Before we get onto the minor stuff – Messi, Mbappé, Memphis, let me just tell you about my weekend. Live football is good, particularly after pandemic-based confinements, and so like many other dysfunctional members of my species I’m trying to attend as much as possible. As Stephen Fry said of religion, ‘It’s what some people do with their madness’. My madness is more ball than Bible-based, and my pilgrimage sites tend to involve terracing. Which is why people should never get married on Saturdays. Why Saturdays, ffs? The wedding reception I was invited to unfortunately coincided with Real Sociedad v Levante on Saturday, meaning that another lucky madman got my seat (I gave it to him, in a Christian act of altruism) but it really isn’t good enough. Why can’t people have wedding receptions on a Thursday night? They would then only coincide with the Europa League, and the loss would be of little consequence. Propose this soon to your local MP. You know it makes sense.
Although the food was good (the music less so), I kept nipping to the toilet to check the score. An added bonus (when not in the toilet) was that one of the guests was the father of Real Sociedad and Spain’s new star Martin Zubimendi, and we had an excellent natter about him, as the band played on. He claimed that the timing of the wedding reception was just perfect, because he ‘suffered’ when watching his son. I then embarrassed myself by informing him that I always knew his son was good – which was a dumb thing to say, in retrospect. Some other people probably knew too.
On Sunday evening, determined to get my live fix, I went along to the Segunda ‘A’ game ‘twixt Real Sociedad B and Fuenlabrada, along with 5,000 other lost souls in Anoeta, scattered around the 36,000-seater stadium. It was a 0-0 draw, but a fairly entertaining one. The whole ‘B’ side thing is interesting, since most major Spanish clubs view the best place for their young ‘uns as Segunda ‘B’, or whatever it’s called now. The leap to top-level action is a big one, but the players do not have their confidence shattered by a traumatic one-year stay in Segunda ‘A’, where hairy and experienced hoofers lurk in numbers, their sole motive being to shatter young players’ confidence whilst they themselves earn a decent wage in the mid-table of life. B teams rarely stay (ask Barça and Real Madrid), and Sociedad are currently the only side in Europe to have their first and second teams at the top two levels – largely with home-grown farm produce.
But I won’t go on. I like to watch these quality kids coping with the physicality of brutalist sides like Fuenlabrada, with the added attraction in this particular case of Roman Zozulya – the one who weeps when you call him a Nazi. Well….I’d rather not be drawn into a debate on this chap, since all he did was play at the top of midfield and kick the young arses of the Basque ponies, but some young fans to my left were getting a little excited, shouting abuse at the Ukrainian every time he touched the ball. After a while a steward came along and asked them to stop shouting ‘Nazi’ at Zozulya, to which one young chap complained (in Spanish) ‘But he is a fucking Nazi!’ The steward, not looking as though he wished to be drawn into a philosophical debate, replied that if they continued he would be obliged to remove them, upon which the game sputtered on in relative silence. Whatever – before this section concludes, remember two names from Real Sociedad B: Karrikaburu and Turrientes. They will be famous and influential in a very short time. Trust me.
Elsewhere, Messi rose like Lazarus from the bench in Reims, replacing his old mucker Neymar to add a touch of support to the Mbappé show, the man allegedly en route to Madrid. His energetic performance hardly looked like a good-bye show, his two goals winning the game and showing just why Madrid fancy him in their ranks. Well it’s not just Madrid, but rather the entire face of LaLiga, stained by an e-moji tear through summer’s events, with the losses of Messi, Ramos, Bryan Gil, Odegaard et al to places with fatter purses. A Gaul-áctico (sorry) of such quality revives the commercial reputation of a league whose teams do not represent nation-state projects or billionaire playthings. It is a league whose major sides, nonetheless, have failed miserably in the accountant stakes and who were scurrilously quick to join the super-league shit-show, for fifteen minutes at least. The beauty of Spanish football deserves rather better, but one could argue that the importation of Mbappé is hardly an absolute condition for maintaining media interest, if that is what needs to be done. I reckon it’s much more interesting to see how La Liga puts itself back together again, like that robot in Terminator 2. Necessity breeds invention. The Spanish are actually quite good at that.
