Monday, July 16, 2018

Superb players not to play in a World Cup.

Well, the World Cup is now over. We witnessed 32 nations competing for the ultimate prize that is determined in a matter of weeks. We discuss the players who have won it and those who came up short. We also remember those who were never fortunate to participate in this competition. This is my list of superb players who never got a chance to play in the World Cup in my viewing lifetime.

Without a doubt, players such as Kubala, Best, Di Stefano, Schuster, Ian Rush, and even Matthew Le Tissier come to mind when it comes to the list of excellent players to never appear in a World Cup. However, I was not alive or watching football during their time, so my list consists of players I was fortunate to see play.

Neville Southall
For the position of goalkeeper, former Wales goalkeeper Neville Southall is the only superb goalkeeper that I can think of who never got play in the World Cup.  The Evertonian goalkeeper was legendary for his club, especially during my first ever FA Cup Final against Manchester United in 1995. But alas, being a member of Welsh national team meant he would never play at a World Cup after appearing 92 times for the Welsh from 1982 to 1997.

Joaquín Beltrán
Outside of Mexico, Joaquín Beltrán was an unknown player but this Mexican defender was one of the best defenders inside Mexico. The former legendary UNAM Pumas defender made over 350 appearances for the club from 1996 till 2006 and was a member of the UNAM team that won both 2004 Apertura and Clausura titles. However, he was always snubbed for World Cup under different managers, especially by Ricardo Lavolpe for the 2006 World Cup when Beltrán was at his peak. He was capped 17 times between 1999 and 2007, and he retired in 2010 which his best days were already behind him and he could not be a member of the 2010 Mexican World Cup squad.




Sami Hyypiä
Another superb defender who never got to play in the World Cup was the legendary Finnish Liverpool captain, Sami Hyypiä. He was Liverpool’s captain during their amazing five trophies in 2002 and was a starter in that magical 2004-2005 Champions League Finals victory against AC Milan. Hyypiä made his debut for Finland in 1992 and would feature for the Finland national team 105 times. Unfortunately, Finland never could qualify for the World Cup and Hyypiä missed out on playing on the biggest stage in football.





John Arne Riise
Another legendary Liverpool defender, Norwegian John Arne Riise and teammate of Sami Hyypiä also never got to enjoy playing in a World Cup. He was also a starter of that magical 2004-2005 Champions League Finals victory against AC Milan. Nonetheless, Arne Riise time with the national time came after their glory days of the 90s when they qualified for World Cup 1994 and 1998. Norway hasn’t qualified for the World Cup since then which coincided during Arne Riise’s 110 caps for the Norwegians.





Ryan Giggs
The Manchester United legend needs no introduction. A well decorated player with the Red Devils, Giggs was one of the cornerstones for manager Alex Ferguson that saw United become the biggest club during the 90s. Giggs made his debut for Wales as a 17 year old in 1991 and would go on to appear a total 64 times before his retirement from the national team in 2007. He got to play against the best in England and Europe for United but could never represent Wales at the World Cup. He is now tasked with the responsibility of ensuring Wales qualify for the Euro Cup and World Cup as their national team manager.


Eric Cantona
Another legend who needs no introduction, Eric “The King” was a superb player for Manchester United but did not fare much luck as a member of the French national team. He made his debut for “Les Bleus” in 1987, a year after the French made it to the Semi-Finals of the 1986 World Cup. However, Cantona was handed a one year ban for insulting then French national team manager Henri Michel who would not last long at the helm after France failed to qualify for the 1990 World Cup. Eventually, Cantona did get to represent France at a major international tournament after France qualified for Euro 92. Nonetheless, there would be heart break two years later when France failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup after suffering a 2-1 loss to Bulgaria in the final qualifying match. With France hosting the 1998 World Cup, Cantona’s long wait to play in a World Cup was about to end. However, his suspension after kung-fu kicking a Crystal Palace fan resulted in him losing the captaincy to Zinedine Zidane, under new French manager Aimé Jacquet and not be called up for Euro 96. Cantona would retire from football altogether in 1997 and would never feature for France again as Jacquet preferred to rely on Zidane and other young players who would go on to win the 1998 World Cup.

