Monday, February 26, 2007

So this is what we were missing

Eto'o came off to a standing ovation from the Nou Camp, hugging Carles Puyol, Ronaldinho and then Rijkaard as the home support again cheered his name.
The rumours of FC Barcelona's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Welcome back (for real this time), Sammy.

Now, could you make your many detractors eat their words some more?

(If I weren't crazy busy, there would have been a post ranting about our horrid performance against Liverpool, which has all but finished off our chances of progressing in the Champions League, but as this is my 100th post, I guess something like the above is a bit more appropriate. I've really enjoyed my tentative venture into blogging so far, and I love reading people's responses. Thanks to everyone for visiting my little corner of the internet.

Ahh, football. Never change.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

pre-Barca v Liverpool observations

  • If Spanish defenders want to stop trying to assassinate Leo Messi anytime soon, that'd be lovely. Deco is responsible for his own twice- a-season scheduled meltdowns, and Albelda has always played on the edge, but this is getting ridiculous.
  • Oh, Liverpool. If you know me, you know my affection for Liverpool, so this reaction is born out of that, but bless them for having their own internal ruckus just a few days before the game. Maybe they wanted to match us:
The dispute involving Bellamy and Riise seemingly started with a karaoke competition in the early hours of Friday morning, when Bellamy took offence at the Norwegian left-back's refusal to sing.

Increasingly irritated by the Welshman's jibes, Riise reportedly became incandescent and, surrounded by fellow players, the pair squared up to each other, trading expletives. Although things calmed down as the group dispersed and headed for their rooms, Bellamy apparently felt he had lost face in front of his team-mates and, having armed himself with a golf club, tracked down Riise before allegedly swinging it at his legs.

, who had spent the earlier part of the evening at the nearby resort of Vilamoura, was contacted and he separated the clearly inebriated pair.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Barca drama: the resolution (in quotes)

From the Guardian's Fiver:
"People think that there is a time bomb in the dressing room, but that isn't true. [Frank] Rijkaard has got the team under control. Samuel Eto'o has a good relationship with the rest of the group and the atmosphere is good" - What next from Barcelona captain Carles Puyol? The Palestinians and Israelis secretly get on?
Despite the Fiver's snarky comment, Puyol is right. The problem isn't in the dressing room, it's in the boardroom.

The players resolved their issues by...wait for it...talking about their feelings. Quoth Puyol in his press conference:
"I arrived 8.45 am and Samuel was already in the dressing room,"he said. "We held the meeting and then Rijkaard came in and we spoke to the rest of the players after that. In the meeting the captains all talked about the two of them (Eto'o and Ronaldinho) and everything was sorted out and this made us more united. We have to be together with the games that lie ahead. "If training on Wednesday is anything to go by, it was plain to see that this has made us even more focussed. It was one of the best training sessions I can remember during my time at the club."

"I talk to the president and we though that should be soughted out and that is what has happened," Puyol explained. "It was very easy because when people speak they understand better."
And they say men don't do things like that. Rijkaard, at least, appreciated the effort.
[Rijkaard] had a special mention for skipper Carles Puyol, who is said to have stepped up and played a pivotal part in ensuring things were sorted out swiftly and with maturity. He also took the lead in speaking to the media earlier this afternoon, and pulling down the curtains

"When people like Puyol are around, it affects the team very positively," said the Dutchman.
Indeed. The captain has been immense throughout this mess. A lot gets said about the man, but it can't be repeated enough - he embodies some of the best things about the Barca ideal, and he is (qouting Sylvinho here) this squad's soul.

For his part, Deco revealed that the hug between Ronaldinho and Eto'o in training on Wednesday - lapped up by the press - was staged for just such a purpose. But not the way you think:
"The press were anxious to see something and they talked about giving each other a hug to see their reaction," Deco told Radio Marca. "There weren't any problems, everything had been sorted out before and they just wanted to see how people reacted. It was a bit of a joke really."
Finally, Rijkaard spoke up again to (hopefully) wrap up the whole affair:
Rijkaard, meanwhile, confirmed that "there will be no sanctions for Eto'o, because I believe in solving things amicably in the dressing room."

