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By ESPN Staff

Read all about it

I've always loved Saturdays, even before I came to live in Spain. Between September and June, Saturdays take on a busy richness, with everything conditioned by the times of football matches, live or on TV.

This is particularly true in the case of Europerson, armed with digibox, satellite dish and internet. It's created a new but entertaining dilemma for the football freak, based around the need to balance computer screen, sofa and the live experience.

When I first came to Spain, in the pre-internet, pre-subscription channel age, the football rush was transferred almost exclusively to Sunday, and indeed the second day of the weekend still carries the main weight of the games here, but I always found it difficult to wean the Saturday experience out of my system. Now it's back, big time.

This Saturday was a roller-coaster.

Having taken in the BBC 'Football Focus' programme, there was the first half of the England v USA women's quarter-final to watch, and very good it was too. Then off down the road to see my son's team play their second game of the season in the league ' a game for which he had fallen victim to a Benitez-like system of 'rotaciones', but like all good club folk we went along to show keen. It finished 2-2.

Then a rush home to prepare the sandwiches and pick up raincoats for the Real Sociedad v Elche game (2-1) in the Spanish 2nd Division 'A' a new cultural experience after years of assuming a divine-right to top-flight fare, and then back just in time to watch Barcelona v Sevilla on the box.

When that little feast was over, just before midnight, I had the choice of flicking over to watch BBC's 'Match of the Day' or of hitting the streets with my partner to watch Viggo Mortensen (a big fan of Argentine football, incidentally) in his new film at the San Sebastian Film Festival. The film was ok, but it would have benefited from some football.

But to the point. What seems to be so wonderful about football, particularly here in Spain, is the way in which it gets woven into the social fabric ' seamlessly, with no stitches dropped. It's always struck me as a kind of symbiotic thing. Football exists, so people here build their lives around it, feeding the cow then living from its milk. The only two things that threaten the survival of this relationship, it seems to me, have both reared their heads this week in Spain. One is bullshit, the other is the architect, Sir Norman Foster. Let's look at Sir Norman first.

On Saturday night, as already mentioned, Barcelona took on Sevilla in the biggest game of the league programme so far. Barça had attractively disposed of a useful Lyon side in midweek whilst Sevilla had fallen victim to a certain nervous innocence on their visit to Arsenal, where they were thumped 3-0.

Saturday's fixture would have been an attraction anyway, but it just happened to coincide with the 50-year anniversary of the building of the Camp Nou (meaning 'New Field'). The ground for the present stadium was broken in March 1954 and the inaugural game played on September 24, 1957. 90,000 people saw that match (against Legia Warsaw), but the capacity later swelled to a massive 120,000, before seating regulations brought it back to its present 98,772 ' which means it's still the biggest in Europe.

The old stadium that made way for it, Les Corts, was built in 1922 and eventually grew to house some 40,000 supporters. Its original structure, whose front and back ends boasted see-through fence structures, meant that if you were walking past you could see row upon row of supporters' arses, disembodied from the rest of their shell. This gave the clubs' supporters their curious nickname of the 'Culés' (the bums), and it lends the club the friendly, almost self-deprecating air which seemed entirely absent from the pomposity on show before the game on Saturday night.

Maybe it's just me, but the wonderful tradition and culture of this club, forged through the difficult years under Franco and sustained by the city's astonishing ability to survive, adapt and innovate, is indeed something to cherish. But it gets a little tiresome when little-big-men like Joan Laporta, who has happily assumed the mantle handed down to him by his equally power-seeking predecessors, decide to ram it down your throat, for reasons entirely linked to his own desire for immortality.

The architects who designed both Les Corts and the Camp Nou were Catalans, which is how it should be. Barça have always welcomed foreign influence, but only because they were confident enough in their own ability to already show what they had achieved. The Camp Nou was financed entirely by club members ('socios'), who bought bonds and season tickets for up to five years in advance of the 1957 inauguration.

This time around, Norman Foster won the competition put out to tender, and so he gets the contract, but the scenes this week and before the game, with Laporta showering his unctuous phrases of admiration for 'Sir' Norman (the title was repeated lovingly, at the end of each sentence) made me feel slightly ill ' as if this were the new face of football, removing itself ever further from the people who actually make it tick ' removing it up into the gods, up into a metaphorical fourth tier of the already giddy Camp Nou, from where it will be impossible to actually see any football, as if that mattered anyway. And when Laporta rounded it all off with 'Barcelona is more than a club, and you, Sir Norman, are more than an architect' I'm afraid I was reaching for the sick-bag.

Sir Norman is going to re-model the stadium for a cool 250 million, which will put another six thousand on the gate every fortnight and turn the outside of the stadium into a sort of enormous wedding cake, with multi-coloured hundred-and-thousand confectionery sprinkles dotted all over the surface. It's supposed to reflect Gaudi's work of course (clever chap Foster ' did his homework), but just give me the rows of backsides any day.

