Andy Mitten

  • What do you do if you're Seydou Keita? You play for Barcelona (and Mali), where you're deeply respected by team-mates and fans. Only two months ago, you told both that you're so content that you want to retire at Barca in a few years. Your wish is reciprocated by your new coach and sporting director who've both told you face-to-face that they want you to stay.

    You've won 14 trophies since joining Barca as the first outfield signing made by Pep Guardiola in 2008, since when you've earned a reputation for being professional, self-effacing and the most humble player in a squad of stars. You even

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  • Spain’s winning machine marches on

    The Spanish flags are still fluttering in celebration, but Spain is already looking forward.

    Captain Iker Casillas and coach Vicente del Bosque were first off the plane at Madrid's massive Barajas airport on Monday afternoon after the flight from Kiev. They'd partied in a restaurant after the game, with another goalkeeper Pepe Reina again leading the celebrations. Every circus needs a clown and Reina's enthusiasm for the task makes him one of the most popular players in Spain, a country whose footballing dominance is relentless.

    It looks set to continue. Yesterday, Spain released their

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  • Spanish football mourns Miki’s passing

    "Tremp is the rival," said Carles Puyol of the neighbouring town in the mountains. "That's the derby which matters where I live. My family and friends have played for La Pobla against Tremp. It's fun. One day I hope to play in the game. We beat them 4-0 recently. There was a big celebration in the town."

    It's 2003 and my first interview with Barcelona's Puyol, who talks as much about his hometown as Barcelona. Barca's talismanic defender is from the Catalan Pyrenean town of La Pobla de Segur, a three-hour drive from Barcelona. La Pobla and neighbouring Tremp, six miles to the south at the

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  • "I'm not strong, nor fast, nor skilful, I'm a player from the street," said Spain's Xavi Hernandez, football's most intelligent player and its best talker this weekend. "Without my team-mates, without space, I am nothing."

    Xavi's said similar before, usually to deflect the praise which is lauded on him globally, but there was little false modesty on his part. He knows what he's good at: controlling the tempo of the match, passing the ball frequently with accuracy, ideally to team-mates in a more threatening position. He does it better than anyone, the master of teams which dominate, the

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  • The miracle of Alcorcon

    Not everyone in Spain is thinking about their second Euro 2012 game against the Republic of Ireland tomorrow.

    Blackpool's rise to the Premier League in 2010 was a football miracle. Despite having the third lowest playing budget in their division, just two permanent stands in a ground holding 12,000 and average crowds of 8,000, Ian Holloway's side came up and nearly stayed up.

    But imagine a club less than half the size of Blackpool, a Morecambe or Macclesfield for instance, being on the cusp of the Premier League? Such a scenario would be would be implausible. Their best players would be

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  • Casillas towers above his peers

    Most great football stadiums are not located in their city's grandest avenues. Old Trafford is on the edge of an industrial park, Anfield and Goodison in deprived inner city areas, San Siro and the new Juventus Stadium in distant suburbs. Camp Nou was on the edge of Barcelona in the 50s, but even then the location was unremarkable, while many new stadia are built in out-of-town locations close to motorways.

    Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu is different. It stands amid the towering office blocks, banks, museums and expensive apartments of the Castellana (formerly the Avenida del Generalissimo

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  • Spain's Gaizka MendietaSpain needs a lift. Headlines are unremittingly about the economy and unremittingly bad.

    The gloom is unlikely to lift soon, so the country looks to its sports stars - top-level cyclists, basketball players, F1 drivers, Grand Prix bikers and world-class tennis pros - for positives.

    But more than anything, Spaniards look to football to bring joy. Barcelona and Real Madrid succour their legions of supporters, but seldom at the same time. Only the great unifying force of La Roja does that.

    Spain are the best team on the globe, the current world and European champions who are hoping to become the

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  • Over and out for Pep

    It's a good time to be a Real Madrid fan. Jose Mourinho has signed an extension which will contract him to the Bernabeu until 2016. Sir Alex Ferguson might think about moving on by then.  Having displaced Barca as Spanish champions, Mourinho's main aim is winning the much coveted 10th European Cup. Don't bet against him. He'll tinker with his squad in the summer, but his players are right behind him staying.

    "Sir Alex and Mourinho are the best managers in the world," said Cristiano Ronaldo, who is doing lots of media with his numerous sponsors before Euro 2012. "To continue my career with

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  • La Liga End-of-season awards

    This was the season that was in Spain...

    Moment of the season
    Cristiano Ronaldo's winner for Real Madrid at the Camp Nou in April. Barca had just equalised and a 95,000 crowd roared for a vital winner. There were 18 minutes to play in the biggest game in world football when Ronaldo, enjoying his best game yet against the Catalans, ran on to a through ball from Mesut Ozil and finished clinically past Victor Valdes. The man Spain calls 'Cristiano' didn't overdo the celebrations. He merely requested the same composure from his team-mates that he had displayed on a brilliant night for Madrid in

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  • Spanish success comes at a price

    "Scotland in the sun" was the dismissive sobriquet given to Spain's Primera Liga by those who saw a predictable two-horse race and little else to get excited about.

    With five Spanish clubs occupying the final eight berths in the Champions League and Europa League this week, you hear less mocking. Spain could provide all four European finalists.

    There's a whole lot happening below Spain's big two — who meet in a vital league game on Saturday at Camp Nou after Barca have faced Chelsea and Real Madrid have met Bayern Munich.

    Nobody is pretending the Barca-Madrid duopoly is healthy. Atletico

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