“I asked myself, “And all this, that I wasn’t even involved in? When will it pass?” Never ending stories, some that happened, others that never did. I don’t like making excuses, and it’s a fact that while I was there [at Barça] I never did, but living with it all took a toll on me. At Barcelona, one feels permanently like the villain. I enjoyed living alongside the players day-to-day, they are great guys who I could speak football with, and despite being so famous, they were genuine. That calmed me down a lot but that year was really hard on me.”
Last night was a special one for Sergi Samper. At the club since 6 years old, reportedly the only FC Barcelona player ever to play in every single age category before the first team, Samper impressed at the highest level. His passing was both secure and plenty, with 107 attempted (the most of anyone on the pitch) and 98 completed (92%).
On this day, 18 years ago, a 12-year-old Andrés Iniesta was heading north. Accompanied by his father, José Antonio, and mother Mari, the only sound audible in the car for five hours was the roar of the motor humming along the highway. José Antonio likened it to a “funeral.” Andrés was leaving behind his family and his hometown of Fuentealbilla in Albacete, but was heading towards La Masia with the dream of making it at FC Barcelona. He cried much of the journey and most of the night, despite the best efforts of Víctor Valdés to make him feel safe and less homesick.
All journeys, big or small, begin with a single step and 18 years ago in 1996, Andrés Iniesta made a difficult one that would eventually prove to be life changing. More than 500 matches, six league trophies, three Champions Leagues and that goal later, Iniesta is a grown man and a living Barça legend.
It was a match of minimal thrills or spills. FC Barcelona put in considerable effort packed with sharp touches and energetic movement to try and unlock a stubborn APOEL side who appeared more or less content losing 1-0 after going down within in the first half hour. Okay fine, they had a corner in the second half, two threatening second half attacks and a last minute scare. There has been chatter of new schemes and radical shifts in Barça’s system under Luis Enrique, but I call wishful eyes creating a perception of want rather than is. The sample size is too small to make sweeping declarations. The reality is, one can have whomever on the bench, but when a team plays compact and narrow with all eleven men behind the ball, Barça and every other team on the planet will struggle to fashion double digit proper chances. Not to mention, that as much as Barça is a proactive side, often an opponent forces a degree of reactivity. But Gerard Piqué scored and while a 1-0 victory isn’t flashy, it provides the same number of points as a 3 or 4 goal margin. If teams want to come to Camp Nou and not lose yet still end up losing, Luis Enrique need not complain.
It’s certainly a new dawn at FC Barcelona. When’s the last time a Barça manager without being forced by injury or suspension leaves out the likes of Sergio Busquets, Javier Mascherano, Pedro Rodríguez and Jordi Alba? Well, that’s precisely what Luis Enrique has done. All those named, as well as Martín Montoya, do not even make the match squad, while B team members Sergi Samper, Sandro Ramírez and Munir El Haddadi do. Dani Alves is medically cleared, but Thomas Vermaelen and Jordi Masip remain on the injury list.
With the absentees, the most exciting possibility is a start for Samper in the center of the midfield, perhaps a move from the management staff to let him know he has a future at Camp Nou despite attractive offers coming from afar. Perhaps tonight Marc-André ter Stegen makes his official debut and who knows, even the much spoken about Douglas.
Full squad list after the jump:
The board held a meeting earlier this week in which various aspects of the club’s operations were discussed. Along with the unanimous decision to honor Tito Vilanova at the Ciutat Esportiva, the club had several other announcements. Firstly, the money. The 2014/15 budget was approved, where the revenue target was set at 539 million euros, a 9 million increase, while costs are budgeted at 509 million, a rather hefty 27 million increase. The projected profit figure is 18 million euros, so despite the large increase in operating costs, the club is expected to still make a comfortable profit. At the meeting approval was additionally given for new Head and Shoulders sponsorship agreements in India and the Phillipines (leveraging off Lionel Messi) as well as the development of a video game with Japan’s CWS Brains. Also, the partnership with Mediapro in regards to digital advertising at Camp Nou was extended until the end of the 2015/16 season. Finally, two new FCBEscolas (schools/academies) are planned for São Paolo and Istanbul.
The defender who can seemingly do no good in many eyes continues to be honest about his need to elevate his game. “I still have a lot to improve. Playing with such a top class team makes you better. I’ve improved a lot of things since I got here but there are so many other aspects. I’m constantly getting better.” However, as he has mentioned before, Piqué continues to be plagued by that nagging hip injury that is improving and allowing him to be mostly pain free but he still experiences pains during contact and landing after jumping. Nevertheless, he’s excited another edition of the game’s elite competition begins once again. More after the jump.
Who’s the goal threat? Have have APOEL faired in Europe until today? All that and more after the jump, and don’t forget about the totalBarça exclusive profile.
When the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League campaign kickoffs tonight, visitors APOEL Nicosia will become the third Cypriot side to battle against FC Barcelona in Catalonia. The previous two visits occurred in the now defunct UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup, a predecessor of the UEFA Cup, now the Europa League. The first encounter was in September 1982, when Barça smashed Apollon Limassol 8-0 with a hat trick from Diego Maradona and brace by Bernd Schuster. Fast-forward 14 years later and actually on Espanyol’s Montjuic pitch (with the Camp Nou being resurfaced), in September 1996 the original Ronaldo scored both goals in a 2-0 win over AEK Larnaca.
