wrong to me. Again, it now seems slightly ridiculous that a stadium which aspires to be one of the best in Europe has no roof, leaving the majority of fans to get drenched on rainy match days.


Any discussion on Ronaldinho must begin with one statement of fact: as Sylvinho said a few years ago, 'he's important for Barcelona on and off the field'.

On the field, he has, as Laporta, Rijkaard and several players pointed out this week, changed the history of the club. Enough said.

Off the field, he has bought many new fans to the club all over the world (especially amongst the young) and serves as a great recruitment tool for the Barcelona youth system in South America along with Messi.

What the board have had to consider is the effect of selling Ronaldinho on Barcelona both those fronts, especially if his form is, as Rijkaard said, 'recoverable'.

(What frankly amazes me is the sheer power of the Ronaldinho brand - the (British) commentators kept telling me during the game against Lyon that he was the best thing since sliced bread when that was evidently not what was happening on the pitch. Which I suppose just demonstrates my point.)

As Phil points out in his article, this whole business with his injury has been more than a little distasteful. However, it must be said this does not actually appear to be an attempt to cover up him being dropped for being out partying 48 hours before the game against Osasuna. Why? Well, apparently Ronnie protested his innocence over the partying incident to Rijkaard, who said that he believed him. So it would be inconsistent of the club to administer a punishment.

Secondly, it was apparently Ronaldinho himself who offered up injury as a reason for not playing against Sevilla. So any cover-up originated within his own camp. Now, is he actually injured? Maybe. What is clear is that after his lack of discipline last season was covered up by Barca (that whole 'he's not missing training, he's in the gym' thing), some people have had enough and no longer trust either him or the club when they announce his status.

What is also clear is that Ronaldinho has a fair bit of support within the dressing room, although not as much as he used to with the departures of Belletti and Motta, and Rijkaard has given him his full public backing. With that in mind, I applaud the Dutchman's actions in taking Ronnie off in previous games when he hasn't looked fully fit and up for it. If anybody doesn't play well, it's logical that they get taken off to have a rest, while a (hopefully) more effective player comes on. So why the fuss when it happens to Ronaldinho? After all, wasn't one of the reasons for the dressing room unrest last season the appearance of the club having one set of rules for Ronnie and one set for everybody else?

That said, I'm not ready to give up on him just yet (although as you can probably tell, my patience is running out), keeping in mind what he has contributed to the club in the past 4 seasons. Remember, 3 games ago everybody loved him. I know us Barca fans can be fickle sometimes, but that's taking it a bit far.

P.S.: I will be travelling to fair Wellington this weekend, home of Wellington Phoenix of the A-league, of course. Unfortunately I won't have time to catch a game while I'm there, though. Enjoy the football, and posting will resume as normal when I get back.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Barca news round-up: what a difference a day makes

Barcelona 3-0 Lyon

  • 3 points against arguably our most difficult rival in the group
  • Messi continues to improve all aspects of his game
  • Henry really needed that goal
  • Great to see Giovani and Bojan get their Champions League debut
  • That defence: Zambrotta-Marquez-Milito-Abidal. Excellent, and they should start every game until Puyol is fully fit. Lyon only had one shot on goal.
  • Deco has really responded to the pressure (credit to Rijkaard for motivating him once again), Xavi is as tidy as ever, and Iniesta is just brilliant. It's a hard choice for the coach to make, having to pick two out of three.
  • Toure has made a great start to his Barca career, really earning the admiration of the fans with his work rate and skill. Same with Abidal.
  • Far too wasteful in attack. So many great chances went begging before Messi's goal.
  • Ronaldinho still doesn't look quite right. I believe his substitution was the correct decision.
  • Henry also looks a bit off the pace, although that should change as he gets used to the way Barca play.

The bidding to renovate the Camp Nou has been won by prestigious architects Norman Foster. The plans include the addition of another 10000 seats, taking the stadium capacity to a ridiculous 110000 and is expected to cost 250 million euros.

Congratulations to Xavi, who equalled the club record for most number of appearances in international competition with his 85th match for the club in UEFA and FIFA club competitions. Remember, he's only 27. The Catalan had this to say about the honour:
"It is a beautiful number to help celebrate an important win," smiled the 27-year-old Spanish international midfielder. "I still feel young. I feel important within this squad and the fans continue to show me great affection.
I damn well hope the club continues to make the third captain of the squad feel important. He's a hugely underrated player and always wonderful to watch.

