August 30, 2010

Mascherano Presented

Monday was a busy day for Barca's new signing, Mascherano. It started out with the five-hour medical test in the Ciutat Contal, followed by the contract signing in the club's offices and photos with the board members. After that it was off to the presentation on Camp Nou in the full Barca kit, with him taking the number 14 recently vacated by Thierry Henry, and the press conference. Some of his comments:

"I talked a little by phone with Guardiola. Tomorrow we'll talk in person. I said I know well which club I'm joining."

"When you're playing with great players, everything is easier. The adaptation should go quickly. There are no excuses."

"Of course I want to play. I'm not here on holidays. I respect the players that are here but I'll be ready."

"Winning is like a drug. When you win, you want to keep on winning. I hope I can join Barça's winning spirit."

"It's clear that playing for Barcelona has always been a dream, and the last years even more, seeing how they play."

FC Barcelona 3-0 Racing Santander

Barca’s Liga opener ended in a 3-0 victory away, a fabulous way to kick off the season, with goals coming from the usual suspects: Messi, Iniesta, Villa. Okay, maybe Iniesta and Villa don’t classify as regular scorers for Barca the way Messi does, but from the looks of things, they’re well on their way.

David Villa was born to play on Barca, that much is clear. He clicks perfectly with his new teammates, and I don’t just mean the fellow Spaniards who he’s already used to – he’s equally brilliant with the rest of the team, as if he’s been playing with them for ages and not just a couple of matches. It’s like he was designed specifically for Barca, or Barca was built specifically for him, as I always pictured it would be. This is what I’ve been rambling about for the past year when I continually insisted that signing Ibra over Villa was the wrongest move ever;, that Villa would fit in at Barca better than Ibra ever would. Now I’m totally glad that finally Villa is here and Ibra is gone, but it just sucks that it took a truckload of cash and a year for the club to realize it.

David’s game and his goal were totally brilliant, but even more brilliant was the goal that came from Andres Iniesta. Taking that shot was a stroke of genius, and I almost can’t believe how it went in. It was just incredible. Iniesta is evolving so much as a player, from every aspect, just blowing me away again and again with everything he does. His goals are coming more frequently, each more beautiful than the last, and he isn’t skimping on the cool assists either, proof of that being his fabulous that set Messi up for the opening goal.

Which brings us to the marvelous Messi, every bit as marvelous as he ever was and more. There’s no stopping this guy, he’s an irrepressible force of nature with no limits at all; just having him on the pitch is practically a guarantee that he’ll be amazing and score. He’s always alive and alert and excited, playing the game with all the happiness of a ten-year old kicking a ball around a schoolyard with his friends, and doing it brilliantly, beautifully. He’s not only the best at what he does, but he does it with a pureness that never fades away.

There couldn’t have been anything more to ask from last night’s match. The team is off to a great start, with great performance and promise all around.

August 29, 2010

La Liga: FC Barcelona vs Racing Santander, El Sardinero, Sunday, August 29 2010, 19:00 CET

I don't think I've ever seen a crazier final week of summer transfers, but now it's time to put all the drama behind us and focus on the task at hand: the season is finally kicking off!

Barca are set to begin their Liga title defense campaign away against Racing Santander, which is pretty cool. It's a great challenge because Barca have had a challenging time against on El Sardinero in the past, and there've also been some pretty great memories, like Messi scoring the club's 5000th goal in that stadium during the second leg of the Liga in 2009.

As mentioned on the official site, playing the opening match on the Sardinero is a recurring experience for Barca, with the likes of Eto’o, Deco, Giuly, Larsson, Henry and Yaya Toure all having made their league debuts for the club there. Tonight, Villa and Adriano will probably be added to that list.

With Hleb and Caceres facing loan-outs, Pep has left them out of the squad and takes eighteen men with him to Santander: Valdés, Pinto, Abidal, Alves, Milito, Piqué, Puyol, Maxwell, Adriano, Busquets, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Jeffren, Bojan, Messi, Pedro, Villa.

Here's looking forward to what will hopefully be a fabulous start to a fabulous season!

August 28, 2010

Ibra Officially Signs For Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has officially signed for AC Milan, after he, Raiola, Rosell and Galliani have been wrapped up in the final negotiations at Camp Nou all evening. The deal is worth twenty five million (to be paid over three years) which is what - a quarter? a third? somewhere in between? - of what we actually paid for him. The club's negotiation skills could use some sharpening, no doubt.

The agreement is that Zlatan will be on loan for the first year, with an obligation to buy next summer. His salary is reported to be eight million a year over the agreed four year period. Ibrahimovic's mood has seemingly brightened now his deal has been made, as he was cracking jokes about the meeting: "I'm here to sign my new Barça contract, ask Guardiola about it." Cute.

