Barcelona’s dark side is at last exposed

The ban issued by FIFA yesterday states that Barcelona did not make things well when signing talented youngsters. In fact, although FIFA prohibits to sign under 16 years old players within the clubs country and under 18 international players, the club has always be proud about his ability to recruit talented children. “La Masia”, a kind of college where children life, learn and play football, has been always praised as the true reason for the professional team’s success.

Barcelona violated the Spanish legislation thanks to a very simple trick. If it is prohibited to take a child out of his family and environment, they give a new job to his parents and thus the family has a reason to move to Barcelona. There is no more illegality.

However, many players, like Iniesta, lived alone in “La Masia” and have admitted that although the effort was worthy, they used to feel alone, cry and miss their parents.
It seems that Barcelona has been using this trick also with players from all around the world, including some Korean players, whose case has become the “casus belli” for FIFA to act against Barcelona and hand a transfer ban.

Taking a child out of his city or country with the promise to become a football star is quite questionable. And also illegal, but very few times football institutions or justice interfere in those cases.

At last they have decided to stop this practises, but press and people from Barcelona argue a persecution against the team.

The team that brought football into perfection and was admired worldwide, with children from all around the world changing their Manchester United, Real Madrid or Milan t-shirt for the ones with the number Messi, is not as honest and clean as people thought.

First justice accused mega star Leo Messi of tax fraud. The player did not seem to be very eager to pay taxes in the country that has make him multimillionaire since he came to Barcelona (oh, surprise), as a 13 years old children.

Then former team’s president Sandro Rosell lied and cheated claiming that Neymar’s signing cost was 57.1m of Euros. That number was not only a lie (it cost around 90m Euros) for Barcelona supporters but also hide a 9.1m euro tax fraud. And the player’s father earned around 40 millions in the transaction.

That case showed the dark practises used by Barcelona at financial issued and both with the bad treatment that two seriously ill players like Pete Mickael,and Eric Abidal received, being ejected in a bad manner with a very few recognition, make clear how things are made lately in the team.

Barcelona is not that fair, clean and honorable club that many defended as an example for the others. Barcelona is a club like many others, with his bright side and also a dark side. Although supporters prefer to blind their eyes and blame Madrid, press or FIFA it is clear that things are not being done as it should be lately in Barcelona and some are starting to claim elections to try to change the course of latter events.

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Carles Puyol: a hero in the shadows

Rights: Tony Garriga/EPA

In football, as in other many team sports, some collect the glory that has been sowed by many. Pep Guardiola’s super-team made history by winning everything and playing a football that had never seen before. Ultra offensive systems, keeping ball possession throughout the match and heading always towards the rivals goal were the DNA of that team. Xavi, Iniesta and above all Messi were praised as responsible of that wonderful style, covered by individual awards and venerated by press and sport fans.

But the most offensive team ever remembered had never succeeded if the defence did not have such level. And that team was able to play that way because defenders where at least as outstanding as attackers and Carles Puyol have much to do with that. There is no doubt looking at his achievements that he is one of the best defenders of football history. 6 Spanish Leagues, 3 Champions Leagues, 2 Cups, a European Championship and, above all, a World Championship where a header goal of him allowed Spain to beat Germany are his career’s highlights. But he was more than just an outstanding player playing for winner teams.

Puyol has been the most intense player ever seen on the pitch. He always focused on detail, trying to correct mistakes and wrong positions and, above all, never loosing his intensity, his hunger for winning more and more and never surrendering in adverse situations. He was a true leader, that ruled in the dress room by a exemplary behaviour.

He never let Barcelona fall into snub towards the rival. If a teammate celebrated a goal in a depreciative manner, he came to him, running, and stopped the situation. You can not remember a bad behaviour from him; he never looked down on a rival and always used effort, hard work and fair play for success. Even to overcome the uncountable injuries that punished him during his long career.

He will leave Barcelona at the end of the season and the story of this terrific player at the top level will see his end. Puyol is and example of what a professional athlete must be for everything described above and although in a few years to come people will remember Messi’s and Iniesta’s Barcelona, the most fanatic fans of football will record that the one that protected the back of those players was an extraordinary defender that played for Barcelona during 15 years and felt the t-shirt probably more than anyone before.

Lamar Odom or how to excite fans with just a signing

Some teams fall into depression when a bad streak creates a climate of uneasiness and takes fans out of the venue. Although they have being loyal during seasons, there is a point where it is not worth attending to matches as now better times are gone and only melancholic memories of a glorious past remain.

Managers need to react and try to involve people again by creating excitement, passion. The objective, to fill again the empty seats.

In that sense, Laboral Kutxa’s CEO Josean Querejeta made a master movement signing the NBA superstar Lamar Odom. Querejeta, one of the smartest sports managers of the world, became Santa for a day and brought a present that no Baskonia fan could imagine. There was no gossip about the signing in the days before and suddenly, fans saw the two NBA tittles winner Lamar Odom landing in Vitoria and turning up for his presentation.

