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Pleasantries, Messi Thoughts & My Road To Camp Nou

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Hello everyone, I am Emile Avanessian, a California-raised, New York-residing nearly decade-long fan of FC Barcelona. Some of you might be familiar with my work on NBA, from either my site (Hardwood Hype) or eslewhere on the web. To you persevering souls, I say welcome and thank you for checking me out here. For those members of the Barça Blaugranes unfamiliar with my work, thank you for coming and welcome to the corner of the internet that (every Monday) will be dedicated to my thoughts on football. In the weeks and months to come, I look forward to providing you with entertaining features and analysis

I try (and occasionally succeed) to avoid "all about me" writing. You've dedicated your time and bandwidth to read my thoughts on the game of football and the players that play it, not my autobiography in bite-sized morsels. Yeah, we can start in with that next week. For now, however...

Suffice it to say that football (the one in Europe that’s played predominantly with, you know, your feet) was not a part of the fabric of life for children growing up in the pre-internet United States. As result, despite being born to parents who were both raised abroad, my father himself a fan of the beautiful game, for much of my youth the term "football" referred to muscle-bound maniacs making a concerted effort to knock one another into early onset Parkinson’s. As it did for many in the U.S. of A, "soccer" popped in every four years to say hello, the foreign cousin who’s an absolute blast to hang out with when he visits, but not really convenient to keep in touch with day to day.

Fortunately, along came the summer of 2002. A major uptick in my personal level of interest, a phenomenon common among my closest friends at the time, singificant technological advances, a summer off and a relatively U.S.-friendly TV schedule (even in California the time difference was a manageable nine hours), and the seeds of obsession were planted.

As is the case with many neutral novices, I hitched my wagon to the Brazilians’ star. In doing so, I aligned my interests with those of a veritable "who’s who" of the world’s best. Amid the collection of superstars, one that featured Ronaldo and Rivaldo, Barcelona’s former and current (but soon to be former) attacking stars, a young midfielder named Ronaldinho, captured my attention. To claim that I knew then that in a year he'd move from Paris Saint-Germain would be a lie. However, his imagination and the way in which he commanded the ball, magical if still a bit raw, eliminated any question in my mind of futrue superstardom. That the Seleção succeeded in capturing its record fifth World Cup triumph was fantastic, if for no other reason than exocising Ronaldo's demons of France '98 and allowing him take his rightful place among the all-time greats. More importantly for me, however, I was hooked, and had found "my guy."

He continued to ply his trade in Paris for another season, but in the summer of 2003 Ronaldinho completed a €30 million (for the youngsters out there- in the days before £50 million transfers and trillion-dollar goverment programs, this used to be a lot of money) move to Barcelona. This, combined with stories of Ronaldo’s otherworldly one-year run with Barcelona- 49 goals in 47 games, 1996 World Player of the Year and Ballon D’Or at age 20 and the last player to score 30+ goals in a La Liga season in the 12 season before the 2008-2009 campaign. Hearing from my dad about the days of Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona with the club and- I’m going to ask you to cut me a bit of slack here- an intense infatuation with the city of Barcelona, spawned by television coverage of the 1992 Olympics, the suspense was sapped out of my decision.

Now, as anyone who has read my work on the NBA will attest, I am not a tip-of-the-iceberg kind of guy. I am a nerd. I have a fetish for history. I crave context. The more knowledge I gathered on the club’s history, both on the pitch and off, the more fascinated I became.

For starters, FC Barcelona’s impact on Spain’s political and cultural landscape is impossible to ignore. I’m not of Catalan decent, so far be it for me to claim the struggle as my own, but it's impossible not to be swayed by the club's role as a weapon against Catalan oppression in the mid-20th century. The people’s flag and even their language banned, and the club’s president murdered in 1936, home matches provided a safe haven in which Catalans could express their disdain for General Franco, Spain’s dictator from 1939-75, and an ardent supporter of archrival Real Madrid. ‘Més que un club’? You bet.

Social impact aside, the club’s offensive philosophy, perfected as both player and manager by Cruyff and more recently by Pep Guardiola, and currently executed to perfection by the incomparable trio of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, embodies everything a fan would dare ask of his team. The signature triangle formation, the incisive, rapid-fire passing attack- seemingly telepathic when executed properly- personifies the game’s beauty in a way that no other club’s signature style can. The FC Barcelona sides of the past eight years have welcomed me to football fandom much in the way that Magic Johnson and the 1980s' "Showtime" Lakers introduced me to basketball.

Ronaldinho's exploits at the Nou Camp will be explored in depth another time, as will those of the aforementioned midfield maestros, La Pulga and numerous other characters featured on this grand sporting stage that have thrilled, amused, perplexed and maddened. For now, the rest, as I am told "they" say, is history.

Eh... what the hell. Since the season can't kick off soon enough, since his name been conspicuously absent from the summer's conversations, and we're already in the neighborhood anyway, I'll leave you with the magic of Lionel Messi in 284 seconds.

If that only served to wet your appetite, set aside 15 minutes and click here.

Until next time... enjoy!

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