(FC Barcelona arrived in New York City on Monday, and as you might expect, following them can turn into a bit of a circus. Having seen enough of these sideshows to know that Monday would be a wasted day if I ventured into Manhattan to attend the press conference and "practice session" at Central Park, I dispatched SBI New York beaureau correspondent Andrew Keh to take in all the clichés, awkward photo ops and broken interview promises. Here is his report, and his photo.)
With Ives tied up watching another Project Runway marathon on Bravo, I took the time yesterday afternoon to head up to the St. Regis, a swanky hotel on East 55th street in Manhattan that has long been the lodging of choice for visiting soccer luminaries, to attend the opening festivities of FC Barcelona’s visit to New York.
Barcelona, third place finishers in La Liga last season, were fresh off a stylish dismantling of Chivas de Guadalajara at Soldier Field in Chicago the night before, and their first order of business in Manhattan was a tri-lingual press conference involving Thierry Henry, Carles Puyol, and Josep Guardiola in the hotel’s lavishly chandeliered penthouse.
By now, I’m used to listening to athletes rattle off mind-numbing cliches and stock responses to reporters’ questions, but it was a whole new experience hearing them in three different tongues. I may not speak Catalan, but I can pick up “We respect every opponent equally” and “What is most important is the preparation of the team” in any language.
Things briefly got more interesting when Henry began expounding his love for the host city: “Everybody knows I love New York,” the Frenchman said. “I come here quite often on holiday and I really enjoy the town.” The gentlemanly striker even revealed that he was a big Giants fan and that he was happy to get to play in their home stadium.
But Henry seemed a little annoyed when one brave reporter ventured to ask about the possibility of him following David Beckham’s footsteps to Major League Soccer. “People get confused,” Henry said of speculation that he may join the Red Bulls next season. “I have a love for this town. But right now, it’s not up for discussion.”
Wholly unsatisfied with the press conference, I chugged a snifter of complimentary Coke and pocketed a chocolate chip cookie for the elevator ride down as the Barcelona men posed for an awkward photo op with two young kids in AYSO jerseys holding a mosquito net. I’m not sure what happened in there, but the last thing I saw before leaving was the boys’ mom briskly carrying them to the restroom to “wash their hands.”
At 6:30 p.m., the press herd migrated to the northwest softball fields at Central Park for what the Barcelona public relations people proclaimed would be a “historic event.” FC Barcelona, it was revealed, would be conducting an open training session in the middle of one of New York’s great landmarks.
But for all of its potential, the training session proved disappointing, as well.
First, the squad lined up for a warm-up jog around the fields. I will admit it was entertaining watching one of the world’s great sports teams weaving in and out of the play of corporate league softball games. Afterward, they circled up in the outfield of softball field #3 to stretch and lined up for a few minutes of conditioning sprints. And then, after another awkward photo op, this time with the New York Police Department Soccer Club, it was over, less than an hour after it had begun. Not a single soccer ball made it out of the equipment bag.
Hoping to salvage my afternoon, I ran to beat the players to the mixed zone—which was actually a shaded stretch of mud and dirt between two backstops—where we were told we would have the opportunity to interview them. One by one, the Barcelona players walked by, none of them stopping to talk.
As I walked out through the park gates at 100th Street, I was happy to see that some fans had at least secured autographs and quick photos of the departing stars. Sweaty and defeated, I boarded the downtown A-train and went home.
I had journeyed into FC Barcelona’s public relations extravaganza with childish zest. But Ives, it seems, had the right idea all along.