Wednesday, 9 March 2011

FC Barcelona - The Road to Self-Righteousness?

BARCELONA lived up to the hype last night with a dominant display over English football's Barca-wannabe's Arsenal, as Arsene Wenger’s men limped out of the Champions League like an Owen Hargreaves comeback. Despite Robin Van Persie’s red card early in the second half, and despite the fact that Arsenal were still only a goal away from defeating the Spanish giants, the gulf in class was as visible as the fury etched on Wenger’s beleagured face after the game.
Barcelona’s statistics last night were incredible, but what is even more amazing is that they produce such figures regularly and consistently. Training, ability and dedication are all key factors to this, as well as corking sunshine every day, but the real underlying factor in what they do is the philosophy behind it. They play this way as a principal, as they believe it is the right way to play.
They are often very preachy about it, but, as we all saw last night, they are right to boast about it. It is undeniably great to watch, almost making you want to go out in your back garden at 10pm, to try and persuade your elderly neighbour who looks a bit like Carlos Puyol to exchange in a few ten-yard passes with you on his front lawn.
Barcelona as a club also had the much- lauded principal of having never worn corporate advertisements on their shirts, going back to the days when the club was first founded in 1899. This is still the case this season, with children’s charity UNICEF in its fifth year of sitting proudly on the front of Barca’s shirts. Rather than receiving millions for wearing the logo of a worldwide electronics manufacturer, Barcelona actually paid the charity over £1million a year.
However, this romantic ideology could only last so long, and this season will be the last that Barcelona sports a shirt without corporate sponsorship. The lucky name of the Qatar Foundation will now be proudly emblazoned on the front of the Barca shirts, boosting the Spanish club’s income by around £25m a year over the next five years. The Barcelona vice-president Javier Faus decribed the deal as ‘the biggest in the history of football’, but also admitted the deal would not have been signed if the club hadn’t had a debt of over €420m. UNICEF will stay on the shirt, but may have to play second fiddle in terms of location and positioning to the rich Qatar Foundation’s name.
It’s a sad story, albeit amazing how long it lasted. However, the problem of money in the current economic climate was always going to catch up with the club. It was something that fans all over the world knew about and consequently loved Barcelona for. For some supporters, the likes of Tranmere Rovers and Stockport County now had a rival for being someone's 'second team'.  Along with the fact that Barcelona is a club that is owned by its supporters, who theoretically control the club’s destiny, the club is seen as somewhat of an ideal model in every aspect.
However this isn’t a piece on the economics, dynamics and tactics utilised by the Catalan giants. Yes, it is shocking how in last night’s game the only attempt on Barca’s goal came from the unfortunate Sergio Busquets, and yes Arsenal’s passing was improved and seemingly more effective once Van Persie had been dismissed. The game was over, and in some ways invalid, after referee Massimo Busacca had killed the game with his ridiculous decision to give the Dutchman his marching orders for kicking the ball ‘away’. Not that I think Van Persie was totally innocent in this situation.

It’s not the first time a striker has been flagged offside and then proceeded to shoot, pretending he ‘hadn’t heard’ the referee’s whistle, pointing to his ears in protest. The Nou Camp is a place where the noise of a simple whistle is easily drowned out, but I’m sure Van Persie would have actually hit the target with his snatched right foot effort if he knew he was definitely onside, rather than miserably driving it past the near post of Victor Valdes’s goal. Despite what Wenger and Van Persie will have you believe in the media over the next few days, I think Van Persie, although unlucky, was naïve and probably a little petulant in the whole incident. Let’s be honest, it’s not totally out of character for him to be in trouble with referees is it?
But how many people watching the game last night were truly surprised by Busacca’s decision to show Van Persie red? Barcelona’s constant hounding of the referee was second only to the brilliant pressing game they were displaying against the Londoners. A Barca player goes down and the noise from the surrounding supporters is deafening, and referees at the Nou Camp, often succumb to the pressure of fans and approaching players alike.
It doesn’t have to be like this you know, Barcelona. You have the greatest club team around the moment, and you play a style of football that embodies just how beautiful the game can be. Small, diminutive players with world-class touch, skill and vision, yet also equipped with a fantastic work ethic. Defenders aside, there are also no physical giants on this team either.

Ironically, it was Wenger’s Arsenal sides of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s that seemed to argue that the way forward for competing teams was to have a disposal of players that were tall, strong, fast and physical. Thankfully for the vertically-challenged, the likes of Xavi, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa have shown that real talent lies in your feet and brain, not in how big your body is.
In Sid Lowe’s brilliant interview with Xavi in last month’s Guardian (see here), it was clear that Barcelona players had a unique footballing mindset - embedded in by the club. Xavi said:
“I like the fact that talent, technical ability, is valued above physical condition now. I'm glad that's the priority; if it wasn't, there wouldn't be the same spectacle. Football is played to win but our satisfaction is double. Other teams win and they're happy, but it's not the same. The identity is lacking. The result is an impostor in football.”            
If Barcelona want to continue their current image of being an idealistic club, then perhaps Josep Guardiola can instruct his team to make history and be the first set of players not to appeal for every decision that doesn’t go their way. The individuality of Barcelona supporters extends to its Catalan roots – they are their own people with their own methods. In footballing and politics, they believe in beauty and freedom. Thus, if their players were to suddenly seen to pacifistically accept decisions, yet continue to play easy-on-the-eye football, then there’s every chance that the young contingent of fans that idolise the club will try to imitate them on the field in the future, and hopefully off the field too.

The game's future could be saved from moronic, overzealous and overpaid centre-forwards subjecting officials to a barrage of unwarranted abuse. Instead of rolling around on the floor like he did last night after a collision with Laurent Koscielny, David Villa can instead choose to get up, offer to shake the defender’s hand, and laugh it off. Instead of pressurising the referee to send off Van Persie, Barcelona players can simply ignore it and play the beautiful game as they want it to be played.

It strikes me as baffling that a team who preach so much about the way football should be played should continue to abuse referees so disgracefully and cheat them into making certain decisions. Yes, there are other teams that also do this – most, if not all teams abuse officials and disrespect the running of the game. However, Barcelona are the only ones that seem to hold regular sermons on how football should be played.
 Make a stand Barcelona. If you’re going to do things right, then do things properly.


  1. Oh Brunty. I'd value this opinion more if you'd taken your own team to task for it. United are the worst perpetrators of referee hounding in the football league. Even so-called paragons of virtue like Giggsy constantly chirp in the referee's ear.

  2. You miss the point though Bailey. United and their players aren't constantly preaching to the masses about how 'beautiful' they treat the game, and how they are the model for all to follow. The football is ridiculously good, but don't kid yourself Barcelona, you dive and cheat in order to win like everybody. Nobody's perfect. In regards to Giggs, he is as competitive as anyone. It't not his fault the media kisses his arse so much. The whole 'paragon of virtue' is a media creation.


    good article.

  4. Tu cock...

    Come on Ad, you can't use latin below the line on t'interweb. Them's not the rules.