• Premier League: - Will David Moyes succeed at Man Utd. Is Manuel Pellegrini ready for the limelight?
  • La Liga: - Tito Vilanova is fighting for his life, is Tata Martino the right fit as his succesor?
  • Serie A: - Napoli have begun their assault on the scudetto. Will Rafa Benitez's Spanish project succeed in Italy?
  • European Football: - Can Pep Guardiola implant his identity on a club that are already European Champs?
  • World Football: - Brazil is waiting for next Summer. Can they finally defeat the ghosts of Brazil 1954?

World Football on The Ball is Flat: here ...

Spanish Football on The Ball is Flat: here ...

Italian Football on The Ball is Flat: here ...

English Football on The Ball is Flat: here ...

It was always going to be difficult to replace the most succesful manager in the history of Manchester
United, but to be anointed as the golden successor David Moyes must have known that he would not be given the same level of patience that his predecessor was given. Ferguson finished in the top of the table only once in his first four years after assuming the role, but rattled off a resume in his 26 years at the club that is second to no one, with close to 40 titles in that span. It must have been what replacing Sir Matt Busby must have been like in 1969. Wilf McGuinness only lasted a little over a year on the job. It was so daunting that even Busby himself couldn't do it either lasting only 6 months in a caretaker role. For more than a decade afterwards, Manchester United would struggle to make the transition to life beyond a legend, winning 3 FA Cups and sharing one of two Charity Shields in the following 17 years. They even suffered the ignominy of relegation in that term before winning the second division title in 1975.
Moyes's record at United this year isn't as bad as many are making it out to be. He may be 17 points
behind first place Liverpool and 13 points behind local rivals Manchester City, but he still has a chance
to finish in the Europa League qualifying slots. We can hail him for his role in this year's Champions
League competition. His problem isn't even getting results against those clubs that Manchester United are supposed to beat. In 13 games against teams at the top of the table Moyes has exactly one win and that was at home against Arsenal in November. They've been shut out at home by Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and Manchester City. It's no wonder the fans have turned against him and there's a vocal minority group that's put much of the blame against Sir Alex Ferguson for anointing him as his successor, which has led to a few interesting events. The notoriously media-shy Paul Scholes has come out in support of the manager, as have other club legends like Gary Neville and even Ryan Giggs who has (if you believe the media) suffered loss of minutes under Moyes.

Now, I don't have any insight into what's going to happen at United but I can set up a few scenarios that I think are likely. The most likely solution is that United keep Moyes for another year and give him money to spend in the Summer. It's a conservative option and considering how the Glazers work it's their preferred method of operation. Then again, if they get bumped out of the Champions League (embarrassed even) by Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich, they don't look to make 4th so it's likely they won't be in the Champions League next year, and their sponsors start calling to renegotiate deals, I think there is a possibility growing everyday that Moyes might not be long for his job. If he is sacked it is likely that they will hire from within, handing the job to a Phil Neville or Ryan Giggs until the end of the year and let them audition for a longer term.

Short-Term Fix: If they fire Moyes and they are desperate enough to regain a place quickly, the
conservative choice would be to hire a coach from this sort of list: Carlo Ancelotti, Fabio Capello, Jupp
Heynkes, Marcelo Lippi, Louis van Gaal, Cesare Prandelli or Guus Hiddink. Ten years ago or so when
Ferguson had contemplated retirement it might have made sense to hire a personal friend like Lippi but
he's of an age (as is Capello) where the rigors of club management are beyond him. The same goes for
Heynkes and Hiddink essentially, but Heynkes is an interesting option. He righted the ship at Bayern
after van Gaal left and he's well respected by his players so he'd solve the fractured dressing room.
Prandelli plays an attractive brand of football that is atypically Italian and would slot in well with the
ethos at United, but I wonder if the language barrier would be an issue. It's become less necessary to
speak English in front of players and the media are more accepting of coaches with limited communication skills but we aren't talking about Mauricio Pochettino at Sunderland or Pepe Mel at West Brom. This is a multinational corporation like Manchester United. Which leaves the mercurial Louis van Gaal. At his best he can galvanize a club like Ajax and win the Champions League or win the treble in Germany with Bayern. At his worst he can drive a club, its supporters and players against him like what happened at the end of both his Bayern and FC Barcelona stints. That said, I think he has the right sort of presence to take over at Manchester United, but as is usual he won't stay long so there's a long-term trade-off.

