March 26, 2011
He's only 40, but it seems like he's been around forever. He's a hero to many, a man who has revitalized a team and made them into a coherent and significant force, and most cules want him to stay for a good while longer. I've written about him in the past, in the build-up to the most recent match with Sporting Gijon, but Luis Enrique deserves more of my time than as a simple introductory gimmick.
He was first a player (for Sporting Gijon, then Real Madrid, and finally for Barça) and now he’s a manager. He won every domestic title available at least once, won a European Cup Winner’s Cup, scored the opening goal of the European Super Cup (which Barça won), and garnered a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics. He retired in 2004 after having played in 558 competitive matches over a 15-year career. 300 of those matches were at Barça (leaving him 96 short of Juan Manuel Asensi, the player with the 10th official appearances.
March 21, 2011
On September 16, 2007, just 19 days after his 17th birthday, Bojan Krkić Pérez made his competitive debut for Barcelona in a league match against CD Osasuna. He replaced Giovani dos Santos in the 80th minute; coincidentally, the Mexican striker and Gabi Milito started for FCB for the first time in that same game. Three and a half years on, Bojan made his 100th league appearance against Getafe on Saturday.
What should have been a celebratory start was looked upon with little enthusiasm by the average cule. When the match line-up came out an hour before kickoff, you could almost hear the groans from the peanut gallery. "Urgh, Bojan?" With a front line consisting of Bojan, Messi, and Villa, the weak link seemed pretty obvious: the young Catalan. So what has happened to the promising striker who netted 12 goals at the age of 17? Why has he become a pariah of sorts while amassing trophies and contract renewals?
March 18, 2011
The Champions League draw is in and many cules are no doubt breathing sighs of relief: Shakhtar Donetsk came out of the hopper instead of a tougher opponent. Except that Shakhtar is a tougher opponent and the route to Wembley is a potential minefield for everyone at this stage. And, indeed, overlooking the Ukrainian outfit and focusing on potential semi-final dates with Real Madrid (who face Spurs) would be folly in the extreme.
This set of matches, which take place April 6 and 12, gives us the opportunity to look forward and back, as I love to do. We’re heading to Donetsk where we will meet Dmytro Chygrynskiy for the first time since we returned him to that club. For those of you with short memories, we purchased Dima two summers ago for €25m in what amounts to a bungled transfer. He was cup-tied, having played in Shakhtar’s Champions League qualifier a few days before the transfer and subsequently failed to make many appearances in either La Liga or the Copa del Rey, amassing a total of 14 appearances.
March 9, 2011
It's hard not to smile. The referee gave the game to Barcelona (again) and UEFA gets the team it wanted into the next round. If it weren't for Massimo Busacca, Arsenal would have gone through in a blaze of glory. Or a withering inferno of not attacking and committing penalties against Messi that weren't called.
So let's get this out of the way: Busacca had a bad night and got a lot quite wrong. If you're going to send van Persie off for being a second late, then you've got to send Abidal off for putting his hand on RvP's throat. But then you've also got to send off Koscielny for his miserable tackling, including the penalty on Pedro that was a clear second bookable offense. So, in the end, the refereeing was bad in both directions and the cookie crumbled in the direction of the team that actually tried to win. I can't really see much wrong with that final outcome, though I doubt it assuages Arsenal fans.