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'El Conejo' Makes Nou Camp Return

You'd be forgiven for forgetting that Javier Saviola is still a Barcelona player, but last night, during Barca's thrilling 1-1 draw at home to Valencia, Saviola made his first official appearance for the Catalan club in 854 days. That's after 28 months and two loan spells, one to Monaco in France in 2004 and the other to Sevilla in Spain in 2005. In his absence, Barcelona won two league titles and the Champions League last year. Most thought the diminutive Argentine, who was nicknamed "El Conejo" (the Rabbit), would leave in the offseason, but Saviola had no takers this year, so he's had to stay and fight for his place this season. As The Guardian's Sid Lowe points out, Saviola's warm welcome at the Nou Camp Sunday night felt as if he had never left. There were just six minutes left in the hard-fought match, and Saviola was being brought on to replace fellow Argentine Leo Messi, arguably the game's most outstanding player, but instead of booing Coach Frank Rijkaard's decision, Barcelona's fans gave Saviola a rousing ovation as his name was announced. By any measure, Saviola has been a disappointment for Barcelona: he cost the club $42 million in transfer fees plus bonuses when he arrived from River Plate in 2001, $3.8 million per year for five seasons, and a whopping $7.6 million for his agent. Despite the fact that management never thought the player was good enough for its team (he failed to score more than 17 goals in each of the three seasons he actually finished with the Catalan team), the fans never lost their appreciation for "El Conejo." And while management and Rijkaard all told the player he should look for another club this season, Saviola dug his little heels in, turning down 14 offers to stay with Barcelona. Last night, then, was a mark of perseverance more than anything else. And while management might not appreciate that, the fans do, anyhow.

Read the whole story at The Guardian »

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