Posts Tagged ‘Barcelona’

La Liga without Mourinho and Guardiola?

Would they be doing this in England next season?

In politics, there are no permanent friends but permanent interests. This also applies in football. Going back to when Jose Mourinho was an assistant at FC Barcelona while Pep Guardiola was a player, they had a good relationship. Fast forward to the present day, Pep is the head coach of Barcelona while Jose is in charge at Real Madrid, the situation has seen “once upon a time” friends or members of the same boat turn their backs against each other several times in the media when the clasicos come up.

A possible reality that may dawn on the Primera Liga in Spain this summer is that both outstanding managers may be plying their trade in other countries, with the speculations surrounding their futures.

Jose Mourinho (Real Madrid)
The loquacious Portuguese who is in the second year of his four-year contract at Real Madrid may be considering quitting the White House in Spain. Why is he quitting when his team is performing very well and are on their way to their 32nd La Liga title – the first in four years? We know how many battles he has fought since making the Spanish capital his home; battle for autonomy in all football related matters at the club, battle to break Barcelona hegemony and return the club back to its glory days, lastly his love-lost affair with the Spanish media.

It’s clear he is totally not comfortable in Spain where the experience hasn’t been as enjoyable as he expected. Although he has been granted greater autonomy than any Real Madrid coach before him, he delivered the Copa del Rey last season and he his on the way to a La Liga crown this term, but then, there is a certain BARCELONA and his perception of being treated badly by the media in Spain.

Recently, the Special One was spotted house-hunting London, an exercise which has increased the speculation about his return to the Premier League – a desire he has never hidden publicly. Jose loves the EPL and has a relationship with the press that doesn’t come close to his experiences in Italy and Spain.

Potentially there could be two new vacancies in the Premiership come this summer. Harry Redknapp is favorite for the England job which leaves Tottenham without a manager, Andre Villas-Boas has also been shown the exit door at Mourinho’s former club, Chelsea. Mourinho’s relationship with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has greatly improved since they parted ways in 2007 and he would be given the financial backing to rebuild the “aging” squad. Tottenham would not be able to compete with Chelsea financially and even Chelsea would be a financial come down after being at Madrid where money is never an issue. Tottenham offer an enthusiastic prospect but not much more, working with players like Luka Modric and Gareth Bale is an attraction and if Mourinho was to go there, both of those players would surely stay at White Hart Lane.

Mourinho leaving Madrid is a question of when and not if as he would be leaving as an accomplished man who returned the glory days back to the Santiago Bernabeu as well as ending Barcelona’s hegemony.

Pep Guardiola (FC Barcelona)
Everything that has a beginning must surely have an end. Since he took over Barca’s first team in 2008, Guardiola has been working on a 12-months rolling contract which he has renewed in the last two years but it appears he is weighing other options this time around.

Pep has transformed Barcelona into world beaters, an envy for many rivals and an epitome of what many desire. It’s difficult to comprehend why he is stalling on a new contract or a reason why he wants to leave; maybe a new challenge is what he is relishing as he has conquered not only Spain and Europe but the entire world with Barcelona.

Pep is a through-in-through Cule breed; he hasn’t been disrespected by the Spanish media so his reasons may be personal. A quiet air of discontent has been circulating around since current president Senor Sandro Rossell’s discrediting remark about Joan Laporta’s administration which was met by an opposite opinion. Pep is seen as supporting the previous regime – that can be understood since Laporta was the man who gave Guardiola the opportunity to manage the team. Guardiola’s stand on the situation has been perceived as supporting an enemy, an act which has resulted in a bit of bad blood but his success and popularity with the players and supporters at the club has made it quite difficult for the executives to turn their backs against him. With the La Liga title heading to the capital this season, his team’s dominance may be coming to end and it provides him an opportunity to part ways with his employers.

Inter Milan and Chelsea are monitoring his contractual situation at the Camp Nou closely. If Pep decides to leave, it will be his second exit from his beloved club.

Whenever Jose or Pep decides to leave Spain for other challengers, their departure will be a colossal loss for their respective clubs and the league as they are about the best managers in the game presently. Losing both in one summer is unimaginable for me. What do you think?

Bielsa and his Los Leones project

Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa moved to the North of Spain last summer as the new Head Coach of Athletic Club in an agreement struck with Josu Uruutia who emerged as the new President of The Cathedral club.

The general question popping on minds was how will El Loco perform at club level after a 13 years hiatus from day-to-day club activities. His last club spell coincidentally was in Spain with Espanyol. He left after just six games in charge of the Barcelona-based club leaving them languishing in 18th position on the log.

Now, it’s a different scene. Athletic’s fortune improved greatly under the guidance of departed Joaquin Caparros with the club finishing eight and sixth position respectively in the last two campaign including a runners-up medal in the 2009 Copa del Rey final. A high precedent had been set and the jury will be out on Bielsa considering how the new Mallorca coach (Caparros) had to leave his post.

