The UEFA Champions League Cup, El Clasico, La Liga...
Barça's Argentinian wizard, Lionel Messi
Last year I put up a post called Grown Men in Tears, about Manchester United's win over English Premier League rivals Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League Final.
As you may have noticed, through GolTV and the enthusiastic and contagious influence of my son, I've become somewhat of a fútbol fan... a fan of my son's favorite team in particular, FC Barcelona. Among others, of course...
Maestro of the Midfield, Xavi Hernández
This is a very hot team at the moment, but they have their work cut out for them. With their attacking front of Lionel Messi (probably the best player in the world right now), Thierry Henry (an aging but still potent legend, well-known from his days at Arsenal and the French national team), Samuel Eto'o (arguably the best player out of Africa), backed up by the brillant playmaking of midfielders Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta, as well as the rock solid defense of Carles Puyol, Daniel Alves, and keeper Victor Valdez, the Catalans have had a magical season.
Now, you can try to accuse me of being a front-runner, due to the fact that in some circles Barça are considered the New York Yankees of fútbol, full of deep pockets and high-priced superstar talent. Well, in all fairness, there are a few teams in every top European league that this accusation could be levelled against. In any case, I'm convinced that there really is something to Barcelona's philanthropic side and their motto "més que un club" ("more than a club"). For example, they feature Unicef on the front of their jerseys rather than the usual corporate sponsors such as AIG, Bwin, T-Home Mobile, Siemens, Fly Emirates, Samsung, etc, etc...
Besides, they haven't won anything yet. Speaking of the New York Yankees of fútbol, give the teams in England's Barclay's Premier League their due. They feature three out of the last four teams left in the UEFA Champions League Cup race - Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal. Barcelona is the only continental contender, representing Spain's La Liga. Man U knocked Barça out in the semifinals last year and went on to win the championship.
Barcelona is currently ahead in their own home league, La Liga, a race which they looked like they would easily run away with early in the season. Their archrivals and defending La Liga champions Real Madrid were lagging behind, but ever since Real switched coaches at mid-season, they have been winning steadily and inexorably, picking up ground and are hanging only a couple of games back now. The two team have a showdown coming up ("El Clasico") at Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu, sandwiched in between Barcelona's semifinal matches against a packed and dangerous Chelsea squad.
So here's the challenge Barça has ahead of them:
Tue. 4/28 Barcelona v Chelsea at Camp Nou - UEFA Champions League Semifinal
Sun. 5/3 Barcelona v Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu - La Liga (El Clasico)
Wed. 5/6 Barcelona V Chelsea at Stamford Bridge - UEFA Champions League Semifinal
They're going to need some luck and some fresh legs to make it through to the finals.
Here's the thing... I'm going to be in London during the first week of May. I'll have to keep my mouth shut. It would be bad enough if Chelsea supporters heard an uneducated Yank like me supporting another English squad like Everton, Tottenham Spur, or Aston Villa, let alone a team from Catalonia. Best keep my rooting interests to myself.