Early Champions League exit highlights problems at Barcelona

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For the first time since Frank Rijkaard walked the sidelines at Camp Nou, Barcelona is approaching a crossroads, with today’s loss to Atlético Madrid underscoring the club’s evermore precarious future. But whereas before the club could pull somebody like Pep Guardiola from the ranks and right its course, the next chapter in Barcelona’s history looks less certain. Both on the field and off, an era of dominance may be coming to an end, giving today’s early exit from Champions League a bigger, more concerning context.

For most clubs, a quarterfinal departure wouldn’t be considered early, but when a club’s made six straight semifinals, it develops expectations. Particularly considering the only thing that stood between Barcelona and the final four was an opponent from Spain that’s not Real Madrid, Champions League becomes an even more telling test. While Atlético had proved its quality in four previous appearances with Barcelona, the Blaugrana had also showed its inability to conquer that new challenge. Now, that challenge has seen the Catalans out of Europe.

The problems extend back to league play, too. After running away with the title last year, Barcelona’s been pulled into a three-team race for first. The club’s early exit from Champions League may actually help in that regard, leaving it the only Liga contender not balancing European concerns. While Atlético and El Real extend their squads in a quest for European glory, Barcelona can focus on retaining La Liga.

Still, if previous years’ success is the benchmark, this season remains a cause for concern. The regression many thought would arrive sooner has started to surface in 2014. Be it by age (Xavi Hernández, Carles Puyol), increased injury concerns (Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Gerard Piqué), or departures (Víctor Valdés), one of the greatest teams in club soccer history is finally coming back to the pack.

That plight’s only exacerbated by problems off the field. At a time when Barcelona desperately needs to inject new talent, it may not be able to do so. Recently hit with a transfer ban for illegally signing underage players, Barcelona will be out of the next two transfer markets. Provided an appeal doesn’t diminish that sentence, Barça won’t be able to replace the departing Valdés. It won’t be able to bring in some desperately needed central defenders, and if it’s unable to reload, the midfield all of a sudden looks thin. With the core of the team set to play at this summer’s World Cup, a set of legs run ragged by the international schedule (and, Spain’s consistently runs in major tournaments) won’t get reinforcements.

source: Reuters
Sandro Rosell, left, resigned as Barcelona president in January. He was replaced by Josep Maria Bartomeu, right. (Photo: Albert Gea/Reuters.)

You can blame the Sandro Rosell regime for that, just as you can blame the departed president for the Neymar fiasco and the increasingly murky relationship between Qatar and a team that used to ar UNICEF across its chests. While fans all over the world romanticize the member-owned model, places like Argentine club scene and Catalonia (among others) get to deal with its repercussions.

After being chosen to replace Joan Laporta in 2010, Rosell moved the team toward the precarious, amoral place it occupies now. While the altruism of Barcelona used to strike an annoying cord, that elitist high-groins is still favorable to a tenure that’s left Barcelona no different from Europe’s other obscenely large clubs.

In that sense, what’s happening at Barcelona isn’t about today’s loss, though the departure from Champions League does gives us a chance to take stock. Just as Manchester United’s loss to Bayern leaves us asking what’s next for the Red Devils, Barcelona’s also reflects the club’s current woes. Not even claiming Liga and Copa del Rey titles will completely assuage the feeling that the season has been a step back.

In two months, Gerardo Martino may be gone, and while Barcelona will have a number of quality coaches pining for the job, others will see a two-window ban, aging core, and squad with holes as a reason to stay away. Be it Martino or somebody else, whomever’s in charge come July will have to deal with the miles another World Cup has put on Hernández, Iniesta, Dani Alves and Messi. And they’ll have to do so without being able to reinforce the core.

One loss in Madrid didn’t cause any of these problems. It only highlights the extent of them, and in that light the crossroads may not be a good one. It implies the club has options, yet locked into what it has, Barcelona may need to see this out. It may be helpless to prevent an end of an era.

