THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES

Dani Alves Is Back

Yesterday was Dani Alves Day, at least according to every single one of Barcelona's social feeds, which makes today Dani Alves Boxing Day. So if you're looking for an excuse to lie around all day picking at leftovers and regretting that seventh ginger wine, there you go.
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Only joking. Nobody need ever regret ginger wine.
To say Barcelona went for it would be a grave understatement. Alves didn't just get asked to wander around the pitch and do a couple of keepy-uppys, oh no. They took the whole table out there, and some fancy pens in fancy boxes, and made him sign the thing in the sunshine.
We also got, by way of content: Dani Alves wearing flip-flops; Dani Alves explaining why he was wearing flip-flops; Dani Alves sniffing the Camp Nou grass ("Smells like titles, smells like cups"); Dani Alves greeting the fans; Dani Alves thanking the fans; Dani Alves taking his flip-flops off; Dani Alves wearing his new kit and grinning like a kid who woke up on Dani Alves Day and got everything he ever wanted. Which, we suppose, he did.
On the one hand it's all very wholesome, even sweet. This is a club welcoming back a genuine legend, still widely adored, who also happens to be boundlessly charismatic. Why wouldn't you go content crazy? And look, there's Joan Laporta, kissing and hugging and signing his old-new man up. How extremely presidential.
But it also speaks, perhaps, to the point of the signing. Since leaving Barcelona in 2016, Alves has spent a year with Juventus, which he didn't enjoy, two with PSG, which he did, and then just under two with Sao Paulo, quitting last September in a dispute over image rights. He's 38, with a thousand games in his legs, and he won't even be able to play for Barcelona until January.
We wouldn't dream of suggesting that he's not going to be any good. He's a force of nature, and one should never argue with the weather. If the question is "Will Dani Alves improve Barcelona the football team?", the answers are "perhaps," then "can't hurt," and finally "should be fun."
But the other, bigger question runs something like: Will Dani Alves improve Barcelona the team, the group, the tangle of bruised egos, the hacked-together compromise of almost-past-it loyalists and possibly-brilliant children and recent arrivals who were nobody's first choice but hey, they're here now, let's try and make the best of it?
Brendan Rodgers, who really should get a crack at the Barca gig at some point, once said that managing a football team was like trying to repair an aeroplane mid-flight. Trying to manage a broken football team, then, is like trying to repair an aeroplane mid-emergency: one of the first things you need to do is stop everybody running around screaming. And that takes somebody with authority. Somebody who commands attention. Somebody who turns frowns upside down, yes, but also somebody that demands everybody sit down and listen to the pilot; an exemplar of the highest standards.
And if he can manage that, then Barcelona's new number eight will have been worth every penny even before he steps on to the pitch for his 392nd appearance. We assume he's being paid pennies, or vouchers for the club shop, or possibly NFTs: Barcelona have, as we know, no money. But they have got a little personality back, and both are important.

This Is The Best Team

Of course, Barcelona run two top-level football teams, and while one is a mess, the other is a monster. Last night FCB Femení played Hoffenheim in the Champions League and, perhaps surprisingly, the first half was pretty tight. Hoffenheim had their moments on the counter, and come the break, just a single penalty separated the two teams.
The second half? Not quite so close. 1-0 became 5-0, a struggle became a stroll, and Barcelona's ludicrous season continued in its ludicrosity. That's right: ludicrosity. They're so good we have to make up new words for it. Top of Group C with four wins from four; top of the Primera with 10 wins from 10. Goals conceded over those 14 games? Three.
That sends Barcelona through to the quarter-finals, and to describe them as favourites doesn't quite seem to do them justice. It's not that they can't be kept quiet at all: Hoffenheim managed it for almost an entire half; HB Koge for just over an hour. It's just that 90 minutes is a very, very long time to play against the very, very best team in the world. Good luck, literally everybody else.

Magical

Here are the goals from last night's FA Cup first round replay. All eight of them.
Not shown: the lost shirt, the missing corner flag, the pitch invasion. Only glimpsed briefly, but you can probably work it out: the total delirium of a proper giant-killing under floodlights in a packed ground. Limbs and big coats and lost voices.
Star of the evening? Definitely the video above. But he was almost hijacked by the referee, who held off restarting the game until the celebrating Stockport fans had returned the corner flag. The precise energy of a pernickety teacher holding the kids back until the very last minute of term, condensed and filtered through a football match.
And once it was back, he blew up for full-time anyway. The FA Cup at its most FA Cup, the officials at their most officious. All is right with the world.

HAT TIP 1

A lot of good reading around yesterday. Well done everybody. Here's Football365's Ian King trying — and failing — to reconcile Barcelona's reported financial situation with Barcelona's rumoured transfer plans. Fascinating to think just how quickly football's transfer hierarchy has shifted, and how the rumour mill hasn't quite caught up.
Their desire to take Raheem Sterling is well-known, but we can also now add Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech from Chelsea to that list, all on loan. Quite why Chelsea would lend three players to a club that is trying to get back to challenging them on the cheap is anybody’s guess, but the Spanish media has long been a law unto itself with regard to this sort of speculation.

HAT TIP 2

Over at the Guardian, Grimsby Town chairman Jason Stockwood anticipates a forthcoming report from the Fair Game initiative, and calls for the reinvention of football club ownership. By his reckoning, which sounds sensible to us, this should be a business in which community assets are guided in a sustainable fashion.
The free market is a myth. All systems need operating boundaries with checks and balances if we want a market to be healthy and competitive. Outside football, in recent decades we have seen companies abandon working-class communities in places like Grimsby in favour of cheaper labour overseas. In football we see a similar kind of process, as super-rich individuals use brute force to achieve success by underwriting losses.

COMING UP

Another chunk of Champions League action this evening, including Wolfsburg v Juventus and Real Madrid v PSG. Chelsea will be strong favourites to win at home against Servette.
You'll be getting another Warm-Up from Andi Thomas tomorrow, but only if somebody returns the corner flag. I'm in no hurry. I can wait all day.
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