Congratulations are also due to Bojan Krkic, who became the youngest player ever to play in the Champions League not only for Barca, but in the history of the competition at the age of 17 years and 22 days. The previous Barca record holder was the man who he replaced, Leo Messi, who was an ancient 17 years, 5 months and 13 days when he started the game against Shaktar Donetsk 3 years ago.

Lastly, it gives me great pleasure to announce that club captain Carles Puyol is finally back in full training with the rest of the squad, who gave him a warm welcome back. We've missed his leadership and his spirit.

However, Puyol hasn't been included in the squad to face Sevilla.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Shorter Barca news and comments

I don't think I need to write a match report - it was the same old problems, after all. That's the depressing part, although I'd argue that it's far from crisis time just yet. The team are in an awkward position right now with a string of tough matches coming up that they have to get results in, but if they can't rise to the challenge then they don't deserve to compete for any silverware anyway.

Frank Rijkaard
's critics had predicted that he wouldn't dare use the two new wonderkids Bojan and Giovani in a proper game, and he surprised them yet again. However, he was somewhat forced into the decision by the injuries to Messi and Eto'o, and the state of affairs that led to Giuly leaving. No doubt Ronaldinho's poor showing - which led to his substitution on 65 minutes - also influenced the decision. But congratulations to Giovani - and to Gaby Milito - who started their first match for Barca, and to Bojan, who made his official debut for the club. The 17-year-old striker broke Messi's record for the youngest player to start a league match for Barca, and it's too bad that the occasion did not come with a win.

By the way, the Catalan press would do well to lay off Rijkaard - any problems that Barca have are deep-rooted and mostly not of his making. I can't even say how frustrated I am with certain players right now. More on which later, I'm sure. In the mean time, I mostly agree with Deco, although it's hard not to be sceptical about some of his claims.

The good news ahead of the daunting Champions League clash against Lyon to come is that Messi is back in training, although Thuram seems to have picked up a knock.

As for the match itself, and indeed the weekend in general, I direct you to Phil Ball, who as usual is wise and fair. His comments on the Spanish NT are great too, although my opinion of Aragones is, shall we say, somewhat lower than his.

Also good to see the English-speaking press (the always astute Kevin McCarra, in this case) taking more notice of the phenomenon that is Sevilla. I hope they have a wonderful Champions League campaign this season.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Barca news round-up

I could write about Argentina's win over Australia, but I'm still not sure what I think about that performance. Encouraging in some ways, but utterly infuriating in others, and there's no time left to get it right. But anyway, the daily grind of club football returns, and with it the Champions League, at long last.

Everyone got back from international duty with the arrival of the players who had participated in Brazil v Mexico, and no one seems to be injured, except:

Messi got a thigh strain against Australia. The club seems to be saying that it's not going to require a long lay-off, and he might play against Lyon, but I know better than to trust their minimal information medical bulletins. We know that injuries are part and parcel of the way Messi plays, but a long spell on the sidelines yet again is the last thing he needs. The moment he went down clutching his leg and then covering his face with his hands in Australia I thought of him making that exact motion when he got injured against Chelsea in 2006, and was reassured when he was able to continue. Unfortunately it seems that my first instinct was correct.

On the plus side, Gudjohnsen is fit again. That's not sarcasm, by the way. With Eto'o out we could use his help.

Excitingly, 17-year-old wonder kid striker Bojan Krkic is in the squad to face Osasuna. The absentees are the aftementioned Messi, long term injury victims Puyol (whose recovery is coming along nicely), Eto'o and Edmilson, and the suspended Rafael Marquez.

Osasuna have proven to be difficult opponents for Barca in the past, especially away, and a victory would confirm that the team are on the right course. It won't be easy, but I hope for a change from the 'can't be bothered to win' attitude that got us a draw last season.

