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Don’t Mess with Messi

Pep’s homecoming to the sidelines at Barcelona was like déjà vu…for Barcelona.

The Chimera of Camp Nou (Messi, Neymar and Suarez) is an ever-attacking three-headed monster that stretches the defensive barriers of its adversary with dangerously dynamic precision. These three players for Barcelona are world-class in their own rights, and playing against a squad missing several key players, found lots of space to roam and pressure Bayern Munich high up the field without serious consequence in the first leg of their Champions league semifinal in Spain.

In the present moment, Barcelona (led by its offensive monster) showed why they have the most potent attack in the world. Having to deal with the brilliant dribbling and misdirection of Messi, Bayern’s defenders did well until the 77′ when the aforementioned Argentine’s first tally sparked a barrage of goals during the next several minutes. Before then, it was entertaining back-and-forth soccer with Neuer making some sublime saves.

Bayern Munich’s Lewandowski and Müller did well up top, considering they were consistently outnumbered on their counter-attacks. Unfortunately for them, their golden chance at a first half combination for the prized away goal was literally half a diving foot away. There were moments when Bayern Munich found space and exposed vulnerabilities in Barcelona’s defense, but Pep’s Boys (sans Robben, Ribery and Alaba) were unable to command a threat on the flanks that was necessary (and open) for that essential away goal/goals.

While Barcelona was going to find the back of the net, it is worth contemplating how many goals Bayern Munich could have scored if the two missing pieces in their 3-headed offensive monster were healthy? How would that have altered Barcelona’s tactics? How would Barca have performed if it was missing Messi and Neymar?

Curiosity aside, 3-nil was the final score. It was a result well earned for the Catalans.

Barcelona is elated.

Bayern Munich is deflated.

France’s Footballing Maestro

Thierry Henry has retired from soccer.

In an unsurprising move, the French striker has chosen to end his professional career (just a matter of hours ago) at the impressive age of 37. For those that do not play soccer, ending one’s career at 37 would be a splendid achievement for a professional goalkeeper. But for an actively involved striker, it takes a genuine world-class talent.

That’s Thierry Henry.

And the statistics are phenomenal. Let’s try to tackle a few of them:

  • Arsenal: Henry scored 228 goals and had 93 assists in 376 games (“Thierry Henry in numbers: The stats as the Frenchman hangs up his boots,” Alex Richards, 12/16/14).
  • Barcelona: He scored 49 goals in three seasons, which amounted to 121 appearances. “He won two Liga titles, one Champions League, one Club World Cup, one Copa del Rey, one Spanish Super Cup, and one European Super Cup with FC Barcelona” (“FC Barcelona Legends: Thierry Henry,” FC Barcelona online). And yes, this was with master tactician Pep Guardiola at the helm.
  • France: Playing for his national team, he netted 51 goals in 123 caps, which included being part of the team that won the World Cup in 1998 (“Thierry Henry in numbers: The stats as the Frenchman hangs up his boots,” Alex Richards, 12/16/14). Scoring goals for France was as easy as 1-2-3 for him (had to).

The awe-inspiring stats aside, the coolest experience (cool being the optimum word for Henry) was sitting front row at the France-South Korea group match at the 2006 World Cup in Leipzig, Germany with a crowd of 43,000 people. A great bonus was that Henry scored in this game! The following absolutely needs to be said because I’ve never seen this quality in any other player: Thierry Henry does not run, but he glides. It’s crazy-ridiculously-awesome to witness. It’s really something else and I’ve never seen anyone else do that. I will never forget that experience or that amazing talents of Thierry Henry on display that night (along with a little known player named Franck Ribéry).

And while he’s certainly not the only player by any stretch of the imagination that qualifies for the following, he is one: Thierry Henry encapsulates what’s so amazing about the beautiful game. His skills, intelligence and presence on the field is special and uplifting. He’s not a nasty player, but competitive and talented. He will be missed by teammates and fans alike. On his Facebook page, he announced that his next venture will be at Sky Sports, making his return to London.

Let’s face it, there cannot be an article about Henry retiring without a highlight video:

Thierry Henry: A player with a legacy that will hover for generations to come.

Ce était une magnifique carrière!

(It was a magnificent career!)

“Three is a Magic Number”

Imagine that you are a fan and patron of the ballet (just for a few minutes). You enjoy watching ballerinas, with their beauty and striking features, effortlessly glide across the stage in amazement. When a new show is set to premiere a short run at the gorgeous theater downtown, the question is not if you will see the show, but only when.

