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MESSIng with FC Catalonia

Spain is experiencing a Brexit-lite moment these days. And the aggressive tactics that prevented massive amounts of voters from casting their ballots in Catalonia that, according to early polls, would’ve very likely led to Catalonia declaring its independence from Spain earlier this month, didn’t help matters.

Catalonia’s vice-president has said that the Spanish government has given them “no choice” but declare independence.
–Caroline Mortimer, Independent UK

News of bitter conflict between Spain and one of its own regions (for now) Catalonia instantly brought to mind a 60 Minutes interview about FC Barcelona from a few years ago. Please scroll the timeline to 12:21 for the interview portion concerning the long existing divide between Spain and Catalonia.

As the interview in the 60 Minutes piece reveals, the rift between Spain and FC Barcelona’s home in Catalonia is not new and has been peacefully subdued for years and years through passive-aggressive tension. Not anymore. The time to get off the fence has finally arrived. The future outcome between these two Spanish forces is unknown at this point, but there are serious divides between Spain and its independent-minded region. The consequences, positive and negative, for the Catalan people are, and potentially will be, far-reaching and lasting in a variety of ways. These critical issues will continue to be highlighted and discussed in the coming days and weeks as this battle royale rages on. However, again, what’s fascinating is that soccer football has a place at the table in this evolving debate.

If Catalonia successfully becomes an independent nation and actually has its seat at the UN, then what league does FC Barcelona play?

Technically, FC Barcelona would not be a city in Spain. How would La Liga feel about admitting/re-admitting one of its most historically prolific and profitable clubs? Could, or would, Spain really turn away the cash cow that is FC Barcelona in the Messi era? Would the Spanish government interfere at the highest levels? Would there be a public vote? Could FC Barcelona become football’s first independently floating Notre Dame equivalent? Would the English Premier League, Serie A and Bundesliga bid for FC Barcelona to join their league?

These questions may not be as hypothetical as people may want to think.

Moreover, former FC Barcelona manager and legend Pep Guardiola, born in Catalonia, recently expressed his views to reporters on the Spain vs. Catalonia debate after a Man City match.

“It’s a really sad day for democracy. I thought in the 21st century, those kind of things didn’t happen,” he said.

“Especially, for example, the Catalan parliament is older than the Spanish parliament itself.

“I am really, really sad. The Catalan people just wanted to vote and we want to be listened to and let the people say what they wanted to be [part of Spain or independent].

The EU and its powerful, overarching style of governing may still be mostly intact, but it seems each of its members is passionately and continually expressing its own desire for independence in some form or another, whether it’s from the EU or from itself. Fascinating and transformational times we live in, indeed.

El Clásico in Madrid, Spain should be interesting on May 6, 2018. Something tells me the supporters for each club will be cheering and contesting for more than just a football victory in their high-stakes rivalry game…

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Chapel Thrill

For those who wonder why so many soccer players celebrate by pointing their fingers towards Heaven…

Soccer (or football) is known as the beautiful game. As a lifelong player and fan, I can and will attest to this description with the power of a thousand suns.

Like many sports, our personal favorite(s) often reveal a philosophical belief in how we go about life on a daily basis. The specific strategy, urgency, patience, necessities, rewards, setbacks, effort and so forth of any sport can typically be closely translated into how we view our work, jobs and the complexities of our personal lives.

The following segment from a 60 Minutes interview with FC Barcelona star Gerard Piqué from 2013 struck something inside me as a viewer, a soccer player/fan and a Christian. During the time of this interview, FC Barcelona was regarded as the best soccer club in the world. With all the star power in its starting eleven and the fanfare surrounding this team in Catalonia, take a look at what the designers of the Camp Nou believed was a must-have in the walkway from the locker room to the world famous pitch.

Despite not being a Barça fan, the chapel in Camp Nou showcases (in its uniquely intimate, off-to-the-side kind of way) the link many soccer players have when it comes to their belief in God as it pertains to the beautiful game.

That’s living and embracing the beautiful game on and off the pitch.

Dare Them to Swim with Crocodiles

Last night on “60 Minutes,” one report showed Anderson Cooper literally swimming along the bottom of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, located in Southern Africa. He and a small group of dare devils swam through murky underwater caves, mere feet from one of the most feared predators on the planet: the Nile Crocodile. Seeing previews for this from the days prior and watching the segment Sunday night sparked a random revelation for a subject completely unrelated to the 20-foot reptiles. What did the story remind me of?

FC Barcelona.

This footballing giant features Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and David Villa, to name a few. They are a brilliant passing team, perfecting the tika taka system (Search “Three is a Magic Number”). This strategy is rooted in movements that continually create triangular passing lanes. If and when they lose the ball, they even have a defensive protocol to regain possession within six seconds. Stating the obvious, the kings of Barça are widely considered to be the premier club in the world the past few years. Reflect on this mind-blowing statistic for Argentine Lionel Messi, a Barcelona youth academy graduate. Rik Sharma of The Daily Mail UK online succinctly described Messi’s achievement at the conclusion of last year in a December 22, 2012 article.

“He broke Gerd Muller’s 40-year-old milestone of 85 goals in a calendar year by grabbing 79 for Barcelona and 12 for Argentina.”

I don’t think I ever scored that many goals with one player in EA Sports’ Fifa on PlayStation!

The elite reputation of Messi, and Barcelona, is unequivocally well deserved.

With such a dominating philosophy and collection of championship trophies, the proposition presented before each of their opponents is deciding how to prepare defensively. Here is my analysis, assisted by the underwater king of the Nile.

I call it The Crocodile Trance.

Playing Barcelona, there will inevitably be stretches when they string together ten or twelve passes together on their opponents side of the field, possibly ten to fifteen yards outside the 18 yard box. As they build up a quick one-two or a give ‘n go to penetrate the defense or open up for a long distance shot, this is when TCT should be utilized.

When crocodiles attack, they are frequently laying perfectly still like a horizontal statue on land, submerged in water or are moving so unassumingly they are barely visible and are not seen and/or perceived as an immediate threat. They spot their prey from a distance and then slowly move in. We’ve all seen the clips. Dogs, in contrast, will pursue without any delay and can frequently miss their target (remember “Tom & Jerry”). The point is they are unique in this tact. Conversely, the gigantic cold blooded reptiles are patient and wait for the exact right time to strike. At least nine times out of ten (while not a scientific statistic, it’s probably pretty accurate), crocodiles are victorious in their mind game with their prey.

Insert Barcelona. Defenses cannot become psychologically discouraged by their passing superiority during short and long stretches throughout the ninety minutes. Instead, they need to keep the ball and their mark in front of them, try to detect a pattern and allow the offense to feel comfortable. Appear to be non-threatening. Then, at this precise moment, after putting a trance of sorts on the offense, step up and in as if lunging from the Nile river onto the water sipping (and devastatingly unfortunate) prey.

To be clear, the objective is not to commit a hard foul or be brutal in nature. This suggestion is an approach to turn the advantage from an offensive juggernaut to an over-matched defense in the appropriate situations. The tackles or lunges are intended to be clean.

Sans the Tyrannosaurus Rex chomping strength and the accompanying lethal consequences of a crocodile attack, the strategy of laying back a little bit, being patient and stepping into a passing lane or pressuring a player at the instance they’ve presumed to put you to sleep is a viable game plan for attempting to defend one of the most prolific goal scorers in history, along with his talented friends.

The men of Camp Nou will know you’re there, but the key is for that to be the only thing they know.