Sunday, January 15, 2023

Barcelona's first title under Xavi

The ex-footballer and Barcelona manager Xavi has taken time to build a competitive side, but being who he is and knowing the club, he has proceeded to build a team that will surely win titles, and today they won their first title in Saudi Arabia: the Spanish Super-Cup. The tournament has become a money-making machine, with the runners-up to the League and Copa del Rey participating in a mini tournament that nevertheless, to the joy of the people putting the money into the tournament, saw Barcelona face the giants of Real Madrid.

Although Real Madrid had some good initial chances, their midfield stars of Modric and Toni Kroos were simply not functioning, while FC Barcelona dominated the match after their initial lead by Gavi.

And it was indeed the 18-year old Gavi who was the star of the match, running around Carvajal in the Real Madrid defense. He made the pass for Lewandowski easily to make it 2-0, while he was also the creator of the third goal by Pedri. Karim Benzema's goal for the Real Madrid in the dying minutes meant nothing as Xavi took his first title, and is also in the lead of the Spanish League.

One of the great things Xavi has done is not only to find the right tactics for difficult matches, but has also empowered young players, not only Gavi, but also Alejandro Balde, who played a great match in defense, alongside the two newcomers Andreas Christensen and Jules Koundé. And finallly, players that were rumoured on their way out, such as Ousmane Dembele and Frankie de Jong, have renewed confidence to show their incredible talent.

Xavi's first title appears not to be the last, and under him Barcelona may be on the way to another glorious era.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Another Manchester derby

Another great match between United and City. City went ahead by Jack Grealish, and one had the feeling that they could hold, but led by a splendid Marcus Rashford Manchester United came back to win 2-1, with Rashford himself scoring the winner. All this despite the fact that the equalizer was controversial: Rashford was in a clear off side position but did not touch the ball as it went to Bruno Fernandes who scored. That said, in my view, Rashford clearly had influence on the play (he followed the ball without touching it), and directly influenced the movement of the defenders.

But this is one of those controversial plays that no VAR or anything can answer, and at the bottom why we love football!

Since Cristiano Ronaldo left, Manchester United have not lost a match, and after a weak start of the season they are now on third place, one point behind Manchester City. The United victory was good for Arsenal, who remain as leaders of the Premier League with five points ahead of Manchester City, and with what will be an exciting clash with Tottenham tomorrow, where a victory would put them further ahead in the league.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Gareth Bale retiring

 These days players often retire late: see Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi or Modric, who all continue at top level. It was perhaps a bit surprising, therefore, to see that Gareth Bale has announced his retirement at the tender age of 33. 

After seeing him at the World Cup with Wales it is perhaps not so surprising: he appeared slow and nto as physically strong as he has been before in his career.

Although he had an amazing career where he won titles with Tottenham and Real Madrid: he won five Champions league titles with Real Madrid, and scored many crucial goals. In terms of Wales he also led them to a semifinal in the Euros, as well as to their first World Cup since 1958.

All this said one had the feeling that such a great player was always as bit in the shadow of other great players in his generation, and that perhaps, just perhaps, he did not have the same drive as his peers despite his enormous talents. Could he have a achieved more? (I personally doubt it, but he was an amazing player).

Bale will be missed by many football fans, and surely he will enjoy his retirement!

Friday, January 06, 2023

Cristiano Ronaldo to Saudi Arabia

Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of the best players of his generation, but I think that lately he has made some strange choices that in my view does not make him one of the all time greatest. We all knew he appeared arrogant, but also know that this arrogance-bordering self-confidence remains one of the reasons for his immense footballing qualities. At the same time, his antics in the World Cup when his goal against Uruguay was (correctly) awarded for Bruno Fernandes did not point at a man who may think he is above the team, something that is never good for a group. It was understandable when the manager Fernando Santos took him off for the following match against Switzerland, and his replacement, Goncalo Ramos, scored three goals. 

In the end Portugal fell against Morocco, and the entire team, not least Ronaldo, complained about everyone but themselves (this was sadly a common tendency in the world Cup where many teasm still see themselves as the correct World Champions, were it not for referees and other conspiracies). 

So it was not a good World Cup for Ronaldo. 

But it also happened in the midst of a crisis in Manchester United, where he had publicly criticised the club for disloyalty. This is always a strange thing to do, and does not help the team-spirit that is necessary for any club to succeed. So it is also understandable that Manchester United decided to let him go. 

Now, Cristiano Ronaldo is such a fantastic players that I have no doubt that he had many offers. That said, many major clubs must also have had reservations at an ageing superstar that appears to be acting more and more in his own interest. Therefore, it is not surprising that Ronaldo has taken an offer outside Europe, Saudi Arabia´s Al-Nassr, where he is allegedly to receive a salary of around 200 Mio per year… 

In the Saudi league there is not likely to be much attention around the Portuguese as there would have been had he joined for instance the MLS. This is perhaps good for him at a time when his star has fallen a bit. That said, it will be interesting to see how much more football there is in this player that has given us fans so much over the past decade.