Previous
Celta Vigo
Almeria
0
1
FT
Game Details
Mainz
Bayern Munich
1
2
FT
Game Details
Lens
Nice
2
0
FT
Game Details
Millwall
Bolton Wanderers
0
1
FT
Game Details
FC Porto
Vitoria Setubal
4
0
FT
Game Details
Next

Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

50-50 Challenge
Read

Chaos theory

Who was it that said 'The only thing I understand is that I don't understand anything'? George Bush? Frank Rijkaard?

I can't remember, and Google's not helping. But someone said it, and it could easily have been an exasperated response from a pundit being asked to analyse the Spanish league this season. Chaos theory? It's probably the best way out.

I've tried manfully to keep up with events over the last two weeks, but the distractions of Zanzibar's beaches and the rather slow delivery of its internet-café broadband has meant that I've had to rely on seeing the raw results then instinctively interpret their significance - as if that were possible.

Throw in the further issue of basement English football, and you could be forgiven for thinking that this week's La Liga focus was anything but. You'd be wrong - but allow me a little indulgence, since the experience of other shores and other football always throws some light on one's home (Spanish) experience.

To this end, I visited the new Wembley on Sunday, to witness a game between MK Dons and Grimsby Town in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Cup Final. An unglamorous title in a glamorous setting, for the new stadium is indeed impressive.

For those of you unacquainted with this quaint competition, it provides the lower English leagues (Leagues One and Two - confusingly named thus when they are in fact Leagues 3 and 4) with a chance to get to Wembley and earn a few bucks, above and beyond the remoter chances these teams have of getting somewhere in the more famous FA Cup.

I first saw Grimsby play in 1968, and I have suffered along with them ever since - the umbilical cord of my upbringing disallowing me from effecting any sort of detachment from their emotional grip. As a Sky Sports ad once put it, 'You don't choose your football team- it chooses you'.

But Grimsby have been in existence since 1878, and therefore deserve some respect. MK Dons have been in existence since 2004, but I have no wish to debate the whys and wherefores of their controversial birth. They were better than Grimsby, and deserved to win.

It was a great day out, and I took my son on an emotional outing, since I'd often dreamed of taking him to Wembley to see my impossibly obscure little team play there - but it turned out to be a reality. We weren't disgraced (2-0), and even missed a penalty. I saw some people from Grimsby that I haven't seen in thirty years, and stranger was the fact that they still they recognised me, but anyway.

Football's like that. A whole community bussed and trained down to London for the day, jollied along by the solidarity of community, at least for a few hedonistic hours. I haven't lived there since I was a kid, but roots pull hard on the heartstrings. I even won two unlikely freebies on the on-line competition, answering the question 'Why do you like Johnstone's Paint?' with the answer 'Because I'm an artist, of course!' They seemed to like that and awarded me two 40 pound tickets. I guess I was the only person to actually send in an entry.

The football was much better than I'd expected. It was a good advertisement for 4th Division football. If you'd been beamed down blindfolded and asked to guess the level, you might have thought it was 2nd Division. Comparisons with Spain are always difficult, but I suppose the English League Two is more or less the equivalent of Spain's Segunda 'B', which is itself broken up into regional sections.

Spanish journalists try hard to explain to their readers the significance of an English cup shock, but tend to fall into the trap of numerical equivalence, assuming that, for instance, England's League Two (old Division 4) is therefore the same as Spain's 'Tercera' (Third). But I don't think it is.

The quality of Spanish football dips alarmingly (as do its attendances) once you get into the nether regions of Segunda 'B' and Tercera, whereas the more solid professional structure of England's four basic divisions ensures a greater consistency of level, albeit a mundane one.

But it's difficult to say. Lower division players from Spain have prospered in the lower English divisions and vice-versa (although not to the same extent), but the technical levels on show at Wembley last Sunday were a testament to something - maybe the pitch.

And what about Zanzibar, you ask? Well - not so big on football, as they're not affiliated to FIFA, and are anyway a part of Tanzania. I did manage to engage a friendly rasta called Bert (really) one afternoon on the subject, but he informed me (whilst trying to sell me a pair of dodgy Masai figurines for 20 dollars) that the best players from the island ended up playing for Tanzania anyway, and that even they had rarely qualified for the African Nations Cup.

