FC Barcelona – Progress Report

These are difficult times for Barça and fans. An, at best, stuttering start to the season, culminating in an unexpected 3-0 loss at home to Juventus in the Champions League. What has gone wrong? Let’s look at some of the possible explanations.

At the institutional level there has been turmoil, uncertainty and much criticism for some time. President Bartomeu had been under pretty much incessant attack for over a year or more. He finally succumbed to this pressure and resigned. The club is now under an interim junta, unable to take long term or costly measures. At least seven candidates are planning to stand for election which will be early in January.

Until then no-one really knows what the immediate, let alone, long term future of the club will be.  This uncertainty at boardroom level may have negatively impacted on some players and even on the current coach, Ronald Koeman. Clearly he does not know how long he will be in charge of the team.

I don’t think this is a major factor in the team’s erratic performances. All are professionals and their own future is also at stake. Not giving 100% not only damages the team, but would also decrease a player’s chances  of securing an enhanced deal, either at Barça or another club. So, I think we need to look elsewhere for explanations of these poor performances.

To some extent the poor results, as opposed to performances, are more to do with individual errors. These can happen to any team, but there have been too many recently and they have cost the club dearly in terms of lost points. Difficult to know why this is happening. This is not mainly about a collective defensive failure, as many of the most costly errors have been individual.

Injuries to key players have undoubtedly had a detrimental effect on the team’s performances. The long term loss of Piqué and Ansu Fati in particular has been significant. Injuries to other key players have come at inopportune moments, Dembélé the latest. Still a club as big as Barça should not be so badly affected by these injuries.

A number of commentators have insisted that the team’s new formation – 4-2-3-1 is at the root of the problems. The argument is that the more traditional 4-3-3 formation is better suited and more effective for the team. I have to disagree with this view. Firstly there is actually very little difference between the two systems. In the case of Barça and all attack minded teams, both formations rely on two wide players and a centre forward. The wide players are either wingers, think of Neymar, Dembélé  or Ronaldinho, or forwards who can play on the wing, think of David Villa, Henry or Fati. A top class centre forward completes the attacking trio, think of Suárez or Etoo.

The only difference lies in midfield. With 4-3-3, there is one central/holding/defensive player, think of Busquets, with two creative, attacking players, think of Xavi and Iniesta. With 4-2-3-1, there are two central players, think of Busquets, De Jong, and only one attacking, link player, think of Griezman, Coutinho.

The difficulty for the coach, whoever he is, is that the current squad has too many players whose preferred and best position is more or less the same. This is as the attacking/link player in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Griezman, Coutinho, Pedri and Messi, all prefer to play in this role. And of course, only one can do so. There is only one genuine centre forward – Braithwaite, who good though he is, is perhaps not quite the top class striker needed for this position with Barça.

As regards wingers/genuine wide players, the club started the season with three contenders – Fati, Dembélé and new signing Trincâo. Fati is out long term, Dembélé is still injury prone, while Trincâo has not been used regularly. Faced with this prospect of only one genuine winger, Koeman has regular played one of Griezman, Coutinho, Pedri and Messi as a nominal wide player. Sometimes two of them play wide. I say nominal, because none of them stay wide very much. They all tend to come inside. This can, and often does, lead to a great deal of overcrowding in the centre of the attack. Lots of attempts at intricate passing, but little in the way of goal scoring chances.

What all this means is that to play players in their preferred, most effective positions, a good number of very good players have to be left on the bench. If Braithwaite plays as the centre forward and Dembélé and Trincâo play on the wings, there is space for only one of Griezman, Coutinho, Pedri and Messi. So, it is easy to understand why Koeman has to try and juggle his players into an effective attacking unit.

Messi, it will be noticed, doesn’t for me easily fit into a 4-2-3-1 formation. He is not disciplined enough for me to be played either wide right or as the attacking link player. He doesn’t fully defend and is a bit too self indulgent in possession. The one place where he can still use his brilliance is in the centre forward role, or false nine, as it is sometimes known. He has successfully played there before. It would give him lots of freedom for movement and to link with Griezman.

When it comes to a 4-3-3 formation, the above comments on the front three still stand. You play two wingers and either Messi or Braithwaite in the centre.  With two creative, attacking midfielders, you now have more options there. For these positions the club has Coutinho, Pedri, Aleñá, Puig, De Jong andSergi Roberto. For the one central midfield role, the coach has Busquets, De Jong and Pjaniç. De Jong as noted can also play as an attacking midfielder.