Giovane Élber
Brazil has produced numerous strikers over the years and Giovane Élber was one of the best Brazilian strikers of the late 90s and early 2000s to play in Europe. Élber arrived to Europe as a teenager and came on the scene after his move to Bayern Munich in 1997 where he would score 139 goals in all competitions during six seasons. He was one of the stars as Bayern won the 2001-2002 UEFA Champions League. Élber got his first cap for Brazil in 1998, but he would miss out on being called up for World Cup 1998 and 2002. His omission in 2002 partially stemmed from not representing Brazil during Copa America 2001which was being held in Colombia. Argentina had withdrawn from Copa America 2001 due to the violence in Colombia and Bayern had refused to release Élber out of security concerns. Luiz Felipe Scolari, still upset over certain players not appearing for Brazil in Copa America 2001, snubbed Élber for Luizão and Edilson as Brazil won the 2002 World Cup with Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho shining in attack. Élber would not feature for Brazil again after 2001.

Jari Litmanen
The legendary Ajax Amsterdam player from Finland, Litmanen also joins his Finnish teammate Sami Hyypiä in the unfortunate players to never appear in a World Cup. The Ajax number 10 was one of the lynchpins that saw the Amsterdam club win the Champions League in the mid-90s. Unfortunately, he could not guide Finland to a World Cup. His first cap in 1989 and his final appearance was in 2010. He amassed 137 appearances for his country and scored 32 goals along the way.



Frédéric Kanouté
Frédéric Kanouté might be considered a flop to some regarding his time with Spurs but he was part of a historic Sevilla side that won back to back UEFA Cup Finals in 2006 and 2007 under manager Juande Ramos. Fredi would also celebrate two Copa del Rey titles along with the UEFA Super Cup for the Andalusian club while scoring 136 goals from 290 appearances over seven seasons. Although he featured for the French U-21 team, he was never called up by “Les Bleus” and opted to play for Mali, the birth country of his father, back in 2004. He was joint top goal scorer for Mali at the 2004 African Cup of Nations where they suffered defeat in the Semi-Finals to Morocco. He would represent Mali for six years before retiring after the 2010 African Cup of Nations. Fredi was capped 39 times and scored 23 goals during his time with the Malian national team but the competitive nature of the Confederation of African Football did not allow him to qualify with Mali to a World Cup.


Fabrizio Ravanelli
During the 90s, Italy had an abundance of weapons up front such as Baggio, Zola, Vialli, Casiraghi, Del Piero, Inzaghi, and Vieri, so it’s easy for fan favorite Fabrizio Ravanelli to be lost in the shuffle. Unlike all those players, il Penna Bianca (The White Feather) was the only Italian player not to feature in a World Cup. Ravanelli was part of the Juventus side that won their second and last Champions League title in 1996 while scoring in the final against Ajax Amsterdam. Before Barça’s MSN or Madrid’s BBC, we had Baggio, Ravanelli and Vialli and then Del Piero, Ravanelli and Vialli as one of the exciting attacking trios in Europe. He received his first cap in 1995 and he was called up for Euro 96 after that Champions League final. Although he featured for Italy in Euro 96, he left Italy and played for Middlesbrough and Marseille and was ultimately omitted from the World Cup 1998. He never would play for Italy again after 1998 with only 8 goals and 22 caps to his credit. His opportunity at appearing in a World Cup was short lived and perhaps his chances would have been better if he had remained with Juventus who would go on to appear in two more Champions League Final, and lose both.

George Weah
George Weah is the only player on this list who is a Golden Ball Winner and a president of a nation. Before he was president of Liberia, Weah was one of the most dangerous strikers during the 90s and was named African Footballer of the Century in 1999. He moved from Liberia to France and played for Monaco and then Paris Saint-Germain before making the move to Milan. His performances during the 1994-1995 season saw him win the Ballon d'Or. Weah made his debut for Liberia in 1987 and would go on to represent his nation for over the next couple of decades. Unfortunately, Weah could not steer Liberia to a World Cup but managed to guide them to the African Cup of Nations in 1996 and 2002. Truly one of the greatest to never play in a World Cup.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Other Mexican World Cup Curse.




Much has been made about Mexico’s Round of 16 Curse following their loss to Brazil in their Round of 16 clash during this World Cup.  However, many are not aware of another Mexico World Cup curse which has already claimed its victim.

