It was an emphatic statement by the Viguenses who were only given a 4.01% chance of survival two weeks ago by certain pundits in the Spanish press. They were by far the least likely to, according to Onda Cero, with Mallorca at around 6% chance, Zaragoza around 42%, Depor at 66% and Osasuna and Granada the most likely to survive at 79% and 99% respectively.
It's the measure of the squad, their opponents, and the likelihood of getting real competition out of these last two match-days, that Celta were able to drag themselves out of the relegation zone and secure their permanency in the first division. Congratulations to them, and sure we won't have the Galician derbies next year with Depor likely to struggle even in Liga Adelante next year, but I'm looking forward to next year with Zaragoza and Mallorca giving way certainly to Elche, Villarreal, Girona and Almeria are vying for that second automatic promotion slot and the losers will likely face-off with the two highest between Alcorcon, Ponferradina or La Palmas in the Liga Adelante playoff later this month.
No matter who gets promoted, La Liga will have a new look next year.
Let me explain. There have been plenty of players over the last decade that have been signed by FC Barcelona, but can you name one besides Ronaldinho that came, saw and conquered in Catalunya like `El Brujo de Porto Alegre´? It´s not even what Johann Cruyff said this week, that the club don´t need ¨two generals.¨ Their system requires a certain type of player that can adapt, create, and most-of-all pass, using his team-mates to unlock defenses for him. It´s what makes Messi so great. Luka Modric, Mesut Ozil, David Silva, or Juan Mata would have been perfect in a Barcelona shirt. Ordering up a player like Neymar, and please don´t take this as a slight against the Brazilian, FC Barcelona are essentially continuing their quest in establishing a secondary option- their Plan-B. He´s a great individual talent, the best Brazil have to offer, but one ultimately unsuited for FC Barcelona.
When teams have packed the middle and forced Barça to play wide in the past, they´ve tried to solve it by buying Zlatan (who was too static), David Villa (who was out of position playing on the left away from goal) and Alexis Sanchez (who fits better on a counter-attacking team). Ibrahimovic was supposed to solve their lack of height and provide an aerial game, but it stagnated their attack, the ball rarely moved around. Neymar seems like another go around at the same offensive option, either trying to go over or around the defensive set-up; the bus that opposing coaches have installed ever since Mourinho used it to such good effect.
Unfortunately, this isn´t where Barcelona´s deficiencies are. Som people note that they should have bought a player like Thiago Silva to invigorate their defense, and yes with Carles Puyol getting on in years the club do need some help on the back-line, but what made them devastating was their ability to take the ball away in an opponent´s half and turn that into a quick counter before the opponent´s defense could set. They need players who are going to track back, pressure, and turn an opponent´s mistake into a goal-scoring opportunity. They need help in the midfield, where a player with the grit of Silva or Modric or t he invention of Ozil or Mata would be amazing.
In short, Neymar is an expensive luxury that they can hardly afford. He weakens their bargaining position for other players this summer, and despite his marketability he´s another 100 million euro investment waiting to fail. He´s also a player they can hardly use: a flair player who will struggle to stay faithful to the system they have.
It´s why I think him signing for Real Madrid might have been better for him in the long run. Neymar wouldn´t have had the defensive tactics of José Mourinho to worry about, and he´d have worked more than likely with a coach in Carlo Ancelotti who despite his Italian roots is used to creating an environment where his star players can shine. He´d have stepped into a situation where the only competition for a place on the starting eleven would have been the oft-injured and temperamental Ángel Di Maria, and even with Cristiano Ronaldo holding the majority of possession on the opposite side of the field, who genuinely thinks that the greasy-one is on a Real Madrid trajectory past next year when his contract is over? In a few years Neymar would have been the toast of Madrid. Now, all he can only ever hope is to share the spotlight with Lionel Messi on Las Ramblas.
For all his virtues, the Specious One has many faults, and over the next few weeks and months he'll be using all of his media-centric virtues to cover up, spackle and run rough-shod over the last three years that he has been guiding the club. It'll be double-speak, hilarious in its aptitude to bring the Cult of Mou back in the fold, but for those immune to the full-board Special-One propaganda you'll be thinking of all the incidents that led Real Madrid and his Mou-Better Blues-ness to part ways and wondering how it could have been anyone else's fault but his own.