The lights go down to a glow when the audience sees the curtain rise and soon after comes the first leg movement. The vivid string music picks up a second later. Enchantment fills the air. The next two hours are filled with grace and inspiring strength, as demonstrated by a ballerina’s grand jeté. The drama or sometimes adventure, with a few moments of comedic relief, captures everybody’s attention. The audience is rewarded with such a wonderful and tight performance that a standing ovation is not an optional exercise.

Bravo! Bravo!

Another night and another show defined by smooth, world-class movements. They took the crowd through a journey of delight and precision. The latter word alludes to the fact that the ballet is a defined and confined art in many ways, yet that is exactly what keeps fans coming back for more. In other words, they are meticulous about what they expect.

But, what if the rumors are true and a new choreographer is set to be hired? Nothing drastic is set to occur, but his reputation is one that demands his dancers be more free flowing. In the strict world of ballet, there are very few exceptions for bending the rules.

It is, ironically, an uncomfortably comfortable art. There are assigned movements and a familiarity (sometimes painful) that becomes second nature to the trained and dedicated professional. It’s not so much about thinking what to do next when dancing in front of the bright lights, but instead it’s about reacting to the music and partners on stage.

This could be a risky move to change a structure so beloved and rich in history and tradition. And yet, the day has been set for when the new choreographer will arrive. His reputation is one of excitement, degrees of unpredictability and all with quicker movement between dancers. The quickened pace will add dynamism that can be difficult to predict, both for those doing and watching. Some long-held beliefs on this ballet stage will be redefined. There will undoubtedly be curiosity and anxiousness.

Outside reviews declared their audiences were “mesmerized” by his adaptations to the traditional ballet. Each ballerina performed with more movements en avant and with a splendid final allegro. It’s new and exciting.

Nobody is exactly sure what to expect.

This past Wednesday, it became official that 41 year-old Pep Guardiola had signed a three-year contract to become the next head coach at Bayern Munich starting this July to replace the outgoing 67 year-old Jupp Heynckes.

“He is an adventurous and attacking coach, who fits at a club that shows guts,” Arjen Robben said.

Pep used his own Tiki-taka strategy at Barcelona from 2008-2012. This team won just a few top-shelf accolades (14 trophies) and also showcased the likes of Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and David Villa. Despite the contradiction, this team continues to move and play with a precise fluidity. It is very impressive to witness.

The style of soccer at Bayern Munich is not exclusively defined by structure, discipline and toughness (& winning quite frankly), but are nonetheless paramount factors. There are players who exercise tremendous flare and skill of course, as is evidenced by a Dutchman (Arjen Robben), a Frenchman (Franck Ribéry) and a Weilheim Winger (German Thomas Müller). Possession with world-class individual play is on full display during any given game. However, their passing is not typically accompanied with as much misdirection as is used by the players at Barcelona.

How much of their style will change?

Bayern Munich has won seemingly countless German Football Championships and four UEFA Champions League Titles. They are no stranger to success and winning. But a new coach and a new style is about to reign in Munich.

There will be two firsts come this July. First, the Tiki-taka philosophy will be implemented or adapted with the current players, plus perhaps a couple future big name signings.

A Tiki-taka Tutorial:

Second, Guardiola will become the first Spanish manager of this club dating all the way back to when Bayern Munich entered the Bundesliga nearly fifty years ago in 1965.

Changes are coming and even though they will not alter the very game itself, they are going to be significant. The dance of “the beautiful game” in the capital city of Bavaria will be different from what has been seen there before. While world-class talent will remain along with each individual’s offensive and defensive prowess, the way they move will adjust and how they use their skills at certain moments will have new and spontaneous variety.

There are certain expectations fans of Bayern Munich will want to transition from its previous coaching regimes. But with such a banner hire, the team will look more distinctive compared to years past.

Much like at the ballet, the audience has very particular expectations. Soccer is similar in the sense that its fans demand to be constantly entertained with superior defending, speed, dribbling, passing, shooting, toughness and intelligence. Soccer is “the beautiful game” and its fans are not shy about expressing their support or disappointment to what they see on the pitch…every other minute.

Unlike the ballet, soccer is a physical sport that involves contact and some occasional rough play. Its atmosphere is more lively, less formal and sees more vocal reactions from fans of all ages. And yet the intention of this post is to point out surprising correlations between two contrasting professions.

As with the ballet, soccer fans can be tentative to remove an “Old Guard” for something new.

We’ll all just have to wait and see if Bayern Munich’s faithful will embrace a little “Pep” in their step.