Mexico has failed to advance to the “Octavos”, the Quarter-Finals of the World Cup in consecutive World Cups dating to 1994. Mexico has only reached the Quarter-Finals of the World Cup twice, in 1970 and in 1986 which was when Mexico were the hosts. This curse has spanned over three decades now. However, it appears many are not aware of another curse attached to Mexico and the World Cup. Every single team that has knocked out Mexico in the Round of 16 since World Cup 1994 has never gone on to lift the World Cup trophy.  















In 1994, Bulgaria eliminated Mexico in the Round of 16 stage and fell to Italy in the Semi-Finals. In 1998, Germany scored two unanswered goals to defeat Mexico 2-1 in their Round of 16 clash, only to fall to Croatia in the next round. In 2002, USA defeated Mexico 2-0 in the Round of 16 and then fell to Germany in the next round.  In 2006, Argentina defeated Mexico 2-1 in a thrilling Round of 16 encounter and then Argentina fell to Germany in the next round. In 2010, Argentina once again defeated Mexico 3-1 in their Round of 16 clash and then also fell to Germany in the next round. In 2014, Holland defeated Mexico 2-1 in the Round of 16 stage in dubious fashion before the Dutch fell to Argentina in the Semi-Finals.

Well, Brazil defeated Mexico 2-0 in this year’s Round of 16 clash and then bid farewell after their 2-1 defeat to Belgium yesterday in the Quarter-Finals. The curse of eliminating Mexico at this stage continues and this curse also applies to those who have eliminated Mexico in the Quarter-Finals too. In 1970, Mexico were defeated by Italy 4-1 and then lost to the great Brazil by the same score in the Final. In 1986, Mexico played West Germany to a scoreless draw before succumbing to their opponents in the a penalty shootout, and the West Germans fell to Argentina in the Final.

Perhaps countries may want to practice some black magic to avoid meeting Mexico in future World Cup knockout stages. The same holds true for teams grouped with Mexico at the group stage. Mexico have qualified for the World Cup sixteen times. Only two nations have won the World Cup after facing Mexico at the Group Stage; Brazil in 1962 and England in 1966. Sweden's elimination today just confirms the consequences of facing Mexico during the World Cup. Ultimately, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t when it comes to facing Mexico in the World Cup.



The World Cup Curse of Mexico:

1970: Mexico eliminated by Italy in Quarterfinals – Italy lost to Brazil in the Final.
1986: Mexico eliminated by West Germany in Quarterfinals – West Germany lost to Argentina in the Final.
1994: Mexico eliminated by Bulgaria in Round of 16 – Bulgaria lost to Italy in the Semi-Finals.
1998: Mexico eliminated by Germany in Round of 16 – Germany lost to Croatia in the Quarter-Finals.
2002: Mexico eliminated by USA in Round of 16 – USA lost to Germany in the Quarter-Finals.
2006: Mexico eliminated by Argentina in Round of 16 – Argentina lost to Germany in the Quarter-Finals.
2010: Mexico eliminated by Argentina in Round of 16 – Argentina lost to Germany in the Quarter-Finals.
2014: Mexico eliminated by Holland in Round of 16 – Holland lost to Argentina in Semi-Finals
2018: Mexico eliminated by Brazil in Round of 16 – Brazil lost to Belgium in Quarter-Finals.



Mexico’s World Cup Groups

1930: Mexico  Argentina Chile France.
1950: Mexico Brazil Yugoslavia Switzerland.
1954: Mexico Brazil Yugoslavia Switzerland.
1958: Mexico Sweden Wales Hungary.
1962: Mexico, Brazil* Spain Czechoslovakia.
1966: Mexico England* Uruguay France.
1970: Mexico USSR Belgium El Salvador.
1978: Mexico West Germany Poland Tunisia.
1986: Mexico Belgium Iraq Paraguay.
1994: Mexico Italy Ireland Norway.
1998: Mexico Holland Belgium South Korea.
2002: Mexico Italy Croatia Ecuador.
2006: Mexico Portugal Iran Angola.
2010: Mexico Uruguay France South Africa.
2014: Mexico Brazil Croatia Cameroon.
2018: Mexico German Sweden South Korea.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Don Andrés, you will be missed.

