Tag Archives: cesc fabregas

Nike disappoints purist fans of Arsenal and Barça, but the players seem happy

William Gallas, Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott model
the new Arsenal home shirt in an online Nike ad.

It’s that time of year again. The season is over, players are on the beach, transfer sagas are drawn out, and the sports newspapers are filled with pages of talk, speculation, rumour and very little football. It’s the one moment in the calendar where people like me (and if you’re reading this probably you also) can devote a little time to something other than football. But any true fan knows there is always something to keep his interest alive during the close season. In my case, it’s the excitement and anticipation which can only be caused by the unveiling of the big clubs’ new kits. There is always that hope that every shirt will revert to a classic design, but sadly in reality only rarely do kits adhere closely to those that grace the hallowed turfs of my football fantasies.

Arsenal recently unveiled their new 2008-09 home strip, sparking a fresh controversy amongst some of the North London club’s most purist supporters. In an unexpected break with tradition, manufacturers Nike have ditched Arsenal’s famous white sleeves — which the Gunners have worn since former manager Herbert Chapman introduced the design in the 1930s — instead opting for a somewhat nondescript red shirt with a white sleeve stripe. Ardent Gunner fans say the new look removes all of Arsenal’s visual individuality, making them look like half the other teams in the world. Arsenal will wear the shirt for home games until 2010.

Thierry Henry celebrates a goal during Arsenal’s last ever game at Highbury against Wigan Athletic. The Gunners wore a “redcurrant” home strip for the entire 2005-06 season.

The only previous drastic modification to Arsenal’s home strip came in the 2005-06 season, when a shirt based on a 1913 design was worn to commemorate the Gunners’ last season at Highbury. The club officially described the kit’s colour as “redcurrant”, with reference to the darker strip Arsenal wore in its early years. I actually liked this shirt — even if it had nothing to do with any Arsenal team I’d seen before or since.

For the 2006-07 season, the first at their new stadium, Arsenal reverted to a classic traditional strip, as worn here by Dutch forward Dennis Bergkamp.

One player who is not concerned about these alterations is Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who has admitted turning down offers from Real Madrid and Barcelona to stay at the Emirates Stadium. “I get excited about a new kit and really like trying on new shirts,” says the newly-crowned European champion. “It makes you start looking forward to the new season.” It may be worth mentioning that Nike is one of Fabregas’ personal sponsors. Arsenal teammate Theo Walcott is also unconcerned: “It’s a great design,” says the 19 year-old. “It feels good on, it’s really comfortable, and I’m looking forward to wearing it next season.”

Nike posters feature Bojan Krkic and Carles Puyol in the latest
Barça home and away styles for 2008-09.

I wonder what the Catalan Fabregas would make of Barcelona’s new strip. The La Liga giants are also kitted out by Nike, and this year’s home shirts have also upset their fiercely traditionalist contingent. After almost a century of stripes, for the 2008-09 season Barça’s famous blaugrana will be worn as halves. This is not the club’s first recent alteration to their classic look: Barcelona memorably reverted to red-and-blue halves with navy sleeves and shorts for their centenary season in 1999 — a shirt that proved extremely popular with fans around the world. Sadly, this season’s new shirts have none of the centenary kit’s unique details, instead they look like a quickly knocked off alternative to last season’s strip, and make the mighty Barça look a lot like Genoa or Cagliari.

Rivaldo and Luis Figo during the 1999 centenary season, the last time Barcelona wore halves; Ronaldinho sports Barça’s Champions League-winning strip: note the narrower stripes and red shorts.

Barcelona have worn their usual wide stripes in the last two seasons — a welcome return following the narrow stripes and red shorts combination of 2005-06. For anyone with a sense of the club’s kit tradition this strip was quite a departure, although it didn’t affect the side: Barcelona won the Champions League that year, beating Arsenal in the final. In 2007 Barcelona — the last major team in Europe never to wear a sponsor — secured a deal with the charity organization Unicef, whose logo now appears on the front of their shirts. At least Barcelona will look the part away from the Nou Camp: recent dalliances with orange and turquoise have given way to a new second strip based on the classic yellow shirts of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Diego Maradona leads out Barcelona in yellow at Old Trafford, March 1984; Barça coach Terry “El Tel” Venables (far right) presents new signing Steve Archibald (in classic blaugrana strip) to the Nou Camp, August 1984.

¡Campeones de Europa!

Spain captain Iker Casillas raises aloft the Henri Delaunay trophy (top) before his team-mates join in the fun under a shower of ticker-tape (above).

VIENNA — A goal by Fernando Torres ensured Spain became European Champions for the second time in their history tonight, defeating Germany 1-0 in the final of Euro 2008 at Vienna’s Ernst Happel Stadium. It’s Spain’s first title since they won the European Championship back in 1964 in Madrid; as goalkeeper captain Iker Casillas raised aloft the Henri Delaunay trophy into the Austrian evening, he must have hoped this victory will perhaps lay to rest Spain’s unwanted tag of perennial underachievers which has plagued its national side ever since. It is certainly a greater achievement than Greece’s entirely unexpected win four years ago, in that the pressure on the Spaniards to go far in becomes is greater with each passing tournament. The title of Spain’s official Euro 2008 song roughly translates as, “Let’s Get Beyond The Quarter-Finals”, revealing an element of self-deprecating humour not always evident in much of Spain’s sporting media.