Long-Term Solution: the lack of stability with any of the above-named managers leads me to believe that it would be better to consider a long-term plan similar to what Liverpool have done with Brendan Rogers. If there is anything to be learned from replacing Sir Matt Busby in 1969 it's that you can't go home again. You need to adapt the Manchester United aesthetic, keep what is right about the club - it's traditions and beliefs - but make a break with the past. You can never replicate what Ferguson did so don't even try. It's why I believe this list filled with innovative managers is where they should go if they do replace Moyes: Jeurgen Klopp, Vincenzo Montella, Antonio Conte, Diego Simeone, Slaven Bilic, Didier Deschamps, Luciano Spalletti, Joachim Low, and Marcelo Bielsa.

I know it's an open field. Anyone of these coaches would be a marvelous fit, but if you want to have an immediate impact there are only two dominant candidates: Simeone or Klopp. Which philosophy do you want? Starve the opponent into submission, or run them into the same. If it were me, I'd pick Klopp.
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Community of Madrid
Marca.com: "By a Miracle": agonizing qualifier by Madrid against an unyielding Dortmund: dreadful performance by Ancelotti's club that only functioned better after Isco and Casemiro came on. An error by Pepe and another by Illarra, the origin of both German goals. The worst Madrid without Cristiano: he watched from the bench like a caged lion. Casillas's decisive interventions in key moments sustained the club. Casemiro: steel and personality stayed the German avalanche in the second half and lent security to the midfield. Atletico Madrid: The Cauldron of Europe: Atletico and Barca will play their match without pity in a packed Calderon. The entire continent is awaiting this collision between the intensity of Atleti and Barca's possession. Response: Real Madrid have real problems at the back (lack of depth and pace) that exposes them against teams like Dortmund. Their midfield is in even worse shape. Alonso is not the same player he was under Mourinho and Illarramendi just hasn't had the playing time. That said, other than Bayern I don't think anyone else has that pace. Barca on the other hand? Not really ready for Diego Simeone's Atleti. It's a coaching matter
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Tune into a Spanish language broadcast here in the States and you’ll usually here announcers, usually Argentines, spouting out names of players from Argentina playing in Spain and you’ll hear some really interesting nicknames for some very familiar players. To give a little color, I decided to research some of these. I tried my best, some are really difficult, since I am neither Argentinean nor an expert on the game there, so disculpe, my apologies if I’ve made any mistakes. By the way, if you notice, for many reasons, there are some clubs that do not participate because they have no Argentines in their ranks.

The Big Two
Real Madrid CF: Angel di Maria: El Angelito and Di Magia are both referring to his name: Angelito means little Angel and Di Magia replaces parts of his last name with the Spanish word for magic. El Flaco (Skinny), El Pibito (little man) and Fideo (noodle) all refer to his slight stature.

FC Barcelona: Lionel Messi: La pulga atomica or the atomic flea. Interesting how Sebastien Giovinco at Juve has a similar title and plays similarly. Javier Mascherano: Masche, a shortening of his last name, El Jefecito, or the little chief.
The Rest of La Liga
Almeria: Sebastián Dubarbier: Sebas and Dubas are both related to his name. El Frances is due to his French name and/or ancestry

Atletico Madrid: Emiliano Insua: Pochito, which refers to the fact that despite the fact that he was born in Argentina and raised early on by Boca Juniors, Liverpool FC in England trained him so he has that stigma of being more English than Argentine, therefore Pocho or Pochito, Jose Sosa: El Principito, or the Little Prince.

Celta Vigo: Gustavo Cabral: El Sargentito, which means the little seargant, or El Negro, which refers to his dark skin color. Agusto Matias Fernandez: El Negro, which also refers to his dark skin color.

Espanyol: Diego Colotto. El Coly, a shortening of his last name or El Cordobes, because he comes from Cordoba, Argentina.

Granada: Diego Bunoanotte: El Enano, or the midget referring to his being close to 5 feet tall.

Malaga: Pablo Perez: El Fantastico, or the Fantastic One, or PP8 referring to his initials and his shirt number. Fernando Tissone: Tisso DJ, referring to is passion for music and his willingness to spin tunes in the dressing room and also a shortening of his last name. Willy Caballero: Willy, an obvious one, Marcos Angeleri, El cáscara or Cascarita (eggshell) because as a kid his uncle named him that because of his rowdy and combative nature, picking fights, Mambrú after an Argentine children's song that refers to the Duke of Marlborouogh dying in war, Comandante refers to Subcomandante Marcos the Zapatista rebel leader, el Locomía for his resemblance to a Spanish pop group singer and I mean I could go on. The guy has a nickname for every day of the week. Ezequiel Relscaldani: Rescaldowsky, I guess because of his Polish background?

Osasuna: Emeliano Armenteros: Armen, which is a shortening of his last name, Pelado or baldy, or Travesaño which means crossbar referring to his defensive prowess.

