Sunday, December 9, 2018

Messi still the best sans Ballon d’Or.

It’s that time of the year where the Ballon d’Or is presented to the best player in the world. Once again, Messi was not the winner. It was no surprise that someone else won the award, and this year, the winner of the Ballon d’Or was Luka Modrić. The only thing that was surprising was seeing Messi finish fifth in the voting which was an insult to a player of such magnitude.
Messi will always be the best footballer on the planet. Everyone knows what he accomplished last season. However, it was obvious that the Ballon d’Or was going to be given to a player who shined in the Champions League and the World Cup and Modrić satisfied both requirements in the eyes of the voters.
Nonetheless, is Modrić really the best player in the world? Ever since 2010, I wondered if the Ballon d’Or was an award given to the current best player in the world or was it for the best performing player of the calendar year? The criteria have never been clear but no one can truthfully say that Modrić is a better player than Messi.
History has shown us that the best players don’t always win the individual awards. Michael Jordan was the best in his sport when he won those six NBA titles, yet he was the NBA MVP in four of those seasons. while Charles Barkley and Karl Malone were the other two. Nonetheless, we do not need an award to remind us that Messi is the best and he was never one for personal accolades. His goal is team success while his performance on the pitch is enough to do the talking for him.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Time for Barça To Step Up.

Messi’s injury means that the Blaugrana will be without their leader for a few weeks. This is the time for both the manager and the players to step up. They must seize this opportunity and make the most of it.
Rarely is an injury a blessing in disguise, but perhaps Messi’s injury can be used by Valverde and the players to step up and be less dependent on Messi. Messi’s injury is a short-term injury but the Blaugrana have the talent to be good and be competitive.
For far too long, we have heard that Barça is reliant on Messi and cannot function without him. Well, he will be absent for today’s Champions League clash against Inter and for this weekend’s El Clasico. Although we would prefer he was playing in these games, his absence cannot be used as an excuse.
Although we may deem him as Immortal, Messi is still human and can suffer injuries. If he suffers another injury in the future, and hopefully not an injury that rules him out for a lengthy period, then this would be preparation for the day that we hope that never comes. It’s time for the players to stop hiding and time to shine. Dembélé can play on the right, which is his preferred side, so he has no excuse now not to play there, unless Valverde says otherwise. Folks have said Coutinho plays in the same position as Messi, then it’s time for him to show it. Midfielders cannot rely on passing the ball to Messi and watch. Defenders need to be more alert and stop leaking goals.
Valverde must adapt from being conservative whenever the team has the lead and just go for the kill. He has the weapons. It’s high time he used them and what better time than now. Messi is irreplaceable, but this team can manager without him in the short term. Hopefully they will not use Messi’s absence as a crutch, but instead, use it as a launch pad to shine in his absence.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Once Upon A Time When Barça Wore White.



What if I told you, that Barça players used to wear white kits in the past up till Cruyff’s playing days. It may be old news for Barça historians and fans from that era, but this discovery caught me, and other longtime and new fan, off guard. The Blaugrana's faithful are unaware of their club's history of wearing white.

Not too long ago, I came across a video of Johan Cruyff leading the Blaugrana onto the pitch in an away match against Aston Villa in the UEFA Cup Quarter-Final back in 1978. However, what caught my eye was seeing Cruyff and the rest of the team donning white shirts. At first, I thought that perhaps those were warm-up shirts but low and behold, Barça kicked off the game while still wearing those white shirts while I was still in a state of disbelief. That image intrigued me and caused me to look deeper into Barça’s use of white in their kits.

 

FC Barcelona began wearing white from the early 1900s when the club's founder, Joan Gamper was the club’s president. The team wore the Blaugrana shirt with white shorts and also had a white away kit. The team would go on to wear white in different variations up to the 70's. Furthermore, when Barça was founded, the club used the coat of arms of the city of Barcelona on their shirt as a badge before Joan Gamper decided to give the club its own special crest in 1910. The final time the club wore white was in 1979. Since then, that color has not been used in its entirety and even minor use of it on the shirt has been controversial among the Blaugrana faithful. In the early 90’s, there was controversy  after Barça switched from Meyba to Kappa as the kit maker because Kappa's home shirts had white collars with white stripes on the sides while also displaying their Kappa logo in white.