Anyway, it’s Monday morning and I’d like to publish this before the 1800 ultimatum on Real Madrid’s 170 + 10 offer expires. I’m not sure what will happen if PSG refuse to accept this ultimatum. Will Pérez begin with an aerial bombardment, and then send troops to Paris? Mbappé is good, very good – but too many times since his reign began hath Emperor Pérez based the club’s policy on marquee signings, instead of concentrating the club’s energies on restoring matters to a time when his club was really happy – I refer to the 1980s and the ‘Quinta del Buitre’ – the vulture squadron of Butragueño and his four home-made partners. But maybe I’m just old-fashioned. The game has moved on? Yes – but allowing a squad to age without gradual mortal replacements is a crack that Mbappé might be unable to paper over. Particularly if he stays at PSG…..
That said, if you forgive them a minor stumble at Levante, Real Madrid have started rather well and coped admirably with a potentially tricky game at Betis on Saturday. Benzema continues to deliver, this time nicking over an exquisite pass for Carvajal to volley into the bag, but one wonders what they would do without him, were he to get injured or simply suffer a loss of form. Mbappé is a radically different type of forward. Tactical matters to be discussed, but only in subsequent articles.
The weekend saw some amusing moments too. Casemiro’s sliding tackle on referee Hernández Hernández was a fine thing, partly because of the amiable way it was resolved but mainly because taking out one of Spain’s worst referees was a great idea. The only pity was that the official rose up and continued. ‘Damn!’ thought the entire nation of football lovers. As Sinatra sang of this referee; ‘Hernández Hernández, so bad they named him twice’. I like Casemiro. He’s cool. Not so cool is poor Aissa Mandi whose last-gasp own goal header saved the champs’ arses at home to Villarreal and gave them a 2-2 draw in what was a wonderful game. Atlético rarely concede to normal goals, so good is their goalie, and Villarreal’s were indeed crackers, but Mandi (Oh Mandy! – cue Barry Manilow) scored the best, with with the ineffable help of goalie Rulli, who should really have stayed put.
Barça scraped a 2-1 win over the new squeaky-clean Getafe, during which Griezmann was whistled at by the home crowd….because he isn’t Messi, and the Dutch contingent pulled a tricky game out of the bag. Marca, for once showing some verbal wit, wrote in the review that Barça, between ‘lesiones (Piqué), sanciones (Eric García) y vacaciones (Pedri)’ put out a considerably changed side, but personally I wouldn’t worry. They’ve still got a great squad, with Ansu Fati on his way back. It’s early days. Most teams take a while to re-settle, particularly after the small matter of the departure of the greatest player of all time. Whatever – Memphis Depay is a cool name. They’ll do just fine, and probably finish second. Koeman also continued his tradition of putting on small beardless schoolboys around the 70th minute. This time it was one called Gavi, and I’m sure he’s a star in the making. They usually are.
Anything else to add? Well my colleague Ed Alvarez thinks that if anyone can ‘do a Leicester’ then it would be Sevilla. Possibly. They look stronger in terms of squad depth (adding Rafa Mir was a clever last-minute move) but they would benefit from hanging on to Kounde, obviously. That’s another stop-press issue to resolved in the next 39.5 hours. Haven’t Chelsea got enough? Come on – leave LaLiga a decent player or two. My personal tip for a surprise is Valencia, toughened up by the arrival of the butcher Bordalás. They won’t win it, but I reckon they’re more hard-balled than Real Sociedad, the other outsiders. The latter will be good again, but are still too young and injury-prone to really make a dent in the armour of the big boys.
Anyway – no more weddings on Saturdays. Talk to your local politician – now!