After 21 years, Andrés Iniesta is no longer a Barça player. The man who made his first team debut with Barça as an 18 year old teenager departs the club as a 34 year old legend who won every trophy possible while being a key part of great teams for both club and country. We witnessed 16 marvelous seasons of Iniesta becoming a legend on and off the pitch. Iniesta is an icon who will be missed.
During his time with the club, Iniesta won 35 major trophies. He played a key part in what is considerably the greatest Blaugrana and football side in history. During his time with the club, Barça won four UEFA Champions Leagues, nine La Liga titles, seven Copa del Reys, three FIFA Club World Cups while helping Spain win their first ever World Cup and two European Championships . He and Messi share the record of winning 32 major trophies as Blaugrana players and I and many fans wish he could stick around longer and add more to his tally.
Iniesta is one of those heartwarming stories of a kid who rose through the ranks at La Masia and became a legend. I wish Iniesta was staying so he could take future Barça B players, such as Carles Aleñá, under his wings. Iniesta knows a thing or two about making the jump to the B team and how to be patient when minutes are scarce. After all, even though Iniesta made his first debut when he was 18, he had to wait until he was in his mid-20s before he became a trusty member of the first team. Those future Barça B players making the jump would have benefitted from having someone like Iniesta to act as their guru.
Furthermore, Iniesta’s departure deprives the club of a mentor for newly signed midfielders. Coutinho recently said that when he signed for Barça, Iniesta was one of the first players to contact him and welcome him to the club. Coutinho also said “It was special to receive it and it gave me a lot of confidence.” Moreover, he could have helped new signings, midfielders, adapt to the style of the club.
Finally, we will miss Iniesta because he was the link to the past of great performances and results as the club rose from underachievers to becoming the best in the world. His performance as a substitute in Paris in UEFA Champions League Final against Arsenal was his introduction to the world while we Cules already knew what this young phenom was capable of. We will always have that “Iniestazo” goal against Chelsea in the 2008-2009 Champions League Semi-Finals, those Clasico performances and goals, and thankfully, that superb goal against Sevilla in his last Copa del Rey Final, to ride off into the sunset.
Players like Iniesta are a rare gem and we have been fortunate and blessed to watch him represent our club so admirably on and off the pitch. Without a doubt, he is a unique player like Iniesta is truly irreplaceable. He will now take his services to Japan and those are fans in store for a treat.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Barça’s Upcoming Four Battles.

fcb 4
Final month of football is upon us. The bitter taste of not watching Barça try to win their sixth Champions League crown is still tough to swallow. There is hope that the club can salvage the season with a domestic double. However, these remaining games are basically elimination round fixtures where one slip up ruins the double.
Barça’s final three league matches are at home to Villarreal, away to Las Palmas, before bringing down the curtains when they host Eibar. They will then meet Deportivo Alavés in the Copa del Rey Final soon afterwards. Real Madrid have four league matches left are away to Granada, hosting Sevilla, away to Celta Vigo and then away to Malaga. Perhaps Madrid will slip up in either of those matches.
FCB Depo
It’s not fun when you can’t control your destiny and Barça have themselves to blame for that following their poor result against Malaga. However, it’s too soon to throw in the towel on the season. Cruyff’s “Dream Team” showed us how beautiful it is to win the league title in the last match of the season. Yet, the 2006-2007 Barça team showed us gut wrenching it is to lose out on the title in the last match of the season while being level on points with Real Madrid.
So sit back and enjoy the ride with one eye on Barça and one eye on the scoreboard to see what Madrid is doing. Three more weeks of stress and then one week to recover before Barça play in the Copa del Rey. Hopefully it will be for a double.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Time for a Barça Overhaul!


For the second year in a row, Barça crash out of the Champions League’s Quarter-Finals. The team has a few weeks of football left to try to win a domestic double. However, an overhaul is in order for next season.

