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.

 

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.

Welcome to hell, Wiggo

Source: “Sky Sports”

The last year’s Tour de France winner, Sir Bradley Wiggins, pointed to the Giro of Italy after getting his greatest aim. Everyone thought that it was a strange choice, as those riders who show enough strength to fight for the Tour tend to focus their entire career into the French race. Far more in the case of Wiggins, who is 33 and will not have many other chances to repeat his success in France.

He said that he wanted to win another 3 weeks race and Giro is the second most prestigious race of the world. Probably Wiggins thought that he could use the same method that he used in the Tour. Getting the same good shape that he had last year, use his teams strength to control the peloton and thanks to his superiority in time trials, get the pink jersey in Brescia. Turn the Giro into a velodrome and rule with the power of his sophisticated method of data and scientific stats.

Now that 11 stages of the course race have been ridden, we can say that Wiggins was wrong and reality has shown that winning the Giro is much difficult than winning the Tour, in particular for a rider with his features.

First of all, although the first week in Italy is not as hard as in France, where the peloton flies during 7 days and there is much stress to get the first positions of the bunch, in Italy the first week is full of death traps. Short but steep climbs, stages with not a single flat kilometre, bad weather and so on. In Wiggins’ case, his main problem during the first week has been a combination of two factors: bad weather and dangerous descents. He lost time and showed weakness when the road went down and he also caught a cold, what did not allow him to show his real abilities. In fact, he told in the start of the race that data said he was in his best shape ever.

He is actually fourth and more than 2 minutes down in the GC. Surely, taking into account that a 56 kilometres long time trial has been ridden, before starting the Giro he expected to reach at this point wearing the pink jersey with a great advantage. He managed that scenario in his mind.

The real situation is quite different: if he wants to win the Giro he needs to attack and get time in the stages which he expected just to defend his jersey. In this new scenario, Wiggins is not the favourite to win the Giro and he is not even the only option for his team. Some think about Rigoberto Uran as team leader, a better climber than him who has never shown weakness in the descents. He has already won a stage with a great demonstration of strength taking advantage of the other leaders’ control of his team mate.

If he had not wait to Wiggins the rainy day that the Briton descended, in his words, “like a girl”, he would be just one minute behind Nibali in the GC. Unfortunately for him, he had to wait and team managers will not entrust him to lead the team so soon. Probably they will commit the same mistake as in the 2011 Vuelta. Then Froome showed that he was more capable of winning the race than Wiggins and he lost time working for him. Afterwards, if he had not lost that time, he probably would have beaten Cobo. And the story seems to repeat.

There is still much more to come: many steep ascents, dangerous descents, attacks from the Colombian and Italian riders, controversy inside Team Sky and so on. At this time nothing seems advantageous for Bradley Wiggins, but he tries to send the message that he will no surrender.

Last year, in the Tour, Wiggins and Team Sky played the role of the hammer and got a crushing victory. Now Wiggo is the nail and it is difficult to think that he will recover and become the hammer again in such an unfavourable scenario as the hard third week of the Giro.

Spanish sport loses all credibility

Source: Dani Pozo (AFP)

We all knew that Operacion Puerto was no more than a cover-up strategy to avoid further damages in the national sport. As doping was not a crime when the mentioned Operation was carried out, Fuentes and company could only be banned for acting against public health. The highest prison sentence request was a two years one. The final sentence, one year prison condemn and four-years ban to work as a sports doctor He will not go to prison becouse of his lack of criminal record. Ignacion Labarta was also condemned for four months and Yolanda Flores, Vicente Belda and Manolo Saiz were absolved.

But the worst new was not that these cheaters were almost all absolved and condemned with such light sentences. The fact that embarrasses the public opinion, the world of sport and the international athletes is that, according to the judge’s sentence, we will never know whose blood was inside the more than 200 bags discovered under Fuentes charge.

Although the Spanish Antidoping Agence has stated that they will appeal that decision, we should not rely any more on Spanish justice. It is widely known that Spain has been indulgent with doping and cheaters for years. Probably most of the greatest achieves by Spanish athletes were accomplished thanks to performance enhancing drugs and a permissive legislation and a loose control of doping.

Recently, the Spanish government has approved a brand new anti-doping law, mainly because such a permissive country as Spain could hardly request 2020 Olympic Games. So they make that new law for making up such a flagrant lack of responsability against doping.

But now, after 7 years, Spain had the opportunity to show that they really want to fight against cheaters and doping. A wasted opportunity, as we know that more than a hundred athletes used Eufemiano’s prohibited methods to get sport success but we probably never know their name. Press unveiled some years ago whose bags were the codenamed blood samples, but  as they discovered ones, they omitted others, probably the names of the greater athletes.

And those ones that were responsible of the greatest doping system never discovered in Spain have been almost absolved. Nor Saiz either Belda have been condemned. Both cheaters and liars that have deeply hurt our sport and never apologised, that treated riders as machines to get success and that changed cycling into a circus of unbelievable performances, have been absolved.

Shame on Spanish sport and authorities. Open bar for dopers and cheaters. Before the new law was approved Spain was the paradise of doping and dopers. Many athletes have stated that (Read the Reasoned Decision by USADA). Doctors as Del Moral, Fuentes, Padilla and many others have acted as scientifics of doping without limit. The Spanish sport grew to become the greatest power and we already know why. Doping has never have limits. Everything has been cheating and covering up. No justice here. No more reliability on Spanish sport.