Messi records another record

Let’s talk about Barça and Madrid eh?  Five games gone, and by next weekend that’ll be seven (there’s a full programme during the coming week), so how are the big boys doing?  Maybe before we consider the question, it’s worth mentioning the fact that Messi’s performance against Girona, in which he scored (of course), was his 423rd league game for Barcelona which surpassed his ex-teammate Dani Alves’ total – handing him yet another record – this time for the most league appearances by a foreign player in the history of Spanish football.  He’s played 644 for Barcelona’s first team in total, but it’s the league figure which is significant for the statistician anoraks.  Continue reading “Messi records another record”

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Better in the flesh

Let’s start with a confession: as years add to my odometer, I’m becoming less and less disciplined in terms of watching football live at the stadium. A few years ago, I would not only watch my team’s matches at the Santiago Bernabeu, but would also make the most of every chance to see other teams at their own stadia, regardless of the country I’d be at. Hell, I even went to watch a West Ham vs Man City in a weekend in London – totally deserved the £458 tube trip from the west of London to the West of Ham, or a Aston Villa – Chelsea in which Tore Andre Flo starred — do not recommend Birmingham though. A Southampton vs Wimbledon in which LeTiss scored off a corner kick in a classic winter British afternoon also comes to mind. Continue reading “Better in the flesh”

Home’s where the head is

What is extraordinary about football is the all-pervasive influence of its stadia on our entire perception of a club’s identity.  Even when a team builds a new ground, moves to it and plays there for several years, it never quite manages to bury the memory of the original, whose role in the club’s birth and development – from toddler to pensioner – was total.  This is why a stadium move is a traumatic event, whether it’s done for practical or for purely financial reasons, and sometimes a club never quite manages to recapture its original vibe, so linked was it to the essence of the previous abode.  Real Madrid supporters of a certain ilk and age still refer to the Bernabéu as ‘Chamartín’, Atlético fans are not entirely comfortable with the Wanda and the way they were shooed out of the Calderon, whilst in England, West Ham just don’t seem to be West Ham outside of Upton Park (the Boleyn Ground) – which just goes to show that in the same way as we feel at home in our own stadium, we judge others by the aesthetics and peculiarities of theirs. Continue reading “Home’s where the head is”

The Spain we should have seen at the World Cup

Preview of LaLiga’s 4thmatchday

Is the Spanish national team back? After winning at Wembley and thrashing World Cup runners-up Croatia, looks like new coach Luis Enrique has found the right approach to get the most out of the talented midfield and play an exciting, hard-to-stop brand of football.

However, this team never went away. The terrible sequence of decisions involving Florentino Perez, Julen Lopetegui and Luis Rubiales – and, for the record, I believe that the third name was as much to blame as the other two combined – wasted some outstanding preparation for the World Cup and made the team lose their focus at the worst possible time. Continue reading “The Spain we should have seen at the World Cup”

A weekend at the derby

This weekend was a multiple-derby theme, on the third ‘jornada’ of La Liga.  There’s nothing like a good variety of derby-fests to fill the fans full of late summer cheer, especially with a fortnight’s break looming for the internationals (and an interesting game for Spain at Wembley ).

The Spanish have adopted the term ‘derby’ and re-spelt it ‘derbi’ although they seem generally unaware of the etymology of the word.  In the past it was sometimes used more loosely to simply refer to any big game, to the extent that even the ‘clásico’ was called a derbi by some. But with the new globalised reach of LaLiga (without a space) the term clásico has stuck.  The derbies, however, now conform to the accepted idea of being either a same-city encounter (Betis v Sevilla) or a same-region game (Eibar v Real Sociedad).  This weekend saw two same-city clashes, one regional affair, and one in-between-the-categories affair, in an unusual cluster of fraternal frolicking. Continue reading “A weekend at the derby”

Luis Enrique takes the driving seat

Preview of LaLiga’s third week

The (not very long) wait is over. Luis Enrique announced his first list as the coach of the Spanish national team, and the surprises were minimal. Jordi Alba, with whom Luis Enrique does not get along since his time at the Barcelona bench, was left out, as were Koke, Lucas Vazquez and Iago Aspas. I have to admit that I’m shocked that Isco made the cut.

True to form, Luis Enrique said that he would not discuss Aspas’ case or any other, for that matter. He also announced more “surprises” in upcoming lists and invited the injured Diego Llorente, who just broke his leg, to share these days with the team so that he “cheers up a bit”. Continue reading “Luis Enrique takes the driving seat”

The Hamburger Chronicles

One of life’s great dilemmas is when you travel to an away match and are unsure of where and when to eat.  In the south-west of Madrid on Friday night, in the town known as Leganés, I ask the stressed-out barman in ‘El Tiburon’ (The Shark) if we could partake of two hamburgers, the ‘Tiburón’ special and ‘El Clásico’, the latter’s ingredients seeming to have little connection to the famous game it appears to be named after, but then again the former is also struggling to justify itself, with a certain lack of shark-infested waters to the south-west of Madrid.  It’s 21.15 and the Leganés-Real Sociedad game starts in exactly an hour, about ten minutes’ walk from the Shark.  The pallid old barman shakes his head; ‘It’ll take a while’ he says, nodding his head sideways to the kitchen, in which a lone frantic woman is cooking in a frenzy, as opposed to a frying pan. Continue reading “The Hamburger Chronicles”