Tag Archives: guardiola

Is The Prem Still The Best League In The World?

The run-up to this Saturday’s Premier League kickoff, an extraordinarily tiring process that premier league champsbegan pretty much the moment last season ended, has included all the usual touchstones: transfer-window mischief, pre-season mini-scandals, explosive Jose Mourinho press conferences. At the end of July, NBC released its annual Premier League promo-short, a whimsical 30-second montage filled with artsy shots of sun-dappled stadiums and cheering fans. At the end of the video, the words “Are you ready for football?” flash across the screen, as the Rodgers & Hammerstein song “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” plays in the background: “I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way.”

The Premier League is often touted as “the greatest league in the world” – a “competitive and compelling” spectacle graced by the best players on the planet. But the media’s promotional grandstanding and the league’s corporate propaganda create a misleading impression. The Premier League currently occupies a fascinating, paradoxical position in the changing landscape of European soccer. It certainly remains the most popular league in the world. But its true entertainment value, especially compared to the star-studded Spanish Primera División, is the subject of an ongoing debate that reflects time-honored, probably irreconcilable questions about the aesthetics of sports.

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Surrendering the Moral High Ground

Until recently, Barcelona was not only the most successful team in European soccer; it was also thesuarez barca most virtuous. UNICEF’s logo was emblazoned on its jerseys. Its coach, Pep Guardiola, won admirers simply for not being Jose Mourinho. In 2011, longtime captain Carlos Puyol let his teammate Eric Abidal, who had been treated for cancer, lift the Champions League trophy at Wembley.

But as Barcelona’s dominance has eroded – last season, the team didn’t win a single trophy – the club has gradually surrendered its moral high ground. I don’t need to remind you that Luis Suarez made his Barca debut on Monday. Or that a Qatari airline now sponsors the team’s jerseys. Or that Lionel Messi may have committed tax fraud.

Earlier today, FIFA upheld the two-year transfer ban it imposed on Barcelona in April. Apparently, while we reveled in the talents of homegrown stars like Xavi and Iniesta, Barca was illegally importing underage players to its academy. I am thoroughly disillusioned.

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The Very Best Of Friends

It’s La Liga’s winter vacation, and Lionel Messi hasn’t scored a goal in more than two weeks. Which, after Messi’sbarca real era-defining, award-winning, 91-goal 2012, comes as a bit of a relief. He’s good, but enough already. Messi’s Barcelona is undefeated in the league, and with two Champions League titles, four La Liga championships and the odd Official FIFA Triumph[1] under its belt, the team is arguably (because these things are always arguable) the greatest of modern times.

At this point, the ins and outs of Barcelona’s recent history are common knowledge: how homegrown players like Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Puyol, Valdes, Pedro, Busquets and Messi gelled in Barca’s legendary academy; how Zlatan Ibrahimovich, one of the most talented players of his generation, simply couldn’t adjust to Barca’s selfless passing style and eventually fell out with Pep Guardiola (supposedly the nicest man in football, so the joke was definitely on Zlatan); how Spain, a perennial underachiever for most of its history, suddenly became world and European champions, thanks mostly to the same homegrown players (minus Messi) who boarded together as kids. It’s impossible to understand the last five years of football history without first understanding Barcelona. Since 2008, virtually everything that’s happened on the European football scene has happened because of Guardiola-era Barca.

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