He insisted that he was not looking for any apologies, because the issue has already been put behind: "I am not waiting for apologies, it is all already water under the bridge, and we have to look ahead. There is no issue. The squad is united, and that is enough motivation to continue working. I am delighted, because the dressing room is very sensible. When moments like these arrive, they still choose to learn from it."
While the whole issue of Rossell v Laporta will have to be laid to rest sometime in the future (and yes, that's exactly what this whole bloody feud is all about), right now it's best to concern oursevles with the football side of things, and I'm glad to see that this is what everyone at the club is now trying to do. Nice containment work from the suits.

(I am a politics major, so I'm allowed to admire these things, as disingenious as they almost always are.)

The Madrid press have been feasting on all this, of course, and no one can blame them - the Barca press has been doing it for the last few seasons, after all. But thank God for true gentlemen like Iker Casillas (one of Eto'o's best friends), who when asked to comment on the 'crisis' said:
"It [the Eto'o controversy] is something for the press to feast on, rather than good news for us," said Casillas during a press conference, when asked if Barcelona's problems could be good news for Real Madrid. "A lot is being made of it, but the fact is that there are some problems in every single squad, and that's just how it is. If Barcelona are in crisis, then we are in sheer darkness. It is laughable to to even suggest that they are in a crisis."

Bonus: this gem from the Barca website's training report for Wednesday -
Eto'o completed his training programme by taking shots at goal with Rijkaard supplying the passes from the side.
I don't know why, but the image gave me a good laugh. (Rijkaard was a scary player, though, wasn't he?)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Quick La Liga musings and Barca reactions

Quick La Liga musings

In between attempts by the Big Three (TM) to qualify for the next round of the Champions League, the next few rounds will see the big guns of La Liga take each other on.

Round 23: Valencia v Barca (could be decisive in whether Valencia stays in the title race), Sevilla v Atletico (do Atletico have what it takes? Are Sevilla out of steam?)
(Champions League Round of 16 first leg: Barca v Liverpool, Inter v Valencia, Real v Bayern)
Round 24: Atletico v Real (Can Atletico finally win a Madrid derby?)
(Champions League Round of 16 second leg)
Round 25: Sevilla v Barca (potential title decider, if both sides are still in it by then)
Round 26: El Gran Clasico (always a big game, no matter what the occasion, and also a potential title decider this time)

Barca fall-out from the match against Racing

Welcome back, Leo. Looks like Giuly will put up a real fight for that wide-right position, though.

Welcome back, Ronnie (again). Please consider staying for, say, the rest of the season this time.

Att: Samuel Eto'o - stop it. I adore you as a player and am willing to defend you almost all the time, but this is not the time to sulk. You're nowhere near fit, unlike Messi, and although we all know your tendency to throw fits at crucial moments - and luckily for everyone there have been few consequences so far - this is really, really not the time. Pull yourself together.

(Lucky Liverpool, they're having a blast resting in Portugal. Barca on the other hand have to play Valencia next week, and Rafa knows all about how tricky that one is.)

By the way, Laporta's statement on the matter particularly amused me. He pretty much tried to sound understanding of Eto'o and then went 'there you go, Frankie, you fix the mess - isn't dealing with this crap your specialty?'

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A heavy-hearted goodbye: Juan Roman Riquelme leaves La Liga

For those who have read my previous writing on Argentina before, my reaction to the news that Juan Roman Riquelme the depressive genius had finally given up on life in the Spanish league and returned to Argentina is probably quite predictable. I'm heartbroken, just a bit.

The terms of the deal, in black and white, are these: Boca Juniors, who were Roman's benefactor (and he theirs) before Villarreal, have taken him on a five-month loan.

I don't think he'll be back, not in any meaningful sense. His fairytale in European football ended the moment he missed that penalty. Yes, that damned penalty in the semi-final against Arsenal last season. That damned penalty, taken by a man with the look of someone damned in his eyes, saved by Jens Lehmann, of all people.