The big loser with this formation is Griezman, as his preferred role has disappeared. There is the same problem with the other formation, namely that the squad has only two genuine wide players, Dembélé and Trincâo. One of whom is injury prone and the other is still adapting to playing for Barça.

To sum all this up, I do not think the main issue for the club is the formation. The root problem is that Koeman has inherited an unbalanced squad, which has been made worse by serious injuries to key players. Looking ahead, there are a number of decisions the new board and coach really need to take. Depending on which formation they want they need to sell either Coutinho or Griezman. They don’t play well together, and Griezman is much the better player in a 4-2-3-1 formation. If they opt for a 4-3-3 system then Griezman doesn’t fit in at all.

Whichever formation they plump for, Barça are traditionally most effective when playing with two genuine wide players. Hopefully Fati will return fully recovered and Trincâo will have started to fulfil his potential. If Dembélé can remain fully fit, he could become a star for the team. Can the club rely on his fitness though? Konrad de la Fuente from the B team may be another star in the making. If not, the club should sign a top class wide player.

As regards the centre forward position, the club do need a top class, reliable goal scorer. Braithwaite is a very good reserve, but the team needs someone else as first choice. Messi can play there, but he probably doesn’t want to and is unlikely to be a long term solution. Perish the thought, but I tend to agree with those who think it would have been better for all concerned if the club had kept Luis Suárez and sold Messi in the summer. The squad would be slightly better balanced and the club would be in a bit less of financial trouble.

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Implementing Independence

Now that opinion polls are showing a clear majority of people in Scotland are in favour of independence we need to start looking seriously at how this majority can be made a reality. The starting point for this post is that there has been a majority vote in Scotland in favour of independence. A Democratic Event as Craig Dalzell of The Common Green would call it. Craig has written a very clear post outlining the various options for such a Democratic Event. My starting point is that such an event has happened resulting in a clear majority in favour of independence.

What happens next? This is to my mind the key question. Again I am assuming that the UK government will continue to reject the result of such a Democratic Event and refuse to even contemplate negotiations. This is of course just an assumption, but one we need to make and take seriously.

We need to consider carefully what steps the Scottish government and Parliament can take in response to a continuing No from the UK government. If independence is to become a reality then the Scottish government needs to very quickly demonstrate that it is in control of the country and its economy. Only by exercising the powers of independence will independence be deemed to be legitimate. Crucially other countries will only recognise our independence if the Scottish government is seen to be in control.

The first act of the Scottish government and Parliament would need to be a Declaration of Independence. Just to be clear here, I am not advocating this as my preferred route. However this post is about what can be done in the event of a continuing refusal to negotiate on the part of the UK government.

What will this – a Declaration of Independence – mean in practice? I can think of two key areas that will determine if the Scottish government is in control or not. The first is money or more precisely the ability to raise taxes. The other would be matters to do with law and order.

Money first. Governments need to raise money through taxes. Borrowing is also important but taxes are key. Not just because of the money raised, but because the power of taxation is one of the key elements of legitimacy. Income tax is already devolved, so should not present any problems. The challenge will come with VAT, corporation tax, excise duty etc. How quickly can the Scottish government get in place a system to allow companies to pay their taxes to a new Scottish Revenue? Secondly what happens if some, all, most companies decide to continue to make payments through the UK revenue systems? This is a serious challenge. It would help if work on this has already begun. No idea if it has or not.

Setting up a Central Bank is another necessity. Common Weal has already done work on this. However if independence is contested, then this will need to be done much quicker and in different circumstances to those envisioned by Common Weal.

The other key issue is what I have called law and order. I leave out the army and RAF here. Not because they are unimportant. But because I feel the UK would be most reluctant to use any kind of military force, at least in the beginning.

What will matter is the action or inaction of the police, the law courts and the law profession in general. This has been already alluded to in relation to taxes. For independence to work and be seen as legitimate, then the mast majority of people, companies, organisations need to adhere to the decisions and laws as set out by the Scottish government and Parliament.

Related to this will be what happens to the BBC in the immediate aftermath of a Declaration of Independence? Will an early act of the Scottish Parliament set up a Scottish Broadcasting network? If people and organisations are to be encouraged to accept independence it would help if not all of the media was opposed.

My overarching point in all of this is that we need to be prepared for what happens after a positive Democratic Event. If the UK government relents and begins negotiations then everything will be worked out more or less harmoniously. However if the UK government refuses to even begin negotiations, what then?

If we do nothing and just wait and hope and pray that the UK government changes tack, then what was the point of a positive Democratic Event? If independence is conditional on approval by the UK government, then this is not independence. Being ready and prepared to act unilaterally may be the only way to persuade the UK government to come to the table.