For a historic club like Athletic, finishing in the top-eight shouldn’t be a huge achievement, however, the club’s tradition of playing cantera players and only signing players with Basque origins makes it challenging in this modern era.
The composition of the young dynamic team inherited by Bielsa has a solid spine in Fernando Amorebieta, Andoni Iraola, Javi Martinez, Carlos Gurpegi and Fernando Llorente while not forgetting the talented Iker Muniain.

How will the master tactician achieve his set objective?

Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa...

Bielsa built a reputation with his 3-4-3 formation when he was in charge of both the Argentine and Chilean national teams respectively. Only Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona has played with such formation in some games this season while the traditionally spanish game has thrived in a balanced 4-2-3-1 system with the regular back four, two central midfielders (depending on various role assigned to them) two wingers, an attacking midfielder and a striker. It prognosticate how his 3-4-3 format will work with his team expected to pressure higher up the pitch and run a risk of being caught on the break with a counter attack.

El Loco has tinkered his team with various formations since his arrival during the pre-season, during the Europa league qualifiers and right up to the league matches too. With three wins, five draws and three defeats in his first eleven league games, it appears his team is still in a learning process but they impressed in last Sunday 2-2 draw against champions Barcelona.

Athletic’s approach to the game was commendable though I wasn’t totally surprised since they hosted the Blaugrana’s at the Lions den. They were unlucky not to snatch a victory in the end. Their pressing game made their visitors uncomfortable on a raining night at San Mames, Los Leones covered plenty of ground around the park and their man marking approach was immaculate forcing Barca into making hazardous mistakes, one of  which led to Bilbao’s second goal.

His philosophy appears to be yielding positive outcome judging by the last game, however, a lot still has to be done. Players need to play in their original position where their potentials can be maximized – Javi Martinez who is a gifted central midfielder with the ability of a deep-lying playmaker is presently playing as a centre half whose primary job is to stop opposition attack therefore limiting the team’s capabilities.

Bielsa’s project requires time and I’m sure he will get it from the President and hopefully from the fans too.  Their dispaly against Los Cules is an epitome of El Loco’s Athletic vision. Les Leones fans’ optimism can be as high as the skies – for them, the return of Rafael Moreno Aranzadi aka Pichichi great days back in San Mames as he (Bielsa) intends to take them steps higher than eight and sixth position of the last two campaigns without any significant purchase and promoting more canteranos into the first team.

How much time can Enrique buy?

Feeling the heat already?

Dreams do come true and so was the belief of the Giallorossi fans when Thomas Di Benedetto got his hands on AS Roma. It was time for i Lupi to flex financial muscles and compete with heavyweights in Italy and Europe for world class players.

Have they fans woken up to reality? Quite a number should have. The new American owners decided to invest in talented youngsters with the aim of building for the future. The same can be said with the appointment of a rookie coach in Luis Enrique as the tactician who is expected to bring Barcelona’s brand of football to the Olimpico.

The idea and early signs look promising but thats about where it ends.
The money spent during the summer and the look of the team on paper might make one to believe in fresh start, however, the defense still looks unconvincing. Maarten Stekenlenburg is a good buy but Jose Angel appears to be more of a liability – his performance during their last match against Milan was miserable. Juan isn’t getting any younger and the acquisition of Gabriel Heinze as a replacement for departed Philippe Mexes isn’t good enough.

A poor pre-season was followed up with their exit from the Europa league in the qualifying stages against a lowly rated Slovan Bratislava. Four defeats in nine Serie A league matches including a loss to eternal rival Lazio and defending champion Milan suggest Enrique’s Roma might not finish any better than the sixth position achieved last season byMontella.

..one of the many exciting prospects, but...

Another reason why this exciting project has not really bloomed might be the behind-the-scene issues in Rome. Mercurial midfield man Daniele De Rossi is yet to renew his contract with a few months left for it to run out, Marco Borriello has already fallen out with the coach, 35 yeras old club hero Francesco Totti still harbors the desire to play 90minutes every game as long as he’s fit so he isn’t happy to sit on the bench.

With the old guards bickering, the weight of expectation rests  on the shoulders of Simon Kjaer, Fernando Gago, Miralem Pjanic, Bojan Krkic and Erik Lamela- some of the young talents who moved to the Italian capital during the summer. Erik Lamela, a talented attacking midfielder is exciting to watch with the ball at his feet but needs time to settle and adapt to life in Europe. He is an epitome of the shortcomings frome the youngsters too.

After last weekend’s loss to Milan, Franco Baldini, the new general manager backed their coach and appealed to fans to support their team.
He said

 “We are a young team and it’s going to take patience. The important thing is to grow, which we can only do through good football. Luis Enrique has the full faith of the club and we’ll carry on along this path.”

“The Giallorossi crowd have realised the value of our project. We want to build a great squad and the future is ours. At the moment, though, we cannot afford to sign big champions.

“If we lose, then the fans are only right to protest, but I am happy with their attitude.”

Luis Enrique wants to build his own Barcelona in Rome, but he doesn’t have the same tools at his disposal. The Spaniard is being exposed against experienced Italian tacticians – he has promising youngsters to work it not established talents to make him competitive.

Roma may have a bright future, but the present doesn’t look so rosy, because their project needs time and plenty of it.