If there’s ever a line from a movie that is synonymous with FC Barcelona, it has to be the line uttered in The Dark Knight. “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” This applies to both managers and players. We have seen managers such as Cruyff, Rijkaard, Guardiola, and now Luis Enrique be admired only to be turned on by the fans. The same applies with players who were once worshipped but then left the club through the back door. At this moment, Luis Enrique is becoming the villain as the club fails to impress on the pitch.
Today’s scoreless draw against Juventus was Luis Enrique’s final European match as a Barça manager and it ended with a thud. Just a few years ago, he witnessed his team score three goals against Juventus in the Champions League Final. Sadly, his side failed to score over two legs against Juventus this season. Both teams had the same two managers but the performance and results were such a contrast from back then and now.
The manager and the board assembled this team full of expensive signings and what do they have to show for it? All these new signings and only Umtiti has shined. La Masia neglected for expensive signings who have failed to deliver. The short term goal of success over a long term plan of sticking with tradition that got them success has not paid off.
Many Barça haters claim anyone can coach this team to success. Well, for the third time in four seasons, and the last two seasons, Barça are out of the Champions League at the Quarter-Finals stage. Perhaps those who did not appreciate Pep Guardiola can now respect the difficult task of making it to four straight Semi-Finals, and two finals in three years.
Luis Enrique’s baffling decision to start 33 year old smoker Jérémy Mathieu to keep pace with the speedy Juan Cuadrado in the first leg doomed Barça. Mathieu was abysmal just a few days earlier against Malaga and was taken off at halftime. Nonetheless, Lucho started Mathieu against Juventus in Turin and again had to take him off at halftime for Paco Alcácer. The damage was done and it was going to be tough to muster a comeback against this Juventus side.
Lucho’s decision to bring on Mascherano for Sergi Roberto with twelve minutes to go was deflating. The side needed three goals and instead of bringing on Denis Suarez or even the young kid Alena, Lucho brought on a defensive midfielder. At least the team kept a clean sheet. With El Clásico just a few days away, Barça have their backs against the wall in a must win game. Anything else will make their quest for another league title futile.
Juventus were the better side who were also better coached and will now face either Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid or the surprising Monaco in the Semi-Finals. Luck however is not on their side since the last four sides who eliminated Barça at this stage of the competition never went on to win the competition; Paris Saint-Germaine (1994-1995); Juventus (2002-2003); and Atlético (2013-2014 & 2015-2016).
Barça will have an interesting summer ahead of them. The team is in need of an overhaul with more players being sold along with the signing of players needed in certain positions. The idea of assistant coach Juan Carlos Unzué or current Athletic manager Ernesto Valverde are a band aid option at best that fails to generate any enthusiasm. We need a manager from the Cruyff school, such as Oscar Garcia, who will pay attention to the youth and take the club back to the “Total Football” style that has been abandoned for this predictable direct, and also dull, football approach we have witnessed the last two seasons.
Failure to hire the right manager will tarnish Sandro Rosell and Josep Bartomeu’s legacy as the men who inherited one of the greatest football teams of all time, if not the greatest, and allowed it to regress under their watch. Under their watch, they squandered a great squad and allowed Real Madrid to become kings of Europe in football and also in basketball. The idea of success now over a viable long term plan has failed and the right decisions need to be made this summer. The basketball team is already in shambles and we cannot afford to waste the talents of Messi, Iniesta, Pique, Luis Suarez and Neymar by not surrounding them with better players and a better manager.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Cillessen’s Questionable move to Barça.

Many were surprised when Barça decided to sign Jasper Cillessen from Ajax Amsterdam this most recent summer transfer window. The Oranje keeper went from a team that recently struggled to achieve success both on the domestic and European stage, to a team that is expected to win every possible trophy. Although Cillessen is upgrading the quality of his team, is this move a downgrade for his career?
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When FC Barcelona was forced to decide between keeping the Chilean Claudio Bravo or the German Marc-André ter Stegen, the club decided to bank on the German as their keeper for the future. Bravo was in his thirties while ter Stegen is still a young pup in his early twenties. It was the right move for the club to cash in on Bravo by selling him to Manchester City since they had their goalkeeper of the future. However, eyebrows were raised when Jasper Cillessen was rumored to be Bravo’s replacement instead of some aging veteran.

Hesp

Barça have a history of signing Dutch players from the days of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens back in the mid 70’s to the vast number of players in the 90’s and this century. One of the players signed during the 90’s was Dutch goalkeeper Ruud Hesp. He was the starting goalkeeper when Louis van Gaal was in charge as Barça captured back to back league titles. So it is not unchartered territory for Cillessen as he begins a new chapter in his career as a Barça goalkeeper.
Sadly, the contrast of quality between Ajax Amsterdam and FC Barcelona is not debatable. Cillessen leaves a club that is going through tough times as they usher in a new era now that Frank de Boer is no longer the manager. Furthermore, Cillessen also endured two disappointing years for both club and country where his performances left a lot to be desired. Of course, an argument could be made that the supporting players in front of him were not blameless either.

