Clasicos, Cash, Cesc and Simulation: Are Barca losing their shine? (Part 2)

by Mark Houston

Mark Houston continues his look at Barcelona and the long term ramifications that their dominance will have on La Liga. If you miss part one you can read it here.

Part Two: And Then There Was Cesc…

In part one of his analysis of Barcelona’s image, Mark Houston discussed the ongoing struggle for a collective television rights agreement in Spain. The bullying tactics by Madrid and Barca, as the biggest clubs in the country, were touched on and how the rest of the league seemingly cower in the presence of the big two.

The bullying extends beyond the cash coffers though.

With the enormous earnings they make, Madrid and Barca can afford to buy and pay the best players in the world; and that is what they do.

The signings that the two clubs have made over the last couple of seasons are some of the most elite players in the world, established and emerging. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Villa, Kaka, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Nuri Sahin, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas and Javier Mascherano have all swapped their colours for the white of Madrid or blue and red of Barcelona.

The recent Cesc and Sanchez signings are indicative of the power they wield. Two of the best players in two of Europe’s biggest leagues have gone to Barcelona, along with the best player outside the big two, David Villa, moving last season. Madrid have taken the best players from the German league too, in Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Nuri Sahin. More worrying, perhaps, is the continual weakening of their rivals. Valencia have always managed to be a Champions League side in recent times, even winning two titles under the direction of Rafa Benitez; but that is a distant memory. Now it is absurd to think any team outside the top two could win the title. Valencia’s efforts each year in rising above the rest of the Spanish league is admirable still though, especially considering that each season they lose their best players to either the big two, or abroad.

David Villa, David Silva, Raul Albiol and Juan Mata have all left in the last two seasons; two to Barcelona or Madrid and two to the Premier League. Atletico Madrid are much the same, Fernando Torres famously left for Liverpool in 2007 while Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan left this past summer for pastures new overseas. Even Villarreal’s Giuseppe Rossi was strongly linked with a move to Barcelona, and Spanish national-side strikers Alvaro Negredo of Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente have been linked with moves to either the big two or abroad. Malaga now have money and have done well to assemble a strong squad, but it will take time for them to build a squad capable of challenging the giants over a full season.

When the big two want a player, more often than not they get them. As the old saying goes though: it’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it.

It was the transfer that everyone knew was going to happen. Barca wanted Cesc and Cesc wanted Barca. He had given eight years service to Arsenal and felt it was time to move on. Straightforward, no?

Apparently not.

While they set high standards for themselves as a club, the arrogance and sheer ignorance to the unethical sides of their behaviour is simply baffling, and the Cesc saga is the perfect example of using their stature and financial power to bully their way around the market.

The thing with Barcelona, when compared to the other bullies of world football, is that they are self-proclaimed saints as Gerard Pique so modestly stated to his club’s official website:

I’ve been a Barca fan since I was a kid and I’ve always been proud of my club, but now I’m even prouder, and not just because of what happens on the pitch. Now it’s not because we play well, but because I think we behave perfectly off the pitch.

Actions speak louder than words, though.

Since his arrival at Barca after eight seasons in England, Cesc has scored 5 goals and contributed 4 assists in 8 league appearances. He has already doubled the amount of trophies he won at Arsenal (a single FA Cup) and is enjoying his new life in the country of his birth.

His arrival was imminent, or so we were told by Barcelona’s players and president.

Xavi, Pique, Puyol and Dani Alves in particular were amongst the thick of it, showing no respect for Arsenal, Arsene Wenger or the fans of one of European football’s premier clubs; the club perhaps most like Barcelona in playing style.

Chelsea have been fined and faced transfer embargoes for “tapping up” targets. How Barcelona manage to avoid similar punishment, or warnings from UEFA at least, also reflects how they can seemingly do no wrong.

While they all took turns at telling the press Cesc belonged in Barcelona, Xavi was the most outspoken of all the players making comments in the media at almost every opportunity.

It is criminal for a player of Cesc’s quality not to be winning the biggest prizes in football. He really has no choice but to leave.

 

Arsenal need to understand they are only delaying the inevitable. If we don’t manage to get his signature this season then Arsenal only really have him on loan for a year – because there is nothing they can do to stop him joining next summer.

While quite disrespectful to Arsenal, the most arrogant of comments were yet to come. This, from Dani Alves took the cake in an interview with RAC1.

I am convinced Cesc will join us. Arsenal are tourist class. Barcelona are in business class and any player would want to join us.

