THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

27 April ~ The most oxymoronically useless statement in the history of football analysis is probably the most common: "So, are they deserved champions?" Unless it's Stasi-sponsored Dynamo Berlin intimidating their way to ten straight Oberligen in the 1980s there's never any need for further discussion about "deserving" once the medals have been dished out – tournaments, leagues, cups and competitions are there to settle who's best. The problem with tonight's Champions League semi-final, however, is that it's only one facet of a much wider competition currently being contested by Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Loud claims are being made for this Barça team to be the greatest side in the annals of the game. Last week's Copa del Rey defeat should, in that case, be little more than one slightly soiled bit of red-blue bunting on their overall achievement. That they lost the Spanish Cup final to tonight's opposition could, however, prove a telling psychological blow before this legacy-defining game between the two. Real Madrid have twice won five straight titles – Barcelona's best is four in a row and they're presently homing in on a league treble. Real have been champions of Europe more often than anyone else and, back in the day, won the European Cup five years on the bounce. Barça have never even retained the thing.

Man Utd fans, taunted by Liverpool in the mid-1990s for their paltry number of league titles and European trophies, know that you have to keep up with the shifting focus. Dominate for too long in any competition and the argument goes historical. That's the Spanish contest I'm watching tonight. La Liga 2010-11 is over and the "all-time" stuff is always more dramatic for the neutral. Most of all though, their ability to achieve the truly historic will give the final verdict on this Barcelona team. The image they're cultivating, as the football team "playing the game as it should be played", is insulting. Not because they aren't mesmeric to watch at times but because (a) their retention of the ball in their own half is just as de facto defensive as old-school catenaccio and (b) their style is sold as being "home-grown", and therefore purer. In fact, David Villa came from Valencia for €40 million (£35m), Brazilian Dani Alves is the world's most expensive defender, compatriot Adriano had a €90m buy-out clause inserted in his contract and Argentina's Lionel Messi is worth over €100m, and will undoubtedly command commensurate wages.

Barcelona can afford to preach a passing style to their youths because the first team will always employ mega-stars who can augment it. If my club's home games had been watched by crowds of 90,000 for half a century then I'd expect the resultant infrastructure to produce a Xavi or an Andrés Iniesta a little more often. But I can get past all that "more than a club" hypocrisy if Barça can come good on the promise of their undoubtedly world class play. As with every England World Cup team in May, Pep Guardiola's charges are being talked of as if their potential has already been realised. The fact that this Barça side don't always score as many goals as they should is actually what gives me hope they might not burn out the way Holland 1974, Brazil 1982, Ajax 1995 and Arsenal 2002-present did. Remove Messi and you have the core of a Spain team which won the World Cup scoring only eight goals. That speaks of backbone. But the only true arbiter of the kind of epic greatness being thrown at this particular Barça side is winning stuff other teams haven't.

How can you be the greatest team in the history of the planet when you're not even the best Spain's known? Two Champions League titles in three years as they switched from Frank Rijkaard to Guardiola is great. But if this is even the greatest Barça team of all time (Johan Cruyff's "Dream Team" won the 1992 European Cup and then, two years later, was destroyed in the final by the only truly legendary epic side of my adult life – the Sacchi-Capello Milan of 1989-95) then they will automatically be thrown into a head-to-head with Real's greatest ever side. Real have been champions of Europe more times than anyone while Barça have won the Fairs Cup and the Cup-Winners Cup more than any other club. Sometimes it feels as if European competition was invented purely because the Iberian peninsula alone couldn't contain this colossal domestic rivalry.

Right now Barça are on the cusp of three Champions League titles in six years, almost mirroring the feat of Real's second-greatest side, los galácticos, from 1998-2002. But if they want a first, if they want to live up to the hype, Barça must at least become the first club ever to retain the rebranded, extended European Cup. Any kind of loss tonight, even though away from home, would cast further doubt on them even reaching stage one. Suddenly José Mourinho would be the history man, on the cusp of winning the European Cup with three different clubs. And, worst of all, a Barça elimination would allow more strangled metaphors about Guardiola's backache and the weight of history pressing down on Barça's spine. Nobody "deserves" that. Alex Anderson

Comments (31)
Comment by innocent bystander 2011-04-27 11:44:34

completely agree with the article.

Comment by Analogue Bubblebath II 2011-04-27 12:14:31

"compatriot Adriano had a €90m buy-out clause inserted in his contract"

In the real world, he actually cost Barcelona €9.5 million. Nice try though.