In other news, the Wellington Phoenix got their first win of this season with a 1-2 away victory over big-spending Sydney FC. They desperately needed a win to reassure the fans that they weren't made of the same (unfortunate) breed as the now defunct New Zealand Knights, and they went to Australian and got one. Well done.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Argentina vs Australia squad news

This is the list of 21 players who have been called up for the friendly against Australia, to be played in Melbourne (in the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground) on the 11th of September:

Goalkeepers: Roberto Abbondanzieri (Getafe, Spain), Oscar Ustari (Getafe), Sergio Romero (AZ Alkmaar, the Netherlands)

Fair enough, given the situation with Carrizo (which I'll touch on below). I'm becoming increasingly concerned about playing time for Ustari at club level as well.

Defenders: Daniel 'Cata' Diaz (Getafe), Gabriel Heinze (Real Madrid, Spain), Fabricio Coloccini (Deportivo La Coruna, Spain), Nicholas Burdisso (Inter, Italy), Javier Zanetti (Inter), Gabriel Milito (Barcelona, Spain), Martin Demichelis (Bayern Munich, Germany)

I can understand the need to experiment, but I would have liked to see Garay get another call-up. He's definitely a solid performer, and the defeat to Norway cannot be blamed on him. (Playing Gabi Milito at leftback, however, has to be one of the strangest decisions I've ever seen. With all the players Argentina have, you'd think we would have a couple of leftbacks to spare when Heinze isn't available.) I've put Demichelis in this category because Basile has called up so many defensive midfielders that I doubt he also wants Demichelis for that position. Still not too sure about Coloccini, although I hear good things about him at club level playing rightback.

Midfielders: Fernando Gago (Real Madrid), Maxi Rodriguez (Atletico Madrid, Spain), Jonás Gutiérrez (Real Mallorca, Spain), Javier Mascherano (Liverpool, England), Cristian Ledesma (Olympiakos, Greece), Federico Insúa (Club America, Mexico)

Gago must be getting concerned about his amount of playing time at Real now that the double pivot era seems to be over, especially when he's competing with the brilliant Mascherano. Gutierrez has been called up a couple of times, and he's done well for Mallorca in the past, but to be honest, I'm not sure he's the answer. Ledesma is a bit of an unknown for me, although I've heard good things. Insua has been on good form since going to Mexico, and it will be interesting to see if Basile intends to give him the responsibility of being the playmaker.

I'm still advocating for Aimar and D'Alessandro, but they've been off-colour for Zaragoza so far this season, so we'll have to wait and see.

Forwards: Javier Saviola (Real Madrid), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid), Hernán Crespo (Inter), Carlos Tevez (Manchester United)

I'm glad to see Aguero called up, since he's very much deserving. Other than that, my concern is still the lack of no.9 options other than Crespo.

Unfortunately, Diaz, Crespo and Maxi Rodriguez have all had to pull out of the squad for various reasons. This means that Basile is left with a squad of just 18 players to face a difficult opponent on their home ground.

That doesn't even touch on the urgent and very serious problems that Basile must address before World Cup qualification starts with a match against Chile, which is our next game:
  • Many of the countries went to the Copa America with an experimental squad in order to prepare for the qualifiers. We didn't.
  • This lack of preparation has been compounded by the inactivity at club level of several important players, like Crespo, Riquelme and Carrizo (who has been loaned back to River but is at risk of not starting).
  • Riquelme's case is the most severe, since he won't get called up if he's not playing at club level, and Basile had built the team around him in the Copa America.
  • The team doesn't have the time to look for a new playmaker and to calibrate their strategy to that player.
  • There is uncertainty in defence with the retirement of previous leader Ayala.
So to sum up, we don't know how we're going to play, and who should be playing. Needless to say, this is not a good situation to go into the qualifiers with.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Barcelona news and a rant about el presidente Laporta

The so-called 'FIFA virus' strikes again. Personally, I've got nothing against international football - in fact, I love it - but I just wish the federations and FIFA would schedule things a bit better. It's unfortunate that this international break comes two weeks into the La Liga (and Serie A) season. 14 Barca players have been called up this time:

Ronaldinho (Brazil, vs Mexico and USA)
Giovani dso Santos (Mexico, vs Panama and Brazil)
Gabi Milito and Leo Messi (Argentina, vs Australia)

competitive matches
Xavi and Iniesta (Spain, Euro 08 qualifiers vs Iceland and Latvia)
Lilian Thuram, Eric Abidal and Thierry Henry (France, Euro 08 qualifiers vs Italy and Scotland)
Gianluca Zambrotta (Italy, Euro 08 qualifiers vs France and Ukraine)
Eidur Gudjohnsen (Iceland, Euro 08 qualifiers vs Spain and Northern Ireland)
Deco (Portugal, Euro 08 qualifiers vs Poland and Serbia)
Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast, African Nations Cup qualifier, Gabon)