It was absolutely shocking for both the team’s fans and sports lovers from all over the country. “Lamar Odom” was trending toping in Spain and the news sports sections talked about Laboral Kutxa. It was almost a social event, with the city major attending his presentations and receiving him as a political personality.

The team, a serious contender for Euroleague Championship some years ago and used to win trophies in Spain, has suffered a spiral that  brought the team into mediocrity. They have  win nothing since 2010. From then on major teams in Europe signed the best players and due to financial cuts, the Basque team could not sign top-class players. Real Madrid and Barcelona established a bipolar dictatorship and Baskonia lost his high status.

In this season the situation seemed even worse, as they had to struggle hard for getting the Cup quallification, although they only need to be eight, and they are virtually eliminated from the Euroleague, where they have suffered several painful defeats.

In that context of pessimism and uneasiness, with fans booing the team after matches, Josean Querejeta signed Lamar Odom and since he arrived at Victoria, future seems brighter for the team. Fans are now hopeful about the remaining challenges of the team this season and there is no more resignation in the atmosphere surrounding the club.

Florentino Pérez, back in the middle 2000’s,  used this strategy when year after year the great Real Madrid endured disappointing seasons. He signed players like Bechkam, Figo, Michael Owen and more recently Gareth Bale that attracted people back to the stadium, sold out the stars’ t-shirts and in some way made people proud of their team again, despite the lack of tropies.

Sport is about feelings, emotions and mood and some smart CEO’s have discovered that signing a super-stars can turn pessimism, conformism and apathy into hope. And there is no other feeling that fills sport venues more than hope. The hope of watching your team regaining his former glory. That is really exciting.

Odom will debute tonight at 20.45. Laboral Kutxa will face Unicaja in a vital game if they want to keep on fighting for the Euroleague Quarter finals.

Here is a link for the game: http://goatd.net/71915/watch-laboral-kutxa-vitoria-vs-unicaja-malaga

Pellegrini assumes Mourinho’s style

Who could imagine Pellegrini choosing defensive players to face Barcelona and after being defeated blaming the referee for the whole responsibility. City’s coach played Mourinho’s role yesterday, using the same strategy that the Portuguese used when he faced Barcelona during his 3 years in Spain. Defenssive teams plus blaming external determining factors.

Pellegrini changed first his style placing Kolarov as a midfielder and reinforcing his left wing, where Alves and Messi are supposed to move. He also gave the ball to the Spanish team, barely having the ball possession and confining the home team to defend and not to lose the game. That intimidating City, with two strikers and hunger for possesion and domination did not appear on the pitch. The plan was not to lose.

But what most defined Mourinho’s tyle during his stay in Spain was that he blamed the referee or any external factor when he failed. No self-criticism ever. And that is exactly what Pellegrini made yesterday in the post-match press conference. Blame the referee, for what he may be charged by UEFA, and not only by saying that he made mistakes, but saying that he favoured Barcelona on purpose. Such serious accusations are not usual in football as most assume that referee sometimes favours you and others harms.

Pellegrini also copied Mourinho in the League game against Mourinho’s Chelsea, where he placed Demichelis as a midfielder,like the Portuguese did with Pepe in big games. The result was again disappointing.

It is not the first time that Pellegrini blames the referee for a big defeat in Europe. Last year, when he reached quarter finals with Malaga, with the spanish team fighting expulsion from the following season’s European competition Pellegrini said that “It was difficult for a banned team to reach the semi-finals”.

Manchester City has spent hundreds of million in order to get Champions League glory and once they  overcome the groups phase, they will go no further as it seem impossible to get back in the draw. Their image yesterday was poor, but the worst was to watch Pellegrini charging against the referee instead of having picked a more offensive squad to dominate the game and seek the victory, as they did in most of Premier League games.

 

Zdenek Stybar conquers his third cyclo-cross World Championship

This blog is a space for minor sports and underground stories that are not usually launched in the main streams. In my humble opinion, cyclo-cross is the most amazing of the unknown sports. Although it is the little brother of cycling, there are few sports so exciting and thrilling, with riders fighting face to face riding full gas for an hour in a circuit full of mood, obstacles and mechanical.

Yesterday took place the World Championship in Hoogerheide, a race traditionally dominated by Belgians and riders from other mid-European countries. Nederlands, Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Cchec Republic have little tradition in this sport and only a few of them can snatch to Belgian rider a place in the Top 10.

Sven Nys was the favourite, all the more since Niels Albert crashed during the morning training and injured his wrist. The World Cup winner, the 23 years-old Lars Van der Haar had not been consistent in during the last couple of weeks and Zdenek Stybar, who had barely ridden on the mood this season, focused in his road race career, was not thought to beat Nys, that lately had mastered the final part of the season.

(Watch the highlights of the race)

But as laps passed, Nys rivals had to give up due to his strong pace and only Zdenek Stybar catch up and stuck at his wheel. The passed the last lap together and when everybody expected Nys’s attack and Stybar’s surrender, it occurred quite the contrary, Stybar, who had been pushing during the whole race, as it is usual in such a brave rider, struggled for the ultimate push and got some metres that Nys was not longer able to chase.