Shortly after being hired he took it upon himself to single out Pedro Leon. He benched him and marginalized the kid and for what reason, that he wasn't 'Zidane or Maradona', that he was Valdano´s buy and then much later he bought Callejon to perform the same role. Frankly I'd rather have Pedro. In that same presser he referred to the criticisms of Gregorio Manzano with the much used refrain, 'Who's that? I don't know that person.' He did it with Manolo Preciado and a dozen other coaches and directors as well. It's cute if you do it once, and I gather the English media love that sort of thing considering how starved they are for any news that isn't predigested pablum, but this is just nonsense.
He told off referee Paradas Romero with a hearty "go to hell" after being thrown out at Murcia and then wondered why the ref threw him out of a match at Villarreal a year later. He did the same with Clos-Gomez and his 13 errors in a Madrid win against Sevilla, but then wondered why the ref has continued to be a thorn in his side since. He complained about the calendar, that the league office was conspiring against them, 'laughing at their expense', but when called on it by a reporter that said Barcelona were faced with the same problems Mou called him a hypocrite. He never said why, but that's the word he used.
Of course, he had a fractious relationship with the Spanish press all along culminating in that incident where he bullied the Radio Marca reporter in a Bernabeu closet with five of his own bodyguards and threatened the guy saying ¨I am a top manager and you are a piece of crap¨, and then wondered why even Real Madrid´s house organ Marca hated him. It´s no wonder the press and the refs treated him poorly.
He fell out with Valdano, refusing the guy access to the Real Madrid plane or travelling with the squad, fired everyone with any bit of power above him, and then wondered why he'd been singled out as the cause for Real Madrid's problems. It was only the beginning of his attacks on the club and the organization. ¨Madrid isn´t structured to have the scale it has. There is no functional empathy there.¨ He picked a fight with Castilla´s manager Toril of all people, refusing to use canteranos or youngsters despite injuries to the first team.
He called himself the youngster´s manager, the guy who used more of them than anyone else in recent history, but conveniently forgot that none of them have had any lasting impact in his team selection and many of them have decided to move on like every other generation of Castilla players before them. He blamed his first team players, benching Ramos, Khedira, Ozil, and ultimately what doomed him, the club captain Iker Casillas. For a guy whose players in the past have spoken up for him years past their association with them, I would say there are few on the squad that are going to miss him.
People will make a huge deal about him poking Tito Vilanova´s eye, threatening referees in car-parks, and dealing with the squad´s constant sifting of insider information to the press. I mean every club has leaks. Does he think the press will be any less forgiving with John Terry around at Stamford Bridge or that information won´t filter out to the Daily Mail? The reason he´s leaving isn´t that he did any of these things, nor certainly the steaming load of propaganda that Florentino Perez flung the other day, placing the blame on the press not letting Mourinho do his job.
He, as Arancha Diaz so eloquently put it in her article for Zoom News, ¨never understood that the key to be loved at Real Madrid was to not place his quest for His Third, Su Tercera above the club´s own for The Tenth, La Decima.¨ She adds that ¨when he was hired he said that, `It isn´t wonderful to manage at Real Madrid, but it is to win at Real Madrid.´ He leaves almost three years later still not having understood that lesson. That it is fundamentally important to become part of that history and not to become its protagonist.¨ I couldn´t have said it better myself.
Overall Grade: B-
On Tuesday Barcelona´s kit sponsor Nike unveiled the new kits that FC Barcelona will wear for the upcoming 2013-14 season. Instead of the bleeding-edge colors of the current blaugrana like first kit, Nike returns to the more traditional and conservative choice: using the narrow vertical stripes of past kits, but makes a bold decision to include colors of the Senyera, or flag of Catalunya, as the basis for the second kit.
Last season Nike released some innovative designs with wide stripes and degraded colors that left many cold. They have decided then to go back to basics in the first kit. As with the 2010 kit, the neck is yellow but the distinctive collar this time is more of a beak in shape rather than the more rounded one before. The current gradient color scheme is kept only on the sleeves and there are two significant additions to the shirt. The Catalan flag is included on the back and near inside the collar. The pants are blue and the stockings have the same gradient as the sleeves with a thin yellow strip on top.