Samuel Eto'o had his operation, and it was apparently a success. He's now back home recovering, where his Cameroon team-mates visited to wish him well, which is nice of them. Official word is that he'll return to training in 8 weeks, but as Barca fans know well, muscle injuries can be tricky, so who knows. Here's hoping for a quick and full recovery. I miss seeing him on the pitch already.

Congratulations are due to vice-captain Xavi Hernandez, who played his 250th match for Barca against Athletic Bilbao. Xavi is one of my favourite players, a great professional who joined Barca at the age of 11 and has been loyal through the good times and the bad ever since. The fact that he's appeared 250 times for Barca even though he's only 27 years old illustrates his importance to the team through the years. Long may it continue.

On a different note, the Catalan Dragons (a French rugby league team, for those who don't know, featuring New Zealand legend Stacey Jones, who was born in Auckland, not too far from where I live) paraded on the pitch before the Athletic match, in honour of their achievement as the first non-English team to appear in the Challenge Cup final.

Also parading were Barca's Cadet (under-16) B team, who had won this summer's Nike Premier Cup. Congratulations to them.

Santi Ezquerro explains why his transfer to Athletic Bilbao fell through. Personally, I don't mind having him around for another six months at all, especially with Eto'o out injured. I do sympathise with his frustration at the opportunities missed in this transfer window, though.

Edmilson has returned to his native Brazil for one month as part of his recovery program from his bizarre and unfortunate series of knee injuries.

And finally, great news for all Barca fans: Carles Puyol is training again! Mind you, it's only running by himself, but it's good to see him back on the training ground, and the team has missed his leadership. I hope to see him fit and back in the team soon.

to Joan Laporta, with affection

El presidente:

Shut up. Just stop talking, you're an embarrassment.



Gonzalo calls Calderon President Tourettes, but Laporta suits the label pretty well himself. For example, he has reacted with a complete lack of maturity to the troubled transfers of Motta and Saviola. Whether or not Motta's complaints are justified, he was a canterano, and despite being much maligned for his performances by the fans, was quite popular within the squad. Therefore Laporta's response was inappropriate. As for Saviola, say what you will about his about-face (having promised not to sign for Real in early 2007), he's behaved impeccably since signing for our friends in the capital. I may not like seeing him in the white shirt, but I can't fault what he's said. Laporta's tirade in that case was classless and unworthy of his position.

Then there's the thorny issue of Catalunya v USA, which I'm not going to go into (because it's frankly none of my business), but I will say this: Laporta doesn't have a leg to stand on with regards to this issue. For those of us who remember the Alejandro Echevarria scandal, everything he says reeks of hypocrisy.

I'm fully in support of FC Barcelona retaining a Catalan identity, blended with a cosmopolitan outlook (the latter - a celebration of and the welcoming of diversity - a part of our tradition that is often conveniently overlooked by both critics and fans of our club's sense of self), but Laporta needs to remember that he's president of Barca, not president of the free world (TM Sid Lowe).

Let me also make clear that in general, I approve of Laporta's policies, which have helped Barcelona out of a financial and sporting quagmire and onto brilliant successes. While I disapprove of the recent galactico-style commercialisation represented by the tours and globe-trotting friendlies, he's also got a lot right. Barca did need a reminder of its roots after the popular discontent engendered by former coach Louis van Gaal's dedication to signing the entire Dutch national team. In the end, the shirt sponsorship decision was the correct one, and the financial security Barca now enjoys - which enables the club to throw cash around and sign good players - would have been unimaginable just 4 years ago. The club is run in a rational, stable manner, which is reassuring after the turmoil of the Gaspart era. Most importantly, Laporta did well to show faith in Frank Rijkaard and in Rijkaard's men.

But serious, he needs to stop talking.

(I do, however, welcome his recent comments about the team, calling for prudence and cool heads instead of the insane hype of last season.)

