While the golden ball award has been part of the game for as long as we can remember, modern football – or football 2.0 – has seen a significant change in the pattern of who this award goes to. For the past seven years, the world has been treated to only two Ballon d’Or winners – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Each season built a specific case for both players, and Cristiano and Leo were awarded the most prestigious individual prize in the game. Deserved or undeserved? It doesn’t matter, just as long as the media fuels it.
A year or two ago, none of us could say that we could afford resting Lionel Messi in a game against Real Madrid. Even Pep Guardiola’s greatest side would have struggled massively had Leo not been involved in proceedings. While I am in no way implying that the team is better off without the best player to have graced the game, I can comfortably say that for the first time in a while, it does not at all concern me that he may miss the biggest game in club football.
A major reason for this is of course Brazil’s golden boy. Neymar Jr. has stepped up his game to heights many a fan did not believe he would be able to achieve. Goals, assists, volleys, and nutmegs – he’s been pulling all the tricks out of his bag to make sure that Barça have keep pace in both Europe and Spain. Aided ably by a troublesome Uruguayan, his efforts have bore fruit as Barça sit in first place in their Champions League group and go into el clásico 3 points ahead of los blancos. Total crisis, am I right?
Still, saying Leo should be rested for such a critical game may be pulling at straws, so I’m going to show you precisely why it is not. Prepare to feel a lot better about the club and el clásico as a whole. Not only should we manage to hold our own against Real Madrid; we also have a realistic chance of coming home with 3 points.
On MSN and feeling at home
The player who’s stepped up most in Lionel Messi’s absence, Neymar, decided to do some talking off the pitch as well. In an interview with beIN sports, he talked about his “chemistry” with the two other members of the world’s best forward triumvirate. It is obvious from the get-go that Leo Messi, Luis Suárez, and Neymar are the best, but what makes them so? How can three world-class players who are so used to individual acclaim gel so well in such a short period of time? Here’s what Ney had to say:
“Leo is a crack and for me, the best; I have adapted to his play. When he’s there, he’s the player that has the most touches of the ball in the team. From there, my function is together with Luis Suárez, to make the movements to make chances”.
“I don’t know if we are the best forwards, but we’re playing well and we have a good friendship off the pitch too. I think this helps a lot. I hope to be able to enjoy this attack for many years in good form.”
The man inspires a quasi-religious devotion. For the past few seasons at Rayo, Paco Jémez has been able to turn water into wine. With the lowest budget in all of Spain’s top flight, and this season having to incorporate 11 new players into his squad through free transfers, the Rayo manager is a larger than life figure. At a humble neighborhood club of Rayo’s stature, keeping them in La Liga for so many straight seasons is an accomplishment. To do so while going head-to-head with the biggest clubs in the country and utilizing such a recognizable brand of attacking football is nothing short of miraculous. Like falling in love for the first time, there is a childish excitement in the air whenever Rayo comes to the Camp Nou. You can’t help, but have that stupid looking smile at such a beautiful sight, even with the possibility of getting hurt. Getting hurt is likely, and after the unfavorable result, there is no doubt Jémez would do it all over again. In love, just as in life and football, bravery is not foolish- it reigns supreme.
On a night in which Neymar scored four goals and assisted another, it was still Paco Jémez who was the match’s protagonist. The romanticism meant that Rayo played in their usual fashion; high defensive lines that leave a lot of space, intense pressing on Barcelona’s goal kicks, and a desire to play positive football. To Rayo it doesn’t matter if it is the Camp Nou, the Bernabéu, or a Copa del Rey match against a team in Segunda, they will always play the same way. They crave the tempo. They thrive on it.
Lucho sings Paco’s praises
While it was Barcelona who took three points from yesterday’s clash at Camp Nou, it was Rayo Vallecano who stole the show. Paco Jémez’s team left with their heads held high, playing brave football that nearly stymied Barça. During his press conference, Luis Enrique could not shy away from praising his opposite number, remarking he has, “Never had a comfortable game against Paco Jémez.”
Questions regarding the possession debacle were back again, but Lucho sought to put an end to it. “I’m not worried about losing possession to teams like Bayern, Celta, or Rayo Vallecano.”
He surely has not won over the conservative Culés with such a statement.