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Lionel Messi and Athletic Club: A story of stunning goals

Javier Giorgetti



Header Image by David Ramos via Getty Images

Messi surprises us goal after goal. As much as he scores a fantastic one, he always manages to overcome it while making it look easy. Among the endless mesmeric goals that Lionel Messi has scored, many of them have been against Athletic Club, Barcelona’s opponent tomorrow.

It is no surprise to say that Lionel Messi scores goals out of this world. What we consider a casual goal for Messi is probably the best of any other footballer’s career. The Argentinian stands out for always surprising goal after goal and surpassing himself with plays never seen before. He makes his strikes look easy. Among all the rivals that La Pulga has scored against, Athletic Club is one of his favourites victims, with 24 goals in all competitions.

Not only that, but versus Los Leones, Leo Messi always shocks the world with an ace up his sleeve and the incredible magic that the number 10 almost always displays when facing such club. Now, as Barcelona face Athletic Club tomorrow night at the Camp Nou, it is the right time to remember some of the golazos Messi has scored past them. A better love story than Twilight.

1. Barcelona 3–1 Athletic Club | 2016/17 Copa del Rey round of 16

In the round of 16 of the Copa del Rey in the 2016/17 season, Barcelona prematurely faced one of the great teams to beat in the competition. The first leg was held at San Mamés and ended with a 2–1 victory for the locals. In search of the comeback, the azulgranas did everything possible at the Camp Nou. After the goals from Luis Suárez and Neymar Júnior, and with a great performance by Luis Enrique’s men, the goal of the remaining member of the MSN trio was missing. Messi’s goal was missing.

Lionel Messi Barcelona Athletic Club goals

Of course, there had to be a free-kick in this list | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images

Subsequently, after several attempts in his search for the goal, in the 78th minute, the referee whistled a foul in favour of the Catalans. Leo knew that he had to score to secure the qualification to the next round, and that’s what he did, making it 3–0. A free-kick accomplished in the best way, with a shot at the far bottom corner and in the perfect direction. The ball softly raised to overcome the wall and then went with enough power to the lower right side of the goal of Gorka Iraizoz. Messi tricked everyone.

2. Barcelona 3–0 Athletic Club | 2011/12 Copa del Rey final

Undoubtedly, a memorable match. A final, with a 3–0 victory, a clean sheet, and the farewell of the iconic Pep Guardiola, in the epic duel of coaches between him and Marcelo Bielsa. A game where all players had fun and, once again, showed football of another level. Being Pep’s last encounter as the manager of Barça, of course, Messi wanted to score a goal in a special way. The blaugranas got the advantage in minute three when Pedro opened the scoring.

Lionel Messi Barcelona Athletic Club goals

Against Athletic Club, Lionel Messi doesn’t know scoring ugly goals | Photo by Ángel Martínez via Getty Images

Some time later, in the 20th minute, Messi’s goal came. A stunner. Andrés Iniesta drove the ball a few meters away from the rival area and assisted Leo with a pass that went in between four defenders. Don Andrés, unlike the Athletic players, had seen that Messi was cutting inside the box with great speed and tactical intelligence. With Pedro Rodríguez in between, the opposing defenders thought that the ball was going to him, but he himself knew that it was going in the direction of Lionel. Subsequently, in an uncomfortable position, with a tight angle, and with his less strong leg, Messi was able to find the net with a powerful high shot. How? Nobody knows. But it definitely was an outstanding goal.

3. Athletic Club 2–2 Barcelona | 2012/13 La Liga matchday 33

After a dramatic 4–0 loss to Bayern Munich, Barcelona wanted to get some motivation on matchday 33 of La Liga. This clash was against Athletic Club and in between the first and the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals. The game started with a goal from the locals at San Mamés. However, the Catalans needed to score to increase their gap on top of the league with three more points, and couldn’t afford to lose. After an atypical first half, Barça began to dominate in the second 45 minutes and, after several attempts, Messi finally found the perfect opportunity.

In the 60th minute, Thiago Alcântara did a wonderful job in midfield and delivered a pass to Messi. The little genius received the ball, held it for a few seconds, and quickly dribbled his way forward. All in a matter of seconds. After having overcome the first player, he easily juggled past the second, then two more with an effective movement, and finally completed a run to the left to accommodate his left-footed shot and score a goal to tie the game. One of the many golazos from Messi against Athletic Club, but this certainly is high on the list. Later, Alexis Sánchez scored what seemed to be the winner, but the locals equalised in the last minute for the final 2–2.

4. Barcelona 3–1 Athletic Club | 2014/15 Copa del Rey final

Without a doubt, a goal that we all remember. Especially because it was nominated for the Puskás award in 2015, which is given to the best goal of the year. This was not just any final. Barcelona had already won La Liga, and had qualified for the Champions League final. So it was extremely important to win that Copa del Rey final against Athletic Club to get the domestic duo and puss for the later treble. For this reason, the whole team knew that this match could only have one result: a victory for the Catalans.

