Fan Zone: Jason on Barcelona legends Cruyff & Messi, El Clasico and more!

Jason Pettigrove is a well established author and sports journalist as well as a content editor at FC Barcelona. Jason’s love affair with Barcelona goes back several decades and covers the tough, the good and the great eras of the Catalan club.

In the first part of the Q&A which is published below, Jason touches upon the connection he built with the club as well as his favorite Barca players and matches. Feel free to discuss the main points from the Q&A and to connect with Jason and Rami Soufi via their Twitter profiles.

1) You’ve been a Barcelona fan for quite some time. What made you support Barca?

I’ll try and shorten a long story! I went on holiday to Lloret de Mar in the mid 1970s with my parents, and the Barça shirt was the first one I bought. I saw the Camp Nou and also brought home some posters of Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and Sotil to put up on my wall, as well as a Barça pennant.

When I was old enough to go to watch football, West Ham were my local team so I followed them for many years. My eldest son, who is now 25, played at the West Ham academy from the ages of 8-12, but he was bullied incessantly by his coach. It got to the point where I had to complain to the Premier League, and was astounded by the club’s attitude.

The week after he walked off of the pitch in disgust at his treatment, leaving football behind in the process, I was in Barcelona to see my first match at the Camp Nou – the 2007 El Clásico where Lionel Messi scored his first hat-trick. Barça were always my first love, but that was the point when I began to properly support them.

2) Who are your 3 all-time favorite Barca players and why? 

Lionel Messi – A player who can do it all and still be better than anyone else while do it all on the attacking front. Goals, assists, dribbling, passing, etc you name it and Messi can do it! Biggest point is we should remember that to be at the very top for as long as he has is astonishing as well.

Johan Cruyff – The Dutchman was perhaps the master. As a player he took the Blaugranes on a long journey which he would later complete as a coach when he guided them to their first European Cup while creating what was referred to as the Dream Team.

Pep Guardiola – From ball-boy to record breaking coach is probably the best way to describe Guardiola’s incredible journey with Barca. An imperious captain and a member of the Cruyff teams in the 1990s. Pep would later prove to be a managerial genius as shown by the titles won under his guidance between 2008 and 2012.

3) Name your favorite Barca player by position. One each from DEF/MID/ATT.

DEF – Gerard Pique – Once regarded as a bit of an afterthought next to club skipper Carles Puyol, Pique has matured into the consummate central defender. As big a part of the success over the last decade, his absence often corresponded with a drop in form defensively and exposed Barca’s back four.

MID – Arthur Melo – Although I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Arthur yet, he gives the team balance and purpose. The ‘new Xavi’ moniker is probably a little unfair, but the team looks so much more in control in the middle of the park with Arthur on the pitch.

Attack – Messi – The phrase ‘Messi-dependence’ is a little overused in my opinion, but
there’s little doubt he is the conduit through which all good things come. He is not just the team’s attacking spark and a football genius, but he is also the glue that holds the team together.

4) Most important Barca victory in your lifetime? Why?

That’s a very tough one as there have been a few important wins and for a number of different reasons. I think I will go with the 1992 Champions League win at Wembley. Simply put, for a world class club with world class players, it had taken them until then to reach the pinnacle in Europe.

Winning the cup got a huge monkey off of the club’s back, and though they probably
should’ve won more than they have since, that victory was a huge turning point.

5) Your all-time favorite Barca match? Why?

I’ll give you two. First, the 3-3 draw in El Clásico that I mentioned earlier. It happens to be my first live Barça match and also Messi’s first hat-trick not to mention the atmosphere that was as good as I’ve ever known.

Second, the 2011 Champions League final. I was lucky enough to be there, and it remains the best 90 minutes of football I think I’ve seen, or will ever see. Pep’s Barça at their absolute peak, and there was nothing Sir Alex Ferguson’s Man United could do about it.

6) Pick two from Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele, and Antoine Griezmann for your team, and why?

For the short term, it would have to be Suarez and Dembele. Although El Pistolero is getting on a bit, he still knows where the goal is, and a lack of pace hasn’t dimmed his excellence in sticking the ball in the back of the net.

Dembele has had his critics, and I’ve been one of them, but there’s little doubt that he is a top player when he’s free of injury. I’m looking forward to seeing how he gets on
when he returns.