Barcelona president Sandro Rosell joined in too – not surprising though considering many presidential elections at Barca and Madrid are won and lost on who they can promise as a big-money signing.

The whole world knows he wants to come and that we want to sign him. It is a topic that has become so public and that is the worst thing you can do with a transfer, because it makes the selling club raise their expectations and you end up paying over the odds. We will never pay 50m or 60m for Cesc.

The irony is not lost here. Barca have their own players to blame for the subject becoming so public, speaking about it at every opportunity. Equally ironic, they inserted a 200m Euro buyout clause in his contract; for a player they claimed was never worth more than 40m Euros. Interesting.

Few were as offended and frustrated at the actions of Barcelona than Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

I don’t think it’s a sentence big enough to report a club to FIFA. [The tapping up] has to stop, of course. Xavi has no direct part to play in that story and I don’t see why he should unless he has an official job to do for Barcelona.

In the end, Fabregas moved to Barcelona and signed a five-year contract on August 15. He was clearly delighted at the move, but the claims that he was held hostage and “suffering” at Arsenal under Wenger are far from the mark when judging what the man in question had to say.

I’ll never have enough words to thank him [Wenger] for all he’s done for me. I can’t express my admiration for him strongly enough, I owe it to him that I am here. I spent a third of my life there, but I am nothing to the club, I am just a servant. I gave everything in the eight years I was there, but it didn’t show in the trophy cabinet. That will be the biggest regret of my career.

If anything, Barcelona have shown that persistence and circumvention of FIFA’s laws will pay off and if you are sitting at the table of football’s elite, few will call you out for unethical behaviour unless it directly affects them.

Madrid are one side to feel affected and have certainly made their voice heard – although are willing to stand beside them when it suits, a la the television revenues debate – particularly following the unprecedented number of Clasicos last season in quick succession. Naturally, with an intense rivalry built on a political backdrop – Barcelona representing Catalonian independence and Madrid Spanish nationalism – it is expected, but it has reached unrivalled heights in the last 12 months.

While Los Merengues met their opponents with strength and perhaps over-the-top aggression in the fiery encounters, Barca made a meal of the softest of touches and both drew criticism from around the world in equal measure; Barcelona for their diving, play-acting and simulation, and Madrid for the Rugby-style tackling and breakneck approach.

Pedro, Mascherano, Busquets and Dani Alves were the most noticeable exponents of the ugly side of football, continually looking to get opposition players sent off; sometimes instead of trying to beat the player. Even Lionel Messi was partial to a dive under a challenge from Ricardo Carvalho. It wasn’t just a one-off either, he repeated the act just a couple of weeks ago against Real Sociedad and was rightly booked.

Even Rio Ferdninand blasted the Barcelona players via Twitter:

This diving is a joke/embarrassing. When Pedro watches that do you think he’ll think ‘what was I doing’?

And he has played with the likes of Ronaldo, and now Ashley Young and Nani, he must know a dive when he sees one.

In fact, the conflict between the two resulted in both reporting the other to UEFA and the LFP. Madrid asked UEFA to suspend six of Barcelona’s players for “premeditated anti-sporting behaviour” and even asked for a penalty to be imposed on Pep Guardiola for allegedly issuing such instructions to his players. A little over the top, maybe, but it all continues to shed some light on how Barcelona aren’t so perfect after all.

Of course they aren’t the only team to take part in these sorts of tactics and underhanded play – Italians are renowned for their play acting and “craftiness” and some would even argue that the aggression Barca are met with by Madrid is worse than the Catalans’ ensuing simulation – but it is unethical all the same. The glittering image they are trying to uphold just doesn’t fit as well anymore.

Sure they play beautiful football, but really they are no better than any of the other big, successful and ultimately powerful clubs. They push and pull through the press to gain an advantage in the transfer market. The arrogance and disrespect shown should not be ignored, regardless of what they have achieved on the pitch.

The shift in perception of Barcelona could have an impact on their support too. Many neutrals tend to support the Catalans, particularly in Clasico matches, as they stand for football played the right way… or used to, rather.

With their ethics and sportsmanship now questionable, no better than their rivals at least, and Mourinho’s Madrid looking to play attacking football against the Blaugrana, it would not be too far-fetched to imagine many of these neutrals switching their allegiances. Despite Madrid partaking in similar unethical behaviour, there is not the same false ideology or agenda portraying them as the good guys.

