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And with a yawn and an eye rub and a ruffling struggle to move the sheets, I roused myself and stumbled to my computer, woke it, woke myself, focused my eyes and found my usual place in the dim light and waited for Maverick Viñales to show once more that

He is who we thought he was.

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The Basílica de la Sagrada Família

The first architect of the Sagrada Família was a man of diocesan ilk and inspiration, exactly the kind of person you would hope and expect to build something prototypically beautiful and adhesive to the traditions and standards that the Catholic Church, particularly in Spain, would presumably place upon a person. He took the same approach to his projects, calculating and reasonably efficient, that you take to ordering monthly subscription boxes, or homing in on preferred brands of toothpaste. “This works, it addresses a problem, so I like it, and let’s stick with it for now, until and unless a problem arises.”

Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano was no slouch, having aided in the designs, re-designs and restorations of many important buildings in and around his native Catalunya[1]. He took on the project under the advisement of the Associació de Devots de Sant Josep, and when it got to be too much, his adviser Joan Martorell recommended Antoni Gaudí, an exceptionally devout Roman Catholic even by Catholic standards. The latter then spent the final years of his life figuring out what to do with the thing before, well, getting hit by a tram and passing away in 1926.

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Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Some things have a way of shocking you when they have no business doing so. A tyrannical figure of popular culture, bowing at the altar of truths unspoken for years, decades even, on his (always “his”) way out to pasture; an airline bumping your flight up two minutes, giving you reason to engage in cognitive dissonance between “What difference does that make?” and “Time in travel is everything”; a disgraced senator riding near-hilariously antiquated fantasies to a too-slim loss of his seat and, as far as everyone is concerned, his relevance.

While the mountains that moved to make some recent changes refused to rattle in the English Premier League to the extent that they once did for the likes of Claudio Ranieri and company, the stars keep dressing themselves up and shivering just enough for a once-beleaguered and tormented club. With its 4-0 win over Swansea City on Wednesday, Manchester City established a new record for consecutive league wins. At the center of this triumphant firestorm is one Pep Guardiola, the ex-“Next-Greatest Manager Ever” and a man of footy demons both external and internal.

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Photo courtesy of the author, in the shadow of Nino Heroe Manuel Bonilla in Miraflores

In the work of literature to which I return most frequently, Eduardo Galeano writes, “There is nothing less empty than an empty stadium. There is nothing less mute than the stands bereft of people.”

He goes on to describe the sounds of games past, the echoes of Wembley from ’66 or the Camp Nou at any time when you’re unfortunate enough to miss Messi’s magic in real time, but he could have just as easily been describing any of the myriad pickup games that my oldest, not older, brother and I saw happening in Lima on and around Christmas, the holiday season be damned for anything but an occasion on which to kick around. People certainly invoke God enough to demand some time, after all.

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“Stand out of my light.” So goes the punchline in Plutarch’s retelling of the one and only meeting between Alexander the Great and Diogenes of Sinope, the Cynic philosopher, the latter of whom had only the preceding request for the Macedonian king. To take the tale at face value, there couldn’t have been too many duos less alike in ancient Greece around 336 BCE. As powerful as almost any human being ever, Alexander is infamous for having wept at the notion that he had no worlds left to conquer. Diogenes sought out poverty, thriving in destitution and sleeping in a ceramic jar.

As cavernous as the gap between Diogenes and Alexander was, so, too, is that between the teams meeting in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League Final. With a cursory glance, one may suspect that the teams share few similarities. Part of that, of course, comes with comparing any team to Real Madrid in the European Cup; having won ten of them, more than any other club, gives you an air of esteem and pomp without parallel. Their opponents in this case, however, are achingly familiar with flying close to the sun as their wings start to melt. Like Alexander after meeting Diogenes, Real may leave San Siro stunningly impressed with the exploits of Atlético Madrid.

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argentina vs portugalOn Thursday, the 2014 FIFA World Cup begins in Brazil. While many eyes will be on the home team, which is the nominal favorite to capture its record-extending sixth World Cup title, thirty-one other teams will be vying to bring the glory of the beautiful game’s most hallowed prize to their homelands. Many of these sides have legendary players in various stages of their primes. Some seem simply to be along for the experience of playing on a senior international level as a sort of deposit for the future (See: Green, Julian). For all the acclaim of Brazil’s joga bonito, Italy’s azzurri and Die Mannschaft of Germany, two individual players are carrying the weight of their countries perhaps more heavily than anyone else, with the outcome of the tournament potentially dictating their places among the game’s all-time greatest.

I am, of course, talking about Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Lionel Messi.

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Courtesy of inthestands.co.uk

Courtesy of inthestands.co.uk

With Saturday’s 6-3 home victory over league-leading Arsenal, the Manchester City Football Club now sits at third in the Barclays Premier League table, with 32 points. City, as the team is colloquially called by admirers and detractors alike, is in exceptional form as of late: earlier in the week, the team defeated defending UEFA Champions League winners Bayern Munich in a come-from-behind 3-2 victory in Bavaria. Even more surprising than all of this, however, may be the state of Manchester City’s biggest and closest rivals, Manchester United. By far the most successful team in Premier League history, United is under the direction of a manager not named Sir Alex Ferguson for the first time since 1986, and the team is firmly in the middle of the table, a full ten points behind its cross-town rivals. People are already calling for the head of Ferguson’s successor on a plate, and the tide in Manchester is facing a Lakers/Clippers-like shift for the first time ever.

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Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

He needs help like a fish needs a bicycle.” – Ray Hudson, on Lionel Messi

Here is what we know about Lionel Andrés Messi: originally from the Argentine city of Rosario, he is 26 years old. He is of relatively small stature (reportedly 5-foot-7), physically. He is left-footed and had a growth deficiency when he was a child, for which FC Barcelona, his current club in Spain, offered to pick up the medical tab in exchange for his coming to the Catalan youth academy. He is the four-time defending recipient of FIFA’s Ballon d’Or, the most prestigious individual award in soccer. He is, unequivocally and absolutely, the finest soccer player on the planet. And he has more than a solid chance to be, when all is said and done, the best the world has ever seen.

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Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum

Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum

Gather ye rose-buds while ye may, old Time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.

Robert Harrick, “To The Virgins, To Make Much of Time”

For the better part of the last five years, at least since Euro 2008 signaled the dawn of a Spanish renaissance in the sport, the Spanish men’s national football team has ridden a possession-heavy, triangular passing-based game to great success and historic heights, and not only by Spanish standards. The style they have made their own, affectionately dubbed tiki-taka for its quick passing, had its roots in the Ajax/Netherlands “total football” system of the 1970s. When the greatest Dutch player ever, Johann Cruyff, became FC Barcelona’s manager in 1988, he brought the total football mentality with him and placed the greatest burden in the field on his most talented midfielder, Josep Guardiola. Guardiola ascended to the throne at Barcelona in June 2008 and left it four years later having put together perhaps the greatest list of accomplishments in any four-year span in the history of club soccer.

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