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The future for FA Barcelona’s youth academy

This post has been prompted by a couple of talking points in the media. The first relates to the Spanish under 21 team’s victory in the recent European Championship. The remarkable fact is that this very talented squad contained not a single player from Barcelona. Almost unheard of in the past.


The second point is a bit more long standing and is about the lack of young players from the B team getting promoted to the first team squad. The youth academy, the famous La Masía, was once the pride and joy of Barça, with an apparently never ending production line of some of the best players in the world. Think of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets etc. What, if anything, has gone wrong?


As a starting point I have looked at the figures for B team players moving to the first team squad. The period I have chosen for this analysis is from the 2003/04 season to last season, 2018/19. A period of 16 seasons. I chose to start in 2003/04 as this was the beginning of the new Joan Laporta reign in charge of the club and the first season with Frank Rijkaard as coach. during this  period a total of 21 players from the B team were promoted to the first team squad.


The following key points emerged:
  1. Only a tiny number of B team players make it to the first team. The average worked out at just over one player per season.
  2. An even smaller number of B team players go on to become first team regulars. I define this as someone who plays around 65% of matches for more than two seasons. Over the 16 year cycle only five of the B team players promoted to the first team became regular players for more than two seasons.
  3. Apart from Thiago Motta and Thiago Alcántara, no other potential first team regulars have left the club. This refers to players who went directly from the B team to the first team.
  4. None of the other former B team players has gone on to play for a team of similar standing to FC Barcelona.
  5. There has been a very noticeable drop in the number of B team players who have gone on to become first team regulars. Since the arrival of Pedro and Busquets in 2008, only one other B team player has become a first team regular. This is Sergi Roberto who was promoted to the first team back in 2013, and became a regular in the 2015/16 season.
The last point is probably the most relevant as to why there are serious questions about the youth academy (La Masía) and B team at Barcelona. One success in 10 years is poor reward. So what may have caused this lack of success?
  1. In 2014 FIFA imposed a two period transfer ban on Barcelona, preventing them from signing new players. This was in response to the club being found guilty of breaching FIFA’s rules on the transfer of players aged under 18. As a result of this decision Barcelona lost a significant number of talented juvenile players. Some of whom may have gone on to reach the first team squad.
  1. The FIFA ban may also have had an adverse effect on the club’s scouting system. Certainly for a spell afterwards Barcelona did not manage to sign any of the up and coming talent in Spain or elsewhere. Which perhaps explains why not a single Barça player made the recent under 21 squad.
Looking Ahead
Last season one player from the B team did get promoted to the first team – Carles Aleñá. He missed the first half of the season through injury, but has played well when required, and will continue with the first team for this season. Will he make it to a third?


Will anyone get promoted for the coming season? The most likely is Riqui Puig, who is regarded as probably the most gifted youngest to emerge for many a year. He has already played a few times for the first team, and his class is there to see. An attacking, creative midfielder, he faces stiff competition to secure a place. As does Aleñá, who is also an attacking creative midfielder.


Another name that has been mentioned is centre forward Abel Ruiz. He may be the natural successor to Luis Suárez, if the club decide not to buy in a replacement. May have to wait a year yet.


Abel Ruiz is one of no less than six Barça players who are in the Spanish under 19 squad for the upcoming European Championship. A further two players in the squad are former Barcelona players who recently left the club to sign for Manchester City and Dortmund respectively.  This may be a clear sign that La Masía has begun to recapture its former glory.


The one major cloud on the horizon is the risk of losing players when still juveniles. The last two seasons has seen five teenagers leave the club to try and improve their chances of first team football elsewhere. In part this is a reflection of how difficult it is to break into the Barça first team squad, let alone become a regular first team player. Only time will tell if those who have left succeed.

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In Defence of Murdo Fraser

I must point out that this post is not about Murdo Fraser as a person. I have never had the good or misfortune to have met the man personally. So I have nothing to say about him. Nor am I about to defend his political positions as I oppose just about everything he and other conservatives stand for.

No, this post is a defence of Mr Fraser’s right to be a MSP. I regularly on twitter come across comments to the effect that Mr Fraser has never “won” an election, has repeatedly been “rejected” by the voters and therefore has no right to be in Parliament at all.

I find this argument not just unconvincing, but a serious misrepresentation and attack on the voting system we have for elections to Holyrood. It is also potentially dangerous as it could lead to a change is this system.