But then again, all it may take is another viewing of the footage of Mourinho eye-gouging Guardiola’s assistant Tito Villanova to swing them back round.

Perhaps they are the lesser of two evils.

8 Responses

  1. Arsenal fan says:

    ”It is criminal for a player of Cesc’s quality not to be winning the biggest prizes in football. He really has no choice but to leave.”
    Can you please provide the audio of this interview where Xavi said this? Do not just parrot what media outlets in England ‘reported’ via ‘Spanish sources’

    ”Arsenal need to understand they are only delaying the inevitable. If we don’t manage to get his signature this season then Arsenal only really have him on loan for a year – because there is nothing they can do to stop him joining next summer.”
    Same as above please.

    ”I am convinced Cesc will join us. Arsenal are tourist class. Barcelona are in business class and any player would want to join us.”
    I dare you to find this audio as well please. I have heard all the interviews in question and the translations are either butchered or it was lied about on purpose!

    ”If anything, Barcelona have shown that persistence and circumvention of FIFA’s laws will pay off and if you are sitting at the table of football’s elite, few will call you out for unethical behaviour unless it directly affects them.”
    I wonder how FIFA and UEFA feel about Arsenal then? How do they feel about Arsenal’s ethical practices of going after La Masia players daily? I wonder how they feel about Arsenal having agents approach over 56 Masia youth products without FCB’s consent over the past decade? And before you start with the ‘but Barca do it to as they ‘poach’ other’s youth products.’ They have to deal with the youth products of others on equal footing to them, there are no rules the circumvent in their own country and the youth contract rules of other countries.

    ”Pedro, Mascherano, Busquets and Dani Alves were the most noticeable exponents of the ugly side of football, continually looking to get opposition players sent off; sometimes instead of trying to beat the player. ”
    Ronaldo, Marcello, Di Maria, Ozil all dived in those matches and do it all throughout the year yet you failed to mention this, why?

    ”Even Lionel Messi was partial to a dive under a challenge from Ricardo Carvalho. It wasn’t just a one-off either, he repeated the act just a couple of weeks ago against Real Sociedad and was rightly booked.”
    Re-watch the vid of the challenge on Messi at Sociedad cause the top ref in Spain in his review also felt it was a penalty. Soft penalty? Maybe but to act like there was no contact at all is bs!

    ”They push and pull through the press to gain an advantage in the transfer market.”
    Never have I heard, or have you for that matter, of a transfer that a team bullied their way into through the media. Either a team wants to sell or they do not. No team has to sell until the player himself makes it clear he is no longer committed and wants to go. With the kind of money going around and contracts there is no way any team gets ‘bullied’, especially not ”one of European football’s premier clubs!”, or that what is said in interviews by friends of said player influences what that team does with transfers. Only Cesc could influence his transfer or make Arsenal care for that matter and he did and that is why the transfer went through. I think Cesc made that much clear as well yet you did not mention that either.

    ”The shift in perception of Barcelona could have an impact on their support too. Many neutrals tend to support the Catalans, particularly in Clasico matches, as they stand for football played the right way… or used to, rather.”
    Any facts to back up the statement that there has been a ”shift in perception of Barcelona”? Social media numbers and others research shows they are one of if not the most well liked of all clubs on a consistant basis.

    ”Despite Madrid partaking in similar unethical behaviour, there is not the same false ideology or agenda portraying them as the good guys.”
    How many times has Real Madrid not pushed the ”Gentleman’s club” line? Inter, ARSENAL, Bayern etc? All clubs push their image to heavenly heights. Acting like Barca are pushing it anymore then other clubs themselves is simply not true.

    Look if one reviews footage Barca do not dive any more then others so why do they get hammered for it more? Barca were not the first who try to influence referees during matches as i.e. Inter did it lots during their matches in the Seria A and with FCB during their CL run yet no one speaks of that only of Barca, why? ‘Tapping up’ happens daily and although Barca are no saints no one mentions how others tap up their players especially youth players, why?

  2. Mark Houston Mark Houston says:

    Hi “Arsenal fan”, I’m assuming the name is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, much like some of the more outlandish comments in the piece but I think you picked up on those.

    Firstly, thanks for reading the piece. I was expecting a lot of criticism because some of my views aren’t necessarily popular and it is a controversial angle to take. My objective was to spark debate and question people’s views, to challenge the common belief that Barca are the best – which in pure footballing terms they are; but football nowadays is much more than that.

