Andy Mitten

  • Barcelona not the only Catalan side facing a do-or-die match at the weekend

    Andy Mitten takes a look at Girona, Catalunya's forgotten club, who stand on the verge of historic promotion to La Liga.

    Girona's stands are already packed - what will it be like if they make it into La Liga?Girona's stands are already packed - what will it be like if they make it into La Liga?

    Barcelona’s team fly to Berlin on Thursday to settle in the German capital ahead of Saturday’s Champions League final. Their fans won’t be far behind and at least 20,000 of them will make the 1,200-mile journey.

    Barça’s away following is often pitifully small, but it’s better in European competition and they’ve got a proud record of taking tens of thousands to the many finals they reach. Images of the 1979 Cup Winners’ Cup final in Basel, from the days when European Cup finals were what Real Madrid played in and not Barça, are prominent in the Camp Nou museum. Spain wasn’t a democracy back

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  • Xavi: Spain’s greatest ever footballer?

    Andy Mitten reflects on the remarkable Barcelona career of Xavi Hernandez, with the Spaniard still chasing an elusive hat-trick and bicycle kick goal as his time at Camp Nou nears its conclusion.

    Barcelona legend Xavi in 2000 (L) and 2015 (R) (Reuters)Barcelona legend Xavi in 2000 (L) and 2015 (R) (Reuters)

    Two days before he partied with his Barcelona team-mates after playing a part in a club record eight league titles, Xavi Hernandez took to the stage at his club’s training ground in front of a packed room of journalists. His wife had commented that he’d been on edge for a few days; his mother, the strongest influence in his life, had finally accepted his decision.

    “I didn't want this time to come,” he’d say, “I’ve been dreading this moment.”

    Everyone knew that the diminutive midfielder from the nearby industrial city of Terrassa was going to announce that he was leaving the club where he’s

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  • Real Madrid’s Liga title dreams far from over

    Real Madrid can still overcome a four-point deficit to Liga leaders Barcelona, writes Andy Mitten, given the latter side’s ominous run-in

    Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo (Reuters)Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo (Reuters)

    Spain’s leading three each played two league games and won twice in four days this week. Victories at Celta Vigo and at home to Almeria meant Barça retained their four-point gap at the top. Real Madrid beat Granada 9-1 and neighbours Rayo Vallecano 2-0 to stay second. A quirk of fixtures means Madrid are playing six games on the bounce in the Spanish capital.

    [IN-DEPTH: Cristiano Ronaldo under fire for controversial celebration]

    Rayo’s achievements should not be overlooked. They lose so many players that they have to almost start afresh each season – an average of 20 players leave and arrive

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  • Five-way title race? The two Liga clubs making Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid sweat

    Valencia and Sevilla meet on Sunday night at the Mestalla in a Liga game layered with intrigue and ego, writes Andy Mitten.

    Sevilla's Nico Pareja (L) challenges Valencia's Andre Gomes (Reuters)Sevilla's Nico Pareja (L) challenges Valencia's Andre Gomes (Reuters)

    Spain's two in-form teams don't come from Barcelona or Madrid, yet Barça, Real and Atletico are looking closely at the pair behind them who are closing the gap.

    Valencia and Sevilla, who are fourth and fifth with firm Champions League ambitions, meet on Sunday night at the Mestalla in a game layered with intrigue and ego. The clubs, from Spain's third and fourth largest cities, have both won four and drawn one of their last five league games. Valencia ended Real Madrid's 22-match winning run while Sevilla, the reigning Europa League holders, have won nine from their last ten.

    Sevilla are

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  • Barcelona crisis: Messi isolated, Neymar's Suarez spat and players bloated on success

    Barcelona are engulfed in crisis but why?

    Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (Getty7)Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (Getty7)

    Barcelona expect their lowest crowd of the season for tonight's cup game against Elche. That it kicks off at 10pm midweek a few days after the holiday season doesn't help. Nor do two home games in four days, with Sunday's match against champions Atletico Madrid more attractive.