How much of that time will the Romans give him even when they know that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

La Liga Preview 2011-12 season

Can they repeat this feat?

The images of last season when Barca lifted their 21st league title must be haunting Jose Mourinho as he attempts to bring the La Liga crown back to the capital.

The oil money from the middle east is lighting up Andalusia with the Malaga project.

Can Betis, Granada and Rayo Vallencano keep their La Liga status?

The Spanish La Liga is back!  A strike called by AFE for the suspension of the first two jornadas has been called off so we won’t worry about any delay of the La Liga kickoff.

This preview is divided into segments just like the way the league itself. The top two gladiators as title contenders, the battle for the remaining European places and the bottom three or relegation candidates.

The top two.

BARCELONA   (finished 1st last season)

Transfers in:  Henrique (loan return, Racing Santander), Victor Sanchez (loan return, Getafe), Keirrison (loan return, Santos), Isaac Cuenca (loan return, CE Sabadell), Alexander Hleb (loan return, Birmingham City), Marti Riverola (loan return, Vitesse Arnhem), Alexis Sanchez (€26m, Udinese), Kiko Femenia (€2m, Almeria), Cesc Fabregas (€29m, Arsenal)

Transfers out: Martin Caceres (€3m, Sevilla), Bojan Krkic (€12m, AS Roma), Oriol Romeu (€5.1m, Chelsea), Jeffren Suarez (€5m, Sporting Lisbon), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (€24m, AC Milan), Henrique (loan, Palmeiras), Gabriel Milito (free, CA Independiente), Victor Sanchez (free, Neuchatel Xamax), Nolito (free, Benfica), Victor Vazquez (free, Club Brugge), Edu Oriol (free, Real Zaragoza), Keirrison (loan, Cruzeiro)

Barcelona will no doubt be the team to beat in the upcoming La Liga season. The Catalan giants retained their Spanish league crown last season and only recently won the Super Coppa de Espana in this season’s curtain raiser and just last night added the European Super Cup to their already swelling rank of trophies this season against FC Porto.
The arrival of Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas will only compliment an already brilliant squad. Thiago Alcantara and Fontas promotion to the senior side is sure to give enough competition and healthy balance to Pep Guardiola team.
Leo Messi will no doubt be the player to watch this season as he proved to be the difference between the Blaugranas and the Blancos in the Super Cup.
Barcelona know eternal rivals (Real Madrid) are the only side who can stop them from making it four in row. Consistency during the course of the season is the determining factor to winning the La Liga crown again.

REAL MADRID   (finished 2nd last season)

Transfers in:  Royston Drenthe (loan return, Hercules CF), David Mateos (loan return, AEK Athens), Nuri Sahin (€10m, Borussia Dortmund), Hamit Altintop (free, Bayern Munich), Jose Callejon (€5.5m, Espanyol), Raphael Varane (€10m, RC Lens), Fabio Coentrao (€30m, Benfica)

Transfers out:  Emmanuel Adebayor (loan return, Manchester City), Sergio Canales (loan, Valencia), David Mateos (loan, Real Zaragoza), Pablo Sarabia (€3m, Getafe), Ezequiel Garay (€5.5m, Benfica), Juan Carlos Perez (€2.5m, Real Zaragoza)

With total football control at his helm, Jose Mourinho’s excuse for not delivering the league title this season could be – air, fire and water. The Super Coppa de Espana served as a great appetizer and provided Los Merengues an opportunity to show the world  how much progress has been made considering it was the same team that lost 5-0 to Los Cules less than a year ago. Real Madrid have created a healthy competition in their squad with two players in each position. Coentrao, Sahin, Altintop, Callejon and Varane joined in the summer. The integration of the team as a whole was evident during the summer title challenge (Super Cup). Mourinho knows that very little detail in the clasicos and consistency against the remaining 18 teams is all that stands between his men-in-white and their 32nd league title.
Madrid has all it takes to be crowned champions come May 2012.

The Battle for European places.

VALENCIA   (finished 3rd last season)

Transfers in: Michel (loan return, Deportivo La Coruna), Asier del Horno (loan return, Levante), Aaron Niguez (loan return, Recreativo Huelva), Manuel Fernandes (loan return, Besiktas), Renan Brito (loan return, Internacional), Stephen Sunday (loan return, Numancia), Sofiane Feghouli (loan return, Almeria), Sergio Canales (loan, Real Madrid), Cristiano Pereira (free, Sporting Braga), Diego Alves (€3m, Almeria), Daniel Parejo (€5m, Getafe), Pablo Piatti (€8m, Almeria), Anthony Lozano (free, C.D. Olimpia)

Transfers out: Marius Stankevicius (loan return, Sampdoria), Cesar Sanchez (free, Villarreal), Miguel Angel Moya (loan, Getafe), Michel (loan, Hercules CF), Asier del Horno (free, Levante), Nacho Gonzalez (free, Standard Liege), David Navarro (free, Neuchatel Xamax), Aaron Niguez (free, Almeria), Renan Brito (free, Internacional), Stephen Sunday (free, Numancia), Alejandro Dominguez (loan, River Plate), Isco (€6m, Malaga), Joaquin (€4.2m, Malaga), Manuel Fernandes (€2m, Besiktas), Anthony Lozano (loan, CD Alcoyano), Juan Mata (€26.7m, Chelsea)

