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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Primera Liga in focus: Luis Enrique right to bemoan Camp Nou’s terrible atmosphere

In his weekly Primera Liga column, Andy Mitten takes a closer look at the lack of atmosphere at Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium.
Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has called on Barcelona fans to show their support to the team more so when losing than when they are winning. Emilio Morenatti / AP Photo
Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has called on Barcelona fans to show their support to the team more so when losing than when they are winning. Emilio Morenatti / AP Photo

Luis Enrique was right to criticise the Camp Nou atmosphere after his side had come from behind to beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 in their Uefa Champions League tie on Tuesday night.

“Today we needed more support at 0-1, not at 1-2 or 2-1 up,” he said as his Barcelona team struggled against the lively Germans in the absence of Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Rafinha, Adriano, Claudio Bravo and Thomas Vermaelen.

“Support before the goals, when things are not going for you. This team deserves more credit. Out down there,” the coach added, pointing down to the Camp Nou pitch, “you can hear the whistles plenty.”

Barca fans had no problem coming alive after their side had scored twice in two minutes, nor were they shy when it came to shouting for independence before and during the game, yet their encouragement when the team needed it most was lacking. It often is.

Barca fans have some of highest standards in the world. They not only expect their team to win, they expect them to do it by playing well.

Many of the older, conservative fans who fill the Camp Nou would argue that the team must win their support by playing well before they receive it. Because their team are usually good, they believe that is the way forward, yet they are arrogant and, as Enrique pointed out, wrong to whistle and jeer just because the side are not winning.

Pressure builds against his players and supporter derision can be counter-productive.

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Those commentators who describe the huge 98,600-capacity stadium as a cauldron are woefully misguided. It is not.

The atmosphere is usually flat. The fans are spoilt rotten by success year after year. You will find a much louder noise at nearby Espanyol, where crowds average 20,000, a quarter of Barca’s.

Not all Barca fans are happy with this. Ahead of the July club elections, a group of loyal, match-going fans called Seguiment was formed specifically to raise the issue of the terrible atmosphere.

They were initially ignored by the leading candidates who considered them insignificant, less so when they gathered considerable and influential support.

“I’m actually embarrassed by how poor the atmosphere is at Camp Nou,” said Jordi Camps, a member of the group.

“It’s so bad that you can hear the players in some games. The vocal fans are spread all around the huge stadium or in tiny pockets where it’s hard to be heard. There are tourists all over the stadium who add nothing to the atmosphere.

“They sit there like it’s the theatre. They don’t know our songs, share our feeling or know our culture. And it seems that the people who run our club are more interested in appealing to them than the fans.”

The leading names were forced to take notice of Seguiment’s agenda in the election won by incumbent Josep Bartomeu, but four home games into the season, little has changed.

There was the pathetic sight of a band in one corner of the Spanish Super Cup final, but Camp Nou has returned to form, with Barca seemingly keener to court the wealthy tourists walking out of the vast club shop with bags of merchandise.

“We want a singing section inside Camp Nou,” said Camps at the time of Seguiment.

“We were promised one before, and it didn’t happen. Presidents find it hard to separate fans who want to make a noise from those who want to fight.

“We don’t advocate violence. We advocate making Camp Nou have an atmosphere to match the quality of the team.”

“We look at what Manchester United tried to do with their singing section. We look at Borussia Dortmund and the German clubs who have a great atmosphere.”

For now, Barca boast the best team in the world, yet they are mostly watched by fans lacking the passion found elsewhere.

Villerreal thriving after harsh lessons of relegation

Villarreal are top of the Primera Liga for the first time in their 92-year history.

The team have won five and drawn one of their opening six games, their latest triumph at home to Atletico Madrid. The game’s only goal came courtesy of Leo Baptistao, who is on loan from Atletico. The Madrid side did not pay more to activate a clause in his loan to say that he could not play against them.

Baptistao looked like he was set to be a star in his first loan spell at Rayo Vallecano in 2013, although given the Brazilian’s mediocre form in recent seasons, the omission of that clause was understandable. Still only 23, he has time on his side to fulfil his potential in a side which plays great attacking football.

With the sixth biggest budget in Spain, Villarreal have finished sixth in each of the last two seasons after winning promotion, at the first attempt, in 2013.

The club maintain that a lot of good came from that surprise relegation — they had finished in the top eight every year from 2004-2011.

Their side are a settled one. So, too, are he club after a wobble caused by Spain’s financial crisis. They are funded by ceramics magnate Fernando Roig, now in his 19th year at the club. Villarreal were a lower, second division club when Roig took charge. But they had actually spent most of their history in Spain’s fourth and fifth tiers, normal for a club from a town the size of Villarreal.

Roig’s millions and his astute philosophy of catching still young, fallen stars, such as Diego Forlan, Marcos Senna, Juan Roman Riquelme and Giuseppe Rossi, and paying them well, saw Villarreal rise to be among the best teams in Spain.

He built their stadium up to seat 24,000. He built a new ceramic-clad training ground and invested in youth.

Villarreal’s ‘B’ team were the only ‘B’ team in the second division before that 2012 relegation. Though they lost their three top scorers in the summer, they are on a stable footing with manager Marcelino now in his fourth season.

They kept hold of key players, too. Locally born midfielder Bruno Soriano, 31, has been there his entire career and could have left after relegation.

His midfield foil, Manu Trigueros, rose through the ‘C’ and ‘B’ teams to provide them with a solid centre. Both were exceptional against Atletico.

Villarreal have had a relatively easy run so far and that continues with an away game at their neighbours Levante on Sunday.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK — Lucas Perez (Deportivo La Coruna)

The Deportivo La Coruna winger, 27, scored twice as his team beat Espanyol 3-0 to move into the top six. Depor avoided relegation on the final day of 2014/15 and have started this season brightly. Despite being from La Coruna, Perez’s career had taken him to Spain, Ukraine and Greece. He joined Depor on loan in 2014. Now permanent, he has four goals this season.

PRIMERA LIGA GAME OF THE WEEK — Sevilla v Barcelona

Saturday’s game between Sevilla and Barcelona is intriguing. The pair met in an epic European Super Cup final only last month in Georgia, yet Sevilla have struggled since, winning only one of their opening six league games — last week against Rayo Vallecano. Barca are hampered by injuries and lost their last league game, 4-1, on the road. If there is a time to hit them, it is now.

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