    Barca were booed off the field when Atletico last visited to lift the league title in May. After, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who took over less than a year ago, promised "profound changes" at the club. While Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez moved on and Carlos Puyol moved upstairs, Barca have been unable to

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  • Iker Casillas: Goalkeeper far from finished at Real Madrid

    Iker Casillas is playing a pivotal role as Real Madrid target the Club World Cup – a trophy that has eluded the shot stopper – just months after he was hammered for mistakes in Brazil.

    Real Madrid's Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, goalkeeper Iker Casillas and Toni Kroos celebrate (Reuters)Real Madrid's Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, goalkeeper Iker Casillas and Toni Kroos celebrate (Reuters)

    Most professional footballers don't possess a great memory. They're reminded of goals and games all the time by fans who haven't forgotten what they have. Footballers tend to look forward, not backwards. Roy Keane was almost dismissive of the past. Little wonder he needed a ghostwriter to jog his memory. Some footballers finally start looking back when they've finished playing. They open the cuttings book their mum made for them, watch footage of what they did when they could play.

    Most. Two of Spain's greatest ever footballers, Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernandez, possess almost encyclopaedic

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  • Lionel Messi's records are not the only reason that Barcelona will never let him go

    Andy Mitten pays tribute to Lionel Messi - and explains how the diminutive Argentine has become one of the club's most important power brokers.

    Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates on his way to yet another hat trick - and yet another record (Reuters)Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates on his way to yet another hat trick - and yet another record (Reuters)

    The tributes were recorded in September, when Spain's beaches were full and t-shirts proliferated on the streets of Barcelona. Andres Iniesta, Luis Enrique, Andoni Zubizarreta and club president Josep Bartomeu all waxed lyrical. As did Chicago Bulls' Pau Gasol. A Catalan, Gasol is also a Barça fan.

    These accolades were to be for Lionel Messi when he broke Telmo Zarra's all-time La Liga leading scoring record of 251 goals. The legendary Basque striker who put England out of the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, took 15 seasons to reach his tally.

    Messi, still only 27, would need only 11 years.

    Given

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  • Big shoes for Moyes to fill: The Brits who managed in Spain

    Andy Mitten looks at the long-standing British tradition of exporting football managers to Spain.

    David MoyesDavid Moyes

    David Moyes was officially unveiled as Real Sociedad boss on Thursday afternoon, and he follows a long standing tradition.

    Because Spain has a rich history of British football managers, especially the beautiful Basque Country which Moyes will now call home. 

    The British brought football to Spain and the country's oldest club, Recreativo Huelva, from southern Andalusia, were founded by Brits in 1889. They still have a 'MacKay' supporters' club with a Scottish flag. There were countless British expatriate workers who played in Spain as football was being established and British managers were

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  • Moyes waited and waited for the perfect job - but has he found it at Real Sociedad?

    Failed Manchester United manager David Moyes has finally taken a new job - but has he taken the right job? Andy Mitten investigates.

    David MoyesDavid Moyes

    A year ago last week, as the rain lashed down and the Atlantic waves crashed nearby forcing the coastal road to close, David Moyes walked into the mixed zone at Real Sociedad's Anoeta Stadium and confided in a friend that he had a huge task on his hands at Manchester United.

    United had drawn 0-0 and Moyes felt his side had been unfortunate not to triumph in the Basque Country; but a draw in Spain is satisfactory for any English club.

    Crucially, as things emerged, Moyes also made a positive impression with rival officials in the beautiful city of San Sebastian.

    [MOYES HANDED REAL SOCIEDAD

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  • Fabregas DOES want to join Manchester United

    So many Spaniards have moved to the Premier League this summer that you can make an XI of players who will be debuting next month. A 4-2-3-1 formation could be Adrian (West Ham); Muniesa (Stoke), Amorebieta (Fulham), Amat (Swansea), Luna (Aston Villa); Canas (Swansea), Campana (Crystal Palace); Navas (Man City), Deulfeu (Everton), Pozuelo (Swansea); Aspas (Liverpool). There are more. And others may be joining them in England, though not all would be first timers.

    Manchester United want Cesc Fabregas. And United understand that Cesc Fabregas is quite happy with the idea of going to United and

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