Isco or Iniesta?

The homework is done. After their 3-0 victory over Albania, Spain have qualified for their eleventh World Cup in a row. Their last group match, away against Israel on Monday, will allow Lopetegui to give quality minutes to representatives of his under-21 squad, some of whom have already shown that they can deliver in the top international level as well as they did when they played for the Basque coach in Spain’s youth teams. Continue reading “Isco or Iniesta?”

Spain catch the Russian plane

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Watching England narrowly pip Slovenia and qualify for Russia, the night before Spain also secured their place by defeating Albania 3-0, was like watching the Grimsby youth-club disco make way for the Bolshoi Ballet. Julen Lopetegui’s Spain, refreshed and motivated by the change of coach, and with a seemingly endless cache of arms to employ on the front line, obliterated a half-decent Albanian side with a first-half display on Friday night which should rightly frighten the other feasible World Cup aspirants.   Continue reading “Spain catch the Russian plane”

The Matter at Hand

“Piqué, I love you”, screamed a section of the fans as the Barcelona player jumped onto the Rico Perez stadium in Alicante on Thursday. Another section booed him with all their might. While a silent majority of the 28,000 supporters present watched the Spanish National team train, both groups kept at it with decreasing intensity. Continue reading “The Matter at Hand”

Weird scenes inside the goal-lines

Well it’s difficult to talk about football today, but I’ll try my best.  Maybe keep it brief and scattergun, look at the results in general and try not to focus too much on all the stuff that’s been going on in Catalonia. Too much of it in a football-related context can become slightly tedious – I’m aware – but when one of the games this weekend is played behind closed doors because of a referendum/non-referendum (call it which you prefer), then we’ve reached rock-bottom.  So after we get that one analysed, the only way is up. Continue reading “Weird scenes inside the goal-lines”

Rebellion of the Humble

Preview of La Liga’s 7th week

This scribe knows well that the title of this column may mislead some readers given the current context in Spain. Many could think that I was going to write about Catalonia, but that’s not the case. What is currently happening there undeniably has a somewhat rebellious component, but has little to do with the humble: the region is one of the richest in the country and, according to surveys, its richer citizens demand full independence in greater proportion than its less wealthy ones, who wish to remain in Spain. Catalan secessionism, among other less pragmatic reasons, has a lot to do with stopping the region’s financial contributions to the rest of Spain. Continue reading “Rebellion of the Humble”

Football and Politics: Spanish Bedfellows

The dumbest thing that anyone can ever say about Spanish football is that it shouldn’t be mixed up with politics.  Lots of people do say it, of course.  When it’s convenient for them, Spain’s best-selling sport tabloid ‘Marca’ says it (both directly and indirectly), but in sheep-bleating the empty phrase they themselves are being political – of course.   

I became interested in Spanish football precisely because it is so politicised, almost to the extent that Spanish football and Spanish politics are one and the same.  The whole Barça-Real Madrid rivalry reflects the cultural and political history of Spain in a very accurate fashion.  How could anyone deny this?  Sid Lowe has written an excellent book about it (Fear and Loathing in La Liga) and if you look at another book called ‘Morbo’ (not sure who the geek was who wrote it), you’ll find plenty of the same.  And it’s not just Barça-Madrid.  Far from it. There’s enough political bad-will floating around the rest of Spain to keep those particular batteries charged for another millennium. Continue reading “Football and Politics: Spanish Bedfellows”

Atlético make the big move

Preview of all La Liga matches in the 6th jornada

There’s a new powerhouse in La Liga, probably at the level of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Yes, their budget is considerably smaller, but when you look at Atletico’s squad now, and what it will become in January, there’s very little argument: they can compete with the best in Europe. Continue reading “Atlético make the big move”

Pride cometh before a fall

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Pride cometh and goeth before a fall, and all that jazz. Is that the problem with Real Madrid, or is there really no problem at all? In Spanish football, a 7-point gap with 33 games remaining is the definition of a crisis. Real Madrid (or their lackeys in the press) now fear they will never catch table-topping Barcelona after the latest calamity to befall them, namely a 0-1 reverse in the Bernabéu against Betis, with a goal scored in the 94th minute – usually the time that the home side specialise in snaffling the points on a bad day. Continue reading “Pride cometh before a fall”

Time and Patience

Quiniela for the 5th set of fixtures of the season

cropped-cropped-liga-fever.jpgHow much time does a footballer need to show his true potential? In some cases, probably years. Which club or coach has the patience to wait all that time nowadays? Sometimes there’s no room for error, as it’s hard to justify certain investments and salaries with the mere hope that prospect X can bloom into a fantastic asset.

But when clubs take their time and it works, it’s a fantastic feeling for their usually fickle football fans. Think of Isco, for instance. It has taken him a few seasons and a bizarre conjunction of events to feel at ease in a Real Madrid shirt and show all the talent many of us – not me, by the way – thought he had. Or Marcelo, who arrived in Madrid ten seasons ago and could have left the club quite a few times before he finally looked not only talented, but as consistent as he does today.

What should Real Madrid do with Gareth Bale then? Continue reading “Time and Patience”

Madrid Back on Track

It’s a rainy Sunday night in the Basque Country, just for a change.  In the fading light, the dusky grey sky blows late-evening clouds over Anoeta, around whose scaffolded and concrete structure the ants scurry as kick-off time looms.  It’s one of those moments when you think you’re at the centre of the galaxy – that nowhere else can be as important as this, and you’re desperate to get inside.  Real Sociedad v Real Madrid feels like the focus of the week, the penultimate game of the 4th ‘jornada’ in La Liga, although on the previous day the opening of Atlético’s new Wanda Metropolitano must have cultivated similar sensations.   Continue reading “Madrid Back on Track”