Lionel Messi Barcelona Athletic Club goals

A Copa del Rey final at Messi’s own temple: the Camp Nou | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images

In the 20th minute, Messi made a piece of art. Not even in the Louvre museum can we find any similar work. It all started with the Argentinian receiving the ball very close to the halfway line and in the right wing. Later, very calmly, he easily beat the first opponent with a feint. Then another player approached for defensive help and, the one who had already been beaten recovered his position to defend the Argentinian.

None of this was an obstacle for Messi, though, who passed between both brilliantly. Seconds later, another defender was unable to reach him and Leo made a devastating and powerful run into the opposing area. With enough patience, but at the same time explosiveness, the tiny magician found space to unleash his own shot between three defenders, sending it powerfully towards Iraizoz’s net and scoring a golazo. Messi opened the scoring in the way to a 3–1 victory. In a list of many, this perhaps was his most iconic goal against Athletic.

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The love I feel for this club is as great as the desire to share my admiration for it. Being a fan of Barcelona since when I was 8 years old and growing up watching games week after week. It makes no sense to feel so much love for this club. Being able to transmit all that love with more lovers of this sport is priceless.



Josep Samitier, the artist and hero of Barcelona’s first golden age




Header Image by FC Barcelona

Our Guest Author: Amal Gosh

Josep Samitier was a surrealist artist on and off the pitch and a legendary midfielder that brought Barcelona its first successful era in the 1920s, as well as some controversy throughout his career.

Surrealism, a deceptive interrogation of reality that transcends the human subconscious to manipulate or alter the coherent understanding of existence. Josep Samitier Vilalta, or “L’home llagosta” (The lobster man) was the most surreal portrait in the history of FC Barcelona. He was called the ‘surrealista’, because his genius produced the illusions on the pitch that were perplexing to fathom as reality.

History is constructed up on the interdependency of figures and events. Samitier was one of those figures who created a rift in the annals of world football to produce the first reverberation of football in the streets of Barcelona. The footballing revolution in Catalonia peaked in the early 1920s, especially in Barcelona, as it was the beginning of the first golden age.

With the construction of the Les Corts stadium, the club assembled a group of talented, young players. Josep Samitier, along with Paulino Alcántara, Ricardo Zamora, Emili Sagi-Barba, Vicenç Piera and Agustín Sancho became the first generation of the club idols. Samitier, among others, was an integral part of Barcelona’s rebuilding of character and went on to become one of the most significant personalities both in terms of sporting and cultural relevance.

Samitier was born on 2nd February 1902 in a Catalan working-class family. As a young boy in the streets of Barcelona where the roads of passion and dreams lead to the grant Les Corts, ‘El Sami’ would kick the ball around waving at the passing commons.

After the club’s establishment, FC Barcelona had quite an attachment with the proletarian class. Especially at the time of industrial unrest, the institution always kept them close and the stadium was always packed with the same working-class populace. Young minds like Samitier who would grow up in the streets of Barcelona always had the ball on their feet and club in their heart.

Samitier started playing for FC Internacional before making his debut for Barcelona at the age of 17 in 1919. The club museum still preserves and cherishes his signing bonuses, a shimmering watch and a three-piece suit. By 1925, Samitier became the highest-paid player at the club and thus became the highest-earning player in the country.

The division of labour was evident in the early years of European football. Whilst the backline remained static to protect the goal, the forward line had to pick and fight the battle on their own. Samitier was among the key figures who created a paradigm shift from this prevailing ‘Basque style’, where the attackers held the sole responsibility to win the ball and navigate their own way to find a goal. Samitier was among the first players to orchestrate the game from the back. He was like a master of the opera performance where he controlled and navigated the rhythm and flow of the game.

Emili Sagi-Barba Vicenç Piera Josep Samitier Barcelona

Josep Samitier (middle), alongside teammates Emili Sagi-Barba (left) and Vicenç Piera (right) from the successful Barcelona team of the 1920s | Photo by FC Barcelona

Samitier was an exceptional player who could manipulate the ball like a wizard, and he dribbled the ball around the pitch like a ballet dancer. He was the first midfielder general in the history of Spanish football, whose role was the hybrid between a Pivote (central midfielder) and the Leñero (chopper) or sweeper. Samitier was the harbinger of the modern-day box-to-box role. Despite being positioned in a deep-lying role, Samitier was an outstanding goalscorer. It was rather unusual for a midfielder of that time to score an astonishing 184 goals for any club in Europe.

