Footballing Einstein

many Catalans have little or no interest in the Spanish national team

The European football championships, or Euros, are upon us and once again the Spanish national side is turning heads with its free-flowing football compared to the turgid, guileless fare offered by some other countries, such as England for example. Now, I’m well aware that many Catalans have little or no interest in the Spanish national team, favouring the idea of a Catalan national side, but, although fewer than in the past, La Roja does have some Catalan components, including Marc Cucurella (Alella), Lamine Yamal (Esplugues de Llobregat) and David Raya (Barcelona), as well as Barça players in Ferran Torres (born near València), Fermin Lopez (Huelva) and Pedri (the Canary Islands). As a side note, Albania’s right back, Iván Balliu, is from Caldes de Malavella, where his father is a pro-independence mayor and supporter of Carles Puigdemont. Apparently, he would have played for a Catalan national side, had there been one, and jumped at the chance to represent Albania when approached by the Albanian FA. Given that his surname is one of the most common in that country, they did the necessary research to find ancestors that would allow him to play for them.

Anyway, in my capacity as the English match commentator for Barça TV for several years, I had the unenviable task of directly interpreting live interviews from Catalan and Spanish into English with Barça players and coaching staff, although mostly Head Coach Xavi Hernández. On more than one occasion I was left struggling to interpret what Xavi had said in a press conference purely because we do not have the terminology in English to talk about the game in the same way. It almost sounds like a scientific field of study when discussed in Catalan compared to the English words and terms I have been so familiar with for so many years of my life. Another quick aside: the game in English is now being invaded by US sports terminology, which is becoming unpalatable for an Englishman with such a long history of watching the game. The use of stats is unbearable at times, and basic terms like a player being “in/out” of the game as opposed to “on/off” the field when a substitution is made is exasperating.

But that’s digressing from my point, which is that the ways in which Catalan and UK football players, coaches, pundits and commentators think about the game are worlds apart. This is brought into dramatic focus when local players appear on UK TV. One of the more eloquent of these is former Barça player Cesc Fàbregas (Arenys de Mar). Cesc has been invited into the BBC TV studio in Berlin to contribute his analysis on games during these Euros alongside former England players like Alan Shearer, Mikah Richards and Frank Lampard. For any Englishman, the comparison is a painful one, as Cesc’s Barça pedigree combined with a near perfect English after leaving Catalonia to live in London from the age of 16 make him a veritable Einstein compared to his counterparts, who come across as footballing luddites.

While Cesc waxes lyrical about formations, space and controlling the game with and without the ball, the likes of Shearer can be heard ranting about whether players have “got stuck in”, i.e. emphasising physical effort over technical ability or tactics. Add that to the uninspiring and uninspired pre- and post-match comments of England Head Coach Gareth Southgate, and the feeling of footballing inadequacy is complete.


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