JC1
Nonetheless, when Cillessen joins his new Barça teammates for a training session at Ciutat Esportiva, he will undoubtedly be surrounded by a better supporting class consisting of world-class players. Unlike Ajax, he will have better defenders playing in front of him and other players that are game changers. His usual training session will consist of facing superb players such as Iniesta, Rakitic, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez that will no doubt test him and, hopefully, help him become a better player.

However, this move seems puzzling since Cillessen is signed to be ter Stegen’s backup. In Spain, the backup mainly features in the Spanish cup, Copa del Rey. The only way the backup goalkeeper will play in the league or the Champions League will be if the starter is injured or is performing poorly. Right now, ter Stegen is the starting goalkeeper for Barça in both the Spanish league and the Champions League. Therefore, Cillessen is expected to start the Copa del Rey matches, which amounts to 9 matches a year if Barça reach the final.

It is doubtful that Barça manager Luis Enrique will repeat what he did the last two seasons when Bravo featured strictly in the Spanish league while ter Stegen featured in Copa del Rey and Champions League. This time around, the manager plans on using ter Stegen for the Spanish league and Champions League, which is why Bravo asked to be sold. Both goalkeepers wanted to be the league starters, and the club opted for youth.

DB
Cillessen was the starting goalkeeper for the Oranje during World Cup 2014, but it is hard to believe that this move to Barcelona will ensure he remains first choice. Oranje manager Danny Blind recently relegated Cillessen to the bench and started Jeroen Zoet in Holland’s most recent matches against Greece and Sweden. Was the decision made because of Cillessen’s recent poor form or with an eye to the future? Ultimately, Cillessen’s chances of being the Oranje starting goalkeeper seem slim if he is going to be sitting on the Barça bench for the majority of the season.

JC2

The last three seasons, Cillessen made 33, 42, and 44 appearances for Ajax in the Eredivisie and in European Competition. He will be lucky if he manages to make 10-15 appearances for Barça this season. Perhaps Luis Enrique will surprise us and use Cillessen more but for the moment, Cillessen is there in case of an emergency. As this is being published, ter Stegen has suffered a knee injury that will see him miss two weeks. Thus, Cillessen will now get to start in two league matches and one Champions League match.

Barça did the right thing in signing Cillessen as a security blanket for ter Stegen. He has the right pedigree for the position. However, Cillessen is too young to be a security blanket when he can be a starter elsewhere. Time will tell how this move works for Cillessen and his future. He should make the most of this recent opportunity, and also his time with Barça. Yet, he should also keep his options open for his future and seek an exit if a better opportunity presents itself.


Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Barça Transfers That Almost Happened – Andrea Pirlo & Lorenzo Amoruso.


The Barça Transfers That Almost Happened – Andrea Pirlo & Lorenzo Amoruso


When Pep almost brought the Italian star and how luck separated the club from player from Rangers.

