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Hinchas y Jugadores - Barcelona with Isaiah Cambron (2nd May, 2017)

Isaiah is the founder of, and writes periodically at, barcelonafootballblog.com along with the fabulous, ludicrously prolific Kxevin (you can also follow him here on Twitter).

Follow him on Twitter here.

A bit about yourself and your background

Well, for starters, my name is Isaiah and I like long, relaxing dinners in the candlelight and – wait, that’s an answer to a different set of questions. My name really is Isaiah, though, and I never know how to describe myself without revealing weirdly intimate details. I’m a paralegal by day, a writer by night, a dad all the time, and recently I’ve been digging a lot in the dirt making a garden for my wife. I like sports. Except baseball. I really don’t like baseball. Currently I’m reading the Showa: A History of Japan series by Shigeru Mizuki. One time I got lost in the Black Hills in South Dakota and it worked out okay because the other two people I was with emphatically didn’t listen to me on which direction to go. I think that’s my whole biography.

How long have you been a fan of Barcelona and what made you support them in the first place?

The easy answer is that I’ve been a Barça fan since I first witnessed the game, but the truth is always more complicated than that. A quick recap is that I was in study hall in high school and was allowed to watch ESPN by the librarian when they rebroadcast Rivaldo scoring that bicycle kick goal against Valencia in 2001 and I was smitten. This was before the Internet or smart phones, so it wasn’t like someone could ruin the score for me, though the match took place on June 17, which means I wasn’t in school—in fact, I had already graduated from high school and was living in New York on that date, so my internalized memory of how all of this started may be rather wrong. I remember rooting against Real Madrid when they played Valencia in the Champions League final that year; I even remember the room I was in, which is the living room of an apartment my family lived in for just one year; except, of course, Real Madrid beat Valencia in 2000 not 2001. Memory is weird, but whatever really happened, I’m happy with the final result. Several years later, I studied abroad and the leader of the group was a huge Barça fan and we bonded over that, which meant my exposure magnified right as the Internet made following Spanish football a truly doable thing. I followed up that sojourn outside of the United States with a deep dive into Spanish league history (I read Morbo over a winter break, for instance) and a few side trips into the world of Iberian history in general (along with a few classes at college to help me out). All of that solidified my love of Barcelona, with the romantic historical figures like Kubala and the present-day brilliance of Ronaldinho egging me on. In 2007, I began blogging about football in general while living at my parents’ house and looking for work (the proverbial Internet basement dweller, except it was a 3rd floor bedroom instead of a subterranean haunt); eventually I settled on just writing about Barcelona because, well, why not specialize? It’s been great since then and my love of the club has only grown. I became a member in 2007 as well, when I could finally afford to do so.

Given the transfer windows and the squad that was assembled at the start of the season, is Barcelona where you want it to be?

Is anything ever where we want it to be? I disagreed with several of the purchases this past summer – Paco, André Gomes – but I also thought Umtiti was a great addition and Digne and Cillessen were going to be competent backups. I wasn’t against Paco and Gomes, by the way, because of anything against them, but I thought they were overpriced for what we were going to add. There is a sort of law of diminishing returns when you’ve built an incredible squad and I think Barça ran up against that pretty hard with those 2 moves. It’s not that either isn’t any good, but that they are not better than who they are backing up and they are not direct replacements for any part of the system. The brilliance of Luis Suarez is that he has adapted perfectly to the movements necessary to work with Messi’s wandering ways. Paco is, for my money, an out-and-out goal poacher, one that works best picking spots and gunning to them. Trickery or pausa are not his strong suits and while he’s spent the better part of 6 months unlearning and relearning, that’s a tough ask and one that doesn’t seem worth some 30m euros. Given that, we’re not realistically nearer to where we want to be – winning trophies – than we were at the end of last year.

Of the signings made this season, which one worked out the best/had the most impact and why?

I’ve already alluded to this, but it’s Samuel Umtiti. Hands down. The reason is that he’s a magnificent player with all the right tools, the right head on his shoulders to fit with the squad coupled with all the physical skills you could ever want.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Barcelona this season? Any standout players?

The strength is MSN. The weakness is the midfield. Things are simply not working behind the front three. I’m not quite sure what it is, but there have been a lot of flat matches and it’s either that the players are tired, which seems possible given the relative lack of rotation and the match-heavy schedule, or that the coaching staff relies entirely on pushing the turbo button, which can only be activated from time-to-time rather than every 3 days. Still, though, we’re a few slightly better placed shots from being in for a triple. Juve got 3 unanswered goals, but Buffon tipped a few shots away that would typically go in. They simply didn’t and that’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes. Arturo Vidal missed a penalty to go up 2-0 against Real Madrid and in the Barça world that would mean sell him, chuck him out, fire the coach, string up the president, burn the stadium down. What you really want is the chance to make the difference, which Barça has been doing, but simply hasn’t closed the deal. That’s tough to handle sometimes, but it’s a better result than never even getting the chance in the first place. If you miss a shot, at least you were in the position to take the shot. But the glass is always half empty under Lucho, it would seem, so maybe the next manager will be able to simply change the atmosphere a little, even if the results are largely the same.