Rayo Vallecano: Leonel Galeano: cebolla or onion, a guy who makes the opponents cry and Joaquin Larrivey, El Bati Gol or Larry Gol, both refer to his striking resemblance to Gabriel 'Batigol' Batistuta.

Real Betis: Guillermo Sara, Saramago, which is a portmanteau of his last name Sara and mago which means magician, Guille, which is a shortening of his first name and parapenales, which means penalty-stopper.

Sevilla: Nicolas Pareja: El Peludo, the hairy One or El Flaco, skinny. Federico Fazio, el Gigante or the Giant, which refers to his stature

Valencia: Federico Cartabia: Fede, which is a shorting of his first name, or La Joya, which means the Jewel. Pablo Piatti: Pablito, which is a shortening of his name and means little Pablo, or El Duende which means the Elf and refers to his slight stature.

Villareal: Mateo Musaccio: el joven-veterano, the young-veteran, which refers to his poise in defense.

Despite beating Celta de Vigo handily at home 3-0, seeing off their former player Luis Enrique in his return to the club that made him famous and gave him his first shot at management, the club is reeling from an injury to first team keeper Victor Valdes in the 22nd minute. He denied a free-kick, landed wrong and was stretchered off. It was determined later that he had suffered an anterior cruciate ligament and would miss not only the rest of the season but likely will not be fit for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Coach Tata Martino would be interviewed later and shared his thoughts: "We won't sign a goalkeeper. We will finish the season with this group. I am not one to believe in bad luck, but at this stage of the season I thought everything that was to happen had already occurred. I was wrong. It's a big blow but this team has rolled with punches for some time now and we will pull through this."

He's right, it is a huge problem for the blaugrana in the short-term, backup keeper Jose Manuel Pinto is serviceable in short stretches, but is he consistent enough to handle the fatigue of three competitions and the pressure of the Champions League this late in the tournament? Are they prepared to go with one of their Barca-B keepers as backup? I don't think so. In the long-term however I believe Barcelona were well down the road to replacing the mercurial Valdes with 21 year old Borussia Monchengladbach keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Valdes had elected not to renew his contract while Sandro Rosell was President but had wavered since Neymar-gate occurred and the 32 year old from Hospitalet had already sent feelers to the Premier League and Ligue 1.

What is worse though is that Valdes was on form and was in serious contention to take the first team keeper slot away from Iker Casillas who had been relegated to second keeper. Now Vicente del Bosque will likely select Casillas as the starter and use Napoli's Pepe Reina as his back-up, bringing David de Gea as the third keeper to give him some World Cup exposure. Either way this is a huge blow for Spain entering this momentous competition.

Two years ago he was the standout player on a Malaga side that had reached as far as it had ever gone in its short-lived history. Sure, there had been a club in Malaga since the 1940's but this was a club that had risen from its ashes in 1992 playing in the third division. They rose and were successful for a time but in the 2007-2008 season they were seconds away from relegation and the Miracle and the Rosaleda happened. The oil money came in after that like the tides and as the tides are wont to do they receded. In its wake we were introduced to a player like Isco.

Francisco Román Alarcón Suárez, or Isco for short in that curious way that Spaniards have of shortening names, was born in Malaga, but cut his teeth in the Valencia CF youth system, and as a right of passage for practically all products of that academy, he was sold after really, only 4 appearances for Los Che. Fast forward two years and here was one of the bright lights of La Rojita, the Spanish U-21's, who had become a key element in Manuel Pellegrini's Malaga side after the sale of Santi Cazorla to Arsenal, and he was being sold to Real Madrid. At first he balked at the move, I don't think he thought himself ready, but even with the pursuit of Gareth Bale most pundits in Spain thought the more effective player had already been bought.

Since then it has been an up and down year for Isco. He's played in 23 games for the club but most of them as a sub. His minutes have gone down progressively and he's seen his place on the pecking order for minutes in midfield drop. It's his game really. He's a tall, languid midfielder who's best position is sitting in space, linking midfield and attack, but who really doesn't fit in Ancelotti's system anymore. Can he adapt to a deeper position as Modric has done in that Pirlo/Seedorf mold? Possibly, but why would you want to. He is what he is and changing him to a Messi-esque false-9, a creative winger, or a deep-lying playmaker ignores what strengths he has.

