Andy Mitten

  • Real cling to Pichichi as Barca take title

    "Madrid, cabron, saluda al campeon."

    It's a song heard frequently in Barcelona, where cules request that Real Madrid salute the champions.

    For those unfamiliar with Spanish, it's probably not a good idea to call the waiter a cabron if you're venturing to Spain on holiday. It's a vulgar and offensive term, as appropriate as Borat Sagdiye telling the socialite Lady Chelsea that he's just been to the toilet.

    It wasn't just Barca fans singing the song six years ago, but their star striker Samuel Eto'o.

    Wind back to May 2005 and Barcelona had just won their first league title in six years

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  • ‘Beautiful night’ so important to Barcelona

    So how were the four Clasicos for you? Ill-tempered bouts containing occasional moments of football? Dissent-splattered encounters ruined by a lack of respect and sportsmanship between players who are world champions as international team-mates?

    Or do you remember Ronaldo's stunning extra-time header to win the Copa del Rey, Messi's individual brilliance in the Bernabeu or Iniesta's pass to Pedro for Barca's goal on Wednesday?

    Ahead of that final match at the Camp Nou, Barca coach Pep Guardiola said that he couldn't wait for the games to be finished. He craved a return to normality after this

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  • Vengeful Barca are underdogs at Bernabeu

    It is over three years since Barcelona were the underdogs in a match - but that is the case tonight when they visit Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final first leg.

    The last time they were considered inferior to the opposition was when they took on Madrid in an away league game in May 2008. I was there; so were six Barca fans. Not 6,000, or even 600, but a mere six people.

    "How can you claim to be the biggest club in the world when you take just six fans to your biggest rivals?" I asked some fans who didn't go.

    The list of excuses went on and on: Madrid is 600 kilometres from

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  • Time for Barca to prove they’re the best

    The vanquished Barcelona fans melted away into the cool Valencian night to leave Spain's third city dominated by the white of Real Madrid.

    Celebratory car horns beeped until 4am, with Madrid fans celebrating in the streets of the old town. Thanks to Jose Mourinho, Madrid had just won their first trophy in three years. That it came against their loathed rivals Barca in the Copa del Rey final made it sweeter than a Valencian orange.

    In the nocturnal bars around the Barrio Carmen, some of the 25,000 Madrid fans who travelled to the game sang loud and proud. They bellowed Mourinho's name and

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  • No escaping Clasico fever

    England is not alone on St.George's Day.

    Catalonia celebrates the day of its patron saint, as do several countries and cities as diverse as Rio, Georgia and Genoa. In Barcelona, ladies are presented flowers by their partners and men receive books.

    Each April, the newsstands of the city begin to bulge with the type of books which are unlikely to win awards. They are photo-led one-offs aimed at the lowest common denominator. Recent years have seen feeble biographies of Lionel Messi or tomes on Barca's six-trophy haul of 2009. This year's efforts focus on the history of the Clasico between

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  • Mourinho’s Madrid would sacrifice style to best Barca

    Real Madrid were highly fancied to win
    this season's Champions League from the outset. They were second favourites
    long before they topped the tournament's toughest group containing Milan, Ajax
    and Auxerre with five wins and a draw from six games.

    They kept clean sheets in five of those
    matches, early evidence that Jose Mourinho was fixing a sometimes suspect
    defence.

    Second favourites before they overcame
    their last-16 curse and finally progressed to the last eight for the first time
    in six attempts by overcoming a Lyon side they had been unable to beat in six
    previous encounters. And second

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  • ‘Frogs’ of Levante leaping up La Liga

    Levante's sporting director Manuel Salvador Serra - or Manolo to everyone at the club - apologises for the cracked glass partition leading to the directors' box.

    "We are trying to work out if we can repair it or need a new one," he explains. "If we can repair it, we will."

    Money is tight at Valencia's second club. Several blue seats behind the goal have been replaced by red ones at the 25,000-capacity bowl that is the City of Valencia stadium, spoiling the effect of blocks of red and blue seats - the club's colours. Manolo's office overlooks a scruffy car park at the back of the main stand and

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  • Benzema now Real’s trump card

    Karim Benzema closes the door on his cumbersome entourage and sits down on a chair in a windowless room.

    I'm expecting a surly, troubled soul who is homesick and not enjoying life in Spain. It's March 2010 and things are not working out for the €35 million signing from Lyon. He's had trouble integrating into Iberian life and into Manuel Pellegrini's Real Madrid team.

    Still, the pro-Madrid based media is doing all it can to support one of the president's men. Expansive interviews with the Frenchman talk about how he will come good, how his future is at the Bernabeu.

    Most remain unconvinced by

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  • Sevilla seek return to glory years

    Barcelona's
    Daniel Alves remembers the time he arrived in Spain in 2002, aged just 19. He
    was virtually unknown in Brazil because he wasn't at a big club in Rio or Sao
    Paulo, but that didn't deter Sevilla's famously brilliant sporting director
    Monchi, one of football's finest talent spotters. He sanctioned the signing of
    Alves for just €200,000.

    This
    is a club which spotted or developed Julio Baptista, Jose Antonio Reyes, Sergio
    Ramos, Seydou Keita and Alves. They are the ones who left. Imagine if all
    Sevilla's players had stayed; they'd surely be able to challenge Barca and
    Madrid. Jesus

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  • Mourinho’s near-miss highlights risks

    When Real Madrid played in La Coruna recently, Jose Mourinho stopped to sign some autographs in the arrivals hall at the airport. Hundreds of fans were waiting, as is the norm when Madrid or Barca play away in Spain.

    What happened next is open to conjecture, but a security guard with the Madrid team realised that he had a 4cm wound in his back caused by a sharp object. News of that didn't leak out for eight days when the story was actually bigger in Britain than Spain.

    In Britain, it was front page news in one tabloid newspaper. An accompanying headline read: 'Jose Mourinho's terror after

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