They decided, in response to a request by supporters, to include a similar design to the home kit but using the red and yell of of the Senyera in the overall design of the second kit. It is the first time in the history of FC Barcelona that they have used this pattern, a symbol of regional independence, in their kit design. The neck is round instead of beak-shaped, their shorts are the same red as the vertical stripes, and fortunately the degraded colors of their current away kit continue to be seen only on their sleeves.
Lastly, after never accepting a shirt sponsor across the front, they paid Unicef for the right to locate their logo in their deal of a few years ago (they continue to have a small logo on the back of the shirt), then
they accepted funding from non-profit firm 'Qatar Foundation' that falls under the umbrella of 'Qatar Sports Investments' it is troubling too to note that for the first time FC Barcelona have a shirt sponsor that bears the name of a private company with the inclusion of 'Qatar Airways' across the front.
Grade A-: It is a much better fit to the conservative image of Barcelona than last year´s `champaigne wishes and caviar dreams´ ensemble, but Barcelona´s second kits continue to be subpar. Maybe it´s that they never fit stylistically to their classic blaugrana design, the last 4 or 5 have been brutal, and while better than all of them this one continues to be just a bit ho-hum.
It's been a contentious three year reign in charge. While few people are questioning his CV, frankly he's arguably one of the top football managers of all time, he's met his match at Real Madrid. Barcelona are often referred to as being more than a club, that they say represents an ideal or a socio-political movement, but Real Madrid really are more than a club, it's like their playing the Game of Thrones in the capital and the knives are for whomever takes the coach's seat. Now, Mou likes to think of himself as an aficionado of Sun-Tzu or Machiavelli, and his confrontational tactics might have worked anywhere else, but Spain is a different animal, or rather it's Madrid that's the difference.
Real Madrid is a living breathing entity kept alive by the obsession of supporters, ultras, the media, socios, administators, politicians, and arguably the State itself, and all pulling that great beast in directions that would suit themselves and not necessarily anyone else. It's a process we followed four years ago at the tail end of the Ramon Calderon presidency, with its corruption and ineptitude, and everyone looked hopefully at the return of Florentino Perez with guarded hope. See if you see any parallels.
The failed pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo left them with a major publicity disaster, losing the subsequent war of words with Sir Alex Ferguson; where the Scot lamented the abuse of power by the Madrid giants and gave a misguided history lesson about the club’s attachment to the Franco regime; Ramon Calderon called him senile, and subsequent negotiations collapsed. That triggered the Robinho trifecta. The Brazilian cried on public television for Chelsea to save him, the London club printed replica shirts for the Brazilian, and an angry Madrid subsequently sold him to the Sultan of Manchester City instead. To replace the Brazilian’s late exit, the club had clearly had no backup for the Ronaldo signing, so they began a series of impulse buys: Rafael Van der Vaart first, and then Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Lassana Diarra and most surprisingly Julien Faubert from West Ham, who came to Madrid in January with no knowledge that Madrid had even been up for him, and neither it seems did Real Madrid management. No one wanted to take credit or blame, a hallmark of the Ramon Calderon Presidency, but nothing new if you know the history of Real Madrid. They fired Bernd Schuster for essentially giving up on the club; the German was frozen out of a power struggle with sporting director Peja Mijatovich and hired Juande Ramos who had failed so miserably at Tottenham. They were drilled out of the Copa del Rey in November by a third division side in Real Union which had last won the Cup in 1927 and they were drilled out of the Champions League 5-0 on aggregate by Liverpool marking the fifth year in a row that the club had exited the competition in the first knockout stage. Even Ramon Calderon was forced to step down from the club after questions rose about the validity of a club election in December that had ratified club finances. The club was resigned to the fact that the league was for Barcelona. The election was on the horizon. Florentino Perez was returning to his post and set to usher another run of Galacticos for the merengues.
We tried to end that piece positively, looking to the new Perez-Revolution in the works and it was certainly going to be better than what was already in place, but we had our doubts knowing how the last Galacticos era ended under Perez. Four years on with another election in sight, there is much that has changed, a league title, a couple of domestic trophies, and they've gone farther in the Champions League, but there's still more that has stayed the same. Barcelona have won the league again, the hegemony is still alive and running despite what some pundits have written, but more glaringly is the institutional chaos that Real Madrid seems to breed by right.