I was talking to him because I spotted him on the beach wearing a faded Barcelona shirt with 'Ronaldinho' vaguely printed on the back. When I asked him who he supported he claimed to follow Sevilla, because he liked Freddie Kanouté. When I questioned him further on this, he seemed to think that Sevilla were in the Portuguese league, which probably had something to do with whatever he'd been smoking a couple of hours previously. Whatever, I eventually secured the figurines for 3 dollars each - not before Bert had informed me, in a rather more lucid moment, that Zanzibar had played in the FIFI Wild Cup in 2006 (for teams unaffiliated to FIFA) and had lost in the final.

Looking this up later on the web, I found it to be true, only they'd lost 4-1 to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and been coached by a German comedian, name of Oliver Pocher. Don't believe everything you read on the web, and certainly never accept an opening price of 20 dollars for a pair of Masai figurines.

So in London over the weekend I managed to take in Deportivo v Murcia (3-1), but only because it was on screen in the local newsagents. I had to go back for a second bottle of wine to justify seeing some more of the second half. My sister-in-law does not subscribe to Sky, and I therefore missed Betis v Barça and Villarreal v Atlético Madrid on Saturday, both games very interesting indeed, by all the accounts I've since taken in.

Marca is of course available in London on the day, and I spent the flight back to Spain from Gatwick (avoiding the famous Terminal 5 at Heathrow) taking in the weekend's football news.

I suppose the most eye-opening consequence of the weekend's results was Villarreal's supplanting Barcelona as Real Madrid's new challengers, albeit for this week anyway. The possibility of this happening was being whispered about some weeks ago, but it's become a reality. What is it a testament to?

Well - as mentioned in the opening paragraph, it supports the chaos theory of this year's La Liga. Never can I recall such a strange season, in the eighteen years I've lived here.

It's not so much the fact that a side like Villarreal are second in the league, since they did finish 3rd in 2005 and reach the semi-final of the Champions League the following season, but rather that they themselves started the season poorly, and hardly threatened to become the force that they appear to be now - riding the euphoric wave of a nine-match unbeaten run.

They've hopped over Barça courtesy of the Catalans' collapse at Betis after being two goals ahead, a result that finally seems to have done with the patience of some of their less forgiving supporters, several of whom went along to training on Monday to make their point in finest Catalan. Rijkaard's position seems to be reaching the untenable, and any problems against Schalke in the Champions League could see some sort of cathartic event taking place at the Nou Camp, reluctant though its chiefs are to rock the boat.

The only boats rocking at Villarreal, however, are the sub-aqueous ones (their nickname is 'The Yellow Submarines') and they can now be at least permitted to dream. Why not? Real Madrid may have confounded everyone, including themselves, by playing well against Sevilla in their 3-1 win on Sunday night, but such are their erratic ways of late that Villarreal's recent consistency augurs well for a possibly more interesting finish than any of us were expecting back in January.

Villarreal have proved that what is ultimately important is the collective, and not the individual. Barça would do well to heed the principle, since they themselves subscribed to it before overstepping the mark in the summer, by bringing in one galáctico too many.

Or maybe that in itself is a simplification of what has ailed the team this season - but the only thing that one can be sure of is the fact that too many players belong to too many cliques, and too many egos have finally created an edgy atmosphere where the occasional run of brilliance is always brought down to earth by a lack of backbone, a lack of solidarity when the going gets tough.

You can tell by the half-hearted statements of the players in post-match interviews, and by the fact that the team needs to score two or three in order to stand a chance of winning - given the likelihood that the opposition will score just as many. Barça no longer have the best defensive statistics (that mantle belongs to Racing Santander) but more importantly they no longer look very confident against teams that get physical with them. Beware of Schalke 04.

Villarreal took the bold step in the summer of dispensing with the services of Juan Roman Riquelme, an iconic figure at the club and one of the world's top players, and instead decided to rely on the virtues of the balanced squad put together modestly by ever more shrewd Manuel Pelligrini.

What do the team have? A pair of good players in every department. Perhaps that's the secret. Nihat and Rossi up front can scare anybody, despite their small physical stature.

Cazorla and Pires are creative and imaginative, whilst Senna is still one of Spain's best holding players. At the back, Gonzalo Rodriguez and Godín take few prisoners, and Capdevila was the signing of the season. The team believes in itself, and has come into form at the right time.

Madrid visit Mallorca next week, the home team fresh from a 0-3 thrashing of Valencia, the first time they have ever won in the Mestalla - and that on the coat-tails of Valencia's alleged improvement after their win at the Bernabéu. Madrid won't find it easy, whilst Villarreal, now the league's best travellers, visit Sevilla, a team still unable to recover the levels of their previous inspiration.

But it might be better not to predict anything. For sure, there's plenty more chaos to come.


  • Any comments? Email Us