His new contract was drawn up by Milan lawyer Leandro Cantamessa and speedily delivered to Camp Nou, where he wasted no time in putting pen to paper and tying himself to the Italian club for the next four years. There was some debate as to whether the news would be announced by Galliani and Ibrahimovic at the Camp Nou or by Berlusconi who happened to be at the Milanello sports center, before deciding on Barcelona.

The four emerged from Camp Nou to face the press, and Ibra talked:

"I'm very happy because I'm joining one of the best clubs of the world."

"Since the coach didn't want me, this is the best solution. To know what the problem was, you should talk with the coach. I don't know it."

"Now I want to will all trophies with Milan."

Then he and Galliani hopped into his car and drove away.

He's set to arrive at the Linate airport in Milan in a private plane at 12:30, meet with his new teammates and coach before giving a press conference at the San Siro stadium at 19:45, then be presented 15 minutes before the Milan's league game against Lecce. Bit funny, isn't it, that he already signed the contract and is going to be presented, all before he even takes his physical, which is set for Monday?
Official statements:

Huge thanks to Pep of barcastuff for tweeting live updates of the events as they went down!

Birthday Boy: Bojan

It's really hard to believe that Bojan is actually twenty today. It seems like just yesterday he was a sixteen year old mite making his pioneer debut for the senior squad and scoring in that same friendly against Al-Ahly...

Of course twenty is still totally young, but it just feels strange because he's always been the baby of the team, Barca's adorable and amazing teen wonder since the day he broke into the first team. Now he's officially not a teen anymore, but he's still every bit as amazing and more. And I don't think I'll ever stop calling him Baby Bo even when he's thirty.

Bojan is the cutest thing ever to happen to Barcelona, and having him on the team has been a tremendous joy over the past three years. I really couldn't imagine Barca without him. Have an incredible twentieth, Baby Bo!

Mascherano Arrives

"I am pleased and proud to be forming a part of a team that has won everything," was Javier Mascherano's declaration earlier today as he posed for the customoary photos in front of the club's crest. Mascherano, who'll be biding the weekend in Barcelona before reporting for his physical and all that jazz on Monday, expressed how glad he is to be joining the team and his eagerness to contribute:

"It is a dream come true because of what it all means. After everything I have done in the past few years this is great, but above all because I will play for a great team with great people."

"Just like I have with every team I have played for I will give everything and really want to help in any way I can. I want to adapt now as quickly as possible."

August 27, 2010

Training & Transfer Tales

So what do you think was going on during Friday morning training? Ibrahimovic trying to talk to Pep, while the manager walked right past without even glancing at him? Probably, if you ask Ibra's agent Raiola, who has been mouthing off left and right all through this incredibly messy transfer saga, leading the club to take legal action against him.

Meanwhile, it seems that Ibra's transfer to AC Milan is about to be finalized. After the two sides have been haggling over price for a while, a meeting has been set for 4:30 PM on Saturday to close the deal. Rosell is flying in from Ibiza - having just escaped to the island in the midst of all the transfer chaos - for the occasion. Let's hope the madness ends after this.

The Mascherano Move

Well, it really happened. Barca have officially made the deal with Liverpool for the transfer of Javier Mascherano, with the Argentine midfielder set to sign for four years. The affair is contingent upon him passing the physical examination, which will take place on Monday along with the contract signing and presentation, but he'll be at Camp Nou by 11:00 AM tomorrow.

I'm not a really big fan of this transfer. Not just because of the way it was handled, what with Masch's playing strike and everything else, but because I really don't think we need him, even if Yaya left. We've got enough midfielders as it is and all this means is one more benchwarmer.

When Pep rejected the signing of Ozil, I thought he was going to be content with the midfielders he's got and the youth to fall back on, especially after he promoted a few of the youngsters to the senior squad. Guess I was wrong. Well, we'll just have to see how this pans out, I still trust in Pep.

Birthday Boy: Maxwell

It's Maxwell's birthday today, and the dude turns 29. Really? It doesn't seem like he's that old, but anyway - happy birthday, Max!

Signing Max a year ago was such a cool move, and I've loved him ever since. Not just because he's totally cute, but because he fits right into this team while bringing an alternative twist to the leftback position in that he's attack oriented, in contrast to Abidal who plays the positon more defensively. He gives the team that diversity and that freshness, and he's never stopped improving ever since he came here. Maxwell, having you on the team is a delight, have a rockin' birthday!

A Dull Draw

Quick cover of last night's Champions League draw: oh look, we're going to face Kazan again. With that frosty prospect in mind, Barca's group is genrally boring.

Our sports director Andoni Zubizaretta warns that "we can't take anything for granted," while the assistant coach Tito Vilanova thinks it's "not an easy group," based on the fact all three teams are champions of their respective leagues. Hey, aren't we on that list too?

Undoubtedly Pep will follow suit (once he has room to breathe upon the close of the transfer window) and say that this group presents a tremendous challenge. I say we'll cruise right through all six matches and grab about thirty goals along the way, then we'll have a relatively easy journey up until the semi final. You know, same as every year.