Both had won the World Championship twice, but a memorable race end up with the greatest cyclocrossman of the history giving up against a top class rider that had ridden little during the winter season.

The Cannibal Queen carries on her dictatorship

The female category brought us another exhibition from the greatest female rider of the history, both in race and in the mood. Marianne Vos did not give any chances for her rivals and dominated the whole race, all by herself since the first lap, to win her sixth world Championship in a row and seventh overall. She is only 26 years old. Needles to say how outstanding and one of a kind is this Dutch rider that every year continues widening her legend.

(Watch the full race)

An unbalanced Vuelta, once again

This year’s Vuelta a España route has been unveiled today and thus confirmed that once again organizers will keep on with the same “successful” pattern of the last editions. I say successful as every year since the race director, Javier Guilllem, took charge the overall classification has been tight until the end, keeping the emotion and the attention of supporters until the very final of the race.

However, many cycling fanatics do not agree with the directors point of view about the race, that makes the  route in order to avoid big differences between the leaders, and making the peloton face many consecutive uphill stage finals in which just few seconds can be scrapped in the GC fight. Last year where 12 uphill finishes and in 2014 there will be 8. Too much, taking into account that there will only be one long time trial, of no more than 34 kilometers and last day’s 10 kilometers individual sprint, that will hardly decide anything important. So once again time trial specialist will be far from Spain when the third Great Race is being held.

Curiously, this is the kind of route that most benefits Spanish riders “Purito” Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde that although every year La Vuelta makes a perfect route for them, they have not step on the first place of the podium since the race assumed this pattern.

The race is unbalanced in other aspects. Most of the stages will take place in Andalucia (southern Spain), where at the end of August riders will suffer an extreme heat of more than 35 degree. And there will be 5 more stages in Galicia (northern Spain), making the route map a bit ridiculous as stages will be only held in the south and in the north, avoiding the rest of the country, including the capital city Madrid, for the first since 1993.

The Vuelta will include other of Guillem’s main trend, very steep climb to attract spectators. This year’s will be San Miguel de Aralar, a climb with cement pavement that as formerly did Angliru or Cuitu Negro, will take riders into a narrow climb and test their ability to keep their balance up on the bike. Team cars and motorbike will have to struggle not to be stood up and provoke a jam.

Trying to create an spectacular race organizers have end up turning the race into a boring one, as every year the race is quite similar, sprinters and time trial specialist avoid the race because they have no opportunities and always the same kind of riders fight for the red jersey. Organizers have much too learn from Tour and Giro.

The bright side of Walcott’s injury

Theo Walcott’s injury, that will take him out of the pitch for almost 6 months, may seem a terrific new for the Gunners. And in fact it is, as comparing him with his fellows he has some skills that few of the other attacking players have (like speed or ability to use spaces, as he is the only pure winger of the team). But in Wenger’s hands is to turn this problem into an opportunity.

Walcott’s injury time could allow to change positions thay may benefit the team’s play. For example, Cazorla would play as right winger and Wilsherse on the left. This way Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil and Wilshere could be on the pitch altogether, something that has still never happened. Which team in the world could put on the pitch four so skilled and technical players? Just a few and none of them in the England.

Walcott’s injury could also give an opportunity to one of the most promising youngsters of the team: Serge Gnabry. The German has always demonstrated to be a raw talent and the manager has never hidden his hopes on this player. However, Walcott has been a king of  “cap” for him and with the gunners out of the Capital One Cup, the German did not seem to have many chances to shine this season, as the team is fighting for 3 tittles and Wenger prefers more experimented players as Walcott or Rosicky in his position.

That way Gnabry will play more and if he is that world class players that he seems he will consolidate as an important player for big games, and not only a substitution for the last 10 minutes.

The other bright side of Walcott’s injury is that Wenger will probably need to sign a new player, as many of the Arsenal fans wish. They are sick to death of seeing how other Premier League clubs sign high profile players while Arsenal signed worse ones due to budget adjustments.

For the first time in many years Wenger has big money to spend and if he needs a player, he will sign a world class one. No more Gervinho or André Santos. Next signing will be more like Ozil than like those ones. And provided that Bendtner is also injured, the manager knows that the only way to keep on fighting for titles is to spend money and sign players that would allow Arsenal to make a step forward.

Walcott will be ruled out for the season, but his absence will open new opportunities for his team and I bid that Gunners will not miss him as much as it is thought.

Another question is to know if at 24 and being at the top of his professional career he will comeback and be the same good player, as this kind of injuries are so complicated for football players. But Wilshere went through this and he is now againt on his best.

England will also be harmed by Walcott’s absence, as he will need a miracle to be fit for the World Cup and Roy Hogdson’s team cannot substitute him by signing any player.

His image celebrating Arsenal’s win against Tottenham is an evidende that we will always look on the bright side of life. That is what he did on the stretcher and what Arsenal fans should do now.