By the way, and on an entirely different note, there will be some non-football-related comments on this blog over the next month, as New Zealand goes into World Cup fever mode - but for the one with the oval ball. Congratulations to Los Pumas for their fabulous upset victory over the French, and go the All Blacks!

Friday, September 07, 2007

A few thoughts on Barca v Athletic

As Ray Hudson said, Barca demonstrated both sides of their personality in this game. The first half was marked by a return to the wonderful, flowing, quick-passing football that the fans have been missing for quite some time, while the second half was marked by the constant state of uncertainty that characterised some games from last season. By that I mean that the players looked like they didn't know what they were supposed to be doing out there.

Another concern was that despite all the fluid football, the goals from open play still haven't come. Henry must have felt like he was back at Arsenal for a bit, as Barca played some great stuff but the ball just wasn't going in the net.

Overall, though, the signs are positive. I was delighted with the great interplay, and much of the defensive effort.


  • Ronaldinho looked fit and energised. We all know he's a wonderful player, and he can do amazing things, but only if he wants to. As one fan put it, if he's this up for it when his son is visiting, we should make sure that kid is at every game.
  • It's good to see improvements in Messi's passing, which was a weak area for him, at least compared to his other skills.
  • Abidal was a revelation. His runs forward were very good, but I was equally impressed with the speed at which he gets back into position when the opponent counters.
  • Oleguer had a good game. The much-maligned centerback gets a lot of stick, and I was surprised by Rijkaard's decision to start him, but the boss was correct. He did very well.
  • Marquez looks like his old self again. I know he got sent off, but in general he's no longer looking as lost as he did last season, and that's very important for Barca, especially when Puyol's still not fit.
  • Same goes for Deco, who, as El Mundo Deportivo says, turned back the clock to his glorious first season at Barca. He needs to watch those yellow cards, but other than that I'm very pleased with him.
  • Xavi had a brilliant pre-season, and he's continued that form.
  • Henry looks sharper and faster with every game. He just needs a bit more luck in front of goal.
  • Henry still needs to click with the rest of the attack.
  • Valdes still can't deal with high balls into the box. Sigh.
  • The new and improved defence is still rubbish on dead ball situations. I've pretty much accepted it as part of our DNA now, but it is exasperating.
  • This is not really a negative, more an observation: Giovani is like 05-06 vintage Messi - great runs, scares the hell out of defenders, but his shooting and decision-making leaves something to be desired.
  • Ronaldinho's freekick. Brilliant.
  • Oleguer's overhead kick clearance.
  • Messi and Giovani, 2 kids playing a game of keep-ball with adults (as the GolTV commentary team remarked) - and winning.
  • Abidal combining with Henry for what would have been a brilliant goal, if Henry hadn't hit the post.
  • Ronaldinho tackling and tracking back.
  • Gabi Milito winning headers in the box. What a novel sight for us Barca fans with the absence of Puyol.
the crowd

Please stop whistling the moment the team start passing it around along the back. Getting on the players' backs like that does not actually help them win games.

the referee

I'm sorry, but he was rubbish.

(Both Sport and El Mundo Deportivo reported that the penalty decision was 'rigorous'/'doubtful', and that the 3rd was a 'ghost goal'.)

Let's take the penalty. Maybe there's a case for saying that Iraizoz caught Henry, but it's just farcical to say that he gave away a penalty (and got himself kicked in the teeth) by putting his face in the way of Henry's boot.

In my opinion, Henry needs to learn not to challenge the goalkeeper so closely. In La Liga, keepers are generally more protected, and another referee would probably have given a foul against him.

The third Barca goal can't be blamed on him, as the linesman probably had a say in that decision, but the rest of his performance was equally lamentable. The calling of fouls was highly inconsistent, and that affected both teams, as the game became more scrappy in the second half.

(By the way, when is the league going to introduce goal-line technology to stop all these controversies over whether the ball did or did not cross the line? It's simple enough, and it would help.)

Caparros would be entitled to say that the referee had a hand in Athletic's defeat, but as he's a classy guy, he didn't moan too much.


Poor old Iraizoz had a great game, making many difficult saves even after he'd been kicked in the face. Also, that kid Susaeta is something special, isn't he? The fabled Athletic youth system strikes again.