Los Che have steadied their ship after the financial instability of a few years ago. Unai Emery knows his team will be crowned champions if Barcelona and Real Madrid are excluded from any La Liga campaign but since that won’t happen, he’ll be more than satisfied to lead the remaining charge. Another season in Europe (UCL) means extra revenue for the club and with his experience of last season, Valencia will be hoping to make the most of it and push for a quarter-final position while maintaining their good form in the La Liga. The arrival quality young players like Canales, Piatti and Dani Parejo will help them secure another top-four finish. Juan Manuel Mata’s exit is a big blow

VILLARREAL   (finished 4th last season)

Transfers in: Ivan Marcano (loan return, Getafe), Jefferson Montero (loan return, Levante), Jozy Altidore (loan return, Bursaspor), Cristobal Marquez (loan return, Elche), Cristian Zapata (€7m, Udinese), Javier Camunas (€2.3m, Osasuna), Florian Lejeune (€1m, Istres), Edu Ramos (free, Malaga), Cesar Sanchez (free, Valencia)

Transfers out: Cicinho (loan return, AS Roma), Juan Carlos Sanchez (loan, Elche CF), Salva Perez (loan, FC Cartagena), Ivan Marcano (loan, Olympiakos), Jefferson Montero (loan, Real Betis), Robert Flores (free, Litex Lovech), Cristobal Marquez (free, Karpaty Lviv), Joan Capdevila (free, Benfica), Jozy Altidore (free, AZ Alkmaar), Natxo Insa (free, Celta Vigo), Santi Cazorla (€19m, Malaga), Javier Matilla (€1.2m, Real Betis)

The Yellow Submarines embark on another adventurous campaign with european distraction. This time, it’s the big one (UCL). The Europa league semi-finalist have lost inspirational midfield man Santi Cazorla to Malaga.

Villarreal haven’t replaced the Spanish international and will struggle to cope with the rigor of the league as well as Champions League.
Every time Villarreal play in the UCL, they  struggle on the home-front to make the top-four. It’s interesting to see how Juan Carlos Garrido and his team performs come May with Malaga, Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid all pushing for the final UCL position as well.

MALAGA   (finished 11th last season)

Transfers in: Xavi Torres (loan return, Levante), Jordi Pablo (loan return, FC Cartagena), Daniel Toribio (loan return, SD Ponferradina), David Gonzalez (loan return, Cadiz), Edu Ramos (loan return, CD Leganes), Diego Buonanotte (loan return, River Plate), Edinho (loan return, C.S. Maritimo), Martin Demichelis (€3m, Bayern Munich), Ruud van Nistelrooy (free, Hamburg SV), Joris Mathijsen (€1m, Hamburg SV), Nacho Monreal (€6m, Osasuna), Jeremy Toulalan (€10m, Lyon), Sergio Sanchez (€2.8m, Sevilla), Joaquin (€4.2m, Valencia), Isco (€6m, Valencia), Santi Cazorla (€19m, Villarreal)

Transfers out: Quincy Owusu-Abeyie (loan return, Al-Sadd SC), Sergio Asenjo (loan return, Atletico Madrid), Javi Lopez (free, Real Jaen), Edu Ramos (free, Villarreal), David Gonzalez (free, Real Oviedo Vetusta), Manu Torres (free, FC Cartagena), Sandro Silva (loan, Internacional), Xavi Torres (loan, Levante), Rodrigo Galatto (free, Neuchatel Xamax), Manolo Gaspar (free, FC Cartagena)

Los Boquerones could be the surprise package of the season after investing heavily this summer. The new cash money of La Liga raised eyebrows with their transfer acquisitions which include Jeremy Toulalan, Joaquin Sanchez, Ruud van Nistelrooy, record signing Santiago Cazorla and  many more. Coach Manuel Pellegrini has been given the task of delivering success to the club.
The Malaga squad is well balanced with the new players fitting in well(results during preseason) but it remains to see how The Engineer selects his preferred starting XI
Challenging for the league title is a mountain too high for Malaga this term but a shot at European places is achievable.

Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid are amongst the European places contenders too.

Athletic club start the new campaign with a new president and coach. Bielsa has managed to keep his Basque stars off the radar of raiding clubs. Consolidating on their top-six finish of last season will be the ultimate task for the Argentine who has promised to electrify San Mames.

Sevilla have rediscovered themselves in the close season. Marcelino’s appointment is expected to bring usher in new enthusiasm as the new season begins. Transfer guru Monchi has been busy in the close season trying to bring in new faces (Piotr Trochowski and Manu del Mora) to improve the squad.
Los nervionenses should maintain their last season finish or go one better.

