You know how folks have a list of people in history who they'd most want to share a table with at a dinner party? I've got a few of those lists, but one that I really do hope to enjoy someday is this: Dinner with Ray Hudson and Dick Vitale. They're two of the most passionate announcers I know for the sports I love -- soccer and college basketball -- and they both happen to live in Florida, Hudson in the Fort Lauderdale area and Vitale in Sarasota.
Barcelona notched up the pressure on La Liga leaders Real Madrid with a 4-0 home win over Getafe as Alexis Sanchez scored twice on the day that the Spanish club's defender Eric Abidal had a liver transplant.
Real Madrid have had their lead over Barcelona at the top of Spain's La Liga cut from 10 points to eight, after a stunning last-gasp Santi Carzola free-kick earned Malaga a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu on Sunday.
Early season Spanish La Liga pace-setters Levante slumped to a third successive loss as Sunday's 3-2 defeat at Atletico Madrid leaves them eight points behind leaders Real Madrid in fourth place in the table.
Real Madrid's hopes of winning a first Spanish title since 2008 survived a stern test on Saturday, as Jose Mourinho marked his 50th La Liga match as coach with a tense 3-2 victory at third-placed Valencia.
This weekend's reporting duties took me to Pride Park, where Derby County hosted Southampton for a top-of-the-table second division match. Sat beneath a black and white photograph of Brian Clough in the manager's office in 1968, his two-year-old son Nigel perched on the desk, I read the program notes of the 45-year-old Nigel, now in charge of Derby himself. "Too much is made of pressure and expectation in football these days," wrote Clough, who bounced into the press room grinning after a high-tempo 1-1 draw. "There is too much focus on issues and characters that don't really matter ... it's about players and fans; one group performing to entertain the other."
Every time they say goodbye, La Liga dies a little. Now Juan Mata has signed for Chelsea from Valencia, just as Sergio Aguero signed for Manchester City from Atlético Madrid. For fans of City and Chelsea, the transfers are fantastically exciting, two great additions to two teams aspiring to win the Premier League. For the Spanish league, they are frightening. Despite the injection of around 75 million euros, the transfers are confirmation of a worrisome trend.
Week 17 in La Liga ended and here's the news: Real Madrid and FC Barcelona almost didn't win. In the end, they did win but, hey, they almost didn't. Barcelona struggled to break down an ultra-defensive Levante side, eventually winning 2-1. Real Madrid cruised and almost got caught against a Getafe side that used the ball nicely, eventually winning 3-2. And everyone got kind of excited about it. Wow! Those were games!
The Spanish sports daily Marca called them "Football's Oscars" and gave them more than 22 pages, mostly packed with photos of the great and the good and, let's face it, the not quite so good smiling and shaking hands. It was time to hand out the now traditional Pichichi and Zamora awards to the best goal scorer and best goalkeeper of the 2009-2010 La Liga season, won this time around by Lionel Messi and Victor Valdés, respectively.
Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan. As the bandwagon passed this summer, it felt like the whole of Spanish soccer -- the whole of Spanish society, in fact -- sought to jump on board. When Spain paraded through a celebrating Madrid, people were queuing up to demand a paternity suit to prove that they had fathered the World Cup winners. And now, as La Liga takes its traditional and frustrating break for international football a single week into the season, the arguments have been revisited. The child is mine. No, mine. Mine. Mine!
Even the proudest of Spaniards had to accept defeat; even the most enthusiastic La Liga cheerleaders were forced to pack away their pompoms. The warm glow of the European Championship success still endured -- but the national team was one thing, the nation's teams quite another. The lineup for the 2008-09 Champions League semifinals brought Spain crashing back down to earth.
It's hard to believe nearly six months have passed since Spain began its title march at the European Championship and killing off one of the biggest jinxes in the soccer world. (Know the pheeling, Phillies fans?) Even today, despite a few nasty side plots, everything feels right on Planet Football.