Comment by The Exploding Vole 2011-04-27 12:31:58

"the only truly legendary epic side"?

Comment by jertzeeAFCW 2011-04-27 12:40:44

Good article but " their style is sold as being "home-grown"....

Is it really? Can't say i have ever heard that before.

Comment by Nefertiti2 2011-04-27 13:22:08

What nonsense.
Did South Korea deserve to beat Italy and Byron Moreno? Did Juve deserve what they gained through calcipoli? Did Dundee United deserve to lose to Rome? Justice and injustice plays a key role in the drama of sport.

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-04-27 13:29:53

It all depends on how you measure what is "best", doesn't it? Is "best" the same thing as "most successful"?

Consider this: I read somewhere that Elton John's "Candle in the Wind (1997)" is the top-selling single of all time. Is this incontovertible evidence that "Candle in the Wind" is the best song in the world, ever? And I'm not talking about the original much-loved poignant homage to Marilyn Monroe which sold barely a couple of dozen copies back in the seventies. I'm talking about the multi-million-selling mawked-up dog's dinner of a dirge that Sir Elt regurgitated at Di's funeral.

So, is "best" the same thing as "most successful"? Sometimes, yes. But not always, Alex - not always.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-04-27 15:09:36

@Innocent bystander - thanks! Cheque's in the post, mate.

@Analogue - £9.5M represents quite a sum for most clubs and doesn't make Adriano any less Brazilian or any more home-grown. Mascherano cost £22M and the deal to bring Ibrahimovic to the Nou Camp for last season would make even Man City blanche.

@The Exploding Vole - You questioning the English or the claim itself? Because one's a lot easier to defend than the other.

@jertzeeAFCW - can't really help you with that one, mate, other than to remark how jealous I am that you've avoided the faux worthiness coming out of/being thrown at the Camp Nou. On Sky's coverage of the recent Liga meeting they showed an interview with Xavi pre-match - I'm sure he alluded to it. Then there was that documentary Gary Lineker emabarked upon to look at how England could learn from Spain's World Cup win - it centred on Barca's style as being the core of that Spain team and focussed on how Barca reared their players as being the key. Other than that I'm sure if you watch the coverage of tonight's game ITV will oblige with another misrepresentation of the true source of Barca's talent, be it by journalists or Barca themselves.

@Nefertiti2 - erm, yes. Or Brian clough's Derby versus Juventus in the 72/73 European cup or Leeds United in the 73 CWC final against Milan, etc, etc. Heard it all before. Don't you remember John Holt's open-goal miss in Rome? I certainly do. Do you remember how well United played in the first leg at Tannadice - but could only win 2-0 and thus leave the tie open? I do. And while decisions went against Italy in the South Korea game (as decisions went against Spain in the quarter-final of that same tournament)focussing on those moments is as preposterous as claiming Jim McLean didn't know Roma were going to unleash hell in Rome or that Italy didn't make a complete arse of things themselves against South Korea in 2002 ... or that gli azzuri don't have a bloody cheek blaming anyone for having a ref in their back pocket.

Injustice is part of the drama of football - yes - but only because it's another of those factors fans throw in to the chatter when games go against them. Done it myself. Lump some cases in with Dynamo Berlin in the 80s if you like but 99% of the time it's just sour grapes. Juventus were punished and stripped of their title won through Calciopoli - they got what they deserved: Hee-haw.

@Paul Rowland - a chilling argument! :-) However, music charts just decide how many people like what. They're really just polls on taste. Subjective. Football, being a sport, is completely objective - you have the rules and you have the ability to win or lose within those rules. You do or you don't. All else is indeed just a matter of taste - you either like winning football or you don't.

In football we can, of course, have the same spread of subjective favourites but if you prefer, for example, one of the best examples, Holland 74 to West Germany 74 you're preferring an inferior side. They were great for the whole tournament bar 89 minutes of the final and had a scintilating style - all undoubtedly true - but so is the fact that Dutch side were inferior to West Germany. What has happened since then (sorry, I'm just gonnae end up quoting David Winner) is a pathetic effort on the part of many Dutch sports people - particularly Johann Cruyff - to retrospectively change what was a failure of temperament into some sort of triumph of style. Can't be done, because then you're changing the rules of the very game you claim to be best at.(so we should beware of the genetic flaw that kind of thinking inflicts on Barca's style as Cruyff's philosophy is key to their current make-up.)

