Tuesday, September 25, 2007

If you live in this world, you're feelin the change of the guard

Much passing of batons at Barca.
As we celebrated the Camp Nou’s 50th birthday yesterday and admired Norman Foster’s stunning redevelopment plan (albeit more than a little redolent of the Allianz Arena, created by Herzog & de Meuron, one of the competition also rans), more fundamental changes are happening on the field.

Ronaldinho has now been substituted three games in succession and was ‘rested, injured,’ for the game against Seville on Saturday night. The inverted commas refer to the fact that while the Barca management claim he has an injured foot, other evidence points elsewhere. He has been partying hard with games looming, cutting training and went absent for three days after the Lyon game last Wednesday. Foot my arse, as Jim Royle might say.

Ronnie was benched on each occasion because, as El Periodico put it ‘his head was still talking but his feet weren’t listening.’ From being the ignition of every Barca move he has become the constipated channel through which each attack is slowed down to a juddering halt of short passes, many of them misplaced. He’s not happy and Rijkaard seems to have taken the giant leap of not putting him on the team sheet simply because he is who he is. His Christmas will be in Milan, I suspect.

Into the breach has stepped Leo Messi, who, along with Manchester United’s Ronaldo, can be the only true claimant to football’s George Best mantle. Against Lyon and particularly against Seville, he has become the fulcrum of the team – the ‘straw that stirs the drink’ as baseball great Reggie Jackson described himself within the New York Yankees. He powers the team forward, playing off, at different times, his midfield base of Deco, Toure, Xavi and Iniesta.
The Catalan crowd has already started to see this and can’t get enough of it. In two games he has scored three times and engineered an own goal, each greeted by the crowd prostrating itself en masse in praise.

The king is dead, long live the king. The old one will be buried in full military honours, rather than humiliated and shoved out of the back door, so great has been his contribution. Messi, touchingly, held up 10 fingers for Ronnie’s shirt number when he scored on Saturday and dedicated both goals to his great friend.

Welcome to the Messi era, one that will hopefully grace Norman Foster’s magnificent makeover for many years to come.

1 comment:

barcelona_jane said...

Richard, loved your trenchant comments on Barca and the game. My daughter was one of the kids who tossed the gigantic golden futbols down from the top of the stadium during the ceremony...she got to stay for the game (I caught the tail end on the tele) and now is a true Messi believer. Ooh, her boyfriend in Nerja was SO jealous!