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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

A Cliche Title about the End of an Era

Editor’s note, from Bob: Jacob Altstadt – good friend of the blog as well as my classmate at Northwestern University – recently began publishing his own blog,Oldtown unblock proxy uk. Oldtown serves as his personal opinion blog and will consist of a majority of sports and soccer-related posts. Here is Jacob’s first post, a captivating account of Spain’s shockingly quick exit from this month’s World Cup.

I am shocked. Actually, I’m beyond shocked. I can’t even come up with a word to describe this feeling I’m experiencing after having witnessed the reigning world champions lose consecutively 1-5 and 0-2 to knock them out of the World Cup. And I can honestly say that every single person in the entire world is just as surprised as I am. If someone says that they’re not, they’re a liar. And I mean that.

Who would have predicted that the greatest national team dynasty to ever exist would get absolutely obliterated by the Dutch team they beat in 2010 to lift the trophy, the Dutch team that crashed out of the 2012 European Championships? Who would have predicted this epic assembly of some of the greatest footballers of our time would lose (and get shut out) by a Chile team that, albeit extremely talented, didn’t even come close to having the amount of superstars that Spain has been accustomed to? Who would have predicted that today, on June 18th, we would be talking not about how Spain would breakdown Croatia in the Round of 16, but rather how Spain will move forward from this embarrassing display at the 2014 World Cup? Certainly not me free unblocked games.

Yet, despite all predictions, statistics, opinions, simulations, facts, figures, graphs, diagrams, and articles made prior to the World Cup, Spain are out. In the group stage.

While normally I condemn hasty conclusions and sweeping generalities, I must admit: I agree with the general public on this one. An era is over. It’s not just the fact that Spain lost twice, but rather how they lost. And how they lost in the Confederations Cup final. And how Barcelona, the core of the Spanish side, have finally come back down to earth (As a Real Madrid fan, I’m praising The Lord on that one). And how the Golden Generation of Spanish Football is past their prime. The Spanish downfall hasn’t happened over night, all the signs have been pointing to it for the past couple of years, unfortunately it’s just finally happened fully.

Let me be clear. Spain does not “suck.” They are without a doubt still one of the top ten teams in the world, if not one of the top five. There is no way a team wins three consecutive major tournaments, and the next day suddenly becomes awful. There is no way that a team who has absolutely destroyed the rest of the world for the past six years becomes terrible overnight. They simply are no longer the best team in the world, and they haven’t been for a while now. At their peak though, they were the greatest national team to ever exist.

Let’s break down the past 6 years.

In 2008, Spain win their second Euro, their first since 1964 and second-ever major title. Simultaneously, things at FC Barcelona become abysmal because they are the worst team to ever have stepped foot on this planet and blue and red stripes are tacky HALA MADRID heat up in epic proportions as Lionel Messi storms onto the football stage in dramatic fashion, accompanied by genius coach Pep Guardiola. Why is the Barcelona development important? Because aside from a few players, the team at the Catalan club is almost entirely Spanish. This allows the players, specifically the midfield, to gel as unit 24/7/365 and develop into the most talented group of players to ever play together simultaneously for both club and country.

In the years that lead up to the 2010 World Cup, Barcelona goes on an absolute rampage of success as they win trophy after trophy, a ridiculous campaign that included the first ever “sextuple” by a football club in a calendar year. All the while, the Spanish core of this Barcelona team develops and develops as they play game after game with each other. They learn each other’s secrets, tendencies, styles, and movement. They become so cohesive, that they are literally able to predict what their teammate will do next and plan accordingly. Their prowess as a unit becomes so incredibly perfect that they have a playing style named after them (See: tiki taka) and boast the best possession stats the world has ever seen.

When it comes time for Del Bosque to coach his Spanish squad in the 2010 World Cup, all he has to do is fill the gaps with Real Madrid players and he has a team that knows each other better than any national team has ever before. This is the key to Spain’s success. And here’s why.