There's a wee guy who does promotions for T-Mobile - he plays keepie-uppie at half-time at a ground near you. He's amazing. He's phenomenal. He can lie on his back in the centre circle then fire the ball off the cross bar and back - all without it touching the ground. But I don't see any teams trying to sign him. Because that's ball juggling - not association football.

Holland sh*t out in 74 because they had the ability to win that tournament and they didn't do it. It's our love of romance which sees "pretty" teams who fail often lauded more widely than "dour" teams who win. But, for me, if it isn't winning it isn't truly pretty - it's just a lot of mascara and foundation.

Comment by reddybrek 2011-04-27 15:30:17

To call the Barcelona team home grown is completely justified, certainly by todays standards anyway. Pique, Puyol, Valdes, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Busquets, Bojan have all come through the clubs youth academy and make up the bulk of the Spanish national side that have swept all before them. Compare that to any other major club in Europe Even Bayern and Ajax have been left in the stone age by this lot in the football factory stakes. Theyve also broken countless goalscoring records and point accumulation records in Liga so saying that theyre defensive is very wide of the mark does the author of this piece actually follow any Spanish football?

As usual every corner of the British media has sided with Mourinho who says and spends so much without limits and with teams coached to play without style or grace in defeat or victory

Comment by jimmya28 2011-04-27 16:11:58

Alex, I like a lot of your stuff on Rangers, but I feel you aren't just missing the point here, you're actually being mendacious here.

Adriano's buyout clause was 90 million euros, eh? I'm sure that's nothing to do with the mandatory buyout clauses ALL La Liga players have to have in their contracts (usually configured to be utterly ridiculous figures to preclude purchase - a tactic that didn't work in the case of Figo, when Real actually did take them up on it).

So, he cost 9 million instead? Alex, that's a ridiculous amount of money to you and me, but in the context of top flight football it's Piss in the Wind. Yakubu? Steve Marlet? They cost more.

"Pep Guardiola's charges are being talked of as if their potential has already been realised" ... might have something to do with the small matter of the European Championship and the World Cup that they (by that I mean Reddybrek's pick of Pique, Puyol, Valdes, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, and Busquets) picked up in the meantime to the trophies they've won with Barca over the past five years, including six in the same season.

Basically, while I understand your frustration at the overly simplistic media perception of their football (watching them ticky-tacky around a brick wall ain't the greatest watch) or their place in Catalonian culture (read Morbo for a more in-depth repudation of this), to fail to acknowledge the current Barca side as an era-defining side in the lineage of Sacchi's Milan or indeed Real Madrid in the 50s is churlish in the extreme, though I agree Best Ever is over the top - mind you have you seen their points totals this season and the past few years? They're Top Ten, surely?

Comment by Mr Beast 2011-04-27 16:29:26

Time for Barcelona to justify the hype? Surely the point is this current team have won plenty of trophies to justify the hype. If you’re looking for a team whose media profile isn’t matched by any tangible trophy success you can concentrate on Arsenal.

Comment by Coral 2011-04-27 17:53:26

"To call the Barcelona team home grown is completely justified, certainly by todays standards anyway. Pique, Puyol, Valdes, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Busquets, Bojan have all come through the clubs youth academy"

Pique is no more home grown than when they buy Fabregas. Puyol played for his home team till he was 17 and taken by Barcelona. Valdes left the barca youth set up and went to Tenerife before being lured back. Iniesta came from Albacete, all be it moving at a very young age. Pedro came from San Isidro when 17. Busquets didn't move to Barca till he was 17.

To me seems they have a very good policy of picking up the best players just when they switch over from youth to full contract players and get the credit for teaching them all they know.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-04-27 19:33:14

@reddybrek - could I introduce you to jertzeeAFCW and his post, above. jertzeeAFCW could I introduce you to reddybrek. that kinda sorts that one out. Also, could I introduce you both to CORAL, posting below you both and just above this one of mine - he obviously pays a lot more attention to Spanish football than yerself, reddybrek.