Atletico will keep off the season with a new man in the dug-out. The departure of Diego Forlan to Inter combined with that of Kun Aguero and De Gea to England has weakened the substandard Madrid side but for all their loses in the playing personnel, they have a good coach in Gregorio Manzano to lead them this season. He will be the key to how Atletico perform this season. The arrival of Colombian goal machine Radamel Falcao from Porto will be vital.

The scrape zone.

This zone includes the last three teams in La Liga last season as well as the three newly promoted sides from the Segunda.

REAL SOCIEDAD   (finished 15th last season)

Transfers In: Inigo Sarasola (loan return, Real Union), Borja Viguera (loan return, Gimnastic de Tarragona), Carlos Vela (loan, Arsenal), McDonald Mariga (loan, Inter Milan)

Transfers Out: Francisco Sutil (free, Real Murcia), Mikel Orbegozo (free, Athletic Bilbao), Diego Rivas (free, Hercules CF), Mikel Labaka (free, Rayo Vallecano), Raul Tamudo (free, Rayo Vallecano)

Real Sociedad might be in for a long season with the shocking decision to sack Martin Lasarte last season after securing promotion to the La Liga and keeping them there.  His replacement, Philippe Montainer has built for himself a decent reputation in France, it remains to see how he’ll perform in Spain. Striker Joseba Llorente fitness is key to how many goals the Basque team will score. Carlos Vela has arrived on loan from Arsenal to bolster their attacking options with veteran playmaker Xabi Prieto and French winger Antoine Griezmann expected to provide the quality services.
La Real will struggle but might just nick it through once again.

GETAFE   (finished 16th last season)

Transfers In: Michelangelo Albertazzi (loan, AC Milan), Miguel Angel Moya (loan, Valencia), Diego Castro (free, Sporting Gijon), Mehdi Lacen (free, Racing Santander), Juan Rodriguez (free, Deportivo La Coruna), Alberto Lopo (free, Deportivo La Coruna), Tomeu Nadal (free, Mallorca), Pablo Sarabia (€3m, Real Madrid), Maykon (free, Pacos de Ferreira), Juan Valera (free, Atletico Madrid), Tsepo Masilela (loan, Maccabi Haifa), Daniel Guiza (free, Fenerbahce), Ruben Perez (free, Atletico Madrid)

Transfers Out: Javier Arizmendi (loan, Neuchatel Xamax), Mario Alvarez (free, Real Betis), Ivan Marcano (loan return,Villarreal), Victor Sanchez (loan return, Barcelona), Derek Boateng (€6m, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Daniel Parejo (€5m, Valencia), Manu del Moral (€4.5m, Sevilla), Juan Angel Albin (€3m, Espanyol), Miguel Pallardo (€200k, Levante), Adrian Sardinero (loan, Hercules CF), Borja Fernandez (free, Deportivo La Coruna)

Azulones’ best move this summer is the appointment of former Levante coach, Luis Garica Plaza. The new boss is known to always get the best out of his team and that’s what Getafe need after all the trouble of last season.
Royal Emirates Group of Companies acquired the club last season with club president Angel Torres promising not to sell their best players to balance the books but Dani Parejo, one of their most reliable and influential player last season  has since moved on to Valencia.
A €3 million transfer on former Real Madrid Castilla player, Pablo Sarabia appears to be the major transfer so far with a couple of shrewd Bosman transfers in the mould of Alberto Lopo and Juan Rodriguez.
El Geta have snapped former pichichi winner Dani Guiza who is on his second spell at the club to get them goals. A better season should be on the horizon at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez woth Luis Garcia in the dugout.

RCD MALLORCA   (finished 17th last season)

Transfers In: Chico (loan, Genoa), Juan Calatayud (free, Hercules CF), Pablo Caceres (free, CA Tigre), Gianna Zuiverloon (free, West Bromwich Albion), Tomer Hemed (free, Maccabi Haifa), Oscar Trejo (loan return, Rayo Vallecano), Javi Castellano (loan return, Real Union), Tuni (loan return, Gimnastic de Tarragona)

Transfers Out: Ruben Gonzalez (free, Osasuna), German Lux (free, Deportivo La Coruna), Enrique Corrales (free, Granada), Tomeu Nadal (free, Getafe), Ayoze Diaz (free, Deportivo La Coruna), Javi Castellano (loan, UD Las Palmas), Sergi Enrich (loan, Recreativo Huelva), Ruben Gonzalez (free, Osasuna), Pierre Webo (€1.25m, Eskisehirspor)

Laudrup’s claim of having a better season than last season reminds me of Steve Kean’s optimism at Blackburn Rovers. After miraculously beating the drop on the final day last term, Los Bermellones have barely strengthen. Pierre Achille Webo, who has been Mallorca’s dependable man for goals since Dani Guiza’s exit departed the Balearic island this summer, this is probably the biggest blow to hit Michael Laudrup’s team.
With the transfer window winding down and with very little activity going on at the club in terms of transfers, coach Laudrup’s optimism might not be enough to safe Els Barralets. Another long season at the Iberostar stadium in Palma.

