No matter how unwilling a football fan is to admit they love to watch Barcelona play, it’s a truth that cannot be denied, an open secret.
This, perhaps, undercover love affair with Barcelona’s daring tactical genius was reinforced by their performance in the opening game of the La Liga season, a 5-0 drubbing of Villareal, when they played with one defender and nine midfielders’ in what was a display of managerial confidence that would not have been even considered by fellow, current great managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson. Yet, with the quality, strength and depth of Barcelona’s squad – Xavi and Villa came on off the bench, they pulled it off with emphatic style.
Maybe money is why they are so good, buying players from here there and everywhere? Think again, nine of the starting line up against Villareal were homegrown, with Alexis Sanchez and Javier Mascherano being the odd ones out. Yes, they have splashed out on the glorified return of their wanted man Cesc Fabregas, but he, until 16 was a prodigy at the La Masia camp. This is not Manchester City, whose draw with Fulham today showed that, despite spending nearly £600million on players’ since the Arabian owners took over, it won’t give you results instantly.
Perhaps it’s the family feel of Barcelona that makes them stand out, the logo “more than a club” emphasises that, it’s a worldwide institution, recognizable by every football fan as the ultimate club, designed with the perfect infrastructure and great players’ oozing out the doors of the Nou Camp – from the first team to the juveniles. The fact the players’ are taught many things at the now retired 18th Century farmhouse La Masia is something unique, a sign that FCB care more about their image than any other club – it is rare to see any Barcelona player being portrayed negatively in the ‘celeb’ part of the tabloids, carrying out some sort of Mario Balotelli-esque idiotic, attention seeking and reputation damaging action. The closest they get to such stupidity is Sergio Busquets’ play acting – often criticised on my facebook timeline – that could potentially win a bafta for supporting role to the mature, cool headed Xavi – not forgetting his inseparable partner in crime, Andres Iniesta. It is impossible to mention these two players without the others’ name in the same sentence. The understanding they have between each other is just incomprehensible, like they are mentally bounded at the brain, foreseeing each others’ movement before it happens. It is difficult to see two greater players’ gracing the Nou Camp pitch in the midfield for Barcelona for a long time, such is their greatness.
The ‘Barca’ publicity is perhaps another reason why we love them, many great goals go uncovered, or under-appreciated in lower leagues or clubs that lack the reputation for such a style of play as Barcelona, but as with the status of Barcelona, any goal of sublime quality, skill or creative imagination and improvisation is thrown onto the world stage through word of mouth or twitter-obsessed journalists’ who insist on viewing it to appreciate just how good this team are – which is, in fact, most of them!
The thing is, these journalists are right. Not since the seventies, when Ajax emerged with total football has a group of players defined it so well. The fluid movement, synchronised mindsets and seemingly unreachable physical barriers that these players’ reach, in being so attack minded but defensively solid and able to counter to an attacking position so quickly.
Despite this though, there is always the odd reminder that this team is not superhuman, having been grounded two consecutive home 2-2 draws’ with Real Sociedad in week two of La Liga followed by AC Milan in the opening Champions’ League Group stage games. Whilst looking defensively fragile, it must be emphasised that they were missing their two rocks, Carlos Puyol and close comrade Gerard Pique, in my view, Sir Alex Ferguson’s biggest mistake, he is a now a player at the top of his game after being dumped at Old Trafford. The former of whom returned to the team as they rebounded back from the draws’ to teach Osasuna a footballing masterclass as they amazed many to triumph 8-0 in retaliation to those critics who were beginning to over-react after Barcelona’s two previous uncharacteristic results’.
However, the most poignant reason for a love affair with Barcelona is their simplistic yet elaborate playing style, the way they win neutrals over with the possession football known commonly as “tika-taka”, a Spanish tradition at both club and national level, implemented by Johann Cruyff during his time at the helm in the late eighties and early nineties. The way they constructively break down opponents, tiring them, biding their time and refusing to change styles, persistency in the face of adversity is nothing less than admirable, this shown in the Champions League against Chelsea, two seasons’ ago when they were going out until moments from full time, Andres Iniesta rocketed a shot into the top corner to break Chelsea hearts’. The relaxing style in which they play the ball about with less intensity than a school playground kick-about sometimes, but suddenly slicing open the opposition using the channels’ nobody sees but Barcelona, the angles nobody considers but Barcelona and the composure nobody beholds but Barcelona. The manager has a lot to be praised for, in his short three year reign at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola, the midfield idol whom was the Xavi before Xavi has become a great, with twelve trophies to his name, having won two already this season in the space of two weeks in the form of the Spanish Super Cup – narrowly beating rivals Real Madrid 5-4 on aggregate before dismantling the initially resistant FC Porto in the UEFA Supercup.
However, despite the question marks surrounding Guardiola’s team choice against Villareal, of which injuries played a roll, there was a philosophy behind it, an encrypted one pointed out by Pete Jenson, of the Independent. Why pick a player just because he can defend, when the best form of defence is possession? The opposition can’t score if they don’t have the ball, so fill the team with players who never give it away, cue the selection of quite possibly the greatest midfield of modern football; Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Lionel Messi, Pedro, Alexis Sanchez, young startlet Thiago and Sergio Busquets, along with Mr.Reliable, Seydou Keita and Javier Mascherano filling in at the back. This of course, without the inclusion of, in my opinion, THE greatest midfielder of modern footballing times, cue the moans of Manchester United fans’ saying Paul Scholes is deserved of that accolade, the problem is, Xavi is in an entirely different league, untouchable, the God of possession football unphased by pressure, with a 95% pass completion rate in the Champions League Final last year despite making the most passes on the pitch as Barcelona romped to a 3-1 victory.
In conclusion, it is jealousy that drives many football fans to enviously admire the ability of the world’s greatest through desperately gritted teeth, discomforted in the knowledge that there is little chance of their team reaching the level of greatness achieved by this group of spectacular talent, but aware that even those who appear superhuman on first glance have weaknesses underneath the seemingly impenetrable skin.