There are a lot of opinions in football, not least about F.C. Barcelona, touted as the greatest club side in the world. Are all the views valid?
On the train to work the other day, I was reading an article in the new magazine Football España, which is, quite astonishingly, about Spanish football (it’s a good read, check it out). The particular piece I was reading was about the brilliant, fierce and historic rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid, and it was quite intriguing, to say the least. While I was captivated by the colourful descriptions of last season’s numerous encounters between the giant clubs, it was in fact the first sentence that the journalist had written that remained at the forefront of my mind throughout. ‘Is there anything to say about the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry that hasn’t already been said? '1 The journalist responded with a rhetorical ‘yes’ – a confident move being as he was about to presumably reveal information never before seen, heard or written by anyone about the colossal rivalry. The article was enjoyable, and I certainly learnt a number of things – so as I’m the world’s most knowledgeable man ever, I could argue he delivered. However, I was not actually questioning his ability to enlighten the world about Barcelona versus Real Madrid. My real issue was this – are there too many opinions in football, and are any of them truly unique?
Opinions are everything in football, and the fact that everyone has one makes it brilliant, not to mention never-ending. Don’t get me wrong; I have no desire to see the current overload of footballing opinion diminished.
A history teacher of mine once ranted about how many different opinions are emerging nowadays, suggesting that many post-revisionist historians offer radical judgments on seemingly closed and accepted conclusions, simply in order to have their thoughts recognized and published. Admittedly, her point was relating to new theories concerning Stalin’s bloody regime in the Soviet Union, or the Irish Easter Rising in 1916, not whether Joey Barton’s lone crusade on Twitter is commendable or not.
Nevertheless, I am willing to put forward the possibility that this sort of post-revisionist, radical opinionated writing occurs in the world of football journalism as well. In fact, my intention is to deal with one of the aforementioned clubs – FC Barcelona – and to understand whether it is the huge number of similar opinions in football that have led to people drastically criticizing the scintillating side, or whether people really believe they are justified.
There are two aspects of Barcelona that I will address while giving the distinctive views on the team. The first will be their style of play, and whether they are indeed unbeatable. The second will be about how they behave on the pitch, and whether it is acceptable, let alone respectable.
The ‘Reasonable’ View
F.C. Barcelona play brilliant football. In fact, there are too many superlatives to describe the way they keep possession, penetrate defences and embarrass footballing superstars effortlessly with their style of play that oozes class and simplicity. The current crop of players has among them World champions, European champions, and the world’s best footballer. Collectively, they make Spanish champions and European cup champions. In the ‘reasonable’ view, they are the best team in the world.
The ‘reasonable’ amongst us also suggest that if they play their best football, they are unbeatable. They almost never misplace a pass, keeping possession and exhausting their opponents in the process. The players work perfectly in tandem and each carries out his job as part of the team. With defenders more skilful than the average player and yet with the capacity to be no-nonsense when required, midfielders who can dictate play and thread a pass through the eye of a needle and forwards who can dribble round everyone and score for fun – quite literally in Lionel Messi’s case – they have the dream team.
On top of this, they have depth, with each player in the squad as strong as the next and capable of fulfilling their role and playing the desirable football that has secured them a place in numerous history books.
Barcelona achieve all of this with an incredible team spirit and dignity, led by their formidable and much-loved and admired coach, Pep Guardiola. It is, quite frankly, the way football should be played, should be enjoyed and should be won. F.C. Barcelona are undoubtedly Més que un club.
That is the ‘reasonable’ view – Barcelona are the best club side in the world, possibly the best ever. Enjoy this incredible generation of players. They possess genius. It’s a joy to watch them and their elegant style succeed.
The ‘Radical’ View
F.C. Barcelona – is there anything to say about Barcelona that hasn’t already been said before? Apparently so, if you are on the ‘radical’ side of the white line.