After that, he went to the World Cup and played beautifully, and I, who had merely been an admirer before, fell in love with his slow motion genius - the passes, the set pieces, the intricate scheming, and even the sorrow, which never really seems to leave him.

But Riquelme has always been loved and hated in equal measure, especially in Argentina. That's perfectly understandable - his is not a style to everyone's taste.

In Argentina, the weight of expectation on the shoulders of the number 10 is enormous, far more than a man can bear. Maradona did it, but look at what happened afterwards; Ortega is still battling his demons in public, even today; Aimar has always been brilliant but too brittle, with his countless setbacks and wildly inconsistent form; and then there's Riquelme, whose performances are dependent on mood, and who has always been moody.

That has proven his downfall at Villarreal, a club where his stay has been highly successful for both parties. Villarreal would not have finished third in La Liga or gotten into the semi-finals of the Champions League without him, and he would not have enjoyed a career revival without the support and trust he had at the club. He once won awards for best foreign player, most artistic player - and this in a league with Ronaldinho and (at the time) Zizou. But it's all over now.

Perhaps I'm being pessimistic. Perhaps Roman will find himself again, back at his old stomping ground, where some say he played his best football ever at the turn of the century. But I don't think he'll come back.

That's enough wailing and garment-rending from me. Just to conclude, I wanted to quote some passages from articles about Riquelme. He was always a pundits' favourite, but these passages encompass both the positive and the negative sides of his game, and I thought that was fitting.

Former Real Madrid and Argentina striker Jorge Valdano:
A friend of mine calls him "tollbooth" because when the ball passes through him it has to stop. It's a jibe I don't subscribe to but it helps to define him in football terms. The rhythm and direction of play will depend, to a great degree, on Riquelme's level of inspiration. And Riquelme is not always inspired.
Argentinean football journalist Marcela Mora y Araujo
[Vs Serbia and Montenegro] Riquelme was the axis, constant and steady like the beat of Tula's drum, calmly setting the pace, playing like only he can.

For him football is the same always and everywhere. He plays the way he plays and if you don't like it, that's not his problem.
Jason Cowley in the Guardian:
Very occasionally a player emerges in world football who, in style and method, defies categorisation. He is the player who invents his own idiom, plays in a manner and at a tempo that is entirely his own...At this World Cup we have Juan Roman Riquelme of Argentina, the outstanding player of the tournament so far, and the one stylistically most unlike any other here in Germany. many ways, he is the closest thing football has to a quarterback, the most influential and glamorous position in American sport. The quarterback is the creator, the player who invents the game as he goes along. If it means passing back or sideways, in order to progress, so be it. Because what Riquelme has, above all else, is patience...
Sid Lowe in the Guardian:
Riquelme is a difficult, introverted character, porcupine-prickly, a man who needs constant reassurance and has to live entirely on his own terms, who utterly lacks the normal trappings of vanity but is vain nonetheless. Villarreal knew that and created the perfect environment for him. has become impossible to exaggerate his importance, his centrality to Villarreal. He may not run defences ragged like Maradona but he does run games. In his own way he is as dominant. [In the 04-05 season] Riquelme picked up 13 man-of-the-match awards, scored 14 goals and provided 15 assists, more than any other player in the top flight.

"We play to Riquelme the way we played to Zinedine Zidane at Juventus," says Alessio Tacchinardi. "Whenever we have the ball we just give it to him," adds Senna, while Arruabarrena rates him as one of the five finest players in the world. "Román," he says, "carries the team on his shoulders."
Goodbye, Roman. I still like the Yellow Submarines, but it won't be the same without you.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Barca odds and ends

my opinion on some transfer rumours

  • The Old Lady needs to keep her grubby hands off Saviola (he wants to stay in Spain, remember?)
  • Frank Lampard? A thousand times no. What would he do? And before anyone asks, this swap deal with Deco idea better be nonsense dreamed up by the press. There aren't many players I'd swap Deco for.
  • (I wouldn't say no to a world-class defensive midfielder though, since both of Barca's seem to be cursed with permanent injury problems.)
  • C Ronaldo? I don't think so. Why would Man Utd sell? (If this does go through with Xavi going in the other direction, a lot of people are going to be very angry, including me.)
the two amigos

Att: Eurosport - Andres Iniesta's career is not 'fledgling'. He's 22, has already played 100 games for Barcelona as well as captained the side, and in 6 years time he will probably be captaining Spain and directing the midfield alongside Cesc Fabregas.

