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elcome to the June edition of Spanish Soccer. The decision to devote this issue to the footballing institution of FC Barcelona was taken long before the most successful coach in the club’s history, Pep Guardiola, walked into the Camp Nou press conference to announce he would leave his post at the end of the current season; in retrospect, the editorial decision could not have been more apt. Guardiola has been nothing short of phenomenonal as coach of the team he spent 18 years at as a player before leaving in the twilight of his career. An incredible haul of 13 trophies tells just part of the story; the 41-year-old has also moulded the current set of players into arguably the greatest team to have ever taken to a football field. A team that will surely live long in the history books of this remarkable club; a club that have also experienced many turbulent periods since their foundation in 1899. From the murder of president Josep Sunyol in 1936 to the season when they went from relegation candidates to almost clinching a remarkable title victory; Barça have a history like no other and we share a selection of this history with you this month. As we went to press, it was also announced that Guardiola’s friend and assistant, Francesc Vilanova would become the new coach; positive news for most, as the man they call ‘Tito’ is very much in the same mould as his predecessor. Schooled within the club, it is how they do it at the Camp Nou. It is what has brought them so much success and it is what makes them so attractive to so many football fans around the world. FC Barcelona have made football beautiful again. Més que un club



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MESSI Words by Iain McMullen

Is Lionel Messi facing the toughest moment of his career? We get the thoughts of Spanish journalist Álvaro García

4 June 2012

As Roberto Di Matteo and his triumphant Chelsea team made their way from the Camp Nou pitch following their epic Champions League victory over holders and favourites Barcelona, Lionel Messi sat head-in-hands just inside the centre circle. He cut a disconsolate figure. Just four days after all-but handing over their Spanish title to bitter rivals Real Madrid, Barça had now just seen their European hopes extinguished in a two-legged encounter in which they had retained the football for almost 80% of 180 minutes played. Messi had more reason than most to feel the pain as well, as the Argentine sent an early second half penalty crashing against the crossbar, leaving ten-man Chelsea to go on and mount a rear-guard action every bit as resolute as the epic defence of Rorke’s Drift by Michael Caine and his men in Zulu. Pep Guardiola, normally the epitome of reserved consideration, even seemed perturbed by the result in the post-match press confence, stressing: “I think we have changed the Barcelona fans, but of course we have to win again because people will get tired of applauding us and us not winning.” Two days later, Guardiola anounced he was leaving the club at the end of the current season. Lionel Messi faces the first real

crossroads in his, as yet, unblemished career at Futbol Club Barcelona. Still only 24-years-old, Messi has had another remarkable campaign – the numbers speak for themselves with 63 goals scored in 56 games this season, yet things have not quite gone according to plan in recent weeks for the current World Footballer of the Year.

Whisper it quietly but Lionel Messi has even received some negative press. Critcism is not new to Messi of course; his complicated relationship with the Argentine footballing public has often been fractious and he has repeatedly been accused of under-performance while on national duty. However, the man they call La pulga atómica (The atomic flea) always had the sanctuary of his all-conquering club side to return to when things got difficult with los Albicelestes. Now Messi is under the spotlight as never before, especially in the already neurotic Catalunya – a place where the inferiority complex seems almost ingrained in the national psyche. Despite this peculiar trait, the natives of Barcelona (excluding those who follow the city’s other top flight side Espanyol obviously) have become accustomed to winning - 13 major trophies in the past five years has that effect on you. Yet, Barcelona have now lost three consecutive games for the first time in nine years and will finish the season hoping victory in the much-less valued Copa del Rey final against Athletic Club can repair some of the hurt. Spanish journalist and La Liga expert Álvaro García believes Messi’s normally imperious form is partly to blame for the current