The biggest difficulty in playing for a national team is that you have almost no time whatsoever to develop a system and play together as a unit. Soccer, sorry I mean Football, is a game won partially by talent, but more so by tactics and chemistry. Football requires seamless transition, perfect movement off the ball, and knowledge of your teammates movements. Football, although it appears obvious, requires immense amounts of teamwork. Therefore, playing every other month with a group of unfamiliar guys, that happen to be the same nationality as you, becomes tricky because, aside from those rare games, you don’t play with them too often. This is what made Spain so special in 2010. They didn’t have that problem. Their starters had all played together for years and had the kind of national team chemistry the world may never witness ever again. Del Bosque didn’t have to rush to develop and implement a simple system that he could teach to his squad in the short training camp before the Cup, he just had to tweak the “tiki-taka” and insert a few extra players. Boom. Done. Best national team ever. They win the World Cup.

The years in between the 2010 Cup and the 2012 Euros is more of the same from Spain and Barcelona. More success. More wins. More chemistry. For Barcelona, more trophies. More everything-that-makes-a-team-click. The only reason that reporters and fans alike have any reason to doubt that Spain won’t win the 2012 European Championship is simply because we have never seen anything like this before. We’ve never encountered success of this magnitude. It’s foreign. We don’t know what to say or do with this Spanish squad that, for all intents and purposes, is perfect. So what do we do? We critique it and doubt it. Man, are we wrong. Spain wins the 2012 Euros. Easily. Hell, they beat Italy 4-0 in the finals!

And with that win, Spain completes two “firsts”. The first “first”: The only team to have ever won consecutive European Championships. The Netherlands’ Total Football never did that. Germany and Franz Beckenbauer never did that. The four-time world champions Italian team never did that. The five-time world champions Brazil never did that (haha get it? it’s funny cause they’re in South America… I hate myself). No one. Except Spain. The second “first”: The only team to have ever won three consecutive major tournaments. Italy and Brazil won consecutive World Cups in 1934/1938 and 1958/1962 respectively, but they failed to win their continent’s respective championship in between. And even as impressive as winning two World Cups in a row is, it was done at a time where the level of football was absolutely no where near where it is today. That’s another aspect of Spain’s Reign of Terror that is so special. They won three major titles in a row at a time where Football was (and continues to be) at its highest level ever. They didn’t beat awful sides. They beat extremely talented, well-organized, football teams that would have won titles in any other time in history except during Spain’s Reign of Supremacy.

The past six years is what makes this 2014 World Cup Spanish fiasco so hard to stomach. The greatest national team to have ever played together (I’m going to keep calling them that until it sinks in) has finally shown that it is mortal during this past week. For the first time in over half a decade, we have seen a scratch in the other wise blindingly brilliant golden armor that is the Spanish national team. (It should be noted that with all the trophies and medals that the team and players on Spain have won since 2008, they very feasibly could make a full size suit of armor, no joke). What caused this scratch? One word: Time.

The perennial enemy to the human race.

With each passing day, the Golden Generation got older and slower, the rest of the World started to figure out how to stop Spain, and they rest of the world simply got better while Spain drifted slightly from perfection. No longer are the passes perfect to the millimeter. No longer do Xavi and Iniesta seem immortal. No longer is San Iker Casillas perfect (although he’s still pretty damn close and anyone who wants to argue with me on that Casillas point can come find me). The Spanish Reign of Perfection has ended.

Why do I say that?

Why am I so definitive?

Because 2013 and 2014 have proven that that is true. Starting in 2013, we witnessed the deterioration of FC Barcelona as Guardiola left, the rest of Europe figured out how to beat them, and they lost their edge. Correction: the core of the Spanish National Team lost their edge. Starting in 2013, we witnessed Spain’s loss to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final and the imperfect, albeit still exceptional, play that followed in the year after. Spain seemed to be slowing down, not making all the passes they used to. Time met up with España. The recent ending of Spain’s run of excellence has been a year in the making, we were just too hopeful and naive to believe it was actually true.

Spain’s unsuccessful run in the 2014 tournament is nothing to rejoice in (as many of the people I follow on Twitter fail to realize). We have just witnessed the literal end of an era. And hating the team for hatred’s sake is not what a true fan would do, nor is hating the team just because they are good. Take pride in the fact that you were alive to witness and watch this squad. It will truly be something you will tell your grandchildren about, I know I will.