7) Pick two from Arthur, Frankie de Jong, Busquets, Rakitic and Arturo Vidal, and why?

Easy one here- Arthur and Frenkie de Jong. The future of Barça’s midfield. Rakitic has been a fine servant and doesn’t deserve the heat he’s getting at the moment, but the time has come for him to move. Vidal is a breath of fresh air, but if the club can get some decent money for him, his sale is a no brainer. Busi only doesn’t get in because he’s coming to the end of his career and, sadly, isn’t quite the player he once was.

8) What are Barca’s weaknesses? Some single out the full-back positions while many point to the central defensive pair being shaky with Pique slowing down. Some mention Neymar’s departure. Others refer to over dependence on Messi. Thoughts?

I think what makes Barça great is also their weakness. Full-backs pushing too far up and being susceptible and getting caught on the break, a willingness to always look for Messi when often there will be better options available, possession for possession’s sake which, though incredibly pleasing on the eye, needs to have more of a purpose sometimes.

9) Who is in your opinion the best player to ever wear the Barca shirt?

As with other questions here, it has to be Messi for me. Whatever he is asked to do, he does it better than all others. His goal-scoring exploits and his magical assists will stand the test of time, and his passing ability is beyond comparison. There hasn’t been another player in the history of football that ‘had it all.’

3 things to look out for in El Clasico

So the day has finally arrived. El Clasico MK II is here.

And it’s been a long while since Barcelona and Real Madrid were so close in points terms going into the biggest club match in the world.

Just two points separate these La Liga behemoths, and the result could end up being decisive in the title race. Continue reading

Barcelona and Real Madrid game ends goalless but these two teams have pulled away in La Liga

True it was expected that this seasons tussle for the La Liga title would come down to Barcelona and Real Madrid and so it seems to have passed. The two teams played out a 0-0 draw in midweek and both are on 36 points. They have a 5 point advantage to 3rd place in the league standings.

The disappointment this season seems to lie with Atletico Madrid who under Diego Simeone have a fantastic team but the club have just been off the pace in the last few months and have just 29 points. Whilst it is realistically possible for them to bridge the gap to Madrid and Barca it does seem as if the club are playing more for Champions League glory after their disappointments in 2 finals this decade.

Back to El Clasico and this was the first match to end goalless since 2002. Then at a match which was also at the Nou Camp, Madrid player Luis Figo had a pigs head thrown at him- he had just switched from Barcelona. This match was a tense affair and Madrid at times probably deserved the win. Gareth Bale was harshly ruled off side as he thought he had put his team 1-0 up. Yes it was offside but when we are talking millimetres surely the player is not evidently cheating. If common sense can’t take hold hopefully UEFA and FIFA will bang their heads together and change the offside rule.

Madrid played well though and for long periods bossed the game away from home, this is something they have rarely done on their visits here. There was of course a lot of tension connected to this match with the political uprising suspending this match from a few weeks ago. Inevitably arrests were made outside the stadium and one could fathom that Barcelona’s players were not 100% focused on the game. Whilst the movement is of high importance and nobody is denying that it is unfortunate that it has overshadowed perhaps the biggest game in world football.

La Liga for the first time this season seems to be a two horse race and these great rivals will lock horns for much of the season it feels. Despite winning an incredible 3 Champions League trophies in a row Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane only won 1 league title in his first spell at Madrid. One wonders if that could play against him. There just feels like there is something missing at Madrid, perhaps another star dust player. The league will reveal itself soon enough. Gone are the days of Messi v Ronaldo now it is more like Messi v Hazard- who will come out on top?

Fantasy Managers? Play now

3 things that could decide El Clasico

Better late than never.

Although we’ve had to wait for a few weeks, the first El Clasico of the season is virtually upon us, and it can’t come soon enough for fans and players alike.

There really isn’t a game like it anywhere in the world, and this one could be the most closely fought in the league for years. Continue reading

El Clasico postponement sets a dangerous precedent

So it’s finally official.

After a few days of consultation, the Spanish football federation (RFEF) have made the decision to postpone the El Clasico fixture between Barcelona and Real Madrid, initially due to be played on Saturday, October 26.