Our electoral system for the Scottish Parliament is a hybrid one, a mixture of First Past the Post(FPTP)  and Proportional Representation(PR). It is similar to the system used in Germany. There are 73 constituencies, each of which elects one MSP by FPTP. The other 56 MSPs are elected  in eight regional constituencies, each of which elects seven MSPs. These Additional Members are elected using a form of PR.

The system is deliberately designed to ensure that the total representation from each of the eight regions, including those MSPs elected by FPTP, corresponds more closely to the share of the votes cast for each political party in that region.

The key word here is representation. The system as a whole is not about winning, but about ensuring fair representation in Parliament for the parties that the electors have voted for.

In this sense Mr Fraser has as much right to be in Parliament as any other MSP, irrespective of whether elected by FPTP or PR.  Mr Fraser was elected by the voters in the Mid-Scotland Fife regional constituency. Or more precisely, by the 25% of the voters in the region who voted Conservative in the 2016 election.

These conservative voters have the same right to be fairly represented in Parliament as do the 6% who voted for the Green party, or the 7% who voted for the LibDems, or the 18% who voted Labour, or the 41% who voted SNP.  All these voters are entitled to be as fairly as possible represented in Parliament.

The hybrid system we use in Scotland is not a fully proportional system. This is due to the larger number of MSPs elected by FPTP. In Germany their version of the Additional Member System is fully proportional. This means that there can always be some small anomalies.

As happened in the 2016 election in Mid-Scotland and Fife region. However the anomaly did not affect the number of MSPs elected for the Greens, the LidDems, nor for the Conservatives. It did though affect the number of MSPs elected for the SNP and Labour. The SNP vote share of 41% should have resulted in seven MSPs. However as the SNP won eight of the single member constituencies, elected by FPTP, they were able to retain all of these eight MSPs. To the detriment of Labour, whose 18% share of the vote should have given them three MSPs instead of the two they were allocated.

So, if anybody wants to reconsider the justness of the results in 2016 in Mid-Scotland it would not be about the Conservatives, but about how an unfair system resulted in the SNP winning a seat that should have gone to Labour. Any takers?

As a complement to the above, I did a bit of research into the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, using the House of Commons Briefing Paper CBP7599. This Briefing Papers gives all the details about that election. I was particularly interested in the share of the vote for the “winning” candidates in the 73 single member constituencies.

It transpires that only 29 of the “winning” candidates won over 50% of the votes in their constituency. This represents just 40% of the 73 constituency MSPs. Or just over 22% of all 129 MSPs. Or to put is another way,  44 constituency MSPs were rejected by a majority of the voters in their constituency. This amounts to 60% of all constituency MSPs.

In this context it is worth noting that eight constituency MSPs “won” their seat with less than 40% of the votes cast. Quite how this is regarded as legitimate while Mr Fraser and the other regional MSPs can be held to be illegitimate is a bit beyond me.

Out of interest the MSP with the lowest “winning” share of the vote is none other than Ruth Davidson. She was elected in Edinburgh Central with just 30.4%  of the votes cast. Of these eight MSPs elected with less than 40% of the votes cast, four are Conservative, two are Labour and two are SNP.

None of the previous paragraph should be interpreted as denying these eight MSPs their right to be in Parliament. What it should do is to raise some serious questions about the legitimacy of retaining FPTP as part of our electoral system.

I would much prefer a fully PR system. Parliament is where our representatives sit. As such the terms winning and losing should be used much less often. What matters is fair representation for the way voters cast their votes.  For those interested in this I would recommend a look at the systems used in Denmark and Sweden.



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UDI may be needed

Brexit still dominates the media, even though nothing of substance is likely to happen in the next few days or even weeks. So, a bit of space to reflect on one aspect of the other issue of major concern to us – Scottish Independence. I refer to the possibility of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).

Some proponents of independence are in favour while others seem to want to rule it out completely. In this post I  look at the circumstances in which a UDI may be the only way forward.

I start with emphasising that Independence will only happen when a majority of people living in Scotland have voted for this outcome. So, to be clear, I am most definitely not talking about imposing independence on an unwilling public.

There is probably general agreement that a referendum is the most appropriate way to determine if there is a majority in favour of independence. If the UK government were to agree to another independence referendum, as in 2014, this would almost certainly obviate the need for a UDI.

However there is little sign that this or any UK government will agree to this. 2014 was not the overwhelming endorsement of the U.K. that Unionists were hoping for.

If the UK government continues to oppose a referendum then the pro-Indy movement needs an alternative. Otherwise we are allowing Westminster a permanent veto on independence.

