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)
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
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!