The reason being given is that security of supporters cannot be guaranteed, even though the Catalan Police have given precisely that assurance. Continue reading

El Clasico will have no Messi, no Ronaldo as TV faces huge challenge

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We already knew, of course, that Cristiano Ronaldo would not be competing in El Clasico the match up between Barcelona and Real Madrid after his summer move to Juventus. But now Lionel Messi, the greatest player of his generation has been ruled out of the clash after fracturing his arm against Sevilla.

First it was the fans to gasp when Messi went down in pain, then it was the stats people, pundits followed and it quickly became known that Barcelona’s next game in the league is against Real Madrid, the super tie in world football. Next it was the television guys to cry. Still reeling that Real Madrid can only serve up Gareth Bale as a game changer, now they have lost Messi. Of course Bale is a superb player, arguably the greatest British player of all time and certainly of a generation, but still he’s not next level, which is shared by Ronaldo and Messi.

The news that Messi will miss 3 weeks which most probably will only be two just sets a huge damp squib of epic proportions on next weeks game. TV will certainly lose viewing figures though they are set to still have their highest of the season so far, they will be working overtime to create ads and promos and try to lure in more viewers, but that’s hard when the main ingredients are not there.

For hardcore fans of Spanish football though this game could be very interesting. Some will believe that the playing field will be level now and Real Madrid losing again at the weekend has put huge pressure on them and coach Julen Lopetegui who has got off to a nightmare start with the Champions League champions. His job is reported to be on the line after just 4 months in charge and a defeat against Barcelona could signal the end of his short tenure.

But back to the fans, the viewing ones at least who will still feel some excitement here given that they could be glimpsing a little into the future with no Messi in the team in such a high profile match, because of course only injury would otherwise keep him out.

For the ones that will be travelling far and wide to come here for a match that can cost upwards of 500 euros to witness live it’s a c’est la vie moment. What is undeniably true and can’t be ignored is that this game has had the shine taken off it.

El Clasico: Ronaldo, Benzema, Messi & Suarez in numbers!

With the highly anticipated El Clasico set for Sunday, we look at the numbers of the likely starters in attack for both hosts Real Madrid and their eternal rivals Barcelona.

While Karim Benzema has been on the receiving end of criticism on several occasions, his boss Zinedine Zidane has shown plenty of faith in his compatriot handing him 19 league starts in addition to 5 appearances as a substitute.

Benzema repaid Zidane’s faith with respectable yet unimpressive numbers. He managed to score just 9 goals while providing 4 assists. Contrast that with teammate and super-sub Alvaro Morata’s stats and one can understand why fans and critics alike tend to be harsh on Benzema. Morata has scored 12 goals and provided 2 assists while starting 11 league games and making a further 10 appearances as a substitute.


Benzema is expected to start on Sunday but the focal point of Real’s attack will be none other than Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese superstar has himself been dealing with growing discontent among fans with sections of the Santiago Bernabeu whistling him in recent weeks. However, Ronaldo has not won the Ballon d’Or four times for no reason. He responded in typical fashion scoring 5 goals in 2 games against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

In La Liga, Ronaldo remains Real’s top scorer with 19 goals and 6 assists in just 24 league starts. His teammates will look for him during El Clasico knowing the Portuguese legend has a knack for find the back of the net when least expected.

On the opposite side, a wounder Barca side enters El Clasico without superstar Neymar yet in Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, the Catalans have enough firepower upfront to cause damage.


In 30 league games, Suarez has scored an impressive tally of 23 goals while giving 12 assists. With Neymar sidelined, Suarez will become ever more important to Barca’s plan against Real. The Uruguayan will be on the receiving end of incisive passes from Argentine supertar Messi.

Messi is having a great season by even his own standards. In just 28 league games, including 26 starts, Messi has scored a remarkable total of 29 goals while also chipping in with 8 assists.

The Messi versus Ronaldo debate has been going on for years but perhaps it is time to sit back and enjoy their performances while acknowledging the duo as the greatest of their generation and most likely two of the best all-time footballers. Having said that, who is the more likely scorer on Sunday, Messi or Ronaldo? The debate never ends…


El Clasico: Will Real Madrid beat Barcelona for first La Liga title in 5 years?

For a club of Real Madrid’s stature, five years without a league title does seem like an eternity. Nevertheless, everything seems poised for Real Madrid to win their first la Liga title since the 2011-12 season.

