Category Archives: La Liga

Un-be-liev-able!

There are many reasons why certain goals are memorable. They can come in big matches, be part of an ongoing rivalry between the goalscorer and the team he nets against. Perhaps it’s the type of goal where the player runs the length of the pitch before rounding then goalkeeper and scoring, something especially difficult in an away game against a massive club in one of the biggest tournaments. Or, perhaps it’s the sort of goal that rewards a team for outstanding fortitude against the odds, when all seemed lost. Some goals have a few of these elements, but very few have them all, and this is the tale of one that does just that; a goal that Gary Neville described as “Un-bel-eive-able!”

On 24 April 2012, Chelsea turned up at the Camp Nou to defend the slenderest of leads, thanks to a backs-to-the-wall effort at Stamford Bridge where, in a game overwhelmingly dominated by the visitors, Didier Drogba had managed to snaffle a precious goal on one the home team’s rare visits to the opposition penalty area. Now they had it all to do keep their Champions League aspirations alive in a game where Barcelona were sure to be looking to secure the goals their domination should have earned a couple of weeks previously in west London.

Things didn’t start well for the visitors. A dozen minutes in, Gary Cahill tweaked a hamstring and had to be replaced. It would get worse. Despite holding out until ten minutes before the break, a rare goal by Sergio Busquets brought the aggregate scores level. Two minutes later, a malevolent rush of blood to the head saw John Terry dismissed after a senseless knee into the back of Alexis Sanchez. It didn’t end there. Just two minutes ahead of the break, Andrés Iniesta netted the second for Barcelona to put them ahead, and leaving Chelsea “…a mountain to climb,” in the words of Martin Tyler. The game looked well and truly up for Roberto di Matteo’s team.

A goal by Ramires in injury time at the end of the half seemed scant consolation. Yes, it put Chelsea ahead on away goals, but surely wouldn’t be enough. The second period would inevitably bring a Blaugrana onslaught and down to ten men, with both first-choice centre-backs off the field it looked like it would need something extraordinary if Chelsea were to survive; something quite “unbelievable” in fact.

Sitting on the Chelsea bench as the white line held firm against the home team’s swarming attacks was Fernando Torres. Born in Fuenlabrada in the Madrid Metropolitan Area, El Niño had log been a hate figure for the Cules in the Camp Nou. As well as hailing from the heart of Castilian Spain, in his first period with Atletico Madrid, he had scored seven goals in a mere ten games against Barcelona, and last year took that total to 11 in 17 games. The goal he would notch in this particular game however may well have been the most galling for the Cules.

As the expected onslaught raged on the pitch, Torres watched from the sidelines. For over half-an-hour the attacks battered at the white wall Di Matteo had organised to prevent his team capitulating under the pressure. Chance after chance was squandered, but still a Barça goal didn’t come; Messi even crashed a penalty against the bar and away, as the home team charged forward. With just one substitute change remaining, Chelsea’s Italian manager threw the fresh legs of Torres into the fray with ten minutes to play, detailing him to defend the left flank of the stubborn defence.

Another home attack broke down, and the ball fell to Torres. Trying to drive downfield to ease the pressure, he hit the ball forward and then chased. Possession was lost though, and Torres slowed to an amble, then a trot forsaking his defensive position. The ball was driven into the Chelsea box for the umpteenth time, but another block diverted the ball up onto Ashley Cole’s chest. The full-back lashed the ball clear, with surely ne’er a thought to it being a potential through ball. It was simply a hack away from danger.

As the TV screen followed the ball however, Fernando Torres also honed into view. His aborted breakout had taken him past the last defender, and as the ball dropped to his feet around the halfway line, he was clear. Only                 Carles Puyol was even in the same screen, but he was some 15 metres behind the galloping striker. Back in Spain, and at a ground where he had scored a number of times previously, Torres shed the cement overcoat that had hampered so much of his play for Chelsea, skated clear, rounded Valdes and rolled the ball into the net. “Ooooh,” orgasmed Gary Neville as Torres turned away, sinking to his knees in front of the home fans who were probably shouting anything except “Bueno, El Niño!” Two minutes into injury time, Torres had returned and thrust an estoque into the worn-out bull that was the Blaugrana team.

(This short All Blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘Golden Goals series on ‘The Open Veins of Football’ website).

Advertisements

The first Luis Suárez

Long before the Uruguayan version landed at the Camp Nou following his truncated and less than totally harmonious departure from Liverpool, a different Luis Suárez was wowing the Catalans in the famous Blaugrana colours of Barcelona. Rather than being part of a trident for the club, this Luis Suárez, became an integral part of a quartet, achieved hero status in Catalunya and then nationally, before being recognised as Spain’s first and, so far, only Ballon d’Or winner. He then took Serie A by storm and became a legendary figure for the Nerazzuri in Lombardy. His namesake, currently strutting his stuff alongside Lionel Messi in the Barcelona front line has a bit of work to do if he is to become recognised as the best Luis Suárez of all time. Continue reading →

MTV, poetry and Johann Cruyff’s Dream Team – A new Ballad of Reading Gaol.

I’ve heard it said that non-football fans are – to paraphrase Bart Simpson – the MTV Generation, knowing neither highs nor lows. Anyone not hooked up with a femme fatale of a football club – someone upon which you pour your affections, only to be scorned and disheartened at so many turns – is incapable of understanding the all-too-brief but euphoric highs of success for the object of your adoration. Sometimes though, albeit so very rarely, those highs linger and join together to offer an enticing view of a world full of joy and bereft of despair and disappointment, a sunlit upland that will be yours for ever and ever; your club becomes dominant – the paragon, a beauty inarnate, the iconoclast that kicks down the rules of normal roller-coaster emotions. Into the mid-nineties, the Barcelona team of Johann Cruyff was such a team. Continue reading →

Watching football in the house of Cholo.