The alternatives seem to be 1. a referendum without the consent of the UK government; 2. using a Scottish parliament election as a substitute referendum. Both pose their own difficulties, a legal challenge against a referendum for example. However it would be extremely difficult for a UK government to stop a parliamentary election.

It is my contention that one way or another voters in Scotland will be given another chance to vote for independence. If there is a clear majority in favour of independence, what next?

The hope is that faced with this clear democratic expression of public support for independence the UK government would begin negotiations in good faith. This may well happen. However we need to seriously consider and be prepared for a refusal on the part of the UK government to accept a positive vote in favour of independence.

It is in this situation that I believe that a UDI needs to remain an option. I am under no illusions that a UDI would be a difficult option. It would also pose serious problems for the UK government. The threat of a UDI may be enough to demonstrate that people in Scotland are serious about securing independence. However if the UK government refuses to recognise a democratic vote in favour of independence then what is the alternative?

This is my challenge to those who want to rule a UDI out, what is your alternative?



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Brexit – saving May’s deal?

A New Year and time to put some thoughts to paper once again. Not that a lot has changed with pretty much the same story dominating the media. With Brexit we are still mired in the deep impasse that has existed more or less since the referendum. As the estimable David Allen Green reminds us: “In a matter of weeks, UK will leave EU by automatic operation of law, without a deal. This is the default unless deal is agreed, or there is an extension, or A50 is revoked. None of these three possibilities currently seem likely.”

The deal that David Allen Green refers to is in a Withdrawal Agreement. It is worth reminding ourselves of this. The deal is about how the UK formally leaves the EU. It provides for a transition period, more realistically a standstill period, which will last for two or possibly four years. This is to allow for the brand new, comprehensive trade deal between the UK and the EU that everyone says they want. Most trade experts reckon that even four years is a tad optimistic for negotiating and implement such a new deal. But we can for the moment safely kick this particular can down the road.  More immediate and pressing issues are at hand.

The key one is can Theresa May get her deal through parliament? For a second time the UK parliament is about to start debating this Withdrawal Agreement (WA). A vote is expected to take place next week. According to most informed observers the WA is almost certain to fail. For one reason or another most Brexiteers dislike the WA, even though it does achieve what they want – leaving the EU. However, many Brexiteers fear that, in part because of the Northern Ireland backstop, any future trade deal with the EU will leave the UK so closely aligned with the EU that the UK becomes a rule taker. The infamous BINO outcome – Brexit in name only.

A majority of the rest of the MPs also oppose the WA, either because they oppose Brexit altogether, or as Labour claim, they insist they can get a better WA. So the best guess, note guess, not a prediction, is that the WA will fail.

However all is not lost for Theresa May and her WA. She and the government are trying to frighten enough MPs to vote for the WA on the grounds that the alternative is a No deal Brexit. Something that would be so damaging to the economy that nobody in their right mind would allow it to happen.

The difficulty for May is that the majority of Brexiteers prefer a No deal outcome to the WA. Indeed for many, possibly most of them No deal is their preferred outcome. The prospect of No deal is most unlikely to win over this group of Brexiteers. Quite the opposite.

On the other hand those who oppose Brexit or hope for a better WA don’t seem to believe that the government would actually, when push comes to shove, go through with a No deal outcome. Some of the recent moves in parliament are designed to avoid a No deal.

An alternative approach for Mrs May would be to threaten recalcitrant Brexiteers not with a No deal, but with No Brexit. The prospect of revoking article 50 and remaining in the hated EU might well concentrate the minds of all but a few Brexiteers.

The difficulty for Mrs May with this approach is that neither she nor the government can seriously push for this – remaining in EU. If she did make this a realistic option, then while she might win back Brexiteers, she runs the risk of losing as many pro Remain MPs. I am thinking of the likes of Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry for example.

So, somehow the government has to make revoking article 50 genuinely possible, but not definite and not with government support. The most recent amendments in parliament, which in principle return power to MPs, may well paradoxically work in favour of May’s deal. Not at the moment though. Jacob Rees-Mogg for one doesn’t appear to be worried.

However, as someone once said, a week is a long time in politics. So, to recap, the WA is still unlikely to pass in parliament, but it cannot be completely ruled out. MPs work and vote in mysterious ways.

Further speculation can await the result of the vote on the WA next week.

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Initial Reflections on First World War

As the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War draws near, I am reposting this piece I wrote in 2013. It remains pretty much my considered views on that bloody conflict.

Alister Rutherford

PAIU1989_140_01_1Next year will see the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. The UK and Scottish governments have already announced that plans are afoot to commemorate this tragic event. Though the specific events are nearly a year away, it seems appropriate to make a start now on reflecting on the war and in particular its causes and what we can learn from that terrible struggle.