Far from being voyeuristic, it just seems to me to be closer to the heart of the matter, or to the seat of it. Foster is originally of good northern English working-class stock, but moving football into the post-modern age seems a decidedly middle-class venture, further designed to knock the soul out of the game.

Call me a cynic, but for me the venture was all about Laporta, not Barcelona. The stadium's fine, for pity's sake. Just design a nice plaque (1957-2007) and nail it up it over the entrance, play an exhibition match against a World XI, give the money to charity and then get on with the next fifty years.

Incidentally, Barça beat Sevilla 2-1, and Messi scored twice, the first one a volley out of a comic book fantasy. Which brings us onto the second half of the rant. Ronaldinho was apparently injured, with an alleged 'pull' in his right leg. This was the result, we must assume, of a delayed reaction to the strain he applied to his leg when dancing the night away in one of Barcelona's night-clubs a couple of weeks ago, or more damningly, 48 hours before the game up at Osasuna.

Whether Ronaldinho was out drinking or not, the leak of the information and the subsequent disinformation seems designed to prepare us (I speculate) for his eventual departure from Spanish shores.

To employ RAF pilot-speak, this lies within the 'bottle-to-throttle' period, and is therefore punishable by dropping and/or fines. Ronnie's 'alleged' presence was detected by a local journalist (who just happened to be strolling by, ahem) and has been employed since as the reason behind the Brazilian's lethargic performances of late, and Rijkaard's seeming willingness to substitute him during games (something he had rarely done in the previous seasons).

So, OK ' maybe it's true and maybe it ain't. Rijkaard had a meeting with Ronaldinho in which the goofy one swore that he'd been home all night, reading his Shakespeare. Rijkaard believed him but left him out of the squad anyway, on the big day against Sevilla. The Brazilian even failed to make the fireworks display, 'allegedly' having a massage down in the bowels of the stadium. Sounds nice.

But then we get all the BS, the disinformation. This last word is defined by the dictionary as 'The deliberate dissemination of false information', as if we really believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did it and Ronnie's decided to take a massage instead of playing.

Given the state of the Cold War in the 1960s, I can kind of understand the Oswald thing, but I fail to see why the Spanish press should indulge itself in its new habit of treating the reading public as if were a collective imbecile. Just tell us the truth! It won't hurt us. We know you're annoyed with Ronnie, and that he's getting his just desserts, so just tell us. Cut the crap. There's no reason for it anymore.

The corporate business empire that is FC Barcelona will not founder on a small presentation of the facts.

Meanwhile, the word 'alleged' ('supuesto' in Spanish) floats on the air of business-led football like a frowning legal eagle, flapping its ever-expanding wings over the beautiful game and casting a shadow where once there was at least a sort of half-light.

Football has always sought to guard its secrets and wash its dirty linen at home, but rumours have a habit of sticking. Whether Ronaldinho was out drinking or not, the leak of the information and the subsequent disinformation seems designed to prepare us (I speculate) for his eventual departure from Spanish shores.

On Sunday, the tabloid press milked the fact that Messi had made Ronaldinho an irrelevance, despite the fact that the Argentine had clearly dedicated his first goal to him. Just get Henry ticking, the argument seems to follow, and the Brazilian can go and join his old mates in Serie A.

There were at it over in Madrid too. Bernd Schuster, never a man to just sit back and enjoy his garden, decided to tell a German newspaper in midweek that he would 'see how things go' when asked if he would see out the whole of his contract at the Bernabéu. This was interpreted by the quality newspaper 'El País' as an implicit warning to his employers (a.k.a Pedrag Mijatovic) that he wasn't entirely happy about everything.

Coming in a week where all was sweetness and light at the House of Merengue - top of the league, playing well and beating a plucky Werden Bremen side in the Champions League, this was a flat note, out of tune with the new harmonious picture painted by the Madrid tabloids.

And quick as a flash, 'As', a newspaper so white you need sunglasses to read it, swept Schuster's line under the carpet and came out with their own version, namely that the German was as happy as a sandboy and was thinking of staying for the next fifty years.

There we go again. The public cannot possibly be allowed to analyse Schuster for themselves. All perceptions of the manager at the helm of Spain's (self-elected) most important institution must be filtered through a rosy-coloured prism, just in case.

I read the news today, oh boy. But don't get me wrong. The tabloids are great, and fulfil a necessary function. It's the disinformation that's the dodgy part ' and the more the little emperors seek to build up their little empires (see re-modelling of Camp Nou), the more of it we will get. Resist! Saturday and Sunday must remain sacred.


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