Four years ago they were pursuing Cristiano, but now they're just trying to keep him happy otherwise he'll bolt? It's ironic considering that trying to sign him couldn't keep Robinho happy and now with the prospects of losing Cristiano they're throwing the bank at Robinho's heir at Santos, Neymar? You couldn't have written a better best-seller. They swapped Mijatovich for Valdano and then for Mourinho himself, but there is no grand plan. The oars aren't rowing in the same direction and with the constant movement of players, coaches and systems in and out of the organization Real Madrid has maintained in stasis for the last 10 years.
There is much talk about an end of an era in Barcelona, that no club could ever continue that level of dominance forever, and they're right, no club can, but as long as Real Madrid is their only rival, and los blancos continue to make wrong decision after another, there is no telling how long Barcelona can continue to dominate (domestically at least).
***As a post-script, if they were to change the dynamic or plan for a real new beginning, one that they could have started at the end of the Calderon era four years ago, then we'll follow the course that we did at La Liga Weekly and postulate a Real Madrid 3.0: what they should do over the next Summer to change their course. Any suggestions are welcomed.
It is one thing for experienced players like David Villa or Victor Valdéz to leave the club, for whatever personal or footballing reasons that may stem from, but it is quite another what is happening at La Masia. Valdéz blames amongst other reasons his ¨mental exhaustion stemming from being the club´s starting keeper for 10 years¨, and Villa has never been the same since returning from injury, so the club are certain to capitalize on it. Tottenham are offering 15 million euros for El Guaje, Adriano is for sale at around 10 million euros, but the club aren´t just gutting the experienced players like Abidal who is out of contract or Bojan who was never going to return from Italy, it´s the fire sale they apparently have put up for players on Barcelona-B.
According to Mundo Deportivo they have Isaac Cuenca and Jonathan dos Santos valued at 4 million, Fontàs and Afellay at 3 million, and many others are on the block as well. Other papers are reporting that Thiago Alcantara is on the block for 25 million euros. Sergi Roberto could be loaned out, or sold with a buy-back-clause like Bojan had with AS Roma, and laughably Cesc Fabregas is being linked with a move back to England.
I realize its the time of the season, clubs always sell players and buy other players, newspapers report on those stories and even ones that aren't true, but when a club decides that it will buy a series of players to shore up their accepted needs and they announced they were looking for top-class players at forward, at central defense and in goal,then they are going to need to pay more than the 50 million euros or so they usually spend per off-season. It looks to me, and the papers have been reporting it this way, that there is a fire-sale going on to afford the likes of a Neymar from Santos, a Thiago Silva from PSG and a Marc-Andre ter Stegen from Borussia Monchendgladbach.
It's the nature of the game that there will always be movement, and Barcelona have never shunned the market, but they have in the past decade used the players from La Masia to supplement those high-level signings that sustain all big clubs. Their ability to develop their own talent is a virtue that club officials and supporters have held over others, proof that they are mes que un club, more than a club, but as with other lofty parts of the club credo like eschewing shirt sponsorships, this too is passing. This looks like a return frankly to that era between Cruyff's Dream Team and Laporta's take-over where Barcelona bought huge players like Luís Figo, Patrick Kluivert, Luis Enrique and Rivaldo and saw home-grown players like Luis Garcia, Ivan de la Pena and Mikel Arteta leaving to make their names elsewhere.
Marca are on high alert concerning the Copa del Rey final. They have a picture of the two fountains in Madrid that the supporters of both clubs use to celebrate trophies. Sergio Ramos came out as the club spokesman with the absence of Mourinho. He appealed to the group to win the final, he said that the club is above anything or anyone else. Atléti´s coach Diego Simeone in his press-conference that it doesn´t worry him that Madrid are the favorites. ¨Nobody´d put two bits on us.¨ Gabi added that, ¨this is a unique opportunity to break the slump.¨ It is hard to believe that Real Madrid can lose this game. The years and years of bad performances have just led to this idea that no matter how good Atléti are (and this is their greatest ever side I believe) that they will never be able to do it against Real Madrid.
Diario Sport is helping to launch that final assault on Neymar. Representatives of the club are in Brazil to seal the forward´s deal. Barça are offering 57 million euros while Madrid are doubling it. Granted, the player would have to pay a significant penalty for reneging on a pre-contract agreement, so it´s up to the player. If Santos approves of the transfer he´d be a Barcelona player today. He could say his farewells on Sunday in front of the home fans. El Mundo Deportivo are following suit with an almost identical campaign of their own.