How dare you call me a corner of the British Media!!! ;-) And where do I go on and on about Mourinho? As for defence as attack and attack as defence - which we all learned about at primary school I should imagine - if you'd watched the Barca-dominated Spain team winning the World Cup, scoring the fewest goals of any world cup winners ever, you'd have noticed how their ball retention drained the life out of an effervescent young Germany team in the semis, and how Spain's winner in their first ever World Cup semi was scored by a big hairy-arsed centre half coming up for a corner. I have absolutely no problem with that - it was in itself great to watch, but it's no less "deliberate" and "calculated" and all those other connotation-heavy phrases thrown at teams whotry to stop Barca. When only the fact the golden chance fell to Niklaus Bendtner is the reason Arsenal didn't put Barca out ealier in the tournament, you can see that Barca too know how to play the cool percentage game. Something I like - bravery and cool in a team - so let's admit it's there.

@Mr Beast - I'm not in any way saying this Barca team aren't the best/2nd best team on the planet right now or that they've been amazing to watch over the last few seasons. The main point of this piece is that the current hype often claims they are THE GREATEST TEAM EVER - I give stats which point out they're not even teh best Spain has ever seen. But their recent achievements mean that the only real goal they have to aim for is doing something no-one else in world football has done before. That's why I talk about "shifting the focus". If Carrie Bradshaw wrote for Marca she'd put it like this: As the 4th of this season's five Gran Clasicos takes place in the Bernabeu, are we watching history in the making or history in the stopping? ... and Adrian Chiles has just opened with "for many, the finest team of all time" - THAT's what I want them to live up to.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-04-27 22:25:25

@jimmya28 - quite the opposite of mendacious, mate. Quite the opposite. If anything I'm having a pop at the mendacity of the Barca self-image. I mean this piece to get our enjoyment of this Barca team into perspective - they foul and cheat as much as anyone else, they only mean as much to their fans as any other club does and they spend money like drunken sailors - if we can sweep away all the claptrap around them I can like them more.

Mentioning the Adriano buyout clause seems to have upset and distracted a few people. He is still Brazilian and he still has to be bought from Seville: If he'd cost £900.00 he's still the very opposite of home-grown. It was a bit of variation on my part to mention the buyout clause of one player rather than do a more boring straightforward list of all their big purchases of late. But, as I've said above, Mascherano cost £22million and the Ibrahimovic deal was something in the region of EURO66Million. Dani Alves IS the most expensive defeder in the world and David Villa DID cost an absolute fortune in ANYONE's terms. Messi is the most valuable player on the planet and he started in Rosario, ARGENTINA - not Roasario, Catalunya. And you're right about the buy-out clauses because Ibrahimovic's was EURO250Million so, just as per the sums for which they were purchased, I'm only using buy-out clauses as a scale of relative value. Barca buy big and pay big. Whatever way you look at it.

Barcelona did not win the World Cup and the European Championships. The fact Spain did it with some of their rivals from tonight augmenting the side in key places makes THAT a mendacious argument, mate :-) Spain are not Pep Guardiola's charges. Yes, the Barca contingent was large and it was absolutely central to Spain's success AND their style but the very fact of Lionel Messi alone - as well as yer Brazilians, Africans, Frenchmen, Dutch boy Aferllay etc in Barca's squad - means this Barca side are hugely different and must, TO REALISE THEIR POTENTIAL, achieve in club terms something equivelant to what Spain did internationally: Only 3 sides have ever held both the World Cup and Henri Delaunay simultaneously so Barca have to do something even more unique in club terms. I'd say becoming first club to retain the Champions League is a minimum.

Read Morbo? Who hasn't? I also saw Spain at Hampden this season and Barca home and away in the Champions League between their 2006 and 2009 triumphs. I've been to Villarreal, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Arenas de flippin Getxo (the last one SPECIFICALLY because of Morobo) and I've sene Real Madrid at Hampden, Seville-Espanyol in the UEFA cup final and Real Mallorca in the CWC final. Ye can imagine how much Spanish fitba I watch on telly too! But that all proves nowt - experience is only as relevant as the attitude you expose to that experience and my attitude is that winning football is beautiful football: And once you are winning as often as Barcelona are winning these days, you have to rise to the challenge of your increased success - Barca's challenge now, as stated above, is to become the best ever.

They've just taken a massive step towards maintaining that challenge and at no point did I say they weren't an era-defining side. But it's HOW they're defining that era. Is it as a team which looked great and beat loads of teams domestically and abroad but couldn't win enough European trophies to quite achieve the singular success they should have. Sacchi was the last guy to retain the European Cup. In the era of the Champions League that's harder to do but Milan soon reached 3 straight Champions League finals. Barca have achieved nothing like that yet so, no, they are not part of that lineage. Not yet. And, as I say, I find their style mesmeric and I WANT to see them vaildate it with a unique, unprecedented haul of silverware.