    I would be lying if I said I didn’t love watching Barcelona play, however in recent times I have become somewhat more neutral, at least in Clasico matches, as the Cesc transfer frustrated me and their series of matches against Madrid was entertaining but mostly for the wrong reasons.

    Where possible, I tried to provide balance and context. I compared Barcelona to Madrid, mentioned Chelsea in tapping up targets and stated a number of times that they aren’t the only team to act in such a way off the pitch or on it in regards to diving; nor are they the worst. In fact, I conclude by saying that Madrid are still perhaps worse than Barcelona, so really Madrid fans should be having a go at me.

    Moreover, in introducing the Fabregas transfer I acknowledged that he wanted to leave for Barcelona. What I found most disturbing was the continual attempts in the media to sway his decision and to belittle his club at the time. Surely even a Barca fan must admit it is somewhat unethical and unfair?

    Also, I am not a bitter Arsenal fan either – I try not to write about the clubs I support to remain objective – so I can assure you this isn’t a smear campaign out of jealousy.

    Basically I just wanted to shed a bit of light on the imperfections of Barcelona that many people are blind to. I appreciate that you are willing to debate the points, all of the quotes I checked multiple sources but I cannot speak Spanish, so forgive me if you can and they have been lost in translation – although I did not find any of the quotes withdrawn from their publications or acknowledged as false or misleading.

    The shift in perception comment is really just common knowledge. There has been an anti-Barca movement in Spain and particularly with the TV rights debacle they have been receiving much more negative press than they had previously.

    Again though, thanks for reading and for your comment.

  3. Arsenal fan says:

    Hi Mark,

    ”Hi “Arsenal fan”, I’m assuming the name is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, much like some of the more outlandish comments in the piece but I think you picked up on those. ”
    It was tongue-in-cheek ;)

    ”Firstly, thanks for reading the piece. I was expecting a lot of criticism because some of my views aren’t necessarily popular and it is a controversial angle to take. My objective was to spark debate and question people’s views, to challenge the common belief that Barca are the best – which in pure footballing terms they are; but football nowadays is much more than that.”
    I never just criticize mindlessly. I appreciate people being up for debate and trying to spur it on. I also appreciate the article(s). Both are well written and get the juices flowing. Any criticism I may have stem from statements made in the article.

    ”I would be lying if I said I didn’t love watching Barcelona play, however in recent times I have become somewhat more neutral, at least in Classico matches, as the Cesc transfer frustrated me and their series of matches against Madrid was entertaining but mostly for the wrong reasons.”
    The Cesc transfer, without going into too much detail on behind the scenes information was frustrating for everyone. Quotes were made up on a daily basis, entire interviews were printed while they were never given and other statements taken completely out of context. Unfortunate but true. I can assure you that from every bit of inside info I have that much of the stuff you heard was from private briefings which Cesc’s people were giving Catalan media nearly daily. Cesc’s agent and family also worked diligently behind the scenes at his behest to ”get the transfer done”.

    ”Where possible, I tried to provide balance and context. I compared Barcelona to Madrid, mentioned Chelsea in tapping up targets and stated a number of times that they aren’t the only team to act in such a way off the pitch or on it in regards to diving; nor are they the worst. In fact, I conclude by saying that Madrid are still perhaps worse than Barcelona, so really Madrid fans should be having a go at me.”
    Fans of all clubs can have a go at you since it applies to all of them;)

    ”Moreover, in introducing the Fabregas transfer I acknowledged that he wanted to leave for Barcelona. What I found most disturbing was the continual attempts in the media to sway his decision and to belittle his club at the time. Surely even a Barca fan must admit it is somewhat unethical and unfair?”
    What came out and was true was told by Cesc to his friends and from personal knowledge not once did he tell them behind the scenes to stop, not once did he say ”you embarrassed me”, ”you insulted my club”, your making it harder for me” or anything like that. In fact he would talk to them about it more as would his handlers to the catalan media.

    As for unethical and unfair. Systematically tapping up 56 Masia youth over a period of 10 years is ethical and fair?

    ”Also, I am not a bitter Arsenal fan either – I try not to write about the clubs I support to remain objective – so I can assure you this isn’t a smear campaign out of jealousy.”
    Unfortunately you would be one of the few, definitely the minority.

    ”Basically I just wanted to shed a bit of light on the imperfections of Barcelona that many people are blind to.”
    Don’t think anyone is blind to it honestly, they get lots of grief on blogs and Madrid media. I understand what you are getting at though.