Even though Barcelona was graced with many prolific players, Samitier was the core of the magnificent Barça team of the 1920s. He would hack the ball from the opposition to carry the ball from the midfield to provide a line-breaking pass in the final third. His glorious days at Les Corts were filled with thrilling langosta (lobster) kicks which would eventually evolve into the modern ‘chilena’ or bicycle-kick. Samitier was an entertainer on the pitch. His ostentatious performance attracted the Catalans into the stadium.

His glittering thirteen years in a blaugrana shirt were decorated with 11 Catalan Championships, 5 Spanish Championships and the first Spanish league that began in 1928. Moreover, his time with Barça was embellished with title-winning goals in the Copa del Rey finals of 1922, 1925, 1926 and 1928.

Pepe Samitier’s momentous career at Barcelona transformed him from a sporting figure to a cultural icon in Catalan society. His reputation at the club produced a strong political outline for himself among the intellectuals in the society. It was an unprecedented period in the socio-cultural scenario of Europe. The entrée of subjective art and understanding by Salvador Dalí, Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh among other artistic prominence overtook the existing concepts of impressionism and naturalism.

Samitier aligned with surrealism, indulging the spirit of subjectivity. He reflected this both in the game and in his outside loyalties. His acquaintances mostly consist of radical artists and political figures of the time, including the tango maestro Carlos Gardel, Mauricio Chevalier, Salvador Dalí and, in contrast to his idol figure in Catalonia, he also had a close relationship with the dictator Franco.

In 1933, after a dramatic feud with the Barcelona management, an ageing El Sami dropped from the first team. Real Madrid, then called Madrid CF, took advantage of this dispute and were able to convince him to join the club. However, it was his secret allegiance with General Franco that helped Madrid to accomplish the operation.

Even though his short stint at Madrid wasn’t really celebrated, Samitier did guide them to win the La Liga title in 1932/33 and the Copa de España in 1934. But he played a significant role for Madrid, not as a player but as a super-agent in a decade-defining transfer of Alfredo Di Stéfano, whose intended destination was Barcelona. This signing was the inflexion point for Madrid in the 1960s, as Di Stéfano would go on to score 216 goals and play an important role in their European domination. Although Samitier’s allegiance with General Franco was visible, this transfer saga threw the relationship open into society.

Alfredo Di Stéfano Real Madrid Josep Samitier Barcelona

Real Madrid’s signing of Alfredo Di Stéfano (right) changed Real Madrid’s history forever | Photo by Staff / AFP via Getty Images

Before the Spanish civil war burst out in 1936, Samitier spent a brief time in managing Atlético de Madrid, succeeding Fred Pentland in the middle of the season, but failed to keep them in the first division. Nonetheless, the season was scrapped as soon as the civil war started and Samitier, who had strong ties with the nationalist side, found himself blacklisted and arrested by the anarchist militia.

Eventually, he was released by the militia and fled to France. His exile to France was later utilized by the Franco regiment to spread the anti-communist propaganda by portraying this event in a film titled ‘The Stars Search for Peace’, where Samitier enacted himself. During his time in France, Samitier joined OGC Nice as a player, where he would unite with his old teammate Zamora. He went onto score 47 goals in 82 matches. In 1939, he retired as a footballer and briefly managed OGC Nice in 1942.

After two years and 8 months, the civil war ended and the nationalists alliance under General Franco demolished the second Spanish republic to establish the new Spanish state. Josep Samitier returned to Spain in 1944, and he took charge of Barcelona. His homecoming was celebrated as he guided Barcelona to win their second-ever La Liga title in 1945 and lifted the Copa de Oro Argentina by beating the Copa del Generalísimo winners Athletic Club de Bilbao.

Subsequently, Samitier became the chief scout of the club and his keen vision in recognising the talent resulted in the discovery and recruitment of Ladislao Kubala, a player who went on to become a legend at Barcelona. The recruitment of Kubala was the status redemption for Samitier, who had lost its shine after the Di Stéfano transfer saga.

In 1972, Samitier rested his soul and left his showmanship and sorcery to cherish in the memories of Catalans. Despite serving Madrid and his close relationship with General Franco, he was given an honourable state funeral as a Catalan hero. Samitier was the most symbolic player in the history of the club. His close affiliation with both the cultural and sporting context of Barcelona formed an irrevocable stature of him in the Catalan society.

Samitier, as a footballing visionary, is a reference to the modern-day midfielders and, on the other hand, he was an imperative cultural icon who embraced a revolutionary socio-cultural movement in his life. Samitier’s journey from being an ambitious boy in the streets of Barcelona to a footballing legend remains one of the inspiring and reviving narrative in the history of the game. Even today, walking down the Josep Samitier Street, one could still gather an enigmatic chanting celebrating the greatest artist in the history of Barcelona.

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