They did something truly brilliant tonight, but the first goal was a Dutchman crossing to an Argentine and the cheating, diving, fouling and hysterics was coming from Barca as much as Real. If people would stop describing them as home-grown, eco-friendly saints then we could all get on with simply enjoying the show.

Comment by cc82 2011-04-27 23:39:33

Alex Anderson

The Milan of Sacchi and Capello, "the only truly legendary epic side of my adult life"?

What about the Rangers of Souness and Smith?

Comment by radmonkey 2011-04-28 09:33:59

@Alex anderson

Messi also joined when he was 13, when he couldn't get a team in Argentina to spend the extra couple hundreds or tens of dollars a month to pay for his medicine so he would achieve a healthy adult size. He'd be a nobody in Rosario by now, if it wasn't for Barcelona. How much more homegrown is that. He would not even be a fully-healthy adult if it wasn't for Barcelona taking a risk on a small kid and paying for his meds. Nobody else did, no Rosario Central, Not River Plate, Boca Juniors or some of the hundreds of other Argentina club teams across their country. Not one.

"I'd say becoming first club to retain the Champions League is a minimum. ..And once you are winning as often as Barcelona are winning these days, you have to rise to the challenge of your increased success - Barca's challenge now, as stated above, is to become the best ever...I WANT to see them validate it with a unique, unprecedented haul of silverware."

Basically, you have set-up an almost un-achievable goal for Barcelona to attain in this modern era. Why can't you just enjoy them for what they actually are? Why would not being the BEST TEAM EVER, be a failure on any level?
Why would their already remarkable achievements not be "valid", which is what you're implying. Barcelona will never satisfy your demands, not if you constantly move the goalposts on them like that.

"If people would stop describing them as home-grown, eco-friendly saints then we could all get on with simply enjoying the show."

Aha, finally we get to the gist of your problem with them. Their holier than thou attitude/aura, that is imo, mostly cultivated by writers, fans, bloggers and mostly people not actually associated with Barcelona itself. But even if we for arguments sake, acknowledged that Barcelona are giant holier than thou pricks in stark contrast to most successful athletes.
Again, I think that impulse is caused by an inability to appreciate Barcelona for what they are and have achieved, instead of what we'd wish them to be, which is even greater. Let me tell tell you, if you go through life like that, you'll always be disappointed. Just kick back, enjoy the ride and when the ravages of time takes it toll on the messi's, ronaldo's and etc of the world, we'll be able to say how lucky we were to see them.

And how's that for holier than thou? Although I'm really, really not, you're probably 10% percent holier than me, at least.

Comment by donedmundo 2011-04-28 10:52:23

Hype justified!

Comment by Lincoln 2011-04-28 11:04:10

The problem for me with Barcelona is that I find them boring which always brings derisive snort from people such as radmonkey. The type of followers of football who in the arts world would do the same when someone who views Tracey Emin's bed said it was a bit boring. Last night while Barcelona were passing it around between the back four I saw little beauty. The same as usual when I watch them.

This is without even thinking about the bore fest which was, Barca player gets touched, rolls on floor, players surround ref, game takes a year to restart. Beautiful, the way the game was meant to be played and how our children should want to play.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-04-28 11:15:48

@cc82 - stop it, you evil temptress. Stop hauling me into the realms of beautiful subjectivity ... when Popeye Doyle said "I would rather be a lamp post in New York than the chief of police in Marseilles", little did I know how precisely relevant that metaphor could become when applied to my preference to a Teds League Cup win over a non-Teds Champions League success. Ahhhh ...

@radmonkey - Nor Newell's Old Boys ...

Messi's Argentinian. So he CAN'T be homegrown for a Catalan club. But, yes, they absolutely did everything they could to exploit ... erm, sorry, to "nurture" his pubescent health and nascent talent. And they did it for love. Dani Alves is the most expensive defender in the world, Villa cost a trillion quid from valencia ... Adriano .... bla, blah, blah. I've made the point in the aricle and again in a few replies on this thread but if you want to ignore it then I can't really do anything about that mate. Messi is on a huge wage and is dictating to Guardiola when he will come off early in a game to rest - never apparently. They're a team of spoiled millionaires, like anyone else - that's all - their success, as for anyone at that level, is all about money and it's not the writers who make them wear UNICEF on their shirt or have "more than a club" tattooed on their stands in the Nou Camp. Again, in last night's post-match press conference Guardiola is talking about the "home grown" thing which the poster, Coral, above, has disintegrated far better than I could.