REAL BETIS   (1st in Segunda division)

Transfers In: Antonio Sanchez (loan return, Albacete), Mariano Pavone (loan return, River Plate), Nelson (loan return, Osasuna), Juande (loan return, Granada), Rodri (loan return, FC Cartagena), Javier Matilla (€1.2m, Villarreal), Jefferson Montero (loan, Villarreal), Fabricio Agosto (free, Valladolid), Javier Chica (free, Espanyol), Mario Alvarez (free, Getafe), Antonio Amaya (free, Wigan Athletic), Ustaritz Aldekoaotalora (loan, Athletic Bilbao)

Transfers Out: Roversio (loan return, Osasuna), Miguel Lopez (loan return, FC Porto), David Odonkor (free, Karlsruhe), Fran No (free, Valladolid), Israel (free, Xerez CD), Achille Emana (€4.5m, Al-Hilal FC), Antonio Sanchez (loan, SD Huesca)

The Sevilla side are back to the top flight after being away in the last two seasons.
Under new President Miguel Guillen, the cash strapped Verdiblancos have sold their Cameroon star Achille Emana to Al-Hilal and struggled to bring in new faces in.
Coach Pepe Mel has a massive task at hand as they begin life in the primera liga with an uncertain future. Avoiding the drop will be a miracle for the Andalusia based club.

RAYO VALLENCANO   (2nd in Segunda division)

Transfers In: Sueliton Pereira (free, EC Sao Jose), Juan Quero (loan return, UD Las Palmas), Marco Torsiglieri (loan, Sporting Lisbon), Alberto Perea (free, Atletico Madrid), Michu (free, Celta Vigo), Roberto Trashorras (free, Celta Vigo), Mikel Labaka (free, Real Sociedad), Raul Tamudo (free, Real Sociedad)

Transfers Out: Coke (€1.7m, Sevilla), Oscar Trejo (loan return, Mallorca), Emiliano Armenteros (loan return, Sevilla), Antonio Amaya (loan return, Wigan Athletic), Brayan Angulo (loan return, Leixoes S.C.), Borja Garcia (loan return, Cordoba CF), Yuma (free, UD Salamanca), Juan Quero (loan, Cordoba CF), Juli (loan, Asteras Tripolis)

One thing that excites me about Rayo’s promotion is the additional number to the Madrid based clubs in La Liga for the new season. The excitement will go no further than that with the terrible mess the players at the Madrid club are experiencing. They are being owed salary of over 12 months and are being persuaded to take pay cut while playing in the top flight.
This dreadful situation has seen players leave and surely no agent negotiating any proposed deal for his client to play at Teresa Rivero. However, they have signed former Spain international Raul Tamudo on a one-year contract. Would this be enough to keep them up?
Their fans can start preparing for life in the Segunda even before they kick-off in La Liga.

GRANADA   (Promotion playoffs winner)

Transfers In: Guada Rosales (loan return, CD Guijuelo), Aziz Tetteh (loan return, CD Leganes), Matias Alonso (loan return, C.A. Cerro), Guilherme Siqueira (free, Udinese), Dani Benitez (loan, Udinese). Odion Ighalo (loan, Udinese), Allan Nyom (loan, Udinese), Jaime Romero (loan, Udinese), David Cortes (free, Hercules CF), Ikechi Anya (free, Celta Vigo), Kabiru Akinsola (free, UD Salamanca), Juanjo Serrano (free, CD Guadalajara), Noe Pamarot (free, Hercules CF), Enrique Corrales (free, Mallorca), Yohan Mollo (€1m, AS Monaco), Fran Rico (€1m, Real Madrid), Toti (free, UD Salamanca), David Ferreiro (free, Zamora CF), Carlos Martins (loan, Benfica), Jorge Ribeiro (loan, Benfica), Julio Cesar (loan, Benfica), Hassan Yebda (free, Benfica)

Transfers Out: Carlos Calvo (loan return, Udinese), Dani Benitez (loan return, Udinese), Jonathan Mensah (loan return, Udinese), Fabian Orellana (loan return, Udinese), Mikel Rico (loan return, Udinese), Odion Ighalo (loan return, Udinese), Allan Nyom (loan return, Udinese), Juande (loan return, Real Betis), Pedro Barrancos (loan, Cadiz), Kabiru Akinsola (loan, Cadiz), Juanjo Serrano (loan, Cadiz), Oscar Perez (loan, Cadiz), Alex Cruz (loan, CE Sabadell), Ruben Parraga (free, Real Murcia), Toti (loan, Cadiz), David Ferreiro (loan, Cadiz), Juan Collantes (free, FC Cartagena), Goku (loan, Burgos CF), Ikechi Anya (loan, Cadiz), Enrique Corrales (free, UD Las Palmas), Jonathan Martin Golpe (loan, UD Melilla), Jeison Murillo (loan, Cadiz), Rafael Martinez (loan, Montaneros CF), Aziz Tetteh (loan, Montaneros CF)

El Grana was a club on the brink of closing in July 2009 but now find themselves playing primera league football in 2011. This is a laudable achievement for the Andalusia club who struck a partnership agreement with top italian side Udinese which has seen the Spanish club incorporate several players from the Italian club on loan deals.
Loan deals, free transfers and promoting of academy players appears as the only option for Granada to recruit. Noe Pamarot arrived on a free from Hercules while Hassan Yebda and Carlos Martin have joined them from Benfica on loan deals.
Manager Fabri Gonzalez, his team and fans should enjoy their visits to illustrious grounds around the country while playing in  La Liga.
Relegation is a sure bet.