Now a major factor that must be taken into consideration is that it wasn’t until the 50s before the rivalry between Barça and Real Madrid became fiery following the Di Stéfano signing controversy. Therefore, displaying the white color did not carry the vitriol that it would today. It was considered an easy color choice to use against teams that wore dark colored shirts. Moreover, white shirts were also helpful for the television viewers watching a football match on their black and white television sets which helped the viewers differentiate between the two teams. Until 1913, Barça used to wear the Blaugrana shirt with white shorts. Afterwards, the club began wearing black shorts before switching to the traditional navy blue shorts in 1920 while occasionally using red shorts. Although the white shirt was designed to be the away kit, there had been occasions where Barça wore it at home. During the 1946-47 season, they wore the white shirt against Levante at home at their old ground, Les Corts, because it was customary back then for the home team to wear their away shirt if there was a clash of kits with the visiting team.

 

There were other instances of the Blaugrana sporadically wearing the white shirt.  During the summer of 1952, Barça played with a white shirt and blue shorts in the final of the second edition of the Copa Latina. That final was played against Nice, which took place in France in 1952 in which the Blaugrana won 1-0.



A few more occasions where the team wore white at home afterwards, but only in European competitions. During the first edition of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (before becoming the UEFA Cup and now known as the Europa League),  Barça played with the white shirt against FC Copenhagen at their home, Les Corts on Christmas Day in 1955. The reason behind Barça playing with the white shirt on that day was because it was meant to represent the city of Barcelona. Moreover, the white shirt did not have the Barça crest, but instead, displayed the coat of arms of the city of Barcelona. Barça also played in white against Birmingham City, in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1957, while also displaying the coat of arms of the city of Barcelona on their shirt.

 

The Blaugrana also donned the white shirt in the Champions League, back when it was called the European Cup. During the 1959-1960 season, Barça wore the white shirt at the San Siro against Milan, on November 4, 1959 (enjoy this brief footage) . The white shirt also made an appearance against Hannover 96 during 1965-66 season in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, and again in the San Siro, but this time against Inter during the 1969-1970 season in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. The white shirt also made an appearance in the now defunct UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in Romania against Steaua Bucharest during the 1971-1972 season.


 

The rest of the 70’s would see the club don the white shirts in UEFA Cup matches. The white shirt were restricted to a few away matches in Hungary and England. The Blaugrana donned the white shirt away to Vasas in Hungary during the 1975-1976 season. Similarly, Barca wore white in England against Aston Villa and Ipswich Town during the 1978-179 season.  FC Barcelona’s away loss to Ipswich Town on on March 7, 1979 would mark the final time the white shirt would be worn by the Blaugrana.

 
Final appearance of the white shirt

Furthermore, the use of white on kits was not just limited to the fooball team. Wearing white was also common for Barça’s basketball team with white shorts being a part of the team kit. The 70’s, were also the last time the basketball team wore white shorts with their Blaugrana tops.



Nonetheless, that video of Cruyff leading the team onto the pitch with his captain’s armband on top of a white shirt is an image that will never be repeated in the history of this club. As rare as that sight is, the shirts themselves are also a rarity. Back in 2012, one of the white shirts worn against Aston Villa, belonging to former player Paco Fortes, was put up for auction and was expected to fetch over €18,000. However, I could not find any information on how much that shirt went for.



Times may have changed but the idea of FC Barcelona wearing white again is not likely to happen anytime soon. Backlash and ridicule will be expected if the club ever decides to use a white shirt, even if done as a tribute. That in itself, is ironic since nowadays, we see the color white on the front of the shirt for the sponsors and no one bats an eye. For now, the white shirt belongs in the past.

Special thanks to Ángel Iturriaga for his input and Míguel Ángel's blog post well detailed blog about this subject. Also visit www.webdelcule.com for their great content and photos from past and present teams.

Thank You Rays for a Wonderful 2018 Season.




The 2018 baseball season is over for the Rays. 162 games flew by fast this season and this season was a pleasant surprise. Prior to the start of the season, the biggest question in Tampa Bay was whether or not the Rays could win more games than the Tampa Bay Lightning did during the 2017-2018 season (54 wins). Well, the Rays surprised many by winning more than 54. They surprised many by actually having a winning season thanks to their 90 wins season.

With all the drama about the team’s future, it was nice to see the Rays be competitive for the majority of the season. The Rays started off slow, injuries being the main culprit, and 50 wins seemed like a realistic milestone. The team had traded the face of the franchise, Evan Longoria, and the team’s ace Chris Archer was on the shopping block and was eventually traded.