A nervous royal couple King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia (suitably dressed in all-red) stand for the national anthem.

History was definitely against Spain before the match, as they faced Germany, a nation which knows better than any other what it takes to get to a tournament final and win it. Germany’s captain, Michael Ballack, instrumental in his side’s run to the final, had partly recovered from a calf strain and was passed fit to at least start the match. Spain were without their top scorer, David Villa, who had been injured in the semi-final. Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas — who as a substitute had transformed the game with Russia — came in to the side. Although they would inevitably miss Villa’s trickery, I sensed his misfortune might prove a blessing in disguise. Fabregas’ inclusion meant Spain would play with a lone striker — the powerful Fernando Torres — with Fabregas sitting behind in a playmaking role. I felt this move could work to their advantage in a tight final against the robust Germans.

Spain’s starting eleven (without David Villa) line-up before the final.

Spain appeared nervous in the opening moments, and Sergio Ramos was nearly punished after gifting possession to Miroslav Klose in his own half. But once the game settled Spain began to assert themselves. Lehmann pulled off a fine one-handed save from his own defender, as Xavi Hernandez’ cross pinged off Christoph Metzelder. The German goalkeeper was nowhere to be seen minutes later as Torres climbed high to reach Fabregas’ cross and direct his header onto the foot of the post. Germany’s defence was struggling to cope with Torres, whose strength and pace led to the opening goal. The Liverpool striker latched onto a through-ball from Xavi, and somehow muscled his way around Philip Lahm to lift the ball over the onrushing Lehmann and into the net.

Fernando Torres puts Spain in front

Fernando Torres leaps over Lehmann as the ball sails into the German net for the opening goal.

A Spanish lead would inevitably make the Germans come out and play, and my feeling was almost that the goal had arrived too early for Spain, allowing Germany a whole hour to get back into the match. It was imperative for Spain to arrive at half-time ahead: an equalizing goal before the break would have shattered Spanish exuberance and restored Germany’s infinite self-belief. But barring a Ballack volley which Sergio Ramos skillfully blocked, Germany had offered little threat as the sides walked back to the dressing rooms. On the basis of enterprise and chances, Spain were deservedly in front, although Germany felt unfortunate when Roberto Rosetti failed to award them a penalty after Marchena had controlled the ball with his hand in the area. The Italian referee instead showed a yellow card to an agitated Ballack, who at one point had to leave the field to receive stitches for a cut above the eye.

Germany captain Michael Ballack approaches a linesman to protest a decision.

The second half began as expected. Spain relented allowing Germany to apply increasing pressure to their defence, and though Ballack miscued a shot into the side netting, it seemed a German goal was not far in coming. The longer the game remained at 1-0, the more likely I imagined the Germans to claw their way back, as they have in so many matches of this kind. Between 1966 and 1996 the German national team reached ten international finals, winning half of them. Only in the last ten years has its machine-like dominance of international competition grinded to a halt, and even in that period they reached another World Cup Final. But somehow Spain were determined to defy history and stereotype, and came closer themselves to adding a second goal. An unmarked Sergio Ramos saw his diving header saved by Lehmann, and then the industrious Brazilian-born Marcos Senna — one of the tournament’s revelations in Spain’s midfield — started a move which very nearly ended in his own personal triumph.

Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas punches clear from a rare German attack.

In the remaining minutes, Spain’s aging coach Luis Aragonés removed Fabregas and the plucky David Silva, plugging the midfield with the more workman-like styles of Güiza and Xabi Alonso. Germany’s Joachim Löw threw on his reserve forwards, the ineffective Mario Gomez and another nationalized Brazilian, Kevin Kuranyi, in an attempt to cause Spain problems at the back. But together they combined nothing, and Casillas was left with little to do for much of the second half. Oddly, the final five minutes were Spain’s most comfortable of the match, and Los Rojos seemed the more likely to score in the dying stages.

A dejected Bastian Schweinsteiger lies exhausted after the final whistle.

After so many years of never quite living up to expectations, I think few people would begrudge Spain their moment of glory. They have proved to be the most consistent side at Euro 2008, winning all six matches and outlasting early favourites Holland and Portugal. Much like Italy’s World Cup victory in Germany two years ago, Spain’s success is certainly a triumph of collective team spirit and tactical maturity. And like Marcello Lippi’s Italy in 2006, Aragonés’ Spain did not have the luxury of a Maradona or even a Zidane in their squad, that one player they look to to pull the side through the tournament. Even UEFA president Michel Platini — the last player whose class and goals dominated a European Championship in 1984 — must have recognized that these days no tournament can be won single-handedly. But to win a final it sometimes only takes one individual to produce a very special moment: tonight it belonged to El Niño.

Fernando Torres celebrates Spain’s remarkable triumph: the 24 year-old saved his only goal of the tournament for the final.