Welcome to the dark (blue) side
Having lived in Barcelona for a few years now, I have
been forced to accept that I can’t afford to go and see Barça very often decided to get my football fix by taking out a season ticket with the city’s second team, Espanyol. A fixture in the top tier of Spanish football, the club nevertheless has a minimalist vibe going on in the trophy room. They are, if you like, the Spanish Everton. But they have never paid 25 million euros for André Gomes.
Any romantic visions of the club as plucky local underdog representing the man or woman on the street may be somewhat tempered by the fact that they are owned by a Chinese billionaire, and that the modern RCDE stadium, located in Cornellà on the outskirts of the city, is in fact linked to the trendy Splau shopping and leisure complex. Romantic sacrifices aside, this does at least mean you can get a cheap drink or two in 100 Montaditos if (when?) the football alone fails to quicken the pulse.
Who am I?
I’m a Scottlish football fan and I’ll be throwing myself fully behind the team this season to bring you updates, thoughts and practical information on the club from a (new) fan’s point of view. You may have noticed I am writing in English, so I hope to reach other English-speaking football fans in the Barcelona area and further afield, and indeed Spanish or Catalan-speaking fans who would like to brush up on their English by interacting with the blog. I’ll also be offering weekly updates on Spanish football in general, and discussing the fortunes of la selección during international breaks.
Who will I be watching?
With the Europa League qualifiers already underway, and La Liga returning on August 16th, the main priority is to familiarise ourselves with the current crop of pericos. Who will be getting bums off seats at RCDE stadium this year? We’ll start with the two main headline-generators from the last campaign.
The aforementioned owner, Chen Yansheng, was thought to be influential in the signing of the Chinese Super League’s all-time record goalscorer in January this year. At the time, Espanyol were languishing in 15th position in the league, on a run of 9 defeats in 10, and it would be fair to say that expectations were fairly low. However, Wu turned out to be something of a sensation, providing the catalyst for Espanyol’s surge up the table to finish the season in 7th position and qualify for European competition for the first time since 2006-07. His third goal for the club sealed the decisive victory against Real Sociedad on the final day of the season.
Despite this dramatic turnaround, Wu Lei has perhaps made an even bigger impact off the field of play. This, after all, is a man capable of attracting at least 20 people of presumably Chinese ethnicity to Hillsborough for a recent friendly match against Sheffield Wednesday.
Such suitably impressive figures as 40 million and 89% have been bandied about by the media in an attempt to convey the global commercial effect of Wu Lei’s incorporation, and it seems as though new sponsors have been attracted thanks to his presence. This means MONEY.
He seems fully committed to the cause and, having won over the fans in no time, he will start the new campaign full of confidence.
Expectation level: 9
The panda, as he is affectionately known, was the leading scorer with 17 league goals last season. The fact that he could have scored five and still finished top scorer explains why Espanyol fans are so keen for him to stay at the club beyond the close of the current transfer window on September 2nd. However, the panda is becoming increasingly endangered in Catalonia as Real Betis, who have already poached last season’s coach, Rubi, continue to count out 28 million euros in a slow and deliberate attempt to catch Mr Chen’s eye.
To be fair to Borja, miracles do seem to be afoot at Betis this year. The club that finished TENTH last season have already managed to attract Nabil Fekir from Lyon for the frankly miserable sum of 17 million euros. Rubi is convinced that Borja Iglesias is the piece that will complete his Andalusian puzzle.
Perhaps it is time that the club took the money and reinvested it before the season gets underway. This is a player, after all, who at 27 years old has only enjoyed one full season in La Liga. He could be a Spanish Darren Bent, and noone wants that.
If he does jump ship, you can be sure he will hear a few less affectionate nicknames when he returns to Barcelona with his new club.
Expectation level: 1
Tomorrow we’ll continue our look at the current squad. See you then!