Friday, April 21, 2006

Unlucky Number Seven

Should Valencia fail to beat Athletic this Sunday, Barça can secure their second La Liga title in a row with a win away at Sevilla. I've seen quite a bit of Sevilla lately and they're a solid team who've coped well with losing their manager, Joaquín Caparrós, to Deportivo, and their two best players, Baptista and Sergio Ramos, to Real Madrid. The likes of Daniel Alves, Enzo Maresca, Fernando Sales, Jesus Navas and Andres Palop in goal are all excellent. And then of course they have Javier Saviola.

When Joan Laporta suceeded Joan Gaspart as president, FCB was in dire financial straits. Millions had been wasted on useless players or ones the club didn't need, while layabouts like Patrick Kluivert were pulling ridiculously high pay packets yet conrtibuting little or nothing to the team. Thus these past three seasons, despite the arrival of Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Deco, Giuly et al, has seen a huge number of players leave the club. While I can't say I miss most of them, there are three I wish Barça had held onto; Pepe Reina, Cesc Fabregas and Saviola.

Reina is a much better goalkeeper than Valdes and his performances for Villarreal and Liverpool since he left the Camp Nou have been outstanding and were it not for the super human Iker Casillas he'd surely be Spain's number one for the World Cup in Germany. With Cesc of course it's more complicated. Had he stayed at Barcelona there's no way he'd have developed as quickly as he has at Highbury under Arsene Wenger and with Xavi, Motta and Iniesta ahead of him it's likely that he'd still be lining up for Barça B and playing Catalan Cup games.

And then there's Javier. While at Barça he averaged a goal almost every two games. He worked hard and gave his all in a team that had more excess baggage than Imelda Marcos on a Ryanair flight. With Rijkaard's men beating all and sundry in the past two seasons it's easy to forget just how the team were a mere two years previously. Watching Barça was like having your teeth pulled and Puyol, Cocu, Luis Enrique and Saviola were frequently the only players who looked remotely bothered.

Yet once Eto'o and Larsson were signed, despite his efforts, his commitment, his goals, it was only a matter of time before Javier got the heave-ho, first to Monaco for twelve miserable and injury blighted months and then to Sevilla where he's had a much better time of it, starting, scoring and powering his team to the UEFA Cup semi-finals and sixth in La Liga and within spitting distance of fourth and the Champions League. Which is no more than he deserves.

I looks probable that Saviola will stay in Sevilla, he's happy there and unlikely to wear the blaugrana again, which is a real shame. With Larsson heading back to Sweden at the end of the season, the number seven shirt at Barça will be free and there's Argentine kid at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan who could easily don it once again.

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