With all of this in mind, it is truly a tragedy that Spain are out of the World Cup in the group stage this year. They are absolutely without a doubt THE best national team to have ever walked this Earth, and their dynasty is more than likely over.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Study in Spain

Choose to study in Spain, and one thing is for sure: your friends will be very jealous! Stretching to the Pyrenees in the east, the Mediterranean in the south, the Bay of Biscay in the north, and Portugal in the west, Spain is one of the biggest countries in Europe – and also one of the most-visited.
Spain is consistently among the world’s most popular tourist destinations (third in 2014, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization), welcoming an annual volume of tourists which considerably exceeds its population. It's also among the most popular destinations for international students, due to its winning combination of good universities, attractive lifestyle, and the fact that Spanish is one of the world's most spoken languages.
This is a country of contrasts, where the affluence and cosmopolitan bustle of Western Europe is mixed with a distinctly southern European extravagance and charm; where an expressive and flamboyant culture segues into afternoon naps and languid evenings in bars and cafés; and where distinct regional identities often take precedence over a unified national one. Of course, lifestyle alone isn’t enough to draw in the punters – you need to have good universities too!
If you like the idea of studying Spain, click on the tabs below to find out more about Spanish universities, popular student cities, and what steps to take next.

Spain has a long history of higher education, with its oldest university, Universidad de Salamanca, dating back to 1218. Its higher education system was overhauled in 2007 to embrace the three-cycle system of the Bologna Process, ensuring compatability with the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).
There are a total of 78 universities (or universidades) in Spain, 51 of which are run and funded by the state whilst 27 are private or run by the Catholic Church. 18 Spanish universities are featured in the QS World University Rankings® 2015/16, of which 12 are within the global top 500. The largest concentrations of leading Spanish universities are found in capital city Madrid and second city Barcelona.
Read more about the top six Spanish universities, all ranking within the world’s top 300:

University of Barcelona (Universitat de Barcelona) Universitat de Barcelona

The highest-ranked Spanish university, the University of Barcelona is placed at joint 166th in the QS World University Rankings 2015/16. Established in 1450, it's among the oldest higher education institutions in the world, with rich traditions dating back to the Medieval Ages. Today, more than 90,600 students are enrolled in a wide array of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, across the university's 18 faculties and 100 departments. The University of Barcelona ranks within the world’s top 100 for many of the subject areas covered by the QS World University Rankings by Subject.

Universidad Autónoma de Madrid 

A much younger institution, established in 1968 following extensive reforms in higher education in Spain, the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (sometimes called UAM, or the Autonomous University of Madrid), is currently ranked at 186th place in the world.  It also comes ninth in the QS Top 50 Under 50, which highlights the world’s highest-performing young universities. The Universidad Autónoma de Madrid is home to more than 36,000 students across its eight faculties, and is especially noted for its Faculty of Law. It has three campuses, of which the main one, the Cantoblanco Campus, is located 15km (9 miles) north of Madrid. The Universidad Autónoma de Madrid prides itself in being the alma mater of His Majesty King Felipe VI of Spain.

Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona

The Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona was also established in 1968, and ranks at 190th in the world, making it Spain’s third representative at international level. Ranking 10th in the QS Top 50 Under 50, the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona teaches about 36,000 students among its 13 faculties. It is famous for being one of the few universities in Spain to have a centralized campus, created in order to promote a strong university community, with all the different academic, research, cultural and social activities in the same place. This integrated campus is located about 20km (12 miles) from the center of Barcelona.

University Complutense Madrid University Complutense Madrid

The oldest Spanish university, the University Complutense Madrid is in fact one of the oldest higher education institutions in the world. It dates back to 1293, when it was originally known as Estudio de Escuelas Generales de Alcalá, before receiving its current name in 1499. Today, the University Complutense Madrid ranks at 226th place in the world and within the global top 50 in the subject area of dentistry. More than 86,000 students study in the university, which was one of the first in the world to give a doctoral degree to a female student, in 1785.