Now Manchesters United and City are calling and Real Madrid can easily get more than the 30 million euros they spent for the player in the Summer. Isco says he'll do whatever the club decides but it's clear that he's surplus in Carlo Ancelotti's 4-3-3 and better suited anywhere else.
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Real Madrid entered Sunday’s clasico with a four point lead on their rivals FC Barcelona and a feeling that, while an end of an era isn’t yet on the cards, that certainly there had been a sea change between the two. While it had always been Real Madrid that were weak in the back coming into these matches and vulnerable to the quick darting runs of Messi and company, it was Barcelona that had still not adjusted to the declining skills of Carles Puyol and Dani Alves, and the players they bought left them susceptible to attacks on the wing (Jordi Alba) and set-pieces (Javier Mascherano). With the waves upon waves of attacking talent that los blancos can throw at you on the counter  and the aggressive athleticism that they muster in midfield I didn’t think on paper that the blaugrana had much of a chance going into the Bernabeu and snatching three points, but snatching is right. The scoreline ended with Real Madrid CF 3-4 FC Barcelona but there was much more going on.

Referee: let’s get this over with quickly. I’m not a fan of the claims by either side that every time either of these clubs wins their rival immediately brings of referee bias or league intervention. There were many contested calls on both sides: a clear penalty on Pepe tripping Neymar in the area was missed by Undiano as was a Pique handball on a Modric set-piece, not to mention a Pepe head-butt to Cesc after Messi scores Barca goal that deserved a red card and an expulsion. This isn't even considering the calls he gave on either side.

Match Report:
Real Madrid 0-1 Barcelona: Andres Iniesta’s goal was superb to the right corner. It was obvious that they had Diego Lopez scouted well and that looked a weakness for him all night. It also exposed a lack of communication in the Madrid defense: Carvajal and Pepe looked lost between them and let Andres slip in but it was the lackadaisical positioning of Marcelo who kept Iniesta onside in the first place. It wouldn't be the only time.

Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona: Karim Benzema's majestic header with Javier Mascherano marking him. Angel di Maria, man of the match for Madrid, whipped in a high cross and Benzema was just taller and stronger than Mascherano. Granted, Pique usually plays these more classic center-forwards, but with Cristiano in the mix he had to divide his attentions. This is the fundamental flaw in Barcelona's system. I know they tried to maintain a bleeding edge tactical set-up since Pep Guardiola experimented with three at the back and using a combination of Busquets and Mascherano to shore up that other center-back but enough already. They can't ignore the absence of Carles Puyol any longer.

Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona: the second goal came with Benzema again exploiting the spaces that Barca continually left ahead of Valdez. The keeper has taken a lot of criticism over the years, but with Alves  bombing forward and Alba wandering centrally, it was chaos for Masch and Pique even with Busquets drifting back. Benzema was so dominant in the first half he could have easily have had 5 goals in a rout for the hosts, but sooner or later the frustration would settle and as usual Real Madrid's players would get frustrated and careless.

Real Madrid 2-2 Barcelona: I know it's hard to praise Lionel Messi these days for fear of either gushing to much and sounding the biased observer or inciting that vocal minority of trolls that will forever downgrade his achievements, but this close quarter goal in front of Lopez after passes from Cesc and Neymar is why I like him so much as a player. He stays on his feet, uses three-dimensional space like no one else and his finishing is without peer.

Real Madrid 3-2 Barcelona: With this goal I thought the match was over. It starts with Marcelo passing to Cristiano with Mascherano guarding him. He turns him around easily and blows right past him. Alves then slots in but he has no defensive position at all and looks to be avoiding contact when Cristiano trips (or is tripped, hard to see intent) but what is clear is that the initial contact occurs outside the area. A penalty is awarded and Cristiano scores just outside Valdez's outstretched hand.

Real Madrid 3-3 Barcelona: Considering how controversial the previous goal was I wrote in my notes that Undiano might be more inclined to award a goal to Barcelona to make up for his mistake on the previous penalty by gifting one to the visitors. It didn't take long. Neymar is brought down by Sergio Ramos in the area, red card and penalty taken and scored by Messi to Diego's left again. Did Ramos deserve either call? Not really, he might have pulled a little shirt at the end, but Neymar who has a reputation of going easily to ground was already diving in. What's more egregious I think is that I'm not so sure that Neymar was onside in the first place.

Real Madrid 3-4 Barcelona: Iniesta sandwiched between two defenders tries to split them and is pushed to the ground by Carvajal. Do they call it a penalty in England, or practically anywhere else in the world? Italian referees would wave it off and gesticulate wildly to continue play, but it's a clear penalty in Spain and indicative of what the real problem in this match is: bad refereeing. I know, every league wants to stake claim that there refs are worse than yours are. They're not. Not only are Spanish refs poorly positioned, they have hair-triggers imposing themselves as primary protagonists in matches (especially in less media-centric matches), rarely letting play continue and because in Spain everything is about politics and ethnicity, the fact that Undiano Mallenco is from Pamplona means something tangible in how he approaches the game. As an outsider that sounds silly, but because he's from the North the Madrid media say, it's hard for him to be impartial. Whether or not you think it's real or more nonsense spread by the Spanish press, in the end I know that is a question that is debated in every match. Everyone in Spanish football is referred to by their region and it effects how they are treated. So, "of course Mallenco had a bias. He's from Navarre don't you know."