I'm not moving the goalposts for Barcelona - they're moving it for themselves with achievements like last night's. I try to explain that with the Man U-Liverpool analogy in the 3rd para of the piece.

I do indeed go through life with pretty low expectations. But football isn't real life - it's something I watch from the side-lines and pass idle comment on. I like to watch a lot of it and read a lot about it and everyone and their dog has been telling us this is the greatest team of all time. All I'm saying is prove it - because that would be great to watch.

What YOU need to do to enjoy yer football more fully mate, and to stop confusing it with real life, is learn the F Scott Fitzgerald thing of holding two conflcting thoughts at the same time. That way you can enjoy watching Barcelona, as anyone with eyes does, AND get EXTRA ENJOYMENT from realising that, in the world of El Clasico, Barca are already in a historic contest with Los Galacticos (Even if they win at Wembley, they've lost that by a year) and will then be in another on with the Real of 1955-60.

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-04-28 11:17:00

For me, the worst part of last night's borefest was right at the end - Messi wasting all that time and effort dribbling in ever-decreasing circles past five defenders, and then just tippy-tapping it in the vague direction of the goal. What is the point of that eh? Trying to score the perfect goal, presumably, a la Arsenal. Why didn't he just smack it from 35 yards like the Great Ronaldo does? That's what football is all about isn't it? It's a man's game - it's not meant to be pretty!

Perfect goal my arse.... ;-)

Comment by Lincoln 2011-04-28 11:31:49

1) He wouldn't have been dribbling had Pepe not been dubiously sent off.
2) Scoring a good goal at the end makes neither his team the best ever, nor does it make a game good.

As for it being a man's game, it is certainly a game involving contact. If you can honestly say you enjoy watching a player get brushed against and diving to the floor to get an opponent get sent off, then that is your call.

Comment by Spielfuhrer 2011-04-28 13:45:21

I think the 'homegrown' tag is justified in the modern game. You're never going to go back to the days of all the team's players being drawn from within 20 miles of the ground. All the top teams are awash with foreign imports - a quick check of the 4 semi-finalists shows that Barcelona fielded 7 Spaniards, Real had 5, Manchester United had 4 Brits and Schalke 3 Germans. So Barca are more domestically sourced than their rivals.

Even under the old '3 foreigners' rule in the 1990s Barca would be fine as Messi would qualify as an 'assimilated foreigner', leaving Alves, Mascherano and Keita. I think you have to acknowledge with regards to Messi that he has spent almost half his life at Barca, including 5 years of his childhood and all his adult life. Sportsmen (e.g. England cricketers) have represented national teams with far less ties. Most of the Barcelona players were signed young, the expensive foreign players are the additions and not the rule, unlike the Inter Milan's and Chelsea's who buy an entire team with a token youngster on the bench.

The thing that really grates for me with Barcelona is the way they seem to have outlawed tackling. No wonder they have 70% possession, as every time they lose the ball you have Busquets, Pedro, Alves etc rolling around in fake agony. If an opponent commits the outrage of a strong tackle (often still a fair one) you immediately have 4 players surround the referee and waving imaginary cards. I dearly wish a referee would come along with some old-school discipline - any player brandishing a card gets booked, if any player pesters the referee for more than 5 seconds its also an automatic booking. The first time this happened Barca wouldn't be able to field a team after half an hour, I know other teams do this (notably Madrid) - but most not to the same extent and with the same air of arrogance as Barcelona. Its like they consider themselves too pure and are affronted by the mere notion of being tackled.

Comment by donedmundo 2011-04-28 14:02:18

As Danny Blanchflower said, 'The game is about glory; about doing things in style.'Barcelona may not be the best club side ever - who can tell - but you cannot deny they do things in style. When Real Madrid tried to play an open attacking game against them they lost 5 - 0. The only way teams can cope with them is to play nine in defence, one up front and hope for the best, as Real Madrid did last night. You can't blame Barcelona then for making the game boring.

Comment by Coral 2011-04-28 14:23:50

No one is denying they do things with style, they are just boring to watch because they hold possession for so long and do nothing with it for large periods. Then people get overly excited referring to the statistics regarding possession and passes as if that is a measure of style "listen to this, they had 70% of possession and 750 passes to the other teams 150". Wow, when I am at a game I long for the day that they dispense with the elaborate skills and shooting at goal and just settle down to leaving two players to pass the ball 5 yards between one another.