My first thought is that there was nothing good about the First World War. It was a terrible, brutal and bloody conflict, which brought great suffering and destruction to all sides. There is nothing to celebrate about this war, except its end, which we can do in 2018. There will be no cause for celebrations in 2014.

My second thought is that the war was primarily caused by Empires. Though one small state, Serbia, was involved in the casus belli, the impetus…

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FC Barcelona – all change?

Now that the new season is upon us, time to revisit the progress of Barcelona. Perhaps that should read the lack of progress at Barcelona. Last season, coach Valverde’s first, was relatively successful. Winning the Spanish League and Cup double is always a welcome feat. However the calamitous loss to Roma in the quarter finals of the Champions League has left a feeling of failure hanging over last season.

This was the third time in a row that Barça have gone out at this stage, so there would appear to be something deep seated about this failure. For most onlookers this repeated failure is mainly due to the lack of genuine first team talent in the squad. The first eleven is possibly the best in the world. However the replacements are clearly not anywhere near this level.

So this summer the club has gone in for a pretty radical renovation of the squad. Many of the underperforming “B” team have left the club. This includes players such as André Gomes, Lucas Digne and Aleix Vidal. In addition, some who have never quite established themselves in the squad like Marlon, Yerry Mina and Deulofeu have also left the club. I expect one or two more will also leave before the end of the transfer window.

Unfortunately for Barça fans, and lovers of football everywhere, the team has also lost the great, irreplaceable Andrés Iniesta. To this must be added the departure of Paulinho, a key player, if not always first choice.

Will the new arrivals offer real competition to the current first eleven? Arturo Vidal looks like a straight replacement for Paulinho. Like Paulinho he will offer the coach something very different from the dominant Barça style – aggression, physicality and strength. Though he arrived in January, for Philippe Coutinho this will be his first full season at the Camp Nou. Most likely to be used in Iniesta’s position, he is about as good a replacement for Iniesta as possible.

Ousmane Dembélé is in a similar position to Coutinho. This will be his second season, but given the serious injuries during his first season, this will be, hopefully, his first full, injury free season.

So far nothing in the way of real competition for the current first choice players. Four other players have joined the squad during the summer. Will they provide the much longed for competition? Clément Lenglet is a young, 23 years old French central defender. He is used to playing in Spain with Sevilla, so should offer reliable cover as the third choice central defender behind Piqué and Umtiti. Can he displace either of the other two? We have to wait and see, but he does look like a very good addition to the squad.

In midfield, another young player, 21 year old Arthur Melo has arrived from Brazil. Another experienced player he has quickly adapted to Barcelona’s style of play, at least on his showing during the American tour. Initially he is likely to be used as cover for both Rakitić and Coutinho. If he continues with his early promise he may well push Ivan Rakitić for a starting place.

Up front yet another 21 year old Brazilian has come in the shape of Malcom. A wide attacking player, Malcom has come from Girondins in the French league, so has good experience of playing in Europe, if not in Spain. Looks like he will be in competition with Dembélé as the third striker to accompany Messi and Suárez in attack.

So far that gives us three very good additions to the squad from last season. (I am counting Coutinho and Vidal as replacements and not additions.) The fourth newcomer to the first team squad is Carles Aleñá who has been promoted from the B team. An attacking midfielder, Aleñá is very highly regarded by the club’s coaching staff. He will not be 21 until January 2019 and the club have high hopes for the player. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a serious hamstring injury in the early summer. He is currently recovering from surgery and of course has missed all the pre-season training and matches.

Just how much playing time he gets is a bit of a mystery at the moment. As Barça normally play with two attacking, creative midfielders, I reckon Aleñá will start as fifth choice for one of these places.

To further complicate matters it is as of writing unclear what will happen with Denis Suárez and Rafinha the two other attacking midfielders still  with the squad. This will be Denis’s third season with the club and so far has shown no signs of seriously competing for a starting place. Does the club really need a sixth choice midfielder?

Rafinha is is in a slightly different situation. The younger of the Alcántara brothers, he is another very highly rated attacking midfielder who can also play on the wing. However he has suffered badly from injuries and spent the last half of last season at Inter Milan on loan, helping the club to qualify for the Champions League. Inter would like to buy the player, but apparently do not want to pay what Barça feel the player is worth. He is back at the Camp Nou and has impressed during the pre-season matches in America. A fully fit Rafinha would be a very good addition to the squad, but at whose expense? Keeping Rafinha can only be to the detriment of Aleñá. Bit of a puzzle for Valverde and his team to sort out before the end of August.

