Thursday, January 21, 2021

Winter in Barcelona and Madrid

Amid a pandemic and and harsh winter in Spain, the two greatest Spanish football sides, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are both undergoing extended crises. Both have recently suffered humiliating defeats that have underlined their current low forms and the fact that they increasingly risk ending with no titles this season, something that would be completely unheard of.

FC Barcelona has been in a deep crisis even since before their 2-8 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The drama of Lionel Messi's wish to leave and the changes of managers was already taking a toll on their performance, and the side has struggled in the new season under Ronald Koeman. This culminated in their recent Supercup 2-3 defeat to Athletic Bilbao, which also saw Lionel Messi receive his first ever red card in the Barcelona shirt when he punched an opponent in the last minute of the match. Messi's action appeared as a complete act of desperation, not just at losing at that match, but at the entire situation with the club. While Messi is clearly carrying a non-performing team on his shoulders (he is the most scoring player), he is clearly not happy; and this is not good for Messi, for his teammates, for FC Barcelona, and for football fans in general. FC Barcelona is in need of some renewal, and as of now, it does not appear that it can happen under the current circumstances.

In Real Madrid Zinedine Zidane, who has otherwise been an outstanding manager, seems unable to manage the crisis that culminated with Real Madrid being eliminated in the Copa del Rey by the 2B Division side Alcoyano, in what should otherwise have been a walkover for a team as Real Madrid. The beauty of football is that these results like these do happen (which Zidane also underlined), but it does points to a crisis where Real Madrid's style and player commitment seems shaky. The team appears to depend on Sergio Ramos, the veteran captain, who seems able to inject energy into the side. There has been a lot of talk of Zinedine Zidane losing his job, but perhaps it shows his enormous standing in the club (having won everything there both as player and manager) that he has not been fired yet. But a lot of (justified) questions are being asked about the route the club is taking.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are trailing Atletico Madrid in La Liga, but are still in the last-16 round of the Champions League, where their current form will be tested to the fullest against Atalanta and Paris St. Germain respectively.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Apache: the Life of Carlos Tevez

Another Netflix show with a football theme is the Argentinean series of 8 episodes about the life of Carlos Tevez. The show includes short interviews with Tevez himself at the start of every episode which chronicle Carlos Tevez' childhood in the poor Argentinean neighbourhood of Fort Apache, and in particular his family's and friends' struggles amid poverty and violence. 

While the story follows Carlos Tevez early life, some episodes and characters have been changed, most notably the story of his friend Danilo Sanchez, "Uruguayo": in the show he is Tevez' best friend and a very talented footballer who is chosen ahead of Tevez to play on the youth side "Liniers", but ends up as a drug addict and dies in a shoot-out. The character is based on a friend of Tevez, Dario Coronel, and in the show represent a sad contrast to how life goes for Tevez, but also to the struggle that young people, footballers or not, have in the most marginalised places in Latin America. It is admirable that Tevez made it with his immense talent, but there are thousands of sad destinies as well.

The show ends with Tevez getting his debut for Boca Juniors as a 17-year old, with his family and friends watching proudly (and his admirable parents, who are not his biological parents, Segundo and Adriana). We all know what happened after in Tevez career: success in Cruzeiro, West Ham, Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus. At times full with controversy that led him to being an unpopular man in Manchester (because of the way he left both clubs), but also proof that Tevez is his own man, with strong roots in the place where he grew up, and an unconditional love and loyalty to his friends and family.

The show far exceeded my expectations, so I would recommend watching it.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Brazilian final

Yesterday Santos and Boca Juniors faced one another for the second final spot in the 2020 Copa America. Just as River Plate was unlucky against Palmeiras, Boca Juniors were poor as they never really rose to the occasion against an efficient and well-playing Santos side who won 3-0 on goals by Diego Pituca, Yeferson Soteldo and Lucas Braga. I was particularly impressed by the young Venezuelan, Soteldo, who scored a fantastic second goal, but all in all appeared as a fantastic player. It was the first time I saw him play, and hope to see him again.

With the all-Brazilian final we will at least be without the chaos of a River-Boca final as in 2018. After having watched both semifinals I see Santos as the favourites to take the title, which they took last time in 2011. Palmeiras are in their first final since 2000 (which they lost to Boca Juniors), and could take their first title since 1999.

The final will be played on January 30th on Maracana stadium.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021


In the Copa Libertadores Semifinal second leg Palmeiras tonight faced River Plate in Sao Paulo. After River Plate had lost 0-3 at home in the first left, I did not have not big expectations to the match as I sat down and watched after a long day. But I was wrong as Marcelo Gallardo's side played a magnificent match and were ahead 0-2 at half-time, and continued attacking mercilessly against a Palmeiras side that at times seemed to be praying.

Palmeiras held, and made it to the final, after 10 minutes of added time and huge chances for River Plate. Despite of it being such an intense match, one left with the feeling that VAR had contributed negatively to its intensity as much of the added time was due to this. 

Gonzalo Montiel scored an excellent goal for River Plate to go ahead 0-3, but after a long time the referee cancelled the goal. For a long time it was impossible to see what happened (the commentators kept saying they could not see anything), but it appeared to be a very tight offside, two plays before the goal, where the ball appeared to be tackled into a player that was coming from an off-side position. Even after watching it five times, I had a hard time seeing the foul, and in the end VAR has helped nothing but Palmeiras and time-wasting.

A second situation was a penalty call for River Plate. For a long time they were ready to kick, until the referee decided to consult VAR, and then cancelled the penalty. This decision appeared less controversial, as the River player does appear to dive, but it is not definite, as there is a challenge. But the referee decision did not stand. In the last minute, another penalty situation (this time it was not given by the referee) could have gone River's way. Add to all this an extremely harsh red card for Robert Rojas, and one has the feeling that River Plate did not have bad luck, but rather VAR luck.

It is a pity, but I do not think that the leaders of football are using VAR the right way; in the end it just becomes another layer to controversy...

Palmeiras will face either Santos or Boca Juniors, who will face one another tomorrow in Sao Paulo, after 0-0 in the first leg.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Edison Cavani and racism

Edison Cavani is being investigated for racism. The Manchester United striker thanked a friend on Twitter with the expression "Gracias Negrito".

Now, in most places in Latin America, including Cavani´s Uruguay, Negro is not an insult, but an endearing term. I have friends and family members that we call "El Negro", and that cultural context is a thing that is grossly missing in this accusation against Mr. Cavani, who can and should not be accused for racism for this.

All this is not to say that racism does not exist in Latin America: it certainly does, and too little is done to fight it. However, an expression as that used by Mr. Cavani is not racist (ask the friend he said it to), and must be understood in the cultural context in which he used the expression, which remains very common. The risk here is that the justified fight against racism is reduced to correcting petty cultural misunderstandings that have little or nothing to do with the real fight against the scourge of racism.

I hope that the FA will see this and not punish Edison Cavani.