Real eliminated Bayern Munich from the Champions League and will have the opportunity to battle one from Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Monaco. If Real can reach the final and lift the trophy, Zinedine Zidane’s men will become the first to retain the famous Champions League trophy in its current format. With confidence running high, and superstar Ronaldo scoring 5 of Real’s 6 goals in the 6-3 aggregate triumph over Bayern, Zidane must feel confident about his team’s chances of ending Barcelona’s league title hopes.

AS Roma v Real Madrid CF - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg

Contrast the confident mood in Madrid with disappointment and a sense of bewilderment in the Catalan camp following Barca’s exit from the Champions League. Luis Enrique will try to put on a brave face claiming the defeat against Juventus in Europe will propel his side to a famous win in El Clasico yet he knows the odds are stacked against Barca.

Not only do Real have a 3 point advantage in the standings, but the Madrid does have a game in hand as well. Anything less than a win for Barca might settle the title race and give Real an almost insurmountable lead. Thus, Real can play with a more relaxed approach while Barca know they must go all in and battle to earn 3 precious points.

Attacking in numbers will leave Barca’s susceptible defensive line even more exposed and things can only get worse when considering Cristiano Ronaldo’s recent goal-scoring exploits versus Bayern. Ronaldo only needs half a chance to stamp his name on the scoresheet. Ronaldo is no longer the explosive player he used to be but facing the likes of Sergi Roberto will leave him asking for the ball time and again during the highly anticipated El Clasico.

Zidane’s midfield has been a reference point this season with both Luka Modric and Toni Kroos performing well and on a consistent basis. Their ability to keep possession and pick out the proper passes helping the team to create more decisive chances while also giving opponents less time on the ball to hurt the defensive line led by Sergio Ramos.


Real will be playing at home and are aware they can settle for a draw and still retain a massive chance of winning the league title. Their fans want the league following a five-year absence. It will be extra special for the fans if the league can be practically sealed by beating Barca but at the same time it is unlikely Zidane will roll the dice and opt for a more attacking approach.

Just as against Bayern, Zidane will ask his players for full focus while patiently awaiting the opportune moments to attack and hurt Barca. Real’s cause will be helped by Neymar’s absence due to suspension but with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in the starting XI, Barca fans still have hope.

Will Real or Barca end up winning El Clasico? Or will the game end in a tie which will ultimately set Real on course to win the coveted La Liga title?

El Clasico: Will Barcelona miss the suspended Neymar?

Following elimination from the Champions League, Barcelona’s stars must turn their attention to rescuing their fading hopes of retaining La Liga title when they face Real Madrid in El Clasico. The Catalan giants are in 2nd place, three points behind league leaders Real. Factor in Real’s game in hand, and this becomes a must win game for Barca if the club is to keep any realistic hopes of winning the league title.

To make things even more interesting from Barca’s perspective, Luis Enrique must also do without his Brazilian star Neymar who is suspended for the game. Neymar has been on the receiving end of criticism from both fans and critics for needlessly picking up two yellow cards against Malaga. To make matters even worse, when the referee sent him off, Neymar sarcastically clapped his hands resulting in his suspension being increased to 3 games, including the critical El Clasico clash.


A tearful Neymar had to be consoled by former teammate Dani Alves following the mid-week exit against Juventus in Europe. The superstar was devastated raising the question whether an emotionally charged Neymar could have made a difference for Barca against Real. The fans will never find out, due to his suspension, how much Barca will really miss Neymar.

On the one hand, Neymar is not having a great season by his standards. He has managed to score 9 goals while providing 9 assists in 26 league starts. For the 2014-15 and the 2015-16 seasons, he scored 22 and 24 goals respectively. For those who argue the season is not over yet, Neymar’s 22 goals came in just 29 league games while his 24 goals came in 34 games. He won’t get the chance to play more than 30 league games this season.

Another detrimental fact is that despite Neymar improving as a player overall, his discipline has yet to parallel his maturity and rapid growth as a talent. For the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, he ended both campaigns with a total of 6 yellow cards. For this season, he is already at 6 yellow cards having played less games than the previous two campaigns.