    ”I appreciate that you are willing to debate the points, all of the quotes I checked multiple sources but I cannot speak Spanish, so forgive me if you can and they have been lost in translation – although I did not find any of the quotes withdrawn from their publications or acknowledged as false or misleading.”
    Thing is about Spain, especially Catalunya, people live somewhat in a bubble. For such a big club you may be shocked at how amateurish the PR division of FCB is run. Internal briefings by outsiders advising FCB’s board spoke of ”millions in slander fees we can get through litigation” because of all the ”false press reports”. To this day they have done nothing with that information and turn a blind eye to it all. A small study also done for internal consumption tested 50 stories in a period of 6 months on varacity. More then hald were made up and more then half of what was left was taken out of context either via false translation or plain malicious intent. It would take millions to get the millions though so they grit their teeth, bear it and turn a blind eye. The ”interviews you spoke of, well the first with Xavi was….well not true. The RAC1 interview which all media in England highlighted was taken completely out of context and the translation is false. You can contact Rac1 for the Original with English translation as well I believe. Try that, very enlightening to say the least:)

    ”The shift in perception comment is really just common knowledge. There has been an anti-Barca movement in Spain and particularly with the TV rights debacle they have been receiving much more negative press than they had previously.”
    Barca get negative press all the time in Spain. El Confidential, Marca, AS, Punto Pelota all are quite anti-Barca. El Mundo, Sport and El Pais the reverse. Barca don’t get the brunt of it for the TV deal tbh, Madrid and Valencia and Villareal get a big share of that as well and this TV rights deal is only being made a big deal of since the economic crisis hit and teams are looking to secure their ”traditional positions”.
    Sad but true.

    ”Again though, thanks for reading and for your comment.”
    Thank you for being a straight up guy and for your reply. Love the debate so feel free to keep it going:)

    Arsenal Fan;p

  4. Jamie says:

    It does read a little like a wind-up merchant’s assessment of a team they are frustrated by. The evidence presented is very blinkered, one-sided and inaccurately weighted. Citing a Messi dive in this argument is rather emblematic of that. An equivalent would possibly be seeing Phil Neville score and writing a piece on him as a great goalscorer.

    Barcelona have a few bad characters in their team. Definitely. But, as most teams go, on the whole, they are probably better-behaved and more honest than most. The patience and self-control of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi is admirable considering their legs are hacked at every minute they are playing football. For English fans the only feasible way of stopping Messi is hacking him. They just want to play football. They simulate far less than the majority of their counterparts in Spain, Italy and England, without a shadow of a doubt.

    Seriously, quoting Rio Ferdinand commenting on a Pedro dive and saying “And he has played with the likes of Ronaldo, and now Ashley Young and Nani, he must know a dive when he sees one.” is just a ludicrous way to back up an argument. Needless to say, they all do it, and they all have a go at the other team when they do it. It’s like quoting a striker who thinks defenders do too much shirt-pulling in the box.

    For the most part, Barcelona have an OK attitude, better than most. Every footballer has the ‘red mist’ in the heat of it sometimes. It’s in no way acceptable, but this needs to be remembered as context for behaviour, which it isn’t here. In fact, there’s not a whole lot of context of consideration to this at all.

  5. Varun says:

    Load of crap, “Arsenal fan” did a pretty fair job of trying to get things straight.

    Most of the incredible quotes on Cesc were always a fabrication of the English media and Spain is not anti-Barca, get real, its as anti-Barca as it is anti-Real, in fact it has more Barca as 2nd team supporters than Real according to the latest study.

    Haters gonna hate.

  6. Andrew McCarten Andrew McCarten says:

    very good article. well thought-out and explained and a point which is valid; i very much agree, how they are considered “saints” as you said confounds

  7. Dow says:

    @Jamie, Phil Neville is a great goalscorer.

  8. Angel says:

    Some of the comments from the Barca players are not true. If you don’t speak Spanish or Catalan at least try to watch the interviews with the subtitles. Articles have a tendency to make up stuff and misquote players. I do agree that FC Barcelona could’ve handled the Cesc transfer in a more professional manner. I felt horrible for the Arsenal fans, and Arsense Wenger. They deserved more respect. However Cesc’s return was inevitable. World Cup made sure of it. Cesc wanted to return home to play with his brothers, under the tutelage of his idol. It had to happen.

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