This preview should help set the tone for La Liga BBVA 2011-12 season. The reason why La Liga is so special is simple – Home to the World and European Champions, Champions of the continent in Club Football, FIFA World Player and the World’s Most Expensive Player plies their trade here. Addition to that, The self acclaimed Special One works here too.

The boy called Thiago Alcântara

Watchout…

Comparism with the best midfielders of today is an elevation for any young footballer but when such remark comes from Pep Guardiola then there must be something special about the lad. 20 year old prodigy, Thiago Alcântara do Nascimento has been hailed as being “better than Xavi and Iniesta at his age“.

Born in San Pietro Vernotico in the city of Bari, the Italian born Brazilian is the son of an ex-Seleção midfielder, Mazinho, who won 1994 FIFA World Cup  and a Brazilian mother who is a volleyball player. One wonders why he represent Spain at international level when his parents are Brazilians. He explained,

“My dad’s Brazilian through and through but he’s resigned to the fact I’m playing for Spain. He can see that my career is progressing here and he understands that this is what’s best for me”.

Son and Father

He joined the famous La Masia academy at age 14 and he seems ready to follow the footsteps of Pep Guardiola, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets to mention a few who have gone on to stamp their authority in the game and lead Barcelona to many successes.

The future is certainly looking bright for the youngster, as he’s gradually making inroads into the already talent-laden Barcelona first-team squad. On last campaign’s progression which was rewarded by winners’ medals in La Liga and the UEFA Champions League. He said,

It’s been a fantastic year. When you’re first called up to the first team you think you’ll just be making up the numbers for an easy game”.

Alcântara has got a bundle of talent embedded in him that it seems a forgone conclusion that, in a few years, he will be one of the best players in the world and for many years to come, if he keeps his head down of course, and keep working hard. He displayed this talent in the recent Under 21 European Championship, where he was the best player in the tournament and helped Spain to victory.
However,  it’s very difficult for the young midfielder to succeed at Barcelona. Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta are the two best midfielders in the world. No matter how talented Thiago may be, there’s just no way the 20 year old can displace Xavi and Iniesta at the moment.

Pep Guardiola will have to give young Alcântara plenty of opportunities to prove his worth. Playing alongside Iniesta and Xavi is the best possible way for him to learn and develop till he becomes more influential and in the nearest future be one of the leaders of Barcelona’s midfield. It’s a similar path to Xavi and Iniesta’s before they became the players they are today.

The big question is, what happens to him if Cesc Fabregas arrives? This will definitely make life even more difficult for him, that is if he is not included in the deal to bring the Arsenal Captain back to the Camp Nou. If he remains in Barcelona however, and Fabregas joins the mix, , the competition will only make him stronger, if he’s got what we all feel he has in him. He’s got enormous talent and time on his side. Alcântara certainly knows all about pressure, having been in the spotlight from an early age thanks to Mazinho’s success.

It’s not something that makes me nervous, I’m making my own name in the game, playing my own way, my dad has taught me the value of humility, respect and perseverance. It’s the best advice he’s given me, the best thing I’ve inherited.”

Will his impending arrival affect Alcântara's career?

He might not be a regular starter, but he’s bound to play a role in Barcelona’s success. If all goes well, we’ll be seeing a lot of Thiago Alcântara  during the next decade. After all, as Pep said, he’s even better than Xavi and Iniesta were at age 20. He’s sure to continue the tradition of great La Masia midfielders.
Thiago Alcântara may have started his journey to become a Cule Legend

Watch out for him!

Why Messi must perform for La Albiceleste

He has been called a “genius” by Maradona, a “sensation” by Cruyff and a “PlayStation footballer” by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.

“Once, they said they can only stop me with a pistol – but you need a machine gun to stop him (Messi)”

said Barca legend Hristo Stoichkov.

After a Messi exhibition in one game last year, Real Zaragoza’s Ander Herrera went further:

“I’m not sure he’s human.”

Several superlatives have been used to describe the magical one I call MESSIah but I still have my doubts about him being ranked in the pantheon of greats due to his relative under-achievement with his national team.

Great footballers like Pele, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane and so on, excelled not only at club level but with their respective national sides.

The Rosario born footballer has stamped his authority on the global stage when it comes to club football. However, since his dominant rise in the game, he hasn’t been able to replicate such form for La Albiceleste, which has permitted a few critic like myself to suggest that his Barcelona’s team mates (Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta) are the secret behind his success in Catalonia.

Are they the secret behind his “success”?