In attack it looks like Munir will be preferred to Paco Alcácer as the fifth striker. A bit of a luxury for the team to have five strikers. Presumably Alcácer will be transferred or loaned out.

In defence Vermaelen will probably remain as the fourth central defender. The real interest is in the full backs. With the departure of Digne, cover for Jordi Alba is likely to come from one of the young players at the club. At the moment 18 year old Juan Miranda looks the most likely to fill this position. Though he may also continue to play with the B team from time to time. Over at right back we await with interest to see if Semedo finally convinces Valverde that he should be first choice. Or will the coach continue to play Sergi Roberto in that role? Interesting to note that the club still do not have a top class reliable substitute for Sergio Busquets. Sergi Roberto has played there during the American tour and does well in this position. Though he is not quite in the same league as Busquets. But then who is?

Overall then it looks like Barça have reinforced their first team options in attack, midfield and central defence with three high quality players. If Aleñá or Rafinha stay fully fit, then there could be a fourth quality option for Valverde. We will get a glimpse of the future on Sunday when Barcelona play Sevilla in the Spanish Supercopa. Already getting excited.

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Independence is the radical, revolutionary choice

This post is my initial response to the recent article by Gerry Hassan on Bella Caledonia. Entitled “Time to Wake Up and Ask Some Difficult Questions about the SNP and Independence” . It is a very interesting piece and well worth reading, along with the comments, some of which are good and others, not so. You can access it here.

Gerry raises some very pertinent questions, but as many commentators have pointed out, very little in the way of answers. He does give a sort of answer to one of his own questions, but it is not one I can agree with at all.

Gerry raises what he considers to be “the big strategic question – what is independence the answer to?” He goes on to write that, “For some, this question has an obvious answer: independence is an end in itself to be a sovereign nation.” However this is not a satisfactory answer as far as Gerry is concerned. For he continues, “But that is the response of Nationalist Scotland (whether in or out of the SNP) and does not address how the majority of Scots who don’t see the world in these terms are motivated to sign up to the cause.”

To the extent that Gerry offers us an answer to the big strategic question, it is rather vague, to whit, “Independence has to be for something bigger and bolder, with a clear vision, if it is to cut through, to tell an engaging story, and to speak beyond true believers.”

I am a bit bemused by Gerry’s framing of the first answer he gives to his question. He opts for what he claims is the standard Nationalist Scotland response. Which is fair enough in a way, but does beg the question – what are the other non Nationalist Scotland responses? The failure to mention even one, would seem to indicate that Gerry thinks there are no other responses. Which must have come as a bit of a surprise to Greens, socialists and others. Presumably he just gives what he claims to be the standard “nationalist” response to that he can then dismiss it as inadequate.

Now I agree with Gerry that this is in many ways the big strategic question. But as such it deserves a bit more consideration than Gerry offers. For a start the answer can be framed in democratic terms. In which case the question that independence answers is, Who decides? With independence the key decisions about the kind of Scotland we will live in will be decided by the votes of the people who live in Scotland. And not as at present, by the votes of people who live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Now Gerry might contend that this answers means that Scotland becomes a sovereign nation. Which would be true, but the framing and the emphasis is not longer a “nationalist” one, but a democratic one.

I was also struck by Gerry’s apparent penchant for seeing things in an either/or frame. This is clearly to be seen in his claim that “nationalists” see “independence is an end in itself.” Now this may well be the case and not just for those who might describe themselves as “nationalists”. However independence is also a beginning. Without independence we, the people who live in Scotland, don’t get to decide ourselves what kind of Scotland we want to live in. But with independence comes a new beginning, in which we can seek to convince a majority of our fellow citizens of our particular vision for the future of Scotland. Without having to rely on voters in the rest of the UK.

Gerry also seems to trapped in an either/or frame when he writes, “Independence has to be for something bigger and bolder.” As one commentator replied, “No, it doesn’t. I’m not after radical change. And I’m entitled to my own reasons.”  He is of course correct. It is perfectly possible and honourable for someone to want independence and at the same time not want radical change. The reason this is so, comes back again to the democratic justification, indeed necessity for independence. If Scotland is to remain more or less as she is now, with little or no radical change, then that should be result of choices made by the voters in Scotland. As opposed to something that is imposed or forced on us.

For those of us, like myself, who are in favour of some significant radical changes, then we will only achieve this when and if, we can persuade our fellow citizens that this is right way forward.