Barca's full group:
Panathinaikos (Greece)
FC Copenhagen (Denmark)
Rubin Kazan (Russia)

August 26, 2010

Ibrahimovic To Milan?

We all saw Galliani and Rosell avidly discussing oh-I-wonder-what-it-can-be during last night's match, then shaking hands on something at the end. We also noticed that Ibrahimovic disappeared at the final whistle, leaving his team to celebrate on their own. What can it all mean?

Milan have been quite blunt about their desire to get Ibrahimovic over to the San Siro, and Ibra seems to feel unwelcome bacause Pep has spoken to him "only twice in six months." As he explained: "I don't know the reason for this, but there are certainly problems. I asked him what the problem was but I didn't get a response."

Pep's answer to that is that there's a reason for everything: "If I have only spoken to him twice in the last six months, it is for a reason. There's always a reason for things. I'm super communicative and talked to him for 45 minutes. It was not a tense conversation. I have an open door. If we do not speak, sure there's a reason but now is not the time to talk about it. I insist."

Hinting that the problem with Ibra has more to do with his personality while denying that it is anything like Eto'o's case, Pep went on to say that the matter will be investigated to see what's on Ibra's mind and why he didn't join in the celebration.

Meanwhile, Rosell and Galliani are meeting for lunch today to discuss the matter further. The most likely scenario would be Ibrahimovic joining Milan on loan, with the two presidents currently bickering over who will pay how much of his salary.

Ibra's performance with Barca over the preseason has shown obvious improvement, but I just don't think there's enough room for him and Villa both on the team, and certainly not when Ibra's going to be grumpy about it. If he wants Milan and Milan want him, then it's probably in everyone's best interest that he does go. Barca will be more than fine without him.

A Magical Display

Andres Iniesta doesn't score frequently, but he does score valuably - there's got to be magic in the boots that netted the likes of his last-gasp equilizer against Chelsea that took Barca to the Champions League final in 2009, or the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final.

We all know the story of how he gave gifted the boots from Stamford Bridge to raise money for the treatment of a boy with cerebral palsy, as well as the twist in that tale. So what about the boots from the final in South Africa?
As it turns out, they're going on display for all to see, as announced by Andres on his Facebook page: "These are the boots with which I fulfilled a childhood dream, to score in the World Cup final. They're a symbol for me and I want to share that with you. I have proposed that they be displayed so that anyone can go to see them and thus to thank you for your support."

The boots are currently exhibited in Madrid until the 3rd of September, then they'll be in Barcelona from the 6th of September till the 20th.

FC Barcelona 1-1 AC Milan

I don't want to natter too much about the footballistic aspects of the match, because there was much more than just football going on last night. I'll just touch up on some highlights:

It didn't take David Villa long after his debut to score his first Blaugrana goal, a super strike off of Adriano's beautiful assist. He's clearly at home on Barca, hooking up easily with the rest of the players on the pitch, and true to his word that includes Ibrahimovic. They were surprisingly great together and Ibra is generally looking much better than last season, which makes the Milan transfer speculation that much more uncomfortable.

Bojan's game is also looking loads better this season. He was alert and ready throughout his time on the pitch, with great pace and positioning and great effort in front of the goal. I'm really glad, but I hope he won't be spending another season on the bench. I know we have a superfluity of strikers, but Pep's got to work out some kind of rotation plan because Baby Bo is totally wasted on the bench.

Pinto is like some sort of penalty-saving whiz. Seriously, his instinct is incredible when it comes to saving those shots, and it's a wonderful asset for the team. I'm glad we have him as our back-up keeper. And while we're on the subject of penalties, where the hell has that rocket blast of a strike from Thiago been hiding? Coolest penalty I've seen in a while, and he was pretty fine during the match as well. Man, B-teamers can get me so excited.

A few more notes: The new Liga ball sucks, the red sub shirts with the Catalunya stripes on the sleeve are awesome, and that was a killer goal from Filippo Inzaghi. I've always had a weak spot for that guy, rock on Pippo!

And now to the man of the moment, Ronaldinho... what a welcome he received on Camp Nou! It was pretty incredible and emotional having him back there: the tribute video; the ovation he recieved; his shirt saying 'Barca te amo", "Barca I love you"; him sneaking into Barca's team photo at the beginning and then posing with them with the trophy at the end... him and Puyol trading shirts, and Puyol calling him over to hand the trophy to him after he'd lifted it... the reunion with him really was special for the team, it was a really special night and I loved every minute of it. Laporta being there was pretty cool too... I'll cap off with some of Ronnie's post-match comments:

"This was the best moment of my life. This was impressive, I love Barca and that's the best feeling there is."

"Messi is my little brother... the video? Emotional. certainly sharing the image with the whole stadium."

"Was this my final goodbye to Barca? No, there's still on thing left to do."

Now what does he mean by that?