University of Navarra University of Navarra

A private university, the University of Navarra was established in 1952 by Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer. More than 12,700 students are enrolled in the university’s undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs, with many international master’s students. The university’s main campuses are in Pamplona and San Sebastián, while its prestigious IESE Business School also has offices in Barcelona, Madrid, New York, Munich and São Paulo. At the start of 2015, the university inaugurated a new museum of contemporary art, designed by well-known architect Rafael Moneo. In the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, the University of Navarra ranks joint 265th.

Universitat Pompeu Fabra Universitat Pompeu Fabra

One of the youngest Spanish universities, the Universitat Pompeu Fabra features in the QS World University Rankings this year in joint 295th place, and is another Spanish representative in the Top 50 Under 50. It was established in 1990 and named after the famous Catalan philologist Pompeu Fabra. The university is located in Barcelona, across three separate campuses which each focus on a particular field of study: social sciences and humanities, health and life sciences, and ITC and communication sciences.
Studying a master’s or PhD? To find out about studying in Spain at graduate level, check out the latest QS Top Grad School Guide.

Spanish Football Clubs’ Finances: Crisis and Player Salaries

Ángel Barajas
and Plácido Rodríguez
University of Vigo, Observatorio Económico del Deporte
Oviedo University, Observatorio Económico del Deporte
Ángel Barajas is an associate professor of financial management in the Department
of Accountancy and Finance at the University of Vigo, Spain, and a researcher for
the Spanish Economic Observatory for Sport (Observatorio Económico del
Deporte). His research interests include investment valuation and finance of sports,
particularly professional football.
Plácido Rodríguez is a professor of economics in the Department of Economics at
Oviedo University and director of the Spanish Economic Observatory for Sport
(Observatorio Económico del Deporte). His research interests include sport eco-
nomics, gambling economics, and economic impact.
This paper shows the current financial situation of Spanish professional football.
Different financial ratios are used in order to classify the financial position of the dif-
ferent teams. The study has been split between clubs in First or Second division. We
also analyze the relationships between the size of market, team payrolls, and team per-
formance. We demonstrate the financial problems created by the arms race that clubs
have started for getting the most talented players for trying to get the best possible
sporting outcome. The new Spanish Law for companies in financial distress has
implied that nine clubs are technically insolvent and under administration. We have
searched for possible explanations of that situation. Nevertheless, our financial vari-
ables do not explain the likelihood that a club goes into administration.
Keywords: finance, player salaries, performance, financial distress, soccer, under

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Strange Catalan Traditions You Need to Know About

If you’re heading to Barcelona’s region of Catalonia, then there’s a pretty decent chance your visit will coincide with at least one of the region’s particularly quirky traditions. Quirky as in fire runs, dancing eggs and a smiling log that defecates candy (seriously!). Strange but lovable, these customs are ones you’ll want to know about before your journey in case of possible convergence.

Correfocs Fraga 2011 by Carlos Alzuria (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Usually we’re more inclined to run away from fire, but not so during this common festival tradition. Translated as “fire runs,” the correfocs are a wildly devilish celebration involving song, dance, parades, satanic-looking costumes and, of course, fireworks and flames. Also called the Ball de Diables, or Devil’s Dance, the tradition is said to date back to the 12th century, and while its origins are unknown, it has long represented the struggle between good and evil. Keen to see one of these crazy, pyrotechnic-filled runs? You can do so on a Correfoc Festival Tour from Barcelona, during which you can head out to a local village and witness the reverie yourself.
Caga Tío

Caga Tío is no doubt one of Catalonia’s quirkiest traditions.

A festive, defecating log of wood? What?! Indeed, Caga Tío — or, loosely translated, Poo Log — is one of Catalonia’s most charming and beloved holiday traditions. Come December 8th, this smiling little fellow is set out so the kids can feed it nightly and care for it by covering it in a blanket. It’s when Christmas arrives that the real action begins: Children sing songs and beat it with twigs, all in hopes it will defecate loads of candy. It’s a peculiar tradition with practical roots, actually: It began simply as an appreciation for the humble fire log which, during cold winters, kept families warm. Of course, this evolved into the more commercial and oddly entertaining version you see today.
El Caganer

El caganer, another star of the Catalan holidays

Another big star of the Catalan holidays is the nativity scene and all of its coveted, collectable figurines. Many homes, stores and, of course, churches relish creating elaborate manger scenes. One extra element is always added in the Catalan nativity scene, and that’s the caganer, a slightly, shall we say, less pensive (about the baby’s birth) fellow. Translated (politely) as “the fellow going #2,” el caganer is a man who is squatting, pants down, and doing his business, usually in some obscure corner of the holy landscape. Theories abound as to the origins behind the famous nativity scene character, which is said to date back to the 17th or 18th century. Want to invest in your own caganer? Pay a visit to one of Spain’s Christmas markets — you’ll definitely find what you’re looking for in Barcelona, and perhaps at other holiday markets in Spain, which occasionally sell the little guy too.