Barcelona are beatable, would be a good place to start. They have already won two trophies this season, and are favourites to retain their La Liga and Champions League crowns. Nevertheless, the ‘radicals’ would suggest that their style is not flawless and while it would be difficult to outplay them, it is possible to defeat them. Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan demonstrated this in military-style in late April 2010, knocking Barcelona out in the Champions League semi-final stage. Marking their key players out of the game, and grabbing goals clinically on the counter-attack, using the pace of ex-Barcelona hero Samuel Eto’o. Barça were frustrated and lost their composure, resulting in their defeat. Still, even while they were playing their liquid football for periods of the game, Inter’s tight formation and undying commitment in defence shone through. Barcelona are not unbeatable.
In terms of the depth that Barcelona possess, there is no way that they are the same team without some of their key players in the team. Messi is replaceable by nobody, and he is required for them to win. The same goes for Xavi and Iniesta, who are both central (literally) in conducting the tempo of play and maintaining possession, while they are the only players in the squad who can possibly make the key passes they do. Therefore, the depth they have is not really as excellent as the ‘reasonable’ viewpoint would suggest.
Watching the Spanish Super Cup earlier this month, the ‘radicals’ would have been rubbing their hands together. Barcelona do win a lot, granted, and while their football is aesthetically delightful, at times their on-field antics are far from majestic. As I mentioned earlier, El Clásico is amazing, but the vibrancy can spill into violence and pathetic attempts to get opposition players sent off. The most recent fixture exhibited world-class football but also a number of these unsavoury moments, especially at the very end. Most of the limelight was on Mourinho, after his infamous eye-poking tactics, but the Barcelona players were also the targets, rightfully, of some criticism due to their simulation and off-the-ball scuffling.
Back to that defeat against Inter in 2010, Mourinho’s side managed to beat Barça with just ten men on the field in the second leg, but the reason for the red card shown to Thiago Motta is evidence for why some people indicate Barcelona in fact win with very little to be proud of. Sergio Busquets – the culprit on that occasion – among many others in the famous Catalan colours often dive too much and make a concerted effort to get their fellow professionals in trouble, making route to victory easier. This is not the right spirit.
For these reasons, the ‘radical’ side likes to see Barcelona lose and dislikes their dominance of European football. They play great football, but can be beaten.
Just to clarify, I really support many of the views on both sides. Explicitly however, I think they are unbeatable if they play their best football.
I should apologise that this is not the most in-depth analytical article about Barcelona, but I also confess that the main reason I have written this piece is not just because I wanted to express my enjoyment of their style, necessarily. The truth is that I had some criticism – very fair criticism – about some of my other articles, suggesting I didn’t really highlight anything new and that in fact I was essentially saying what everyone else had been saying. However, some of the criticism received can be aggressive and involves unnecessarily heavy language. You could say I am attempting to ‘tackle’ the situation head on. A football joke, in a football blog … brilliant.
In all seriousness though, how many arguments are unique, nowadays? Not many, is the truth.
Still, the point I would like to make (and it felt fitting to use such a great team to make it) is that in football, every opinion is justified, whether it is against the general tide of views or not particularly unique. Every aspect of the game is debatable, from a refereeing decision in a local Sunday League game or whether you believe Barcelona are indeed the greatest club side ever to grace the game.
The bottom line is this – every opinion is ‘reasonable’ or ‘radical’ depending on who is considering the point in question.
The fact that everything is contentious is what makes the game so exciting, so full of emotion and essentially, it’s why we love it. The Internet is now the principal platform for all of our expressions about the Beautiful Game, but it’s a shame when it is used as a means to press forward a point in an insulting manner. It’s important to respect the opportunity now presented to us to be in contact with players, managers, pundits, journalists, fans and all other people connected with the game.
Love the game, share your views, respect others’ opinions, but cut out the offensive attacks. I appreciate football is a game that creates a huge range of passion, anger, frustration, joy and ecstasy but it wouldn’t be the same if we all had the same views. By the same token, everybody is entitled to however a radical or reasonable opinion they wish.
And with that, I shall humbly slide off of my high horse.
Let’s enjoy the new season. Oh, and Barcelona are the best team ever – don’t argue with me. I’m reasonable.
Phil Ball, Football España
, August 2011