Which is why all of us, those who want radical change and those who do not, can work together to achieve independence. For only with independence can we ensure that choices about our future will depend on us. Independence in the context of the UK is in itself the most radical and revolutionary change we can aspire to.






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Is Denmark a small ethno state?

This is my first post on this blog for a very long time. I have finally felt impelled to write something after watching a live transmission of Carles Puigdemont’s appearance in Copenhagen university. It was an interesting event, all conducted in English. Sr Puigdemont was very impressive, especially in answering questions.  What most got me raging was the contribution of Marlene Wind, professor in European politics and law at the university. (thanks Marlene) Her presentation was one of the most ill-informed, ignorant and condescending speeches I have had the misfortune to hear. Even Donald Trump might have been a bit ashamed at her ignorance.

I will not bother to refute most of her distortions, Sr Puigdemont did a pretty good job of that. However I was particularly struck by Marlene Wind’s accusation that independence for Catalunya would be very bad as it would be a small state defined by ethnicity. This, according to Marlene Wind would be dangerous. I am not particularly in favour of states that are defined by ethnicity. Not quite sure why she singled out small states. Surely large states defined by ethnicity would be even worse? However even if we stick to small states, it would seem that Marlene is as ignorant of Danish society as she obviously is of Spain and Catalunya.

A brief comparison between Denmark and Catalunya would indicate that of the two countries, Denmark is incomparably a state defined by ethnicity, while Catalunya is clearly not.

Let us start with size, since this seems to be of some importance to Marlene Wind. Denmark is slightly larger in area – approximately 50,000 square km to 32,000 square km for Catalunya. On the other hand Catalunya is significantly more populous, with some 7,500,000 people, compared to 5,750,000 living in Denmark. Let us call it a draw and accept that both Denmark and Catalunya are relatively small countries.

With smallness not really a relevant factor, let us look for evidence or indications of ethnicity as the defining factor. Though Denmark is changing, it is still overwhelmingly a homogeneous country, with around 88% of the population of Danish origin. This is clearly not the case in Catalunya.  I do not have up to date figures, but people of Catalan origin are likely to make up no more than half the population, if that. Most of the rest come from other parts of Spain, while around 15% of the population is non Spanish. One thing seems to be very clear and that is that Catalunya is not in any sense a country defined by ethnicity. On the other hand it would seem that Denmark does fit that bill quite nicely.

If we turn to language, a similar picture emerges. While most Danish people will speak at least one other language, probably English, this is not the official position. The language of Denmark is Danish and I think that only Danish is used in Parliament. Public schools teach through the medium of Danish, even if they do teach other languages. Contrast this with Catalunya, where both Catalan and Castillian are official languages. MPs can speak in either language in Parliament.  Public schools in Catalunya are all bi-lingual. Though perhaps not quite as proficient as Danes, most Catalans will also speak a third and sometimes a fourth language. As is the case with Carles Puigdemont. On the language issue, if either country is to be accused of ethnic nationalism it would not be Catalunya.

When it comes to politics there is also a very clear divide between the two countries. While Denmark is rightly regarded as a progressive and welcoming country, it is also home to the far right Danish People’s Party. This is a party that is anti immigration, anti muslim and anti multi-culturalism. This far right party is not some minor aberration, but has 37 MPs in Parliament. Moreover the current centre-right government depends on these 37 MPs for its majority in Parliament. At the very least we have a bit of narrow, nasty ethnicity on the fringes of the government in Denmark.

In Catalunya by contrast none of the various parties that support independence fall into this far right, anti immigration, anti muslim, anti multi-culturalism so beloved of the Danish People’s Party. The exact opposite is the case. All the pro independence parties in Catalunya are actively in favour of an open, plural, pro-immigration society. It is not possible taint the pro independence parties with any kind of ethnic nationalism.

On the other hand some Spanish parties are more like the Danish People’s Party. Both the Partido Popular of Mariano Rajoy and Ciutadans are openly nationalist and anti immigration. It is just that they support Spanish nationalism and Spanish ethnicity.  They also seem to have the full support of Marlene Wind. Which somewhat tarnishes her apparently passionate opposition to ethnically defined states.

In her intervention Marlene clearly implied that small countries which were defined by ethnicity should not be independent. It is just as well that this injunction is not to be applied retrospectively. For then Denmark, as a country that is more clearly defined by ethnicity than Catalunya, would not deserve to continue as an independent country. It could apply to become part of the Federal Republic of Germany. And as Denmark would remain one of the richest parts of this expanded republic, with the highest possible degree of decentralisation, it would not regret having to give up its independence.

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