The Good: What all this does is obscure the fact that this was one of the truly entertaining clasicos in recent memory. After years of Real Madrid parking the bus on Barca, Ancelotti attacked them in their own style but favored the fact that their talent is as good or better on paper than Barcelona. If Benzema had buried any more of those chances that he had in that dominant performance he had in the first half we wouldn't even be talking about referee bias in La Liga. He and Angel di Maria were key for Real Madrid. For Barcelona the Man of the Match was Lionel Messi who was front and center for the blaugrana. This was the first time I'd personally seen him play in more of a classic Argentine #10 role and it suits them if they want to fit Neymar into the squad.

The Bad: both defenses. When we see a defensive mishap we look at the closest defender and we assess blame. Javier Mascherano playing out of position and allowing Benzema space and uncontested shots in front of Valdez leads to two goals. Carvajal and Pepe comically caught in no-man's land while Barca's wingers ran past them and they're useless. Sergio Ramos puts another defender down and he's a red-card magnet. Well, in a team game it's not always about one person. Mistakes happen when players are stretched beyond their responsibilities and covering for weaknesses in their team-mates. Marcelo and Dani Alvez will never be disciplined defenders. You may say that's not their responsibility, that they bomb forward as Brazilian fullbacks are taught to, but there is a delicate balance in defense and in La Liga if you can't stay organized at the back you'll get burned.

The Ugly: the after-glow press conferences. I'm sorry, but I'm tired of the complaining in practically every presser in these clasicos. Someone should brief these players in media relations whether with traditional or with social networks. There is no grand conspiracy to hand the league to Barcelona or Madrid. Get over yourselves. When matches mean so much in Spain key suspensions for criticizing the league or the refs can hand a league to any of the leaders. Any loss of points is magnified in a league so stratified.
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Some people sometimes ask me why I comment on a league so far away and in a language, and of a culture, so foreign to our own and I’ll tell them that if I don’t, well then who again will, because I will tell you, the people who are forming the opinions of the Spanish League and of Spain in general, in English, are idiots.

It’s why I spend so much time at here trying to bridge the language barrier, writing about customs and of the curiosities we find that distinguish La Liga from the English Premier League or Serie A. I do my best. I try to see their point, the criticisms of Spanish futbol are varied and most of them have merit. The Spanish league has a problem with referees. There is a tendency to simulate. There is also less tackling as they say. There is also more football being played. When the ball is retrieved it is used and not lumped towards the opponents goal. The ball is played at the feet more often than not. A tackle is used to stop an attack, retrieve the ball, start a counter-attack, not to draw the crowd’s attention to a player’s endeavor and away from his appalling lack of skill. Oh, and let’s not talk about simulation.

I’ve seen the videos of phantom penalties being given at the Kop End, the North Bank or at the Stretford End. It’s rampant in England as well, and not just because a wave of immigrants came in to teach the insular Brits how to cheat at foosball, but because that’s what players do to win one for their team, especially when you have overweight refs (and none are more round around the tummy as the English) trying to adjudicate the beer league down by the local pub let alone in a fast paced professional league like the EPL.

No, actually I’d like to comment on the big problems that Spanish football is often accused of: on the scale of corruption, racism, fascism, you know, the big ones. We’ve all seen the monkey-chants coming from the curvas, and we’ve seen the swastikas brandished amongst the ultras in Spain, but it would be unwise to brand it a latin disease endemic to “southern European cultures.”

There is also a segment of commentators who discount Spanish football and Real Madrid’s accomplishments specifically because they were Franco’s team. Do they know anything about Spanish history? Do they know that Franco himself was Galician and hated football? Do they know that it was actually Santiago Bernabeu, the legendary Real Madrid chairman who aligned himself to the regime, that glommed the whites onto the Castilian fascist agenda ignoring the fact that the club’s DNA is as much Republican as it is Falangist, as much Catalan as it is Spanish? Yes, two of its founders the brothers Juan and Carlos Padros were born in Barcelona, Oh, and that the previous regime at Real Madrid had been either killed or exiled leaving the door wide open for Bernabeu to step in? No, they don’t know. It’s easier to cast the clubs in black and white, white versus blaugrana, good versus evil terms, when history is far from it; there are no good guys in history.