Messi has had another incredible season, however a recent drop in form has led to some criticism from sections of the Spanish media. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

situation the player now finds himself in: “It seems rather ridiculous to suggest Lionel Messi is going through a ‘crisis’ but it is definately a situation he has not found himself in before.” García says. “Despite having another incredible season, Messi has looked tired in recent months and his performance level has indeed dropped.” Asked if the criticism Messi is now attracting from some areas of the Spanish media is justified, García replies: “Maybe partly. But through no fault of Lionel Messi – his performances have still been head and shoulders above anyone else, bar Cristiano Ronaldo, however he now finds himself in a situation similar to that he experiences playing for the Argentine national side when he isn’t single-handedly winning games.” There has long been discourse

over the contrasting impact Messi has when playing for the Argentine national team of course, with some fans even suggesting the Barcelona star has shown lack of effort when playing for his country. A scoring record of 22 goals in almost 70 international games may go some way to adding a little weight to these allegations, but García believes that is far too simplistic when discussing the complicated hiatus the player has experienced with fans in his homeland: “Maybe some of the criticism is valid as Messi does not seem to have the same devastating impact for Argentina as he has done in club football over the past five years. He does not win games by himself. He does not seem to stamp his undoubted class on the game the way he has done for Barcelona in la liga.”

Despite having some sympathy with the Argentine public, García says there is more to this story than the level of performance Messi reaches in the international game. Beyond this, he claims it is something that involves the national psyche of a footballmad country. García suggests the Argentine public are desperately yearning for the arrival of a new footballing messiah to follow in the footsteps of their most famous son; Diego Maradona: “Argentina is a passionate, football mad country who have been waiting for somebody to take over the mantle ‘el Diego’ left when he retired. Lionel Messi seems to fit that mould and his club form suggests he is a worthy successor to Maradona. But the problem is , Lionel Messi is NOT Diego Maradona. After all, Maradona won the 1986 4 June 2012 5

World Cup almost on his own. Maradona turned a modest Napoli side into Serie A champions – for Messi to reach the level of Maradona, Argentina’s fans demand he must emulate his achievements.” There have been a number of hypothesis put forward to the reasons why Messi does not seem to impose the same level of influence on the national side as he does when playing in Spanish and European club football, but the most common suggestion alludes to the quality of his team mates and the differing playing style of the two sides. “Messi is a supremely gifted individual, as was Maradona,” says García: “ but he is surrounded by a Barça side that ooze creativity and attacking verve from Victor Valdes in goal, right through to David Villa at the spear of their forward line. The midfield also contains two more of the world’s greatest players in Xavi Hernández and Andres Iniesta; players who bring the ball forward at every opportunity allowing Messi the freedom to roam higher up the field in a role he relishes. Proponents of Messi point to the fact that his position within the Argentine setup is markedly different to the role he has enjoyed under Guardiola at Barcelona in recent seasons, and claim a succession of national bosses have forced him to fulfil a different task than he is accustomed to. Students of the game will also tell you that Argentina have recently relied on a formation that features three defensivelyminded players in the middle of the park. “This lack of creative input from the midfield means Messi is forced to drop ever deeper from his favoured position in a frustrated attempt to get the ball.” claims García and says this has a significant effect on the impact Messi has on games: “Creating the same problems for the opposition from such a deep-lying position is difficult, even for a player of Lionel Messi’s outstanding ability. If he is tracking back in order to get the ball, it greatly nullifies his attacking potency.” Argentina’s national press have also struggled to support Messi on occasion and point to the fact he is the only player in the team never to have played in his homeland,

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as proof to a lack of commitment. The fact that Messi moved to Barcelona when he was 12-years-old probably does not help his cause, but it should not be held against him. After all, the move was underpinned by a necessity for growth hormones to aid his poor physical development. Something that Barcelona pledged to provide on his arrival at the club. Inevitably, Álvaro García believes it is the imposing shadow of Diego Maradona that has the greatest impact on Messi’s relationship with the football fans of Argentina – that and the incredible levels he has reached during his own club career. “To label Lionel Messi as unpatriotic is wholly unfair and supporters point out that, despite his less dramatic influence on the national team, he has still consistently been Argentina’s standout performer. At this moment in time, Messi is the victim of a suffering footballing public, desperate for him to replicate the achievements of Diego.” Asked if we may be about to witness a decline in Lionel Messi’s impact on club football, García laughs and points to the number of goals the player has scored again this season: “He is still the highest goalscorer in Europe and has still enjoyed a fantastic season In truth, it is unrealistic to expect any player to maintain the same level of performance on a consistent basis – especially when that level has been so immense. Barça may have endured a disappointing end to the season but they will be back, and so will Messi. He will be back terrorising defenders next season and scoring goals for fun, I can guarantee it.” Is Lionel Messi destined to forever live in the shadow of Diego Maradona? Possibly. Is Lionel Messi a victim of his own incredible success? Most probably, however Messi will be back. As someone once said: “Form is temporary, class is permanent.” Lionel Messi certainly has the class - a quick glance at it statistics bare witness to that.