Catalan gegants are a standard part of regional fiestas and parades.

Catalonia clearly has a keenness for curious characters, and the gegants, or giants, are just another one to add to the collection. These tall papier-mache-headed puppets of sorts make their appearance during town (and, in the case of Barcelona, neighborhood) festas majores, the fiestas or events around feast day. This is when the towns (and neighborhoods) celebrate in a variety of ways, but particularly with parades, which include the gegants. Other characters join them, too, including the more human-height capgrossos, or big heads, which often sport goofy expressions in stark contrast to their taller, more serious-faced counterparts. All of these oversized puppets are said to have their roots in the Middle Ages, when they were used to tell stories of the Bible to an illiterate public. Now they are mostly a sign of regional tradition and celebration.

A common sight during regional celebrations are castells.

Catalans don’t just celebrate their festivals with parades, song, dance and food but also human pyramids. Indeed, come fiesta time — ubiquitous week-long parties held in towns around Catalonia and beyond to honor patron saints — trained teams of people, all with specific roles, create the tall human towers called castells. Dating back the 1800s, the careful construction is usually done to the sound of music; men are typically on the lower level(s) to bear the weight, topped by women and, finally, the castle-topper, a child. When the child (helmet-protected) reaches the pinnacle, he or she salutes to the crowd before carefully being lowered to the ground, when everyone exhales a sigh of relief. See the tradition for yourself on a Catalan Culture Half-Day Trip from Barcelona.
Corpus Christi

Come Corpus Christi, expect to go on the hunt for dancing, floating eggs.

The Thursday following Trinity Sunday is the religious celebration of Corpus Christi — sounds normal enough, right? This is when Catalans and Spaniards often celebrate the holiday with parade-like religious processions through town, followed by worship — still pretty standard. But then you sprinkle in some quirky Catalan (well, in this case, Barcelonan) customs. First, there are those aforementioned gegants, which usually join in the processions. But what else makes this celebration so peculiar? Why, the floating, dancing eggs. You’ll find these eggs – yes, literally eggs – bobbing atop spouts of water in top-to-bottom flower-decorated courtyards, cloisters and patios across Barcelona on Corpus Christi. Called l’ou com baila (“the dancing egg”), the tradition dates back to the 16th century and has uncertain roots. Some tales tell of Barcelona Cathedral acolytes who placed hollowed-out, wax-filled eggs in a fountain as the possible impetus behind the tradition. It is also believed the egg could represent the body of Christ (literally, Corpus Christi), and the water, renewal. Whatever the reason behind it, I think we can all agree it’s quite the intriguing tradition!
Sant Jordi Day

Get on board with Valentine’s-style book giving during Catalonia’s Sant Jordi Day.

This tradition is positively delightful — so delightful, in fact, that it inspired UNESCO to declare this day, April 23rd, a worldwide event. For what, you may ask? Books — and in Catalonia’s case, roses too. Internationally known as World Book Day, the event coincides with the celebration of Sant Jordi, or Saint George, and has become a Catalan Valentine’s Day of sorts. Tradition has it that on this day, women give their fellows a book, and the men give the women a rose (though, these days, the book exchange often goes both ways). As such, expect popular city spots (such as Las Ramblas) to be overflowing with flower vendors and booksellers. Indeed, it’s a charming, albeit new-to-most tradition worth getting on board with whether you’re in Catalonia at the end of April or not.