While we're on the subject of players who have achieved more than a lot of players will do in a life time at an astonishingly young age, Leo Messi will play his 50th official game for Barca against Racing this weekend. That might not seem like a big number until one is reminded that he doesn't turn 20 until the end of the season. If his injury problems didn't exist he would have played as many games as Iniesta by now.

So congratulations to a fearless prodigy, and long may he prosper in a Barca (and Argentina) shirt.

Friday, February 09, 2007

FORCA SAVIOLA! (and Zanetti is forever, or at least I hope so)

France 0 - 1 Argentina

How many times am I going to end up singing the praises of El Conejo this season? First Barca, then for my beloved Albicelestes, he's made the difference. More later on the game itself (France put out a good line-up, and that was an old, old Argentina side, but the amount of experience helped) as well as the other friendly results (Iniesta scoring at Old Trafford!), but for now...

Frankie, Txiki, Laporta:

Can we keep him? Please?


An increasingly antsy supporter

more good news

Roberto Ayala has signed a 3 year contract with Villarreal after contract negotiations between him and Valencia broke down yet again. I'm glad he's going to my second team, because he's still got a lot to give, even at his age, and I was so pissed off with the way Valencia's sporting director Carboni treated him despite the vital role he has played for the club during his many years at Valencia.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Barca update: the glass half full version

The best thing about this week so far:

Welcome back, Sammy.

Also in the 'good news' column, Leo Messi's finally back in training, straight after his return from Argentina.

Javier Saviola has finally fired his agent. How is this relevant, you may ask. Well, this is the man who made sure that Saviola's move to Barca cost about double what it should have (naturally, he pocketed the extra cash), and allegedly botched a move to Sevilla for his client because of - ahem - financial issues. This has interesting implications for the possible renewal of Saviola's contract at Barca, given that most people assumed his agent was one of the main stumbling blocks towards such a move. Hopefully this means he can now sit down with the club and talk it over without the previous baggage.

Alright, Ronaldinho's injured and will miss the Osasuna game, we're half way out of the Copa del Rey, we haven't won away in 2 months (!!!), but look on the bright side. At least our squad doesn't look as depleted anymore.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Barca odds and ends, and go the All Whites!

Barca 0-1 Zaragoza (Copa del Rey)

Aww, dammit. Much as I don't care about the Copa, this is Zaragoza's first win ever at the Camp Nou, and we can't go about giving out that kind of advantage. Still, at least it wasn't a league game. More on this in a proper match report, if I get around to one.

Injury updates

On a much more cheerful note, Messi gets back from Argentina on Friday, ready to resume group training by all accounts. Sammy Eto'o is also finally ready to return to group training, although he won't be able to do participate fully just yet. February 11th at the Camp Nou against Racing Santander is the initial return date for both, although with the state of the Barca medical services and their amazing powers of prediction, who knows.

Mini-All Whites qualify for the U20 World Cup

There was much cheering in my household when the news announced that the U20 New Zealand team (the unrestricted age NT are called the 'All Whites', and they aren't very good) had qualified for Canada 2007, for what I believe is the first time ever.

For those who don't know, I'm a Kiwi by nationalization. The Mini-All Whites (the Mini-Whites? That makes them sound like the Real Madrid youth team, although I wish the Kiwi players were as good as the Real kids) have got no chance in hell, but it will be a good experience, and good for football - or 'soccer' as they call it here - in New Zealand.

On the other hand, and forgive me for going off topic, but how about those All Blacks? Now there's a name to strike fear into opponents' hearts, instead of inspiring the urge to laugh at the poverty of our footballing 'talent'.