However, something magical happened along the way. The Rays started finding ways to win. The idea to start games with relief pitchers worked like a charm while Blake Snell was magical as a starting pitcher and should be a serious candidate to win the Cy Young award. It was also great to see young players get called up from the minor leagues and contribute to the team. One can only hope the likes of Willy Adames, Brandon Lowe and Jake Bauers will become the future All-Stars of this team.

Manager Kevin Cash deserves a lot of credit for this magical season and, in my opinion, should be a front runner for AL Manager of the Year. The crazy idea of starting games with relief pitchers and managing the playing time of the rising stars has paid off. Obviously, it will always be tough to compete in a division that has both the Yankees and the Red Sox but all that Rays fans can ask for is to see a competitive winning team. Thanks for a great season, Rays and here’s hoping next season will be better.

Bucs come back down to earth.




Two losses in less than seven days have brought the Bucs crashing down to earth following their 2-0 start. A season that started with such promise is now back to square one. The team’s record is now 2-2 after their disastrous showing in Chicago today and they now have a bye week to reflect or pray for a miracle, before going on the road again to face the Falcons.

Fitzmagic may have come to an end but will it be any different under Winston? The offensive line is as weak as a wet paper bag and the defense keeps giving up yards like its candy on Halloween. Injuries have handcuffed the defense and the depth is not there to make up for the absences. I am not sure Mike Smith is the answer as a Defensive Coordinator either and perhaps Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter should find a replacement during the bye week.

The dream of watching this team enter the bye week 4-0 is over.  12 games remain and the way this season could end positively with a playoff berth. This season could also go down in flames where we may see a change in General Manager, coach, and perhaps the end of Jameis Winston as the franchise quarterback. Us Bucs fans though will have to endure the highs and lows the rest of the way, one game at a time.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Despite the Loss to France, Optimism has returned for the Oranje.

Although Holland’s loss to France on Monday was disappointing, the reaction following the final whistle was different from before. For once, there was a sense of optimism that the Oranje were finally back on the right path. For once, there is hope.
  • By Ibrahim Ayyub
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It’s never an easy task when facing the reigning World Cup champion, especially when it’s on their homecoming night as they celebrated their recent World Cup triumph in front of their fans. Nonetheless, that was the daunting task awaiting the Oranje when they faced France on Monday night. However,  the young team hung with the World Cup Champions for most of the game before falling to them 2-1.

These last eight years, we witnessed the Oranje play without a purpose and, some would say, without passion. They resembled zombies on the pitch as they failed to qualify for both Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018. The quality on the pitch was not what it once was and the coaching seemed uninspired. The Oranje played without a solid defence while the attack seemed predictable and bland.
We are witnessing a new era unfold before our eyes. The old guard is truly gone now that Robben and Sneijder have bid farewell to representing the Oranje. Cillessen seems more confident than ever with a defence led by captain Virgil van Dijk who may found his perfect partner in crime, the young Matthijs de Ligt. Hopefully, it was rare off night for Tete at right back and we will see better performances from him in the future. The midfield with Georginio Wijnaldum and the young phenom Frenkie de Jong showed us flashes of what this team is capable of doing, and Memphis Depay leading the charge.

Sure, there are still some pieces missing to complete the puzzle, especially up front and with the left back position. Yet, the likes of those above-mentioned players along with Nathan Aké, Donny van de Beek, Justin Kluivert and Luuk de Jong means that for the first time, that the future is bright and that we are no longer staring into the abyss. Perhaps, Ronaldo Koeman is the Obi-Wan Kenobi to these players where he can provide hope for a better future.

It will take time, and Koeman still needs to work on the team’s first-half struggles. Nonetheless, this is a project that will require patience. It’s time to plan for the future and not focus on short-term success that set the Oranje back. Right now, the future is looking good… for the first time in a long time.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Time for Barça to get it right.



Barça ended the season with another domestic double under new manager Ernesto Valverde. However, instead of celebrating this achievement, many of the Blaugrana faithful felt disappointed. Many would consider a domestic double a resounding success. However, their lack of success in Europe, whereas their arch rivals celebrated a three-peat was a reminder of Barça’s underachieving while wasting the talent of its best players. Lessons have to be learned from past mistakes in order for Barça to improve. A team that has Messi should be conquering the world, and not settling for domestic success while coming up short in Europe. However, the poor planning by the club’s board and their manager has hindered this team from returning to their place of being the best in the world.  With Iniesta now gone, the board once again finds itself trying to replace a key player much like Neymar’s departure last summer.