Football in Spain

Santiago Bernabeu Stadium
Santiago Bernabeu Stadium

There are two faiths in Spain: the church and football. Football is the most popular sport in the country and the Spanish excel at the game on an international level. They are current holders of the FIFA World Cup (next contested in 2014 in Brazil), and won Euro 2012, although they were defeated early in the Olympics much to everyone’s surprise.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are the most successful teams in the country and the best known on the world stage having won UEFA Champions League title for Spain 13 times between them and been runners-up 3 times. Barcelona won the cup in 2011. This year Real Madrid defeated Barcelona to win the Spanish Super Cup, always heavily competed between the two clubs.

Visiting the stadiums of these two clubs is a highlight for many visitors to Spain.

FC Barcelona is based at Camp Nou stadium in the suburbs of Barcelona and has been since 1957. They have an excellent stadium tour and exhibition of the history of the club called the Camp Nou Experience. The museum and interactive display tour costs around 23 euro and is open from 10am until 6.30 pm and until 8pm from April until early October, Monday to Saturday, and 10am until 2.30pm on Sundays, except on match days when you’ll need to check the opening hours. You won’t see the first-team players training – though you might in the early morning of a match day if you are lucky – but generally the high level training sessions are private. You can however go to a game with many seats available for the general public.  To get to the stadium catch the metro line 5 to Collblanc i Badal, or line 3 to Maria Cristina, Palau Reial and Zona Universitària. The way to the stadium is clearly signposted.

Real Madrid C F is based in Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium since 1947. You can also take a tour there most days of the year and it begins with a wonderful view over the ground from one of the 8 panoramic lifts. There’s a trophy room and you’ll get to walk around the pitch and see life as the players do. You’ll even get into the dressing room but only the visitors’ rooms, not that of the Real Madrid team itself to respect their privacy. The tour costs 16 euro and you can also buy a ticket to watch a match in the public seating areas. To get there catch Bus14, 27, 40, 43, 120, 147, 150 or the metro to Santiago Bernabéu or train to Nuevos Ministerios.

The other top team is Athletic Bilbao based in northern Spain in Bilbao. Along with Real Madrid and Barcelona they are the only team never to have been relegated from the premier league. Their stadium is San Mames Stadium also known as The Cathedral. A new multimillion euro stadium is under construction and due to open this year. The current stadium is the oldest in Spain dating from 1913. You can tour the stadium, trophy room and an exhibition nearly ever day for 6 euro. Tours stop at noon on match days.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Spain: A National Team with passes... And shots!

The Qualifier Stage of the European Championship of the France 2016 states that the style and character of the Spanish side is still strong
The Spanish National Team bases its game on a combination of elements on the playing field. Through assists, quick rebounds and movement of the players to be ready to receive the ball. 
Spain is the team with most passes with a total of 5,843 and with most completions with a sum of 5.382. Vicente del Bosque's Team is fully in control on the pitch with a 92% of chances and an average ball possession with 68%, both facts, the best participants in the qualifier stage of the 2016 France EURO. 
Despite having ball control in midfield, the Spanish side can also boast of several shots on target, 145 to be exact (18,13 per match), with a total of 40 interventions. The Spanish Team has scored a total of 18 goals, 8 shots and 3 in counterattack. Data that shows that their goal average per match is 2,25. 

The Spanish National Team has a clearly defined style that has led them to the victory on several occasions. 

Marc Bartra: "I'm very grateful to Del Bosque for all the trust he's shown me"

The Spanish squad full back, Marc Bartra held an interview with MARCA, sports daily, where he discussed the national team
In the interview, the FC Barcelona full back goes over his sporting career both on a club and national team level.
After going through the different Spanish squad categories, Marc Bartra discusses his time in the National Team: "Now I'm in the Senior team I am very grateful to Del Bosque for all the trust he's shown me in order to continue growing, helping the team to get further." 
He also spoke about the difficulty of staying among the top teams: "They've won two European Cups, the World Cup and it's hard to stay on top, but now it's time for change. Now we're a mix of U21 winners, U20 players and the best Spanish players." 
The defender is a demanding player and recognizes: "There's always room for improvement. Day by day you can evolve. Now I've got perfect teammates who bring out the best in me." 
Lastly, the footballer confessed that he's not always played as a defender: "I played on the inside, went through midfield and finally fell back as central defender." 
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