Andy Mitten

  • What can we learn from the Spanish way?

    Sir Alex Ferguson may still have been licking his wounds after his side were outclassed by Barcelona in Saturday's Champions League final, but the veteran manager made a pertinent point about the way elite youngsters are coached in England compared with Spain.

    "We are only allowed to coach youngsters for an hour-and-a-half but they (Barcelona) can coach every hour of the day if they want to," explained Ferguson. "That's the great advantage they've got and they have a fantastic philosophy. We hope that in years to come our coaches will be able to spend more time with young kids, to teach

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  • Volcano worries Barca more than United

    Barcelona fans seem more concerned about an ash cloud than about facing
    Manchester United. Over 25,000 will travel to Wembley, with 35 planes chartered
    along with 12 coaches, while the majority have made their own travel arrangements
    by air. All are nervous about the potential disruption from an angry Icelandic
    volcano.

    Barça's fears stem back to last
    season when their team drove 14 hours to a Champions League semi-final game
    against Internazionale. They lost.

    The players didn't want to blame the coach
    trip or their coach or even Inter parking the coach in front of heir goal, but
    several

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  • Messi represents both sides of Barca

    Lionel Messi didn't look best pleased to be left out of Barcelona's starting XI against Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday.

    The Catalans, who had been crowned Spanish champions for the 21st time a few days previously, began with just two of the 11 players who are expected to start at Wembley next week: Victor Valdes and Javier Mascherano.

    Guardiola didn't want his goalkeeper going 20 days without a game, while the Argentinian has excelled as an emergency centre-half in the absence of Eric Abidal and Carles Puyol and may well start in London. His form contrasts with that of his compatriot.

    Alarm

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  • 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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