As for the home grown comment, Barcelona is very much about Catalonia not Spain. So that cuts out Pedro and Innesta. Again, they are home grown to the extent that they are mostly born in Catalonia but they have not gone all the way through the Youth Academy. To my eyes, Barca are lazy. They wait to see who is good and then snap them up. Saves them money rather than being home grown. Johan Djorou and Fabregas are more youth products or Arsenal than Barcelona and they have a lot of "home grown" players in the wings despite coming from around the world.

Comment by reddybrek 2011-04-28 15:39:14

OK Alex youre the boss on this blog dont get all Jose on me. Sorry mate….but…..
This whole notion that Barcelona lured players from other clubs is ridiculous. Youth football is generally considered to be up to the age of 18 or 21 at international level. Most players at that age are simply trying to get into any starting 11 they can. In Spain most youths dream of playing for Madrid or Barcelona surely? They werent kidnapped (geddit?)
So if Barcelona lured these players away at that age then presumably Fabregas was lured away to Arsenal? How about a young Dalglish was he lured away to Celtic from Rangers? Souness lured away to Spurs? John Barnes lured away from Sudbury Court to Big Bad Watford who deserve no credit for his development as a young player? Utd lured Beckham away from Spurs and Giggs was also lured from his local village side was he? Vinny Jones was lured away to mighty Wimbledon from Wealdstone? I know its fashionable on this site for supporters of small clubs to have a pop at big clubs but lets not get too silly.
I know what youre getting at. The likes of Chelsea and Arsenal luring away young foreign talent and casting the majority by the wayside – thats plain wrong but to label a top Spanish club producing top Spanish players with the same pied piper brush is twisting the facts a little. Id be quite pleased if Wenger produced the bulk of a World Cup winning England team but he wont because hes too busy producing anyone who isnt English bar one.
Messi came from Argentina so you got me there but at least he spoke the same language and his family came with him so not exactly child slavery.
Barcelona is a beacon of football excellence in the present day. Modern total football. A bunch of trained kids who grew up to regularly and consistently outclass a side who cost half a billion euros. Surely theres a great underdogs tale in there somewhere?

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-04-28 16:32:25

Actually - I enjoyed last night. No really! In fact I enjoyed it so much that I have spent the best part of today watching a continuous loop of Jose sitting in the stands in the second half, throwing the mother of all sulks in front of a a TV audience of billions. And I've had a vintage Barry Davies commentary playing over the top of it. "Look at his face. JUST LOOK AT HIS FACE!"

Priceless. Barca, we thank you. ;-)

Comment by tempestinaflathat 2011-04-28 16:56:07

"Holland sh*t out in 74 because they had the ability to win that tournament and they didn't do it. It's our love of romance which sees "pretty" teams who fail often lauded more widely than "dour" teams who win. But, for me, if it isn't winning it isn't truly pretty - it's just a lot of mascara and foundation."

Although I agree with pretty much everything in the article, this (completely unrelated) comment got my gander. Yes, Holland were wonderful in 1974, a beauty, a joy. What I can't understand is the refusal to recognise the magnificence of that German side, and it keeps on bothering me, far more than it should.

I mean, I'm not even German. But to overlook a side with Beckenbauer, Breitner, Maier, Hoeness, Netzer, Seeler and Mueller is just wrong; it was one of the greatest national sides, and deserves more credit.

What I'm getting at, I suppose, is that there's more than one way to skin a cat; Barcelona might be very good at how they approach the game (and a bunch of cheats, but that's another argument for another day), but it's not the only way, and to say that their method is intrinsically better than any other isn't justifiable. Any more than it was for Holland.

Comment by Coral 2011-04-28 17:47:13

Reddybrek, you can sign a professional contract at 17, convenient that quite a few of Barca's stars joined at that age. What Barca have done, that is good for them, is bring in the best young players who are cheap to accumlate and then trained them with some fantastic coaching and made a success of it. However the fact they are Spanish is coincental and not their mission as they would have you believe. They just happen to come from Spain, ignoring Messi of course. Lord knows they could do with saving the money as Pep has spent more than most coaches in Europe (nearly £240m). I guess for the sake of arguement people are happy to brush aside flops such as Kerrison and Henrique (£18m), Hleb (£11m), Chygrynskiy (£20m), and Caceres (£13m, although he is Spanish so home grown really).