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Words by Iain McMullen

8 June 2012

There is a wind-swept spot high up on the road out of Madrid that serves as a stark reminder to Spain’s turbulent history and the complex relationship football endures with the country's bloody political past. Through the town Guadarrama, and leading up to the peaks that dominate the north-western horizon of the capital, is a small monument to the 28th president of Futbol Club Barcelona, Josep Sunyol, a man murdered in the opening weeks of a civil war that tore the nation apart for almost three years. Idealists claim of course, that sport and politics should never mix, which is indeed a noble notion, but unfortunately in Spain, and more specifically in the case of FC Barcelona this has seldom been the case. In fact it could be argued that, for a club so intrinsically linked with the politics of Catalunya, this can never be the case. It was certainly not the case when Josep Sunyol i Garriga chose to fill in his club membership form in the summer of 1925. That decision in itself was


a significant political statement from the 27-year-old lawyer. The dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera had been in control of Spain for two years, leading to widespread repression in the previously semi-autonomous regions such as Catalunya. Any display of regionalism was banned by the Andalusian-born de Rivera; which included the Catalan language and the famous senyera flag. FC Barcelona’s home stadium at Les Corts soon became the focal point for many Catalans and the club attracted a large number of poltically-minded supporters into its ranks. A furious de Rivera even closed the ground for six months in 1924 after locals jeered throughout the Spanish national anthem prior to a game. The incident later saw the club's founding father, Joan Gamper expelled from the country. Sunyol, son of a wealthy Catalan militant (not uncommon in a city known for its political radicalism) family, had already been heavily involved in the left-wing Catalan nationalist group, Acció Catalana, no doubt seeing membership of FC Barcelona as a logical step forward on his political path. By 1928, Sunyol was appointed

to the role of club director and had also become a very high-profile critic of the de Rivera regime which was beginning to lose any credibility it may once have held. Sunyol also established a left-wing newspaper called La Rambla which gave a voice to the Catalan people; many of who were tired of the previous conservative-form of nationalism the region had traditionally seen. The publication was fairly groundbreaking for its time, giving a prominent role to football alongside the more-traditional hard news of politics. In 1929, the dictatorship collapsed in the wake of the Wall Street crash, and the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed in April 1931 - promising a new start for Spain and those regions seeking autonomy. Sunyol, who by this stage had become head of the Federació Catalana de Futbol, was elected deputy of the Madridbased cortes, representing the newly formed Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya. He combined both roles with his ongoing responsibilies at Futbol Club Barcelona. In truth however, it was a difficult time for Sunyol. Barça were in a dire financial situation, due mainly

to the US stock market crash, and in June 1930 Joan Gamper had also committed suicide. The 33-year-old Sunyol now faced division within the club he had aspirations to become president of, with many opposing his political views, while at the same time being pro-Catalan themselves. Trouble was also brewing on the streets of Barcelona itself where, despite being granted part devolution from Madrid, tension was growing - turning the city into a powder keg ready to ignite. And ignite it did, albeit briefly when Lluis Companys proclaimed a short-lived Catalan republic in 1933. Central power was soon restored however, and in 1935, Sunyol won the presidency of Futbol Club Barcelona. Despite this, the political situation had now become all-consuming as the country lurched towards its impending doom; leaving few people with interest in football. Crowds were low at Les Corts and a number of players had been released due to the club's financial constraints; most notably fanfavourite, Pep Samitier who had joined bitter-rivals, Real Madrid in the summer of 1932. It was under these testing 4