Oh, and as if England has any great shakes to say about fascism, considering that the English disease of hooliganism spread around the disaffected youth that mingled around English grounds, spouting out National Front slogans and infecting the supporter’s firms with their right-wing, beyond Thatcherist agenda long before their influence migrated to Italy, Spain or France. In fact, is there a country in Europe that isn't dealing with the problems of immigration in this day and age? I guess talking about Belgium’s recent nativist tendencies, or the rise of anti-immigrant groups in the Netherlands or even Germany of all places, would be counter-indicative to their argument.

The fact is that Spain, above and beyond all else dredged up from their past, is a vibrant, often complex country still dealing with the decades of being left behind the post-war European/American gravy train. It is a fractured country; a collection of cultures and languages, a stew of ethnicities, at times very Iberian (Catholic and conservative) and yet very European (modern and liberal) at the same time. It is no better nor worse than any of their neighbors, especially in their football.
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Legendary Spanish coach Luis Aragones passed away last night. It´s a sad day for anyone at all interested in Spanish football. You can wikipedia his accomplishments. He was one of the most accomplished strikers of his era. He was minutes away from a European Cup against Bayern Munich as a player in 1974. He coached Valencia, Atlético Madrid, Real Betis, Barcelona, Espanyol, Sevilla, Real Oviedo, Mallorca and Fenerbahçe, but that was just a preview to his greatest achievement.

El Sabio de Fortaleza, or the wise-man of Fortaleza in Madrid where he was born, was the one of the most important figures not only in Spain, but in world football over the last decade. It´s true. Before Euro 2008, Spain was a habitual under-achiever. Some of the greatest talents in world-football played for Spain: from Alfredo di Stefano or Amancio to Juanito, Santillana or Quini. Camacho, Goikoetxea, Butragueno or Michel to Hierro, Raul or Luis Enrique. Until Aragones took over the Spanish national team they were the first squad to be picked against the greats in world football, habitual losers, until 2008.

He was the first to establish a cohesive brand of football that brought Basques, Catalans and Castilians together under one umbrella of tiki-taka. He inherited players from all ethnicities: Castilian Casillas and his friend Xavi Hernandez from Catalunya, to a Manchego like Andres Iniesta or a Basque like Xabi Alonso, Aragones was the first Spanish coach to draw his player´s similarities as members of the Spanish national team while still acknowledging them as members of their own communities.

He coached all over Spain, was a respected member of the Spanish coaching fraternity, and was a prickly if admired tactician by the national media. He had his battles with journalists, was accused of insensitive (even racist remarks) regarding Thierry Henry amongst others, but none of these stuck permanently.

He put Spain on the map permanently as a world power. His legacy, the players that he trained and mentored like Sergio Ramos, David Villa, and Cesc Fabregas, won another European Cup in 2012 and sealed their place amongst the World Cup powers in South Africa 2010 under his successor Vicente del Bosque.

It was Aragones though who deserves all the credit. He brought the often differing styles of Spanish football under one blanket that many would disparagingly call ¨tiki-taka¨, but he would show that his players were the key. It was their heart and their spirit regardless of ethnicity or language or culture that was key to winning trophies. Spain is notorious for its splintered culture, supporters of Basque, Catalan or Castilian clubs wanting nothing to do with each other, but it was Luis Aragones who coached in practically every autonomous community who brought all of them together and at least for one Summer in 2008 brought unexpected glory to a country that desperately needed it. His legacy afterwards, of another Euro and a World Cup for the players he coached , is unprecedented.
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We all know that the so-called specter of Financial Fair Play hovering over the heads of the largest European clubs, spending has actually dramatically increased. New investment has prodded up the English Premiere League and other clubs across Europe have spent accordingly to catch up. It's no surprise. Financial inequality in real-life is a very scary reality for most of us and why shouldn't it be reflected in the clubs we support. La Liga clubs, especially the top two are the ideal culprits in regards to public opinion, but are they really? Here's an infographic about that very situation.

It seems an outrageous amount all around, but in the high profile signings of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and a slew of other for Real Madrid, not to mention the knee-jerk responses by arch-rivals Barca in securing Alexis Sanchez, Cesc Fabregas and Neymar, the Spanish clubs and the Spanish league are at first glance the most egregious culprits. Look at today's Copa del Rey second leg between Real Madrid and Espanyol. Los Blancos according to the above chart spent an ungodly 536 million euros versus Los Pericos who spent a meager 8.3 million.