(I'm going to get busy again as uni starts, but expect some words about Argentina v Australia and a small Barca news round-up soon.)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Farewell to Thiago Motta

It always pains me to be writing about the departure of a canterano, a player who came up through the youth system of the club. Thiago (pictured above with fellow canterano Messi and good friend Ronaldinho) appeared more than 100 times for Barca B before he was promoted to the first team in 2001.

The fact that during 6 seasons in the first team he only managed 138 appearances tells its own story about his misfortunes. It wasn't that he lacked talent. Far from it. In fact, Rijkaard has repeatedly said that he sees himself in the characteristics of the young Brazilian, which is high praise indeed. If you're reading my blog, you probably don't need reminding of Rijkaard's excellence as a player.

In retrospect, the comparison takes on a sort of tragicomic quality. Poor old Thiago was the Barca player most often slated for a bad performance by the fans, along with Oleguer (although they appreciated his fighting spirit). That was when he managed to get on the pitch, and stay there. The last qualification is necessary because he has an impressive habit of picking up red cards, often through little fault of his own, although he does have a formidable temper. The two occasions I remember best were both plain old bad luck - one featured a swan dive and a great acting performance from Diego Milito, and the other resulted from two bookings, both of which originated from fouls committed by other players:
(From another article by Sid Lowe): He got the first yellow for a foul on Valeron, which was actually committed by Cocu. And Motta, the No. 23, got his second and a red for another foul on Valeron, committed by Oleguer, who ever-so-confusingly wears 32.

Make no mistake, he is a very talented player. Ironically enough, he was probably closest to the ideal holding midfielder who could both pass and tackle that Barca have been looking for until Yaya Toure came along. Thiago has turned in some great performances for the team in the past, including significant contributions towards Barca's Champions League win in 05-06. However, I believe the club eventually lost confidence in him due to his far too frequent injury spells. In the Rijkaard era, no matter how much Frank liked him, he was simply unavailable for selection far too many times.

Thiago Motta will be missed at Barca, especially by the Central and South American faction of the Barca dressing room, to whom he was a great friend. I will borrow the words of his most earnest champion while he was at the club - Frank Rijkaard himself - to wish him luck for the future:

Motta "can be a success in any team", the coach said. "He is a player with a lot of talent and great possibilities. I hope that this change will do him good."

La Liga: deadline day deals

A few surprising deals did go through, but I'm sure some clubs lamented the (to them, untimely) end of the transfer window, most notably Deportivo who were looking to get 3 more players and as far as I know didn't succeed.

Frankly, based on their opening day performance, I can't blame Miguel Angel Lotina, but surely somebody at that club realized the malaise there during the long months of the transfer window? They are apparently broke, but so are the promoted clubs and the likes of Racing.

Speaking of other non-transfers, Barcelona did manage to offload Thiago Motta, which brings their summer departures up to six
(Saviola, Gio, Giuly, Maxi Lopez, Belletti, Motta), although only Gio was a regular starter, with Giuly having lost his place to Messi, Belletti to Zambrotta, and Motta to injury. However, they didn't manage to offload Ezquerro, who has now been reincorporated into the squad, or Gudjohnsen, which looks like a stroke of good fortune now that Eto'o is injured again.

Anyway, here's the list, with some comments:

: Michel (Xerez)

Atletico: Motta (Barcelona) - more on this one in a later post

Betis: Lima (Atletico Mineiro), Jose Mari (Villarreal)

Very surprised by Jose Mari leaving the Submarines, but at least it means that he can return to his native Seville, and as I've written about before, they do have a lot of strikers. (More on Villarreal later also, oh yes.)

Getafe: De la Red (Real Madrid), Esteban Granero (Real Madrid Castilla, loan)

Interesting moves, both for what it says about Bernd Schuster and what it says about the relationship between Getafe and Real. Firstly, the sale of De la Red (albeit with a buyback clause) and Javi Garcia means that Schuster has decided against heavily utilising cantera players this season. It's a bit of a surprise considering the pre-season. At least Balboa is still there and Miguel Torres is well established.

Second, Getafe have tried to loan players from Real before without huge success, so perhaps this heralds an improved relationship between the two clubs? If so, lord knows it's about time, since Getafe president Angel Torres is a card-carrying Madridista anyway.