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circumstances that Sunyol began his presidency, soon consolidating left-wing support around him, something which firmly placed the club on a political course that was to have almost catastrophic circumstances over the following 40 years. By January 1936, Spain was well on the road to civil conflict, as a Socialist/Communist coalition swept to victory in the elections, and on 18 July the coup began. As military rebellion flared in major cities across Spain, the people hit back. In Barcelona, anarcho-syndicalists fought alongside loyal Guardia Civil to defeat nationalist rebels who had taken over the telephone exchange in the Plaça Catalunya. After a brief but bloody battle, the city was saved. The explosion of violence had caught many at FC Barcelona by surprise, in fact a great many of the team were outside Spain recuperating following a gruelling domestic season - the club's Irish manager, Patrick O'Connell was in Belfast, and a number of his players were in South America. Sunyol and the board recognised this was a critical time for the future of the club, not least because it had made no secret as to its political persuasion and Catalan nationalism. Ironically the club also came under threat from the Anarchist workers movement, the CNT-FAI who sought to take the club for the revolutionaries who were now in control of the city. The board acted swiftly to save Barça and announced they had now become a 'workers committee', something which fell in line with the spirit of the social revolution sweeping through the streets of the Catalan capital. Elsewhere in Spain, Franco's troops had control of many key cities; including Bilbao, Sevilla and Zaragoza, and were also pressing hard on the capital of Madrid itself. It was quickly decided however, that football needed to continue in some manner and the new 'committee' announced Barça would participate in a Catalan league. To reduce any unnecessary financial burden, many of the clubs overseas stars were taken off the books and the club went about the daily business of football as best they could. It was immediately after these meetings in late July

10 June 2012

1936 that Josep Sunyol left the city of Barcelona for the last time, travelling first to Valencia, then on to Madrid. There has been some uncertainty as to why Sunyol may have made the journey but it seems likely it was to meet government officials in the capital. Early on the 5 August, Sunyol made his way out of Madrid in his chauffeur-driven car, flying the Catalan senyera, and travelled along the Corunna road towards the town of Guadarrama. The hills overlooking the town had become a focal point for the Francoist troops' push on Madrid and there was a confusing line of outposts and checkpoints scattered in the wooded valleys and crests. It has been claimed that Sunyol believed he was still within Republican lines as his car made its way up the mountain road, but it would have become quickly apparent that this was not the case as he was stopped at a checkpoint manned by Falangist troops on the evening of the 6 August 1936. Josep Sunyol was instantly recognised and was executed by his captors soon after. Rumours of the Barcelona president’s death reached the city two days later but, in a period of great confusion, the details were never corroborated and Sunyol's tragic fate was almost forgotten as the blood-letting engulfed the country. Franco's troops finally marched into Barcelona on 26 January 1939 and the war ended soon after, followed by the most brutal of reprisals for the regions that had held out against the nationalist onslaught. A general amnesia spread over the country in the decades that followed, as the country attempted to get on with their lives, and the thousands of victims of the war and its aftermath were consigned to history; including the tragic Josep Sunyol. Franco died in 1975 and Spain began the slow transition to democracy, despite the attempts of some of the dictators staunchest allies. The Civil War was seldom mentioned and the fiftieth anniversary of Sunyol's death in 1986 was ignored by FC Barcelona and it's then-president, Josep Lluis Nuñez. There were growing calls for action however, and ten years later, following a huge campaign,

numerous newspapers article and extensive research, club officials attended a ceremony near to the spot were Sunyol was executed. Barça were still criticised by groups such as Els Amics de Josep Sunyol however, who claimed there should have been something more befitting of a man who had played such an important role in the history of the football club. There was also some consternation when the stone monument erected near Guadarrama bore the Castilian spelling of Sunyol's name, Josep Suñol. Almost 73 years have passed since the bloodiest civil conflict in living memory ended, and it is only now that many in Spain can begin addressing the events that brought so much bloodshed to its villages, towns and cities during the war and the dictatorship. FC Barcelona are no different in that respect, the memories of that period were forgotten for so long in the 'years of amnesia', however there should also be a sense of shame for some officials involved in the repeated refusal to acknowledge the memory of Josep Sunyol. Ultimately of course, football and politics should never mix, but they all too often do in this complicated country. For proof of that, you only need take a trip up to that windy spot just outside the town of Guadarrama.

The Spanish Civil War tore the country apart f Photo: IWM


t for almost three years.

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FC Barcelona may have recently experienced what many would suggest is a ‘dip’ in form; especially when you consider the magnificent standards they have set themselves over the past five years, however the current minicrisis is nothing compared to the situation the Catalan giants found themselves in during the latter part of 2003. The natives were restless and staying away from the Camp Nou in their droves; with some games being watched by less than 40,000 disenchanted culés. It had meant to be new dawn for the club, but things were not going to plan. The unhappy reign of Joan Gaspart and the dour football of Louis van Gaal were meant to have been forgotten as the brash, young Joan Laporta swept into presidency and placed Frank Rijkaard at the helm of the team. The marquee summer signing of exciting Brazilian playmaker Ronaldinho had whet the appetite of an expectant crowd and some of the deadwood had been shipped out; most notably the gifted but underachieving Argentine Juan Roman Riquelme. By Christmas however, things had gone horribly wrong. Sitting in the bottom half of the table, Barça were looking over their shoulders nervously at the relegation zone with a league challenge gone and European qualification looking highly unlikely. Rijkaard was a man living on borrowed time. The fans knew it, Laporta knew it and the Dutchman himself knew it. The exciting new era had developed into a shambolic season of humiliation, witness the 5-1 thumping received at Malaga in early December, and soul-destruction - a home loss to eternal rivals Real Madrid for the first time in 20 years. Just when it looked as if Rijkaard had played his last card at FC Barcelona

however, the Dutchman made a desperate phone call to Italy... When Edgar David arrived at El Prat airport to start a fivemonth loan deal from Juventus, few could have forseen how the second half of the campaign would unfold. After answering a passionate plea from his fellow countryman, the Dutch international picked up his protective glasses and brought his all-action combative style into the lacklustre and often lazy side that had underperformed since August. Davids was a revelation in the heart of the team and almost single-handedly turned the season around. Barça went on an amazing run that saw them win ten out of eleven games as they shot up La Liga in search of a onceunlikely, and astonishing title tilt. The side travelled to the capital at the end of April and gained el clásico revenge as goals from Patrick Kluivert and Xavi moved them above Real Madrid in the table. Ultimately, two defeats in the final three games meant Rijkaard’s men fell just short of Valencia who finished as champions, but in finishing second Barça has completed an amazing, Davids-inspired, resurrection. The player returned to Italy in the summer of 2004 as Roberto Mancini handed him a lucrative, three-year contract at Inter. And Rijkaard? The Dutchman kept his job and Barcelona became La Liga champions in 2005 to the delight of a justified Joan Laporta. The following season, Rijkaard cemented his place in Blaugrana folklore as he guided the side to UEFA Champions League glory after an emotional night in Paris. Edgar Davids has become the unheralded figure in the piece. His contribution to that amazing season set the foundation for Futbol Club Barcelona and, as they say, the rest is history.


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The Final Word When Joan Laporta announced 37-year-old Pep Guardiola was to succeed the recently-departed Frank Rijkaard as coach of FC Barcelona in 2008, it is fair to say there were more than a few raised eyebrows in the Catalan capital. After all, Guardiola had only been in charge of the club’s B team for just one season and, despite leading them to promotion to the segunda division, was still very much learning his trade. Almost four years later however, and you will find few people who will disagree that Guardiola has become the greatest coach in the club’s distinguished history. The former midfield star has won an incredible 13 trophies and has the opportunity to add one more before he leaves the club at the end of the season. There was a sense of inevitability when Guardiola announced his decision to quit the club he began his career at as 12-year-old in 1983. Pep has only ever worked under a season-by-season contract and

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those who know him best always insisted he would walk away when he felt the incredible intensity he instilled on his team began to subside. Guardiola’s most memorable season was undoubtedly his first in the hotseat; the Champions League, Primera Division and Copa del Rey were all won, to be later complemented by the Uefa and Spanish Super Cup and the World Club Cup, as Barça played some of the best football the world had seen. Arguably his greatest achievement however, was to maintain that fantastic standard for the next three seasons; including guiding the side to another Champions League and Primera Division double in 2011. Guardiola has also placed significant emphasis on Barça’s long-term future by showing increased confidence in his young players; the fact that the team’s star, Lionel Messi, is still only 24-years-old speaks volumes. However with Pep’s exit on the horizon and Messi’s form coming under scrutiny, the daggers have been well and truly drawn in the Spanish media. The Madird-based Marca have claimed a total shift in power as Real Madrid relinquish Barça of their domestic title, while Chelsea put an end to their continental hopes. Barcelona fans will remain strong however. They have experienced many difficulties during their turbulent history; not least the murder of their President Josep Sunyol in 1936, yet they continue to be a byword for the beauty and artistry of football. To sound the death knell for this magnificent side is folly in the extreme. The summer will be spent regrouping but not rebuilding; after all why try to fix something that is far from broken? IM

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