It's a sore spot of contention because I'm an Espanyol supporter. We're generally one of the poorest clubs in La Liga considering our debts and our assets. To put our situation in perspective, the last place club in England spent 4 times what we spent. All but 3 clubs France and Italy did as well and all but 4 clubs in Germany did as well. We put up a fight losing out 2-0 on aggregate at Cornella last week and at the Santiago Bernabeu yesterday. I am so proud of my club but I am well aware that unless the financial situation changes, sooner or later we will suffer the utter tragedy of relegation in La Liga. It truly is a wilderness in Segunda A and/or Segunda B and for many clubs in Spain, except for the big two of course, it is as we speak inevitable.

Is it is as bleak as I say? La Liga clubs spent on the average of 57 million euros on their squads for a whopping 1.1 billion or so euros as a league. Sure, but almost 70% of that spending came from the top two clubs. The rest spent on an average of around 22 million euros per squad and that is still less than even what last place Crystal Palace spent on their squad to give you some perspective.

Then the argument is, well aren't Spanish clubs other than Real Madrid and Barcelona competing and winning European matches, taking home trophies and lifting the Spanish brand as a whole? Sure, and I will agree that clubs have become creative with taking on loanees, allowing second and third party ownerships and signing long-term projects on shoestring budgets, but to really assess this problem at the moment don't stretch the argument and track how squads have been built over the span of existing 5-6 year contracts. Narrow the focus and simplify the metric. Track net-spending over the last transfer window. So I referenced this graphic from El Pais from over the summer.

Net spending for the top two clubs in La Liga this past summer was around 70 to 75 million euros each, and that's including the Bale signing, and yes that's even factoring the infamous hidden price of Neymar's contract. Athletic Bilbao spent around 15.5 million and that's understandable because the club have a factory that spews out an assembly-line of gifted players from their youth-team. They have money to burn and even then it's a modest amount at 16 or so million euros; they sold Javi Martinez for more than double that. The next closest was newly-promoted Villarreal at 11.4 million net and that's because they also have stable ownership that weathered their year in the second division. The Pozzo family, who own Udinese in Italy and Watford in England, subsidize Granada as a feeder club but even they spent a minuscule 3 million euros net. The only other club that spent anything of significance was Elche and that was a microscopic 50,000 euros. That's the price of an upscale minivan.

The rest of La Liga is a complete buyer's market. Five top clubs were in the black big after the transfer window closed: Sevilla at 55.3 million euros, Atletico Madrid at 39.9, Real Sociedad at 36, Malaga at 35, and Valencia at 30.3. Getafe and Espanyol both recouped 10.8 million euros, but the rest: Real Betis, Rayo Vallecano, Levante, Celta Vigo, Real Valladolid, Osasuna and Almeria profited no more than 20 million euros as a whole, less than 3 million euro profits on the average.

Some would say that's a good thing. Young talent in Spain get an opportunity to show their potential replacing top-level talent leaving for big clubs across Europe. It's true, and when they do clubs capitalize on the high interest for La Liga talent in those big-money sales, but it doesn't necessarily make for a healthy league. The turnover at even the top clubs year-by-year is astonishing. As with any extra-income, something other than that which a club can manage from tickets and sales to supporters, something more volatile like bonuses from European competitions, i.e sponsorships (many La Liga clubs have played for years without consistent investment from even local businesses) or in this case selling players, the market fluctuates; sooner or later there will be a store-front that is better placed than the Spanish league for their resale value and where will that leave already cash-strapped Spanish clubs? Maybe then the league will step in and change things for the better.
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The names of clubs and the history about how these clubs developed their names has always been a fascinating thing to explore for me. It is easy if you’re from Spain, or if you have some connection to the culture, but what if you love the league but would like some sort of clue as to the origin and meaning of the names that the teams that you support. Here’s a taste.

The Big Two

Real Madrid CF: Los Blancos: describes the club’s all white kit. It is one of the most iconic in world football. Los Merengues: similar to los blancos, it describes a Spanish dessert, usually white, made from whipped egg-whites and sugar, and served amongst the elites. Los Vikingos: when the transfer ban was lifted in the early 1970′s Real Madrid imported a healthy amount of Northern Europeans, therefore they got the appellation of Vikings. It also refers to their rapacious appetite for titles. Los Galacticos: describes their penchant for signing the biggest stars in the galaxy.

FC Barcelona: Blaugrana/Azulgranas: the color of the shirts in football is very important, and blau-grana, is sometimes erroneously called Spanish for blue and red, but it is actually Catalan. The term in Spanish would be azulgrana. Culés: Catalan for asses. People passing by their old stadium, Les Corts, would sometimes see their buttocks hanging over the side of the benches, hence the nickname for the supporters.

