116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Monday, June 18, 2007

Ballad of the Forgotten Star

Years from now (such as 2008), when observers and historians look back upon the footballing saga of 2007, categorized by Ronaldo brilliance, Ronaldo obesity, Kaka reality and life post-Zidane, the story that will stand above all others will be that of David Beckham, disgraced ex-England captain. Blamed for World Cup failure, stripped of his captaincy, benched at Real Madrid in favor of Jose Antonio Reyes (!), exiled to Major League Soccer (!!), recalled to the Real Madrid lineup due to an injury to Jose Antonio Reyes, suddenly hailed as an indispensable leader, begged not to leave for Major League Soccer, crowned La Liga champion and destined to headline Major League Soccer. For Becks, such an epic finale to his European career could not have been more fitting, but that's all I'm going to say about him until he puts on a Galaxy shirt (incidentally, although we almost never discuss him here, we here on 116th Street are fascinated by Beckham; count us among those who can't wait for him to get here).
For a story with similar origins, yet much more somber in nature, one must look to Real Madrid's claret-and-blue Catalan rivals, FC Barcelona. It is here that we find a player with talent to electrify, but no one to appreciate his ability. Javier Saviola, he of the twelve goals in sixteen appearances this season, has found himself a pariah at Barca since Frank Rijkaard took over the squad in 2004. His goal-scoring record has never faltered, and his displays were enough to convince Jose Pekerman to make him a first-choice striker for Argentina during the 2006 World Cup, and yet Barcelona has never wanted him. While it is easy to justify Saviola's place behind Samuel Eto'o on the Barca pecking order, the disdain the Blaugrana have shown him has been downright disgraceful. To send a player of Saviola's renown and skills on loan (without even requesting a transfer fee!) should never happen, yet Barcelona did this twice, in 2004 to Monaco and in 2005 to Sevilla (yet, somehow, Santi Ezquerro got to stay at the Nou Camp). It wasn't until he led Sevilla to the UEFA Cup in'06 that FCB brought him back, and this was only after they couldn't agree a transfer for him (Saviola wanted to prove himself at the club; they didn't even assign him a squad number until right before the season began).
Even so, when Eto'o went down with an injury earlier this season, it was Saviola who rescued Barca's season, scoring 8 goals in 6 consecutive games. Unlike Beckham, who was hailed as a savior, Saviola was promptly benched upon Eto'o's return and did not even dress for Barcelona's final home match against Espanyol. Now that the season is over, Saviola plans to leave the club in the wake of a contract offer that seemed "more of an invitation to leave the club than anything else." He has been linked to a move to Real Madrid, of all places, although I'm sure there are many clubs willing to offer El Conejo better treatment than he has received thus far from FCB. Let's hope that he, much like his former rival in the capital, can make a triumphant return to the footballing stage.


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