To many critics Neymar’s attitude can be questioned at times, highlighted by him conveniently earning yellow cards at the opportune time so he can attend his sister’s birthday in 2015 and then again in 2016!

Setting aside all the theatrics, Neymar’s absence will be sorely felt, in particular for a squad lacking the exuberance and aura of the 2015 history making side that went on to win a famous treble. The great Andres Iniesta, at 32-years-old, no longer has the legs nor the consistency to perform at a the very high level fans got accustomed to. In fact, Iniesta will drift in and out of the games though he is still capable of moments of magic. Argentine enforce Javier Mascherano has also slowed down while Sergio Busquets no longer commands the midfield like he used to.

Barca’s first-choice goalkeeper and the defenders are inconsistent and mediocre when compared to their counterparts at Real & Atletico Madrid as well as Juventus. None of Barca’s backline or goalkeeper would make the grade at Atletico or Juventus. This must be highlighted because Barca’s approach in 2017 seems to rely heavily on their attack to mask their defensive weaknesses. Simply put, Luis Enrique’s strategy seems to revolve around outscoring their opponents and this puts emphasis on superstars Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.

Thus, Neymar’s absence will mean that Barca will be missing an important piece of the jigsaw. While Messi has often been forced to assume the role of a creator due to the midfield’s growing incompetence, Neymar has contributed 9 assists to the Argentine star’s 8 decisive passes in the league.

In addition, Neymar eases the pressure off Messi by attracting opposing players who must divide their attention between the Brazilian and Argentinean superstars. When Neymar is out, opponents will focus more and more on slowing down Messi.

Without Neymar, Luis Enrique might opt for a more defensive lineup but as discussed previously this Barca side is not known for its defensive prowess. Hence, the solution would be to start Paco Alcacer who has managed 4 goals and 2 assists this season in La Liga.

This will be a highly anticipated El Clasico and most likely a decisive one in the race for La Liga title. Can Barca overcome a confident Real side in Madrid? Real’s defenders will feel better going into the game knowing they will not have to deal with Neymar.

Make no mistake, Neymar will be missed… The onus will be on Messi and Luis Suarez to compensate for the Brazilian star’s absence. Perhaps Messi will have a performance for the ages in order to makeup for his teammate’s absence and to put behind the devastating exit from the Champions League! All eyes are on Sunday’s El Clasico!





Neymar, Neymal


El mal comportamiento de Neymar en el partido ante el Málaga le ha pasado factura. 3 partidos de sanción por aplaudir irónicamente al árbitro tras su expulsión. ¿Qué implica eso? En primer lugar, que Lucho tendrá que hacer un puzle para los siguientes choques ligueros y en los que, literalmente, se juega el campeonato. Pero además, se perderá uno de los partidos más decisivos del año: el Clásico en el Bernabéu ante el Madrid.

El partido en la Rosaleda fue una pesadilla para los azulgranas, que no solo perdieron el partido, sino que también desaprovecharon una oportunidad de oro en sus aspiraciones ligeras. Neymar fue expulsado por doble amarilla, la primera por adelantar el balón en el saque de una falta y, la segunda, por una entrada a un rival. Algo que podría haber evitado. Pero lo que menos ha gustado al Comité de Árbitros ha sido el desaire con el que se fue del terreno del juego, cuestionando la labor del colegiado. El castigo que le ha impuesto es de 3 partidos (1 por la roja y 2 por sus aplausos).

El Barça recurrirá la sanción. Lo único seguro es que el brasileño no estará el próximo fin de semana frente a la Real Sociedad, pero confía en que pueda perdonarle el otro castigo para llegar al Bernabéu. El tercer partido sería frente al Osasuna. Mientras tanto, Luis Enrique tiene que ver cómo reordenar su esquema de juego. Con la lesión de Rafinha hasta verano, todo apunta a que Alcacer y Arda se disputarán la titularidad en los próximos encuentros. Ninguno de estos dos jugadores está rindiendo a un buen nivel esta temporada, por eso quizá el técnico podría retrasar aún más sus líneas para reforzar mejor el centro del campo con futbolistas de más toque.

Un mal gesto de Neymar que al Barça le puede salir muy caro y en momento más delicado de la temporada. En el próximo mes y medio se juega tres títulos y cualquier traspiés es un revés del que prácticamente no podría levantarse.