Primera Clubs

Almeria: Rojiblancos: it means red-whites, a nickname shared with many other clubs in La Liga. At least 3 other clubs are playing in red and white stripes in the first division this year. La Union, or the Union, referring to their full name Union Deportivo Almeria. Los Indálicos: a derogatory term for the club, referring to their penchant for contracting South Americans, or Indians.

Athletic Bilbao: Los Leones: the lions of San Mames, or in English St. Mammes of Caesarea: who was thrown to the lions and made them docile, and whose Church was nearby where Athletic’s ground, La Catedral de San Mames was built. Rojiblancos/Zurigorri: the red whites in Castilian and Basque.

Atletico Madrid: Rojiblancos: it means red-whites. Los Colchoneros, or the mattress-makers, because the fabric used to make mattresses was in a red-and-white striped pattern. Los Indios: a derogatory term for the club, referring to their penchant for contracting South Americans, or Indians.

Celta Vigo: Os Célticos: refers to the fact that along with Ireland, Scotland, Wales and parts of England, not to mention France, the ancient Celts settled in parts of Galicia as well. Os Celestes, or the sky-blues, because of the color of their kits. Los Portugueses: a derogatory term for the club, referring to their local language and culture being influenced as much by Portugal than Spain.

Elche: Los Franjiverdes: means the diagonal green-striped ones. Los Ilicitanos: refers to Ilici, the an ancient name for Elche.

Espanyol: Los Periquitos: the parakeets. The reason is lost in history fully, but there are a few theories. The first is that they originally played in yellow-kits. Another is that the original stadium where they played had flocks of parakeets living nearby. The last and most interesting is that there’s a very famous bar in Barcelona called “Els Quatre Gats” and the expression “there are 4 cats” was used ironically to refer to Espanyol’s very limited fan support even then. It means that when there are four cats around, you’re not going to see many people. In cartoons at the time, the club were represented by 4 Black Cats. How did they turn from Cats to Parakeets? Felix the Cat. When the cartoon was brought over and dubbed into Spanish, people remarked how he sounded more like a bird than a cat, so they called him the gat perico. From that, it was a short walk from quatre gats pericos to just pericos. Blanc-i-blaus or blanquiazules: Blue-whites for their striped kits depending on whether you say it in the preferred Catalan or Castilian.

Getafe: Geta: short for Getafe. The Azulones: the blue-ones for their home kits.

Granada: El Graná: short for Granada. Los Rojiblancos Horizontales: the horizontal red striped-ones for their home kits. Los Filipinos: refers to a bleak period for the club when it fell to the third division and the fans never wavered in their support.

Malaga CF: Boquerones: Spanish anchovies, the cultivation of which the city of Malaga is known for. Blanquiazules: the blue-whites, like Depor and Espanyol, for the color of their kits.

Osasuna:  Rojillos: for the color of their red-shirts. Gorritxo: basque for the red color of embarrassment, for the same reason.

Rayo Vallecanos: franjirojos: means red diagonal striped-ones. Vallecanos: refers to the the working-class neighborhood of Vallecas where Rayo Vallecano are located. Rayito: little Rayo

Real Betis: verdiblancos: means green-whites. Béticos: refers supporters of Real Betis. Heliopolitanos: refers to the neighborhood of Heliopolis in Seville where Real Betis are located.

Real Sociedad: txuri-urdin: means blue-whites in Basque. La Real: refers to the fact that San Sebastian was La Real or The Royals, the vacation home of the Spanish monarchy.

Real Zaragoza: Los Maños: a reference to being from Zaragoza, it derives from the word magnus or great. Blanquillos: the little-whites, referring to their shirt colors.

Sevilla: Los Nervionenses: refers to the River Nervion which passes right through the city of Sevilla.

Valencia: Los Che: people wrongfully assume that it has something to do with Argentina, Che Guevara or somesuch, but the term che is actually an ancient term used in the local Valencian language which is close to Catalan, and is a common term of address or exclamation: xe! Los Murcielagos: the bats, not really common amongst supporters, but the media is starting to use this more. It relates to the bat on the badge and on the front of the home kit. Los Xotos: Valencian for goat; apparently where the Mestalla was built there used to be goats. Merengots: since they play in a white home kit, they also get a similar nickname to Real Madrid, after the merengue dessert, this time in the local language.

Valladolid: Pucelanos: refers to a brand of cement that was fabricated in Valladolid at the end of the 19th century, cemento puzolano, and they transferred that to the team. Blanquiviolets: White-violets referring to their purple and white kits.

Villareal: The Groguets: the little yellows in Valencian, important too because Groguet is the name of the Villareal mascot: a yellow submarine. El Submarino Amarillo: the yellow submarine, referring to The Beatles’s Yellow Submarine, and both nicknames refer to the bright yellow color of their kits.

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