It's that time of the year when we are bombarded with gossip that this player or that player is rumored to be pursued by Barça. Summer transfer window gives us, the Blaugrana faithful, something to discuss and ponder as we wait to see what moves our club will do. The number of players rumored to be joining Barça every summer could be enough to field three additional lineups. In the end, only a few of the rumors became reality while most dissipate into the wind. This series though will look back on the possible Barça transfers that almost happened. This chapter deals with the pursuit of the Italian players Andrea Pirlo and Lorenzo Amoruso.
The 2010 Joan Gamper Trophy match saw the return of Ronaldinho to the Camp Nou, as a member of the Milan team that played Barça that night. Obviously, it was special for the Camp Nou faithful to pay tribute to one of the biggest stars to ever play for the club. However, it was also a difficult night for the club as they were finalizing a deal to offload Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Milan. David Villa had been signed by Barça and they were in need to offload the Swede after he was deemed surplus to requirements by then manager Pep Guardiola.
While the media and the fans were wondering if Ibrahimovic had made his final appearance in the Blaugrana kit that night, another development was taking place elsewhere at the Camp Nou involving Guardiola and a certain Milan player. Rossoneri legend Andrea Pirlo had just finished changing, after witnessing his “Panenka” penalty effort thwarted by Barça keeper Pinto during the penalty shootout, when he was requested to meet with Guardiola. The meeting in in Guardiola’s office was a private recruiting pitch.
This ocurrence was so private that the rest of the world did not learn of this encounter till four years had passed, after Pirlo published his autobiography “I Think Therefore I Play.” This meeting lasted half an hour with Pirlo being greeted with red wine and Pep uttering “We need you here, Andrea.” Pep explained that he considered Pirlo the proper world class midfielder to rotate with Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. Pep also indicated that the club wanted to buy him now and had spoken to Milan but Barça’s offer was declined. Pep was also shrewd suggesting to Pirlo to apply some pressure on Milan by “forcing their hand as well."
Pep’s interest in Pirlo was not unexpected since they are midfielders that shared similar traits. Pep admired Pirlo and Pirlo idolized Pep. Both also played for Italian side Brescia, albeit not at the same time, along with Roberto Baggio, and when Carlo Mazzone was the manager. Pirlo could have been a superb choice to rotate with the likes of Xavi. Pirlo even admitted in his book that he would have crawled on all fours to join Barça. However, the deal failed to materialize and the club signed Javier Mascherano instead. Not a bad outcome in the slightest considering the Argentine's success at the club.
Barça were not his only suitors as Pirlo almost joined Chelsea in 2009, but Milan demanded too much in return, and there was also interest from Real Madrid. Yet, Milan were not interested in selling Pirlo to Barça and kept him for the 2010/2011 season while Barça would go on to win another Champions League. Ironically, that would be Pirlo’s final season with Milan as he only made 25 appearances for the club, the fewest since his first season with Milan in 2001/2002. The Italians decided not to renew his contract and he joined Juventus on a free transfer. One wonders why Barça also did not make a move for him back then.
Perhaps signing Cesc Fàbregas the following summer eliminated the need to sign Pirlo. Looking back at that move now, many would have preferred if Barça had signed Pirlo and not Cesc. Nonetheless, one has to wonder if signing Pirlo would have been a good move for Barça. Franco Colomba, Pirlo’s manager at Reggina, expressed his doubts to FourFourTwo that Pirlo would not have enjoyed sitting on the bench at Juventus if he could play elsewhere and that it would have created tension. Maybe Pep’s influence would have smoothed that issue.
Nevertheless, Pirlo still got to be admired by Barça fans, even though he was donning another team’s shirt. Following Barça’s Champions League final win over Juventus in 2015, the Barça fans in Berlin showed their appreciation towards the legendary player by chanting Pirlo’s name as he was in tears following his side’s loss. Perhaps he took some solace from that nice gesture that maybe also took some of the sting out of that defeat.
Coincidentally, Barça does not have a rich history of signing Italian players as the club only had three Italian players representing the club. All those players arrived in this century: Gianluca Zambrotta, who lasted two years, was signed in 2006; Francesco Coco, who joined the club on loan for the 2001/2002 season; and Demetrio Albertini, who joined the club on loan for the second half of the 2004/2005 season. All three would have forgettable spells with the club. Although Thiago Motta played for Barcelona’s first team from 2001 till 2007, he was a member of Brazil’s U-23 side before he got his first cap for Italy in 2011.
One Italian player that Barça allegedly were interested was Glasgow Rangers defender, Lorenzo Amoruso as he would captain his team to a domestic treble during the 1999/2000 season. At the time, there were reports that he was being pursued by Barça, Juventus and Bayern Munich. Amoruso even talked in an April 2000 interview with the Daily Record of Barça’s interest but was only willing to join if Rangers agreed to sell him. "It's true that these teams are behind me. Barcelona and Bayern Munich were looking for me, but I will only speak to them if Rangers say that Lorenzo is for sale.”
Back then, Josep Lluís Núñez was president of the club and the Blaugrana had just eliminated Chelsea in the Champions League quarterfinals. It was possible that the club, then managed by Louis van Gaal, were interested in signing the 29 year old Italian defender who likes to refer to himself in the third person. A month later, Barça were embarrassed by Valencia in the semifinals of the Champions League as both Josep Lluís Núñez and van Gaal left the club in the summer. A new president would have to be elected, and any rumors linked to the Italian disappeared. Amoruso would then claim that he turned down Barça to remain with Rangers.
Ultimately, one could say Pirlo would have been a superb addition that could have complemented this magnificent Barça midfield. He also could have been the first Italian signing that was not deemed a flop. Yet, the failed attempt in signing him did not hinder Barça as the club did go on to win two more Champions League titles since that Joan Gamper Trophy match. As for Amoruso, it’s probably for the best that he never joined just to be remembered as another member of the bad signings from the awful Gaspart era.