Levante: Miguel Angel (Betis)

Murcia: Movilla (Zaragoza)

Osasuna: Javi Garcia (Real Madrid Castilla)

Racing: Szetela (Columbus Crew), Tichte (Anderlecht)

It's good to see that Racing have moved to add some more attacking fire power to their existing defensive solidarity. Szetela is apparently a promising US U20 midfielder, and Tichte is a forward, which when added to their signing of the Polish forward Smolarek a few days before goes some way towards plugging the sizeable gap left by the departure of Nikola Zigic, amongst others.

Javi Guerrero (Celta), Zahinos (Atletico), Gerard Lopez (Monaco), Martin (Trabzonspor)

Kone (PSV)

That's Ivory Coast forward Arouna Kone, who I was impressed by at the World Cup in 2006. Unusually, they spent quite a bit on him, around 12 million euros in fact.

Zaragoza: Luccin (Atletico)

Atletico fans seem pleased to finally offload the frustrating Luccin to Zaragoza, where he joins fellow former Atletico player, Gabi.

A note on racism in the terraces

I don't always agree with Marina Hyde's writing, but her piece on the recent racist abuse suffered by Mido is excellent. I was appalled to read about this story, having assumed in my ignorance of the Premier League that racism had been entirely stamped out there, unlike in the terraces of Spain and Italy.

Let me first make it clear that I'm not writing this to target any fan group in particular. This is directed towards all racist idiots in the stands who call themselves football fans, and that includes the Barca ultras who had the nerve to hurl racist abuse at Roberto Carlos (while Samuel Eto'o was on the pitch, no less) as much as Lazio's unsavoury fascist fringe.

The arguments put forward in favour of the drunken idiots fall under these 3 categories:
  1. By going out there to play, footballers essentially agree to suffering any abuse the 'supporters' choose to deal out. (The ones who put this one forward are usually incapable of stating it in those terms, but that's whatever intelligence I can gleam out of it.)
    • This is plainly ridiculous, as it seeks to posit that professional footballers are somehow deprived of the rights enjoyed by every other human being on earth not to be subject to discriminatory abuse by virtue of...what, exactly? They're (over)paid to play better football than Joe Public, and they didn't somehow sign away their own fundamental rights with their contract.
    • Futhermore, the supporters pay for the right to watch the game (subject to certain rules of behaviour, just like in every other sector of society), not for any supposed right to hurl abuse. If someone want to pay for the right to behave like animals towards other human beings, I'm sure there are establishments that cater to that sort of thing, but they're not called football stadiums.
  2. Related to the first argument is the one that says abusing players is part of football culture, and stamping it out is just one of those moves by the powers that be to further remove real heart and soul from the sport.
    • First, no one is depriving fans of the right to call Mido or any other player a fat bastard, or an incompetent wanker, and so on. It's nobody else's problem if certain fans aren't creative enough to sling 'witty' abuse at a player without resorting to racist language.
    • Football doesn't exist in a parallel reality. If it's no longer acceptable in the real world, then it's no longer acceptable in the world of football. The sport is not the last refuge of those sentiments that are rightly no longer allowed to be expressed in public, and nor should it be.
  3. Lastly: the fans don't really mean it. Look, we've got Muslim/Black/Jewish/Asian players too!
    • Believe it or not, the 'some of my best friends are [insert minority]' defence (because that's essentially what it is) was actually raised by the Newcastle supporter interviewed about the incident. I thought we were past the era where people needed to be informed of why such a statement was laughable at best, but apparently I'm wrong.
    • Futhermore, whether the people hurling abuse mean it or not doesn't matter. The effect is the same: the victim hears the same thing either way. Conversely, if the most vile racist doesn't act on his or her thoughts or voice them, then they are left alone because in general we do not punish people simply for thinking. After all, in those cases there has been no victim. So to come full circle on this point: I don't care if any of the people engaging in racist behaviour in the stands really love ethnic minorities deep down in their soul. The action itself is wrong, regardless of intent.
My usual disclaimer applies: no intention to offend anyone. Although I do have to note that my personal feelings on this subject are particularly strong ones, which is perhaps reflected in the wording above.

(Coming up: Barca news, a farewell post for Thiago Motta, a match report from the weekend, and international news.)