Thursday, June 22, 2006

Catalunya Independent!

As if you don't already know, but Catalunya voted for in favour of greater automony on Sunday. 73% voted in favour but turn out was quite low, less than 50%. Catalunya now has nation status in Espana. Right, I have to meet Brian and Caz for lunch so that's your lot for the mo.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Fast Forward

Watching Argentina anihlate Serbia and Montenegro 6-0 on Friday, it was hard not to pine for Javier Saviola and wonder what on earth Eidur Gudjohnsen is doing wearing his number seven shirt back at the Camp Nou. Argentina were quite simply incredible and Saviola played one of the best games I have ever seen him play, setting up two of the first three goals. Yet it seems no matter what Javier does, Txiki Begiristain just isn't interested.

While Gudjohnsen is a fine signing he's not in Saviola's league. Why Barcelona are trying to offload unlucky number seven like he's going out of fashion I don't know. Yes there's a wealth of striking talent at the club but Javier is fantastic and... and nothing, he's not coming back and that's that. *sigh*

Another Argentine striker getting shipped out is Maxi "no goals in La Liga" Lopez, who has been dispatched to Real Mallorca on a season long loan. I've always liked Maxi but his lack of goals and limited oppertunites since he signed from River have meant that he looked likely to be given a push 1nce the season was over. Mallorca are pretty poor so it'll be interesting to see how he gets on there. He has the ability certainly but it's a big step down from running onto an inch-perfect pass from Xavi to watching a hopeless one from Angelos Basinas sail over your head and into touch.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Round up: Cold as Ice

Barça have wasted little time in replacing the recently departed Henrik Larsson. Chelsea forward Eidur Gudjohnsen is expected to tie up a move in the next twentyfour hours The fee is rumoured to be around £8 million. I really like Gudjohnsen despite the fact that he plays for Chelsea. He's a very tight player, good passer, very mobile and quick. He ought do well at the Camp Nou.

Going Dutch

Gabri has as expected joined Henk ten Cate at Ajax. He's signed a three year deal.

Staying in the Netherlands, ten Cate's replacement as assistant to Frank Rijkaard is Johan Neeskens, a Barça player in the seventies. He's currently assistant to Guus Hiddink with Australia. Joan Laporta, vice-president Ferran Soriano and Frank were all in attendance.

And finally...

Last and most certainly least, Fernando Navarro has joined Real Mallorca, where he spent last season on loan. Navarro never featured much under Rijkaard and isn't any great shakes.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Més que un club

Let’s begin at the beginning. It’s almost three years since Joan Laporta, a rank outsider in the Barcelona presidential race, was elected on the back of promising to sign David Beckham. Becks never donned a blaugrana jersey, instead he went to Real Madrid and Barça signed Ronaldinho, who, judging by his performances for PSG, was all hat and no cattle. On the face of it, he was the last player FCB needed, another party boy for Patrick Kluivert to go for pints with.

For a while it was a case of the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. Barcelona went from the sublime (‘dinho’s goal against Villarreal) to the ridiculous (the now infamous 5-1 defeat at Malaga) with some shockingly lackluster performances in between. By Christmas Frank Rijkaard seemed destined for the sack and as Laporta and Sandro Rossel struggled with the enormity of the task before them, things were as bad as ever at the Camp Nou. The team was a shambles and the season was already being written off as nothing short of a disaster.

Fast-forward two and a half years, to Thursday morning, to BCN Airport, to Carles Puyol and Frank Rijkaard holding aloft the European Cup, masters of all they surveyed. Two weeks previously Barcelona had won their second straight La Liga Championship. The best team in Spain was now the best in Europe.

It’s been nearly three weeks since I rattled off the first few paragraphs and only now, on my flight to Atlanta, do I have any time to finish.

So where were we…

If you were being uncharitable you might say that Barcelona won La Liga this year almost by default. Real Madrid were a shambles, Valencia were too inconsistant down the stretch despite beating Barça 1-0 at the Mestella and looking like they would make a real go of it. Villarreal were never likely to repeat last seasons heroics considering their involvement in the Champions League. Sevilla too were distracted by European competition and only belatedly made a run at fourth place. Osasuna, who did come fourth, over-achived massively with a small, well coached squad but were never serious challangers.

That said, despite a mid-season wobble which saw them knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Saragossa, Barça were far and away the best team in La Liga, playing sublime, flowing, attacking and exciting football that saw them sweep past everyone bar the troublesome Athletico Madrid, who ended their winning run at 14 games, one shy of Real Madrid’s record.

In Europe they were as solid as they were driven. Though they may have been 20 minutes away from defeat in Paris and indeed I lamented more than 1nce that “they’re not going to score”, their organisation and faith in themselves; not hoofing the ball, not abandoning the tactics that had gotten them to the final, never deserted them. It was the introduction of Henrik Larsson that changed the game. For all Barcelona’s elaborate passing and possession they needed something more direct to break down a stuborne Arsenal defence that had kept a record number of clean sheets in the Champions League, albeit with Jens Lehmann in goal and not Captain Calamity Almunia, who, whatever of Samuel Eto’o equaliser, was wholy responsible for Belletti’s (Belletti!) winner.

Brief aside...

The in-flight movie is Failure to Launch. It’s followed by Harrison Ford’s Firewall, where his wife, his family, get attacked by the internet or a router or something. This is going to be a long flight.

With everyone firmly fixated on the World Cup in Germany pehaps the European Cup victory hasn’t gotten as much press as it might. That said, if Arsenal had held on, I have no doubt we’d still be hearing about it from the tabs across the water (and the one I work for in Ballsbridge). So perhaps it’s better to have taken some time on this and not posted it the day after (this is also a convient excuse for not getting it done until now)

I’m now about a third of the way to A-town and I fancy a bit of a sleep. I’ll post this when I hit Hartsfield (okay so maybe the hotel...)