List some things you appreciate and some things you can’t stand about the club management. Rant away :)

Things I appreciate? I don’t know. Because all of this is opaque despite being a directly elected administration, it’s hard to know who does what, exactly. Complex negotiations for the purchase or retention of a player are unlikely to be handled by the coach, so we can say that the board has done a decent job of that, though they lost Dani Alves, which sucks, but well okay, players age out and you want to preserve at least a modicum of financial stability. If Alves’s cost is disproportionate to his contribution, we’re up against that diminishing returns thing again, so why not replace him with someone else who costs much, much less and does 9/10ths of the work? That 10% we’re missing, though, could be the difference and fear of that is what drives clubs to overspend. It seems to me that the club administration has either given over way too much to the coach in terms of “we will buy this person because you said to do so” (which is a great thing if the coach is great at picking players) or they have given strict instructions about the marketability of such signings. Either way, the administration can’t win unless the team performs on the field. I have issues with the administration’s long-held stance of restricting membership, so I’m probably naturally inclined to be against most of their decisions, but the truth is that we simply don’t have the information to make a lot of judgments on their actions. That is the main problem, but the general politicky-ness of a club run by popular vote is one that can rub a lot of people the wrong way, especially when it’s populism-based. Our former president Joan Laporta was never anything other than the slickest cat in the room, but Sandro Rosell and then Josep Bartomeu have both built on that with holier-than-thou attitudes and a willingness to push the Barça Brand envelope as far as it will go.

What has the mood among the fans been during the campaign? Do you generally agree/disagree with them?

Because I’m not in Catalunya, I can only really speak to the English-language Barça crowd and they are, to put it as mildly as I can, the worst. The absolute worstest ever. As a collective, they’re tedious freakout artists that want to win everything right now – right now – and any failure to do so is not just a failure at the institutional level, but a failure at the personal, human level by everyone and everything that doesn’t agree with their tactical analysis.

Are there any talented youngsters at the club that you expect to have a big future?

I don’t watch the youth ranks nearly as much as many other commentators, so I am not as keyed in as I used to be when I caught maybe 75% of all their teams. Still, there are always jewels to be found in La Masia, but none of them seem to be ready-made world beaters right now. This is, I think, partly Lucho’s fault. The trajectory of the club’s physical and technical requirements has changed—more Rakitić, less Iniesta—which obviously puts pressure on the youth system, which has been lining up different types of players and requires some lag time before producing different types of players. I think it’s going to be a dry few years, but there is definitely talent there: Carles Aleñá is the most talked about player, a midfielder who could potentially make the step up. Marlon, the Brazilian central defender on loan from Fluminense, did well early in the year, earning a permanent move over January and even making a Champions League debut for the senior team, but obviously only time will tell if he can make the full step up. I also really like watching Wilfrid Kaptoum, but as I mentioned, I don’t watch the B team nearly as much as I used to, so I don’t know how we’ll he’s really doing.

 If you could make one realistic signing for Barcelona this summer who would it be?

Honestly, given the financial clout Barcelona has, there is no one who is not a realistic signing if the board puts their mind to it. I am, however, pretty bad at this Fantasy Draft thing, so I’m easily bowled over by signings like Zlatan back in the day or Thierry Henry even further back while I generally poo-poo splashing cash on defenders, like when I was against signing Dani Alves because I’m a dumb idiot who is stupid. Given that personal (and embarrassing history), with the front 3 solidified for at least the next season (we’ll see how Suarez ages), I’d love to see an Iniesta understudy that would be able to slowly replace the aging maestro. I love Rakitić, but unless Rafinha can remain healthy or Denis Suarez can make huge strides, but now we’re looking down the double barrel of a pausa-less midfield. Xaviniesta was certainly a fiesta and one that will not be replicated any time soon. The fan base seems to be clamoring for Marco Verratti, but I’m not completely convinced that he will be able to fill the magical shoes of Don Andres in any meaningful way. Maybe we’re moving away from what has been Barça’s signature style for so long now simply because the players to fill those roles do not exist. That’s depressing. So yeah, sure, let’s go for Verratti. Why the hell not?

Finally, predicted finish for Barcelona?

Given that I’m writing this 2 days before Juventus visits the Camp Nou with a 3-0 lead in the Champions League quarters, I’ll go ahead and say Barça will make the QF, but no farther. I’m such a Nostradamus. As for the league, well, we’ll go with a close second place finish behind Madrid; the team simply hasn’t been finishing strong and it’s hard to imagine anything other than a draw coming out of the clasico on April 23 and given that every time (Every. Damned. Time.) Madrid drops points, Barcelona goes ahead and drops some too, there is no real way to make up the required points in the matches that remain. And we’re going to beat the pants off of Alavés in the Copa del Rey final. Poor Alavés are gonna face a jazzed up trophy-hunting Barça that will take no prisoners. So that’s one trophy for the season.

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