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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.

RIP Johan Cruyff

For Dutch soccer players and fans, the lion is the symbol on their national team jersey crest. However, most would agree Johan Cruyff is the true icon of Dutch soccer.

The Dutch footballing legend passed away today at the age of 68 in Barcelona, his adoptive city where he paved the way for the club’s sustained greatness.

“Cruyff, who made his name as a forward with Ajax and Barcelona, was European footballer of the year three times.

He won three consecutive European Cups with Ajax from 1971, coached Barcelona to their first European Cup triumph in 1992 and helped the Dutch reach the 1974 World Cup final, where they lost 2-1 to West Germany.”
–BBC

Cruyff’s wisdom on the sport was equal to his talent on the pitch and sideline.

“Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”
–Johan Cruyff

In the soccer world, March 24, 2016 will be remembered as a very sad day. Johan Cruyff was a genuine living legend, influential as a player, coach and mentor. His innovative style of play, aptly defined as “total football,” introduced and revolutionized the theory focused on the fluidity of players on the pitch.

In other words, a central midfielder was not limited to a role in the middle and a winger was not restricted to just the outside. The position players (not the goalie) were interchangeable. When executed properly, there are few (if any) teams that can counter this approach.

“Total football” is a world-class strategy.

And world-class is the right way to describe Johan Cruyff’s legacy.

Cruyff’s tactical prowess has and continues to influence the massively successful and astronomically in-demand managerial services of Pep Guardiola (Barcelona, Bayern Munich). Plus, the academies at Ajax and Barcelona continue to instill his style and wisdom.

Speaking of style and wisdom, watch his take on the Dutch national team from back in 2008.

That’s what total knowledge of soccer looks and sounds like.

The Soccer-Pointer

Basketball games are filled with lots of points. They’re not hard to come by. Conversely, goals in soccer are (comparatively) significantly more rare, but lauded with comparable energy and jubilation as an alley-oop, backboard-breaking slam dunk or buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

So, how would world-class footballers fare in the world of basketball, with that tiny hoop and a regulation size 5 soccer ball? Interestingly, a layup seems more impressive when soccer players do it:

The half-court heave has nothing on this:

“Basketttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt!!!!!”

(That’s soccer for, “Yeah, that just happened”).