Happy Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it! (Or happy random Thursday if you don't!)
Whether you get together with family to watch the NFL and eat turkey, or go to work and watch the Europa League, it's always worth it to list the things you can be thankful for. In that spirit, let's outline some pretty great things happening around FC Barcelona:
1) First and foremost, I'm thankful that Eric Abidal is getting better. The French defender's amazing recovery, from diagnosis to lifting the Champions League trophy in a matter of months, is an astounding example of the human spirit. It's such cruel fate that he had to have a liver transplant because of lingering issues from the first surgery. But Eric's transplant was successful and he is back in training. He may still one day play, but he has publicly said that his priority is health and family. We hope he continues a long and healthy life. Anything relating to football is extra.
2) I'm thankful that Barcelona donated money to the children's charity UNICEF and proudly wore its logo on the front of the shirt, and that it continues to support UNICEF and wear the logo on the back of the shirt. Some people were understandably upset when the sponsorship was given to first the Qatar Foundation and then Qatar Airways, but this list is about appreciating the things we have. I think UNICEF were thrilled that for years they received significant exposure via the shirt sponsorship at no cost and that they continue to receive money and support from the club. That is enough to make me happy.
3) Moving on to less serious matters, I'm thankful for the league results so far. It's not just that there's an eight-point advantage over Real Madrid and three-point advantage over Atletico de Madrid to celebrate, but that the team is on a brilliant, unprecedented string of results.
4) In a related matter, I'm very happy Tito Vilanova is our coach. There were some who doubted him, but so far he has proven a more than capable manager. True, he inherited a team already drilled in a system, but let's not forget that Tito was part of the genesis of that system as Pep Guardiola's second-in-command. So far, he's had his own way of doing things, own theories, and own ideas. But perhaps his greatest strength has been stability. Every change he makes feels like the next step in the road, rather than a dangerous swerve. And it's hard to argue with the results so far.
5) I think we're all glad for a stylish 3-0 win over Spartak that won us the Champions League group. Now, we can take it easy in the last game and play the "kids" at the Camp Nou. Should be fun.
6) I'm very excited that our beloved captain Carles Puyol is back from injury yet again, and that his sidekick Gerard Pique is ready to play alongside him as well. Puyol is one of the toughest footballers around, making the run of bad injuries seem especially unfortunate. The pair are back and hopefully ready to bolster our Achilles' heel, defense.
7) I'm quite proud that Barcelona play the style that they play. Andres Iniesta so modestly said they just don't know any other way, but it's clear to me that such a revolutionary way of playing isn't just happenstance. Iniesta and Xavi are godsends, they have thrilled us for years and I hope they thrill us for many more.
8) I'm thankful for YouTube, the site that makes it possible for me to see this five times a day:
9) I'm thankful we have such a skilled squad. I'll mention some of them briefly. First, the keepers. Victor Valdes, errors and all, but when he's on top form there aren't too many keepers who are better. Jose Manuel Pinto, who makes things interesting, whether he's playing or not, and is not a bad backup at all to boot.
10) Now, defenders. Javier Mascherano has done the thankless job of converting to a new position and keeping it all together when the defense is in flux. Without him, do we win the 2010-11 Champions League? Kudos to Marc Bartra for being patient, and he has shown flashes of greatness. Hope he's back soon. Adriano has played every position along the defensive line and still had time to knock in a few goals as well. Jordi Alba has been a great signing, wowing us with his blazing pace and even scored a few, too. Dani Alves is a freak of nature; he has a motor that does not stop, and a great shot, and produces a good number of assists. Oh, and he's actually a fairly underrated defender. Martin Montoya, the future of Spain at RB, and not bad at all at present. He almost scored a brilliant winner in el Clasico, too, but even without that he's been great.
11) And midfielders... I already mentioned the pass masters Xavi and Iniesta, but the third part of the perfect triangle is Sergio Busquets - neat and tidy, confident and skilled. Cesc Fabregas remains a gamechanger, and he leads La Liga in assists. I can't wait to have Thiago back, which should be soon. Alex Song is still adapting but he got his first goal for Barca, let's hope it's a sign of things to come. Jonathan dos Santos has been good in limited time. Sergi Roberto seems like a future star.
12) Now forwards. David Villa has returned from a broken leg to score goals for fun. El Guaje is a scoring machine. Alexis Sanchez has gone through his scoring drought working hard, which is the important thing. Pedro hasn't scored much either but his workrate, not to mention his brilliant assist last game, make up for it. Cristian Tello is still a bit raw, but still very dangerous. I also can't wait to have Isaac Cuenca back. Gerard Deulofeu is as exciting a prospect as there is. And all the other B team players and staff - I'm happy they're part of the team, too. Oh and...
13) I'm extremely pleased Lionel Messi does not play for any other club because I would not want to face him.
Happy Thanksgiving - or Thursday - everyone!