Blatter, Platini both officially appeal FIFA suspension

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini look on during the Team Seminar ahead of the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the Corinthia Hotel on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Suspended FIFA executives Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini have both officially appealed their 90-day bans through various means in attempts to clear their names.

The pair have been forced to temporarily vacate their office due to an investigation by Swiss authorities into corruption charges based on a “disloyal payment” of around $2 million from Blatter to Platini in 2011.

Blatter’s appeal was lodged within FIFA on Friday, with the president’s lawyer confirming he has “requested additional proceedings before the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Ethics Committee and filed an appeal with the Appeal Committee.”

Blatter’s American lawyer Richard Cullen said he is “very hopeful” the suspension will be lifted on appeal, while his lawyer team back on Thursday argued in a statement that the FIFA Ethics Committee “based its decision [to suspend Blatter] on a misunderstanding of the actions of the attorney general in Switzerland, which has opened an investigation but brought no charge against the president.”

The New York Times obtained a copy of the appeal, in which Blatter’s lawyers demand to see the case file which the Ethics Committee reviewed upon its decision to suspend the 79-year-old. It also asks that he receive a full opportunity to argue his innocence in front of the committee; previously, he was only afforded a short interview with Swiss investigators.

Meanwhile, Platini’s appeal came through Saturday morning and is filed with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. His case has received official, legal backing from the French FA as his home nominating association for the upcoming presidential election. Using the French FA’s support, Platini can bypass the FIFA appeals system which he individually must exhaust before moving to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

CONMEBOL has also publicly supported Platini, issuing a statement that says it “does not agree” with the decision to suspend him, calling it “untimely and disproportionate” while stating, “The presumption of innocence is a fundamental right that has to be considered. Mr. Platini has not been found guilty of any charge, therefore the provisional ban jeopardizes the integrity of the electoral process to the FIFA presidency, of which Mr. Platini is a candidate.”

The FIFA Executive Committee has announced it will hold an emergency meeting on October 20 to discuss the situation. Among the topics that will be considered will be a decision on whether to postpone the February 26 presidential election.

Emerson Hyndman says he wishes to leave Fulham amid contract standoff

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: Emerson Hyndman of Fulham celebrates after scoring the team's second goal during the FA Youth Cup Final: First Leg match between Fulham and Chelsea at Craven Cottage on April 28, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
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Emerson Hyndman is stuck in an endless circle at his home club Fulham, and the only way out he sees would be to leave.

With his contract set to expire in the upcoming summer, Fulham has been pushing hard for the 19-year-old to lock down a long-term deal as many of his teammates have done in the recent months. Unfortunately, due to reported interest from abroad from teams like Borussia Dortmund, plus others in La Liga and the Dutch Eredivisie, Hyndman has been unwilling to do so thus far.

As a result, the USMNT prospect has seen little playing time, with manager Kit Symons understandably unwilling to let him see the field while he refuses to commit his future to the club. Hyndman has just eight minutes of League Cup play to his name so far this campaign.

Hyndman blames the lack of action as the main reason why he wants to depart, telling American Soccer Now’s Brian Sciaretta that he would like to move on.

“It’s a little difficult right now,” he said. “I’ve told them in the past that I think it’s time for me to move on. There are clubs out there that are interested and that I am excited about, so it’s difficult for me right now, and I can’t see myself getting too many first-team minutes. I feel that I had a good preseason, and I thought I might get a chance, but I am really looking forward to the future more than anything.

Unfortunately, that seems a bit unfair to his club. Why would a Championship club looking to build from within give significant minutes to a player who refuses to sign a long-term deal and looks set to leave in the summer? Then he tags the lack of playing time as the reason he wants to leave. It all seems to be a never-ending cycle.

Hyndman joined the Fulham youth setup at age 15 and flourished last season, making both his club first-team debut and earning a cap with the senior national team. He is currently with the U-23 Olympic team leading the charge for Rio 2016 qualification.

There is no doubting Hyndman’s abilities on the field, but for his sake, he needs to sort out his club situation as quickly as possible to further his growth as a midfielder.