Messi started off his international career at the junior ranks winning the FIFA u20 World Cup in 2005 then he quickly established himself in the senior ranks but it’s there that he has found very little or no success at all. He was a member of Jose Pekerman’s side to the 2006 FIFA World Cup that lost to Germany in the quarter finals and he experienced a deja-vu as a ruthless counter attacking German side crushed a  helpless Messi led Argentina 4-0 in Cape Town during the last World Cup. Venezuela was the venue of the last Copa America in 2007, La Selección were the most impressive team in the tournament playing impeccable football until Dunga’s Brazil humbled  Leo Messi and his compatriot 3-0 in the final.

Downcast Argentine Messi versus Rejoicing Barcelona Messi

Despite comparism with legendary Maradona, the 24 years old hasn’t inspired the national team to glory yet.With a staggering club statistics of 180 goals in 269 appearances, he has only managed 17 in 58 appearances for the national team.

The two time Ballon d’or winner will need to improve his form and raise his game to the next level during this Copa America which they (Argentina) are hosting.

Many have tried to shift the blame off him with comments that his national team coaches have not found the right balance for him to play. Before now, Juan Roman Riquelme used to be the team’s fulcrum during the 2006 FIFA World Cup and the 2007 Copa America but former national team coach, Maradona built his ill fated 2010 World Cup side around Messi  and they failed together. Sergio Batista is embarking on the same course with a different approach as he has recalled some stalwarts back to the side.

With the crowd solidly behind them at home, Messi is expected to replicate his Barcelona form in La Albiceleste shirt and lead them to their first international success since their 1993 Copa America triumph in Ecuador.

July 24,2011 may be the day the whole of Argentina have been waiting for 18 years. Do you think Messi will deliver this time for the La Albiceleste?

Can anyone stop Barcelona?

Barcelona - Champions League Winners (Again)

Since Pep Guardiola took over the reins at the Camp Nou in 2008, his Barcelona side have been magnificent. A treble winning (La Liga, Copa del Rey, UCL) campaign in the 2008/09 in his first season was followed with an additional four trophies in second. This term, Los Cules won another three to make it ten in three years.

Last Saturday, a Leo Messi inspired Barca won Europe’s biggest prize in club football. The game itself was like a match made in heaven – The Champions of England squaring up against their Spanish counterpart. It was more mouthwatering with anticipation considering how the finals of Rome 2009 panned out. SAF in his pre-match conference claimed his side had learnt from the last episode while Guardiola went down the path of demanding more from his lads to ensure he triumphed for the second time in Wembley – Ironically, the Catalonia born tactician won his only UCL trophy as a player on the same ground 19 years earlier.

The game started in a similar fashion as to the one in Rome and I was tempted with the thought of a deja vu just as I was hoping I’ll be proved wrong. United started brightly swarming all around Barca in the opening exchanges but the Catalans soon settled in with their swift passing game. Pedro broke the deadlock in the 27th minute when he fired past a helpless Van der Saar after a routine Xavi’s pass. The English Champions regrouped and within ten minutes after Barca’s goal, wonderboy Wayne Rooney showed his class with an excellent finish to a debatable Ryan Giggs offside assist. Unlike the way the first half ended in Rome with Barca having their noses in front, it was even in London at the interval. I personally thought SAF would turn things around a little bit by getting bodies in the midfield. Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) was more of a passenger on the field as he barely touched the ball and wasn’t getting the required services with Barca hugging the ball in their usual possession obsessed football, but he didn’t. The second half resumed with Barca showing more intent and desire to win again. It was no surprise to see Ballon d’or winner Lionel Messi cracking in a 25 yard effort past the retiring Dutch man in United goal for his 53rd of this campaign. The mercurial Argentine appeared to be on a personal mission on the night. The goal extinguished all the fire in the Red Devils and it was also obvious on the sidelines with their manager’s body language. Los Cules turned on the style on a cold evening at Wembley with wave after wave of attacking play which resulted in David Villa’s 69th minute goal which was enough to convince any Doubting Thomas of the Catalans superiority on the night. By the time Mr Kassai blew his final whistle to signal the end of the game, FC Barcelona’s name was already inscribed on the coveted Elephant ear trophy.

Are they unstoppable?

The question that comes to everyone’s mind now is how can this exceptional team be stopped? Every era seem to have one – The great Real Madrid side of the ’60s, great AC Milan side of the late ’80s dominated but none have played impeccable football like this present Barcelona side is doing. This Barcelona side has peaked and it is expected that diminishing return sets in but it’s difficult to see that happening anytime soon when you consider the relatively young age of the core players. Messi is 23, Iniesta 27, Busquets 22, Pedro 23, Pique 24, Valdes 29. Even the so-called old legs like Xavi 31, Puyol 33 still have a lot to offer. The challenge of conquering Barcelona must be sending a lot of chills down the spines of several top European managers as they prepare for next season.

Even eternal rivals, Real Madrid’s quest to break Barcelona’s supreme reign led Florentino Perez to secure the services of The Special one. The Portuguese hasn’t succeeded as expected finishing second behind Barcelona in La Liga and was dumped out (maybe controversially) in the UCL semis by the same enemy but he can savor his victory against them in the Copa del Rey final.

If there is a man who can do the Mission Impossible, I feel it is Jose.