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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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Pep’s Boys Won, Yet Lost

Hannover 96 vs FC Bayern Munich

(Pep Guardiola)

“I’ve done the best I can do,” said the Bayern Munich manager, searching for the best way to convey his feelings after his side were eliminated from the Champions League by Atletico Madrid on Tuesday. “I don’t have any regrets. I’ve done my best and, I don’t know — that’s what I would like to say.”
–ESPN FC, Nick Ames

There is some disillusioned beer drinking occurring in Bavaria tonight.

Despite a spirited, thrilling second leg of Bayern Munich’s Champions League semi-final against Atlético Madrid (one missed penalty by both teams at the same end shooting to the same side), the Bavarian kings could not score that necessary third goal. Though Thomas Müller had his shot/PK.

Rightly or wrongly, the fact that Pep Guardiola went 0-3 for winning the Champions League will define his mostly successful, victorious venture in Munich.

“In his first campaign he collected the UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, German Cup and, with a record seven games to spare, the Bundesliga title. He secured his second successive Bundesliga title by ten points the following season…”
–UEFA

Even with all of this, Pep’s time at Bayern Munich will be viewed by many as a losing campaign. The German giants won a lot throughout the past three years, but they lost the most important games with the acclaimed Pep Guardiola as the manager.

The coaching mastermind behind Barcelona’s epic run from 2008-2012 could not defeat Spanish sides Real Madrid, Barcelona or Atlético Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals during his three years coaching Bayern Munich. If it weren’t for Mr. Guardiola’s public intention to sign with Manchester City this upcoming season, the cliché “3 strikes and you’re out” would be an aptly borrowed metaphor from the sport’s baseball counterpart.

In Pep’s case, trying to craft a winning strategy for his third consecutive Bundesliga title and a German Cup championship is what remains as achievable goals this season. For most, that would be enough. Most, however, are not named Pep Guardiola.

The expectations for Pep moving to Munich, Germany after his yearlong break following his exit from Barcelona were sky-high. Actually, if there’s a place above sky-high, that would be more appropriate.

Pep’s spell at Barcelona has been labeled as one of the greatest club teams in history with one of the best players in history being Lionel Messi. Everyone knew Pep would win in Germany, but people expected him to win everything with soccer itself gasping for air at his conquests wearing sharp suits (and lederhosen for beer drinking). Granted, Jupp Heynckes didn’t do Pep any favors by leading Bayern Munich to the prized treble (included the Champions League title) literally before his arrival in Bavaria.

Mr. Heynckes sort of served his successor a championship team on a platter.

Each coach has different tactics that require different types of players, so maybe Mr. Heynckes did or didn’t leave Pep with everything he needed. That’s a debate that will continue. In the macro, Pep’s inability to win his first season with a remarkably similar squad was disappointing, but understandable if his style of play and injection of “his” players led to a championship(s) down the road.

Sadly, those two subsequent titles never arrived, which means Bayern fans never got to enjoy the immediate or prolonged Guardiola magic in Champions League. This is a failure that will not soon be forgotten and incoming manager Carlo Ancelotti (56) will be tasked with solving this puzzle with one of the best rosters on the planet.

The young innovator makes way for the elder statesman.

Pep Guardiola was hired to win trebles. Yes, that’s trebles plural. Fair or not, that’s the truth. The pain, suffering, talent, patience, resilience and magic-in-a-bottle needed to win one treble qualifies for a lifetime of glorious storytelling and recounting in your local pub.

Just ask Jupp Heynckes.

For loyal Bayern Munich fans, like myself, the pain of today’s 2-1 win at home at the Allianz Arena in front of 75,000 fans (but 2-2 aggregate loss to Atlético Madrid) in devastatingly heart-pounding fashion will not heal for some time. The infinitely popular question, “how did they not win?” will not merely focus on this season, but will fiercely grab onto the past two seasons of mirror image outcomes and never let go.

Some may argue that Pep can finally breathe a little easier now. The German press will continue to crush him, sure, but the pressure has been eased a bit.

Quite the contrary.

If Man City pulls off a miracle and wins the Champions League this year, Pep will experience precisely the same high-pressure situation in England, except to a harsher extent. Even if Man City fails to pull off said miracle, the situation is practically identical. He won the biggest prize at Barcelona and not at Bayern Munich. That’s resulted in a knock to his other-worldly aura. If he cannot deliver the biggest prize at Man City, then it’s probably fair to anticipate another sabbatical.

Pep Guardiola is a world-class manager and a brilliant tactician, but he now finds himself in a concerning loop of Champions League semi-final shortcomings to Spanish squads.

And the only way out, at this point, looks as trying as breaking through Atlético Madrid’s back line for goal number three.

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.

Recycling Success

7-nil.

FYI – Bayern Munich has scored 33 goals and conceded 3 in their last 9 games in all competitions.

For any Champions League match, that’s a startling final score. After dismantling Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk following Müller’s successful penalty (and the fastest red card in tournament history) in the 4th minute on the friendly pitch at the Allianz Arena, Bayern Munich sent a clear message in their final game in the round of 16: Will Smith and Margot Robbie aren’t the only people in the world who are focused.

Last year’s devastating and embarrassing loss to eventual tournament champions Real Madrid in the semifinal still appears to be on the minds of the German leaders. 4th and 5th gears only. Pep’s Boys, regardless of potentially securing their 25th Bundesliga title with games in hand, will not rest until they can hoist their second Champions League trophy in three years. Or, in other words, winning the trophy that was the reason why Pep was hired as manager. As a matter of fact, they won’t rest until they get another historic Treble, like they did in 2013 with his predecessor Jupp Heynckes.

What are they doing to accomplish this? Oddly enough, it partially involves large buckets.

The goals are really piling up for Bayern Munich.