Last season, the Blaugrana failed to recapture the league crown and then had to find a replacement for Neymar late in the summer transfer window. They hired Ernesto Valverde as Luis Enrique’s successor and spent over €180 million on the likes of Démbéle, Duelofeu, Semedo and Paulinho in the summer and then over €130 million on Coutinho and Yerry Mina during the winter transfer window.

After a brutal defeat over two legs against Real Madrid in the Spanish Supercopa, the outlook for the season looked uninspiring. Instead, the Blaugrana went on a historic unbeaten run that came to an end in the penultimate fixture of the season but saw them celebrating a domestic double. Nonetheless, the bitter elimination in the Quarter-Finals stage of the Champions League by AS Roma, after squandering a 4-1 aggregate lead stung. Many blamed player fatigue as a result of Valverde not rotating and resting his players during the season.

Although Valverde captured the double in his first year as Barça’s manager, many, including yours truly, did not enjoy how he managed the season. His lack of resting players, and conservative approach when leading, cost him and his lack of using the new signings down the clutch and ignoring youth players was also puzzling. The club spent a fortune on Paulinho and Démbéle and the Brazilian featured in 44 minutes in the first leg and none in the second leg against Roma and Démbéle only played in the final five minutes of the second leg loss. The big signing Démbéle was good enough to start a crucial second leg against Chelsea but only featured in 5 minutes against Roma over two legs? Valverde’s decisions of who to play and not to play left many fans confused and a repeat of that next season with the new additions will not be acceptable.

 

Madrid is succeeding because of the midfielders that the club was interested in but passed on them. Barça could have signed the likes of Modric, Isco, Kroos and Asensio, but instead signed the likes of Alex Song, Andre Gomes, Paulinho and Douglas. With Iniesta gone, Barça must make signing midfielders a priority. They seemed ready to spend €100 on Antoine Griezmann and fortunately, that deal never happened and the Blaugrana instead went out and signed young Brazilian star, Arthur, to ensure he comes in this summer along with midfielder Arturo Vidal, winger Malcom and defender Lenglet.

Fortunately, Barça have been successful in offloading players who were considered dead wood. Paulinho went back to China and Aleix Vidal went back to Sevilla, while Digne, Gomes and Mina all are at Everton. Iniesta will be hard to replace and we need a midfield that creates chances for the front three and not rely on Messi on doing their work. I would have preferred if the club signed someone like Thiago or Christian Eriksen but we will see come December if the club will pursue




Additionally, the club has to answer for the mismanagement of their youth. Barça B were relegated to the third division so now our future stars will have to focus on trying to win promotion back to the second division. It would have been ideal for the B team to be in the second division and get call ups to the first team here and there. However, it would have also been ideal for Valverde to give more minutes to B players too. In his first season, zero minutes were given to B players in the Champions League and only five minutes were given in the league. That goes against everything the club stands for, especially when this board reminded us “La Masia No Es Toca”. Hopefully young starlets such as Riqui Puig will get called up this season.

Finally, the club needs to start ignoring Copa del Rey. The main objective every year should be the Spanish league and the Champions League. Obviously winning another treble is every fan’s dream, but in terms of preference and importance, the Champions League should always trump the Copa del Rey. Barça have won the last four Copa del Rey trophies while Real Madrid have won the last three Champions League titles. There’s no debate in which trophy fans would prefer?

Barça winning the Champions League means getting to play in the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. Winning the Copa del Rey means getting to play in the Spanish Supercopa, which is already guaranteed if Barça win the league. As much I would love to see the Blaugrana win a third Treble, the Copa del Rey has become a burden with starters losing out on much needed rest because of their participation in this competition. Real Madrid has benefitted from exiting the Copa del Rey early and used that extra rest to their advantage while Barça players end up being exhausted in April because they are stretching themselves thin in all three competitions.

Another season is upon us and Barça can add another trophy today by capturing another Supercopa. Hopefully Barça will finally steady the ship and stop disappointing. Repeating the same mistakes will only guarantee more disappoint so one can only hope the board and Valverde get it right and stop wasting the talents of Messi and others.