If Barcelona is considered more than a club, then El Clasico is certainly more than a game, such is the importance of this fixture that it is often depicted as a re enactment of the Spanish civil war, Real Madrid representing the oppression and fascist dictatorship of the Franco era, a time when to be a Barcelona fan was to stand for freedom, to rebel against adversity, this is how Barcelona became more than a club. So historically Real Madrid would always be cast as the stereotypical villain in the soap opera that is “El Clasico”.
History put to one side, modern day interpretations of the two teams would dictate who shall be cast as the villain in this struggle. Real Madrid with their free spending nature, flexing their financial muscles every summer to assemble a new team of superstars known as “Galacticos”, unashamedly paying above the odds for players, inflating the transfer market almost single handedly. The man they have had the helm, the self titled, “special one”, the man who some have accused of inventing “anti football”. Mourinho is totally obsessed with the result, and he achieves results more often than not, at the expense of attractive football. His teams are an example of tactical/organisational skills over flair, the ultimate example being last years Champions league semi final, two legged victory over, none other than Barcelona.
Barcelona, in stark contrast would be considered the peoples champions. The team for the purists, an indigenous bunch of players raised with the ideals of the club instilled into them from an early age. These ideals of total football, and a philosophy of attractive football, brought to the club by the Dutch legend Johan Cruyff. Cruyff employed these ideals to become the most successful manager in the clubs history. Who better to ensure the continuity of these very ideals only current manager Josep Guardiola (captain of Cruyff’s dream team).
So with the contest poised as such, good Vs bad, freedom Vs oppression, purist Vs pragmatist, the shock 5-0 victory for Barcelona at the Camp Nou, should be celebrated by all football lovers and should be considered a victory for football right? WRONG. Barcelona have shown us that they deserve to be considered our champions, I am running out of superlatives to describe the way in which they play the beautiful game. So as our champions they should represent the game with honesty and integrity right? At the risk of alienating mass amounts of sports fans, I am going to attempt to highlight how Barcelona have been anything but good champions for the beautiful game. They are almost untouchable in the media on account of the brand of football they playing being so alluring, any wrong doing is either ignored or worse, severely misconstrued in the papers and by football analysts.
Victory for football
Allow me to take you back to the champions league semi final 2009, Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea hearts were broke by a late Andreas Iniesta goal in the dying embers of the game. Despite the fact that this equalizer was Barcelona’s solitary shot on target that night. Despite the fact that Chelsea had several, legitimate penalty claims turned down, despite the fact that Josep Guardiola and his staff showed little to no decorum in flooding the technical area, harassing the fourth official and, with an over zealous goal celebration nearly incited an already hostile home crowd. Despite the fact that Guss Hiddink architected an almost flawless defensive display, this night was hailed as a “victory for football”. A victory for football because it was Barcelona and it catered for the Hollywood final between Manchester Utd and the Catalans.
The Fabregas issue
In a transfer market where there is constant scandal in relation to the tapping up of players. Barcelona demonstrate supreme arrogance in their pursuit of Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, inciting an intense media campaign including several stage managed pronouncements from some of their own stars. It is as though Barcelona consider themselves the rightful owner of the player (who left their “La Masia” youth academy for London when he was less than 15 years old) due to the fact that they were so involved in the moulding of the player, I wonder if they would be as understanding should Newell’s Old Boys claim responsibility for the moulding of Lionel Messi. Once more the Catalan giants are depicted as the good guys, with Arsene Wenger playing out the role of big bad wolf as he holds the player captive at the club he is contractually obliged to play for. What Barcelona have done is clever manipulation of one of the most powerful weapons in a clubs arsenal (for want of a better word), the media. By ensuring the player states he does not want to play for anyone else other than Barcelona it means they know there is no competition for his signature, thus reducing his market value drastically. The most probable eventuality is that Cesc Fabregas will see out his “sentence” at Arsenal diligently like the professional that he is, at which time he will return to Catalonia as a free agent. Barcelona will get their “entitlement” and Arsenal will get nothing.
Tactical frailties ignored / Sore Losers
Allow me to once more take you back to a champions league semi final 2nd leg, this time it is 2010 and Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan to everyones surprise lead Barcelona 3-1 going into the Camp Nou, thanks to an extremely efficient and impressive display at the San Siro. The game took a drastic turn when Thiago Motta was sent off on account of a cynical act of cowardice from Sergio Busquettes, as he lay writhing in agony on the ground, the Spaniard can be seen to peer out between the hands he weeps into, checking to see if his actions had the desired effect. They had, Inter were down to ten men. The special ones hand was forced, this was the biggest task he had yet to face. Could Jose’s ten men keep the creative force that is Barcelona at bay? Boy did he deliver.
Mourinho wielded the tactical noose around the game and exposed frailties in the Barcelona tactics. Inter allowed the ball to Barcelona but limited their options with it by only making a challenge within 25 yards of their own goal, Inter were not controlling the ball, but they were still controlling the space. Xavi and Busquets still dominated the ball, of course, but they were forced to shift it wide to Alves (who had a poor game) or Gabriel Milito, who was not comfortable on the ball. Barca always had ten players to get past, and their tendency to shoot from long-range demonstrated the fact that they were simply finding it impossible to play through Inter. Barcelona were found to have no plan B and continued to play Messi through the middle in an attempt to gnaw away and erode Inters water tight defensive wall. Barcelona completed 555 passes compared to Inter’s 67, and produced the most dominant display of possession in European competition this year, 86%. And yet, for all that – how many times did they actually get the ball into serious goalscoring positions?
Barcelona so rarely having to adapt due to the sheer brilliance were undone by the same tactics that when employed by Guss Hiddinks Chelsea so very nearly yielded success the year before. I do not expect Barcelona to be infallible, but you must play, win and lose like a champion. Barcelona having been outwitted fair and square by Mourinho’s 10 men, behaved like a spoiled brat who would take the ball in with him. As Mourinho relished the success of his pragmatic approach, he was leapt upon by Victor Valdes and no sooner had the Inter players began to celebrate when the sprinklers were turned on in the Camp Nou, literally raining on Inters parade in a sickening example of sore losing. Is this the example we want our champions to set?
In the aftermath of that game, the footballing world cast their flags at half mast. Not because of Barcelona’s childish act of petulance, not because of Sergio Busquettes’ gross misconduct and demonstration of the moral decay that so obviously exists in today’s game. No none of these reasons, the footballing world mourned simply because, the wizard Mourinho, with his pragmatic approach had reminded everyone that tactics win football games. “Anti football” had won out on this occasion.
So on a night when Barcelona were the embodiment of all their ideals and showcased all the skills we know and love that they possess in abundance. They were every bit the champions in the way they played, they lacked character in what could have been one of they’re greatest nights in an illustrious history. The man who is meant to embody all the ideals of this magnificent club, more than a club, the dynasty that is Barcelona, coach Pep Guardiola behaved like a child. At 2-0 and the game not out of Real Madrid’s sight, Guardiola shows the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo before throwing the ball away in an act of total disrespect for one of the greatest players to ever play the game. If you can’t act with grace when you are winning 2-0 and playing the best football ever seen, its difficult to ascertain when indeed one can show grace, just cause you are a character does not mean you have character. Victor Valdes ran a greater distance than most wingers as he frequented the centre circle with 60 yard bursts upfield to “firefight” any dispute. Now I am not claiming Real Madrid or Jose Mourinho to be model citizens by any means but the point is that they by no means claim to be. Barcelona, more than just a club, a lot more.