Simeone

Following the dismissal of Jose Mourinho from the hot seat at Chelsea, one of the names mentioned as a the long-term replacement is Diego Simeone, currently managing Atletico Madrid in La Liga. There’s a relationship already in place between the two clubs with players moving between them. Could El Cholo be the next one to move from the Vicente Calderon to Stamford Bridge? If the Bookies are right it could well be the case. There is however, something special in the fit between the Simeone and Atleti. It’s something that just works; something that may not be transferable. It’s something I experienced earlier this year. Continue reading →

Of Galician dreams and a man with a suitcase.

cade35282ebdb8af52a4098a0e860586

In England there was the time when Michael Thomas made sure ‘it was for grabs’ as Arsenal snaffled the title away from Liverpool with a late smash and grab raid at Anfield. Then, back in 2012, we had Martin Tyler’s famous ‘Agueroooooo’ moment. Needing a victory to secure their first league title in over forty years, Manchester City entered injury time trailing 2-1 at home to QPR. For the first, and so far only, time in Premier League history however, a team performed the oracle of turning a deficit into victory during the brief time added on by the referee, and City lifted the trophy. For the sky blue-decked City fans, the word ‘tense’ didn’t even come close, but at least they had that glorious release of victory at the final denouement. In the Estadio Riazor in 1994, fans of Galician club Deportivo de La Coruña had waited much longer and were not so fortunate. Had a key man played his part in the outcome of the game a week or so before though? Continue reading →

Barcelona fans get shirty, as financial reality bites in Catalunya.

Carrying the UNICEF log was originally seen as an altruistic move, but was there a deeper plan?

Carrying the UNICEF log was originally seen as an altruistic move, but was there a deeper plan?

First it was just a logo. Not a commercial one of course, and it was certainly presented as being an altruistic move. Whilst other clubs were selling their shirt space, donating yours to charity seemed a statement of intent. Perhaps. Whatever the reasoning however, it was an opening of the door. Now the name emblazoned across the famous blaugrana shirt is ‘Qatar.’ Commercial without a doubt. Continue reading →

DC’s move on Valencia would have been just comic.

Picture the scene. “Holy Logo Dilemma Batman!” cries the Boy Wonder. “We need to rescue our trademark.” Having curtailed with the cruelly comic cuts of The Joker, the somewhat fishy ne’er do well activities of The Penguin and figured out the contrived criminal capers of The Riddler, it now appeared that an altogether different sort of target is causing the lights to flash on the Bat-scope. Fortunately for the Dynamic Duo, the crisis was averted.

Don't panic old chum. Crisis averted!

Don’t panic old chum. Crisis averted!

Continue reading →

Moyes seeking redemption amongst the Basques.

Moyes is to take over at the Estadio Anoeta.

Moyes is to take over at the Estadio Anoeta.

Sir Alex Ferguson was always fond of saying that whenever anyone leaves Manchester United, inevitably it was a step down, regardless of whichever club they went to. Real Madrid, among a couple of others may dispute such an assertion, especially of late, but for David Moyes, taking a step back to reignite his managerial career after his traumatic time in the Old Trafford hot seat was probably inevitable. That he has landed at the Estadio Anoeta to take charge of Real Sociedad, a club often compared in stature to Moyes’ previous employer at Goodison Park, at least shows that the Scot retains a hunger to prove himself in the managerial game.

Just over a year ago, Moyes, together with his then Manchester United charges returned from San Sebastien following a fairly satisfying 0-0 draw against his new employers in a Champions League encounter and could hardly have envisaged the turmoil and dismissal that was to follow. With an 18 month contract now is place with the Basque club however, he faces the task of rebuilding both a career and a reputation seriously damaged by the doomed attempt to take over the driving seat at Old Trafford from Sir Alex Ferguson. Continue reading →

“People argue between Pele or Maradona. Di Stéfano is the best, much more complete.” (Pele)

The greatest player of all time? Pele thought so.

The greatest player of all time? Pele thought so.

The appellation ‘legend’ is often overused. The merely good become star players and such stars receive an even more exalted status. With the case of Alfredo Di Stefano however, it’s a label that fits comfortably with the history and record of the player. Although his zenith was a little before my time, it’s not difficult to discern from grainy tapes of games that here was a player with the poise and balance of an genuine athlete, and the ability to play in virtually any outfield position and still be outstanding

The Argentine-born striker played just under 400 games for Los Blancos, netting 308 goals during his time in the capital. Between 1954 and 1964, he also accumulated eight La Liga titles, five consecutive European Cups, one Spanish Cup and one Intercontinental Cup. It could however have been so different, as the first kit he donned in Spain was not the white of Real Madrid, but the Blaugrana of fierce rivals Barcelona. How this came to happen is a story full of intrigue and conspiracy theories, all painted in the colours of the people deploying their own particular versions of it.  Continue reading →

Could Catalan independence destroy La Liga – and Barcelona?

Independence is a popular cause in Catalunya.

Independence is a popular cause in Catalunya.

For Real Madrid, a league without Barcelona would be akin to the position in which Celtic find themselves in Scotland. Florentino Perez famously once said that “if Barcelona didn’t exist, (Real Madrid) would have to invent them.”  Should independence movements progress in Catalunya however, it may just be a situation that Perez’s club need to address.

Across the province, there is heated debate at the moment regarding whether a referendum on independence should go ahead on 9th November. Barcelona has, over its history, often been regarded as a touchstone for Catalan independence, be it openly supporting it, or as more latterly offering more obtuse support. An example is their second strip used this season, which represents the Senyera, the flag of Catalunya. Continue reading →