Eighteen years on, can Luis Enrique engineer a winning managerial debut and make Barça’s home record against those from Cyprus three for three?
Three matches, three clean sheets. Sounds like something from an episode of the Twilight Zone. FC Barcelona haven’t managed clean sheets in the opening three fixtures of a season since 1993/94, when Johan Cruyff’s side navigated past Real Sociedad, Albacete and Athletic Club with Andoni Zubizarreta never having to retrieve the ball from the net behind him. If Barça manage to keep Levante out next Sunday for the first 19 minutes, then it will be the second best defensive start to any season in the club’s history. The record stands at 560 minutes from the 1977/78 campaign.
That man of every superlative and countless statistics, Lionel Messi, has scored against Athletic Club at the Camp Nou for six seasons in a row. Though not yet medically cleared for the weekend, it’s almost a certainty he will be on the pitch Sunday. One would be foolish to bet against Messi’s run extending to seven seasons on the trot when the Lions come to town.
After more than a year of siege, on September 11, 1714 Barcelona fell to King Philip V of Borbon’s army. On that day, Cataluñya was absorbed into the Spanish empire and has remained so ever since. Calls for an independent nation of Cataluñya have never been stronger and more united, and whilst FC Barcelona does not active participate in politics, the club as always reiterated it will move with the people of its region. Before the Athletic Club match on Saturday, a special banner will be displayed to highlight the 300th anniversary since the day independence was lost, and seeing as a referendum is scheduled for later in the year, perhaps the mosaic a year from now will be noting a markedly different situation.
José Perals, a corruption watchdog in the Spanish government, recommended to judge Pablo Ruz, in charge of the still ongoing Jordi Cases Neymargate saga, that FC Barcelona club president Josep Maria Bartomeu and vice president Javier Faus not be named as an accused in the case. He states that “no incriminating evidence involving them has materialized.” I guess he read the small print.
Just over 16 years ago, Javier Saviola made a big money (24 million euros) move from River Club to FC Barcelona. Barça became his second club in his second league, following the Argentinean. Since, Saviola has moved to six other clubs and four other leagues, taking his total clubs to nine and different leagues to six. The Argentine was sent to Monaco and Sevilla before being sold to Real Madrid. He spent two seasons in the capital, before heading to Benfica, then Málaga, Olympiakos and most recently a summer move to Hellas Verona, where he joins Rafa Márquez. That makes his nine clubs: River Plate, FC Barcelona, AS Monaco, Sevilla FC, Real Madrid, Benfica, Málaga FC, Olympiakos and Hellas Verona, and the six leagues he’s graced: Primera División (Argentina), La Liga (Spain), Ligue 1 (France), Superliga (Portugal), Superleague (Greece) and Serie A (Italy). If he can land himself a gig in the Bundesliga, then Saviola will have played in all of Europe’s significant five leagues. At this rate, why not?
It has been confirmed that both Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta will not participate in the upcoming international week with their respective national sides. The Argentine Football Association (AFA) announced that in Monday’s friendly against Germany, Messi will not play as a “precaution”. Iniesta had been called up by Vicente del Bosque but the midfielder yesterday communicated with the federation to tell them his knee is not in condition for action.
A company called Traffic sits front and center in suspicions around the transfer of Douglas. It was the same company which facilitated FC Barcelona’s acquisitions of Keirrison and Henrique, players who effectively ended up never playing for the club. Vice-president Jordi Mestre however rebukes any ideas of shady dealings regarding Douglas. “You cannot compare this operation to those ones [Keirrison and Henrique]. Our coaches asked us for this player and the economical amounts are very different.” He further explained that Traffic was simply acting as Douglas’ agents and “were absolutely no hindrance“, and that the economic of the deal were exclusively between Barcelona and São Paolo.
The Madrigal has been a happy hunting ground for FC Barcelona in recent years. In the last five visits to the home of the Yellow Submarines, Barça have secured four wins and a draw, meaning Villarreal haven’t defeated the blaugrana on their own turf since the 2007/08 season. Marcelino García Toral will be looking to change that on Sunday and to put the first stain on Luis Enrique’s perfectly clean record.
Moments ago, FC Barcelona’s 2014/15 group stage challengers were made official. From the scary pot 2, Barça were joined by Paris Saint-Germaine (PSG), a significantly strong opponent with a certain familiar face. For the second year running, Ajax came out of Pot 3, while Cypriot club APOEL Nicosia from pot 4 completed Group F.
Over the weekend, Josep Maria Bartomeu for the first time since the FIFA ban surfaced acknowledged a proportion of guilt. “We were aware that FIFA would ratify its sanction. In the past, we have committed certain irregularities — but always respecting the spirit of the regulation. It was highly unlikely that the tribunal would not ratify a sanction that had already been imposed. It was only to be expected… but the penalty is far too big. We knew that we’d end up going to the CAS, and now that time has come.”
As many have suspected, the summer mega splurge, with possibly more to come, was in anticipated of the two window ban. “We knew that we might not be able to make signings in the next two transfer windows and that at the same time there was a pressing need to renew the squad.”
Yesterday the board, technical staff and coaching staff had a joined meeting to discuss the happenings at the club before the board then alone held a meeting and released the following official statement: