Thursday, August 30, 2012

Iniesta


Andres Iniesta was recognized as the UEFA player of the year today at the Champions League draw in Monaco.

Onstage next to the strapping Cristiano Ronaldo with his gelled hair and pretty boy looks, and the diminutive Leo Messi with his weak chin and boyish demeanor, Iniesta looked almost as if he'd been stood up there for filler; like the extra man in a police lineup.

But he was without a doubt the most deserving of the three players for this award.

Iniesta - the pale faced assassin - only slightly taller than Messi, with a hairline like Landon Donovan's, he's not glamorous. And when it comes to the conversation about who is the best in Europe, he's generally overlooked for Ronaldo and Messi. 

But not today.

Sure Messi scored 73 goals for Barcelona and Ronaldo's tally of 60 propelled Real Madrid to their first La Liga crown in the Guardiola era (Is it a coincidence that Pep quit the club within a few days of the season ending?).

But Andres Iniesta, short, pale, balding Iniesta helped propel Spain to victory in the Euros this summer, just as had had in the World Cup two years earlier. And Iniesta, who can corner like a Porsche with the ball at his feet, has been there all along in this Barcelona's nearly four-year run as the best club side in the history of the world. 

He might not enjoy the glamor and the headlines afforded to Messi, or even David Villa, but Iniesta, a product of Barca's La Masia Academy, has been the very heart and soul of the great Blaugrana and Spain teams of the last few years.

Tears gleamed in his eyes as he stood on the podium with his award. It was if he'd been resigned that it would go to Ronaldo or Messi. Even after his name was revealed etched on the back of the trophy, he moved slowly to take it off Sepp Blatter, as if wasn't sure of what he'd just heard.

In the spotlight this awkward little Catalan who moves with a combination of fury and poetry on the pitch, this embodiment of the collective spirit that is Barcelona and Spain, finally had his moment of individual glory.

Behind him, Ronaldo looked predictably smug. He'd been seated with what looked like a pair of European super-models. Iniesta was with his beautiful wife, Ann Ortiz.

Messi on the other hand, looked to have attended the whole thing stag and swayed back and forth awkwardly onstage; looking as if he'd rather have been off kicking a football somewhere. Up there on the glittering stage with Steve McManaman and all the rest of them, he didn't appear the least bit bothered to have lost out to his teammate. And why should he? Messi knows there are plenty more individual honors headed his way.

But today was Andres Iniesta's day, and it's one that he has deserved for some time.

Bravo Iniesta, bravo.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Arsenal: Picking Up the Pieces After Robin van Persie's Departure


As yet another of Arsenal's most talismanic players departs for supposedly greener pastures, fans of the North London club around the world are today faced with a somewhat hollow feeling that's become all too familiar during recent summer transfer windows.

Last year it was the beloved Cesc Fabregas and the not-so-beloved Samir Nasri who led the exodus, to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively. This year of course it's Dutch goal-scoring sensation Robin van Persie who has departed the club and gone to play in the colors of Manchester United.

Losing van Persie who at times almost single-handedly kept the Gunners afloat with his 35 goals last season, to one of Arsenal's direct rivals is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow.

The club hierarchy at Arsenal will of course claim they had no choice in the matter.

After all, van Persie is 29 and with one year left on his contract, meaning he could walk for nothing at the end of this season. And certainly it could be argued that 24 million pounds for an injury-prone striker who is nearly 30 and has only one truly notable season under his belt is a tidy parcel of business for Arsenal.

But Arsenal's continued success at running itself based on a self-sustaining model offers little comfort to the club's fans who've now seen the Gunner's trophy drought stretched to seven years. Meanwhile the gap has widened between Arsenal and monied clubs like City and Chelsea, Tottenham have emerged as title contenders, and Manchester United have just prized away their best player, something that would have seemed inconceivable five years ago.

Feelings today must surely be mixed. Obviously, the situation does not seem so dire as it did one year ago when Arsene Wenger let Fabregas and Nasri go, claiming the club would do just fine without them. Then it took an 8-2 thrashing by Manchester United to force the manager to dip into the transfer market.


This year at least the seemingly inevitable loss of Arsenal's best player was tempered by the addition of some proven attacking talent to the club: the German striker Lukas Podolski, the French forward Olivier Giroud, and Spanish attacking midfielder Santi Cazorla have all been acquired this summer.

There are also rumors still circulating that the Gunners will take Nuri Sahin on loan from Real Madrid and buy Fernando Llorente from Bilbao.

Even with van Persie gone, it's not difficult to look at the Arsenal squad that's currently taking shape with at least some cautious optimism. Obviously there are few players in the world one could replace Robin van Persie with.

But in his acquisition of Podolski, Giroud, and Cazorla, Wenger has at least given us some indication of where the goals that last season came from van Persie might come from in the upcoming campaign.

Still at the moment, it all amounts to a spoon-full of sugar in a jar of bitter medicine.

Arsenal fans must wonder why it was that their beloved captain Robin van Persie couldn't look on Wenger's new acquisitions with the same sense of hopefulness that they did. Was there never a moment when the prolific Dutch frontman stopped and thought "you know maybe this work?"

At the same time they are faced with the reality that the club hierarchy, rather than doing everything possible to bring a title to the trophy-starved Emirates by holding onto their best player, seemingly prefers to cover its financial bases by selling him to a direct rival.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Clarence Seedorf to Galaxy a No Go as LA Endures Super Clasico Defeat

Clarence Seedorf in LA
 
It could have been so cool and for a moment it looked like it was all going to come together. Clarence Seedorf, veteran Netherlands international and winner of the UEFA Champions League with three different clubs was seen training with the LA Galaxy in Carson this week. While at the same time reports surfaced that Galaxy captain Landon Donovan had put his Manhattan Beach compound up for sale.

Could it be? Was Landon's imminent departure back to the Premier League going to create a designated player spot into which the elegant Dutch midfielder might be able to slip? Alas, no, it would not.

Instead Seedorf has signed a two-year deal with Botafogo in Brazil, as the prevailing view had been that he'd do all along. The 36-year old former Ajax man who has spent the last 10 years at AC Milan has a Brazilian wife.

 Galaxy Let 2 Goal Lead Slip to Lose in California Super Clasico


It's been a week of near misses for the LA Galaxy. After failing to replace the brooding Donovan with Seedorf the team traveled north to Stanford to face the San Jose Earthquakes in front of a racuous crowd of 50,000.

Many had no doubt turned out to see David Beckham, who coincidentally had officially been scratched from Great Britain's Olympic roster earlier in the week.

The atmosphere was fraught from the get-go with tension on the pitch and in the stands palpable. The Galaxy gave up the lead early to a poaching Steven Lenhardt. However they managed to equalize courtesy of a free kick from non other than Beckham, who has seemingly made a career of responding to his detractors on the pitch.

The visiting Gs took the lead thanks to an own goal from Quakes defender Jason Hernandez and Landon Donovan made it 3-1 with a late first half strike.

But before the half had ended Victor Bernandez had halfed San Jose's deficit. The Quakes struck again immediately at the start of the second half, making it 2-3 thanks to a Sam Cronin strike in the 47th.

However it would be who else but MLS league-leading scorer Chris Wondolowski who would slam home the match-winner when he scored a spectacular backheeled goal from a corner kick to give the home the lead in the 61st minute.

Unfortunately for the several hundred Galaxy supporters who'd made the trip up in buses, the reigning MLS champs simply had no response for Wondo's wonder goal and the match ended 4-3 Quakes.