Bascially what I am saying is they buy them in young because it is cheaper to flop at that age than when they are older. That they predominantly come from Spain is just luck, and probably with the factor that they come more cheaply, apart from Messi who cost some medical treatment. They are coached well, but it would carry a lot more weight with me if they coached them from 10 - the first team as they would have us believe.

Comment by reddybrek 2011-05-02 02:05:22

Coral - if luring gifted players and chucking them into a team at 17 and then hey presto there you have world beaters is as easy as that then what have the worlds other top clubs been playing at recent years? Spending BILLIONS on inferior foreign imports thats what. Chelsea, City, Madrid you name it, are light years behind this Barcelona team.

It used to be the case that English national side was similair to the Spanish side......overhyped players etc....except Barcelona werent so short sighted to overlook young players from thier own backyard like every monied English club.

I realise they werent all born in the same street like the lisbon lions - but sometimes in any sport a team or an individual player comes along (pele / maradona / madrid 50s / brazil 1970) that tears the game a brand new arsehole. Present day Barcelona is one of these examples and then some

Comment by Coral 2011-05-02 12:06:03

2003-11

Barca Spent 430M
Chelsea Spent 524M
Man City 475M

So it does seem they don't spend as much as those. But by comparrison Man Utd 264M are regarded as bringing through home grown talent. Arsenal have spent 147m. It is also worth noting Barca spent 80m and 65m (ish) in the last two seasons alone.

Comment by reddybrek 2011-05-03 12:51:26

Perhaps the transfer policy of Barcelona should also be judged with a bit more balance rather than simply looking at incoming transfers. The sale of players like Ronaldihno, Eto, Traore, Deco for huge amounts of money should also be taken into consideration.

The likes of City, Chelsea and Madrid have the privalege of not only not having to sell players to balance the books, but seemingly also have the endless resources to hoard most of their rivals players purely to deny competitors their own stars and yet add little or nothing to their own teams performance level. What sort of contribution is that to football history?

Youve got to ask yourself, when we look back at this period in the years to come, who actually made the greatest contribution to evolution of the game? Youth team coaches with ideas or billionare club owners? Who would you want to be on the cutting edge of the game given that choice?

Man Utd had some decent homegrown players but this is over 10 years ago now. All these players are welll into thier 30s or retired now. Arsenal can be compared to the likes of Utd, Barcelona, Madrid, Liverpool once theyve produced a world beating side. Preferably in the main English.

You can side with Mourinhos mob if you like and get taken in by his paranoid self promoting rambles. Nothing he says bridges the gulf in class. The British media in particular has been swooning and hanging on his every word for far too long if you ask me. Im more interested in the best football.

Comment by Coral 2011-05-03 23:27:11

Yeah good point, Ronaldo leaving Man Utd was nearly for free. For the most part they have then kept with homegrown talent and bought players in sucessfully, what Barcelona appear to have done is spend lots of money on players and chop and change, like Zlatan and Deco as you mention. At least Chelsea buy their players and tend to keep them, Sheva aside.

I don't think those coaches have just come from Barcelona, they have always been around. Arguably those multi billionaire owners have changed the landscape in Europe in giving power back to England from Spain and previous Italy wealthy players. Now Spain have the two richest clubs in the world bar none, the power swings back a bit but sadly they are cripling their league by hovering up their best players.

True, Arsenal can be compared to Barcelona when they can afford world record fees on the "best" right back in the world in Alves, that solid centre back they need in Pique, the biting central midfielder they need like Masquerano and they goal getting striker like Villa. They all came though the Barcelona youth system from start to finish though no? Think that concludes this quite nicely, Arsenal are what Barcelona would be without the proflific spending.

As for the media, you some it up beautifully, interest in the best football. The media tell me Barca's passing is beautiful, I find it dull so will think for myself.

Related articles

Bobby Robson film offers smiles, tears and plenty of fond memories
Embed from Getty Images // Watching the elegantly put together More Than A Manager highlights why Robson was so revered by fans, players and...
Zidane: The biography by Patrick Fort and Jean Philippe
Ebury Press, £12.99Reviewed by Jonathan O’BrienFrom WSC 379, September 2018Buy the book It was often said of Daniel Passarella that...
The Duellists: Pep, José and the birth of football’s greatest rivalry
by Paolo Condo 
(translated from Italian by Anthony Wright)DeCoubertin Books, £12.99Reviewed by Paul KellyFrom WSC 372, February 2018Buy the...