2010: It’s Barca’s Year

Written by  //  December 28, 2010  //  Sport, Uncategorized  //  2 Comments

2010 glitters with several displays of sporting excellence. Some ventured into territories previously considered inaccessible – Sachin Tendulkar, alone gathered two such records with his seventh Test Match century of the year making him the first in history to compile fifty centuries, having in February become the first man to score a One-Day-International double-century, while John Isner and Nicolas Mahut competed in the longest match ever, at Wimbledon, with Isner winning the fifth and final set, 70-68.

Some took transcendental steps towards greatness – including Rafael Nadal whose triumph at three of tennis’ four Grand Slams were each achieved on a different surface; Spain’s national football team, who won the World Cup by adhering to an eye-pleasing pass and move style of football; and Kobe Bryant whose second consecutive NBA Finals MVP, helped the Los Angeles Lakers capture their 17th title. Some exhibited nerves of steel when lesser mortals would have crumbled – Graeme McDowell’s intrepid putt to secure victory for Europe in the Ryder Cup; Sebastian Vettel’s start-to-finish triumph at the season ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to clinch the Formula One title; tiny Serbia’s Davis Cup victory in front of a raucous crowd at Belgrade were all displays of guts and courage. But part of the problem when you write on, and watch more than one sport, as Simon Barnes helpfully points out in his book – A Meaning of Sport – is to find a formula for answering the question: which sport do you like best? Thankfully for me, ever since football captured my imagination, I haven’t had to look beyond it for the answer.

Yet, it wasn’t Spain and their World Cup victory that provided the greatest pleasure, but rather the cream of Spanish clubs, F.C. Barcelona, who have made this a year to prize, by playing the most beautiful and most merciless football, with scarily metronomic regularity. Their 5-0 trouncing of arch-rivals Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on November 29 represents without a flicker of a doubt the definitively brilliant moment of 2010. It isn’t often that one has the privilege of watching such a perfect amalgam of beauty and efficiency on the football pitch, but Barcelona’s performance on that night was all that and more – indisputably the best I’ve ever seen.

In a season marred by the ignominies of FIFA’s award of the rights to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Finals to Russia and Qatar respectively, amid allegations of corruption against several of its prominent members, Barcelona’s triumph in the Classico served to remind us of why we continue to show interest in this blemished sport. Beautiful football and effective football do not always coincide – one only needs to look at Arsenal who have been sublime at times over the past few seasons, but are trophy-less since 2005. Barcelona on the other hand, not only play gloriously, but also win gloriously. Since Pep Guardiola, the midfield pivot in Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team of the 1990s, took over as the club’s manager in 2008, they have won one Champions League, two Spanish La-Liga titles, one UEFA Super Cup, one FIFA World Club Cup, one Copa Del Ray and two Spanish Super Cups – that’s eight pieces of silverware in the last two years – all achieved by playing in an outrageously gorgeous manner.

But back to their victory over Madrid, it wasn’t expected to be anything near as easy as it turned out to be. After all, Jose Mourinho who had masterminded Inter Milan’s win over Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League in April was at Madrid’s helm. Under Mourinho, Real had made an excellent start to the season, looking imperious at times and giving the impression that they could match Barcelona for style and substance, but how wrong we all were. With Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta conducting the orchestra, Lionel Messi, playing centrally as a false nine and David Villa and Pedro cutting in from the wings, Barcelona weaved a string of mesmeric passes throughout the course of the game. Madrid positioned onto the carousel within minutes of the start, were forced into enduring ninety minutes of giddily fluid passing and movement from Barcelona.

Any doubts of Barcelona’s pedigree were put to rest within the early exchanges of the game. Even before they took the lead in the 10th minute, Messi had struck the upright with a wonderfully lobbed effort that had left Iker Casillas spellbound and stranded – a clear sign of things to come. The opening goal that soon followed was one of ingenious mastery. Iniesta, having taken control of a perfectly weighted ball from Messi in an inside-left position, jinked through a mass of Madrid players before playing an intricate pass into an area opened-up by Villa’s movement to the left. This allowed Xavi, who had made a late run – shrewd as ever – free to finish from within six yards. In many ways the goal epitomised Barcelona’s philosophy – quick, sharp, incisive passing and a spare man available at every juncture.

Dizzying to watch, one can only imagine the pain that the Madrid players had to suffer. The second goal was again a product of the epoch-marking football that was showcased earlier at the global stage by Spain’s World Cup winning squad – Villa picked out on the left by Xavi’s ball, crossed for Pedro to finish from close-range. The third and the fourth goals, both created by Messi’s cunning and finished clinically by Villa were again treats for the connoisseur. Four-nil up, with half an hour still to go, Barcelona kept hold of the ball for what seemed an eternity, lacing one geometric pattern after another. In stoppage time, substitute Jeffren Suarez netted, helping his club complete the 5-0 rout – a manita, a little hand, a goal for each finger.

Of course, Barcelona have defeated Madrid by margins of great decisiveness on past occasions too, not least the 6-2 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu in the 2008-09 season. But this was Mourinho’s Real side – the Portuguese’s teams have never lost by greater than a three goal margin in the past, which disgrace itself he had suffered only thrice before. Lining up Real in much the same manner as he did Inter Milan in the Champions League semi-final may have been a mistake, but it’s likely that Barcelona in the form that they were in, would have defeated Madrid, and trounced them at that, irrespective of any of Mourinho’s tactical scheming.

Messi, in the eyes of most, the best player in the world didn’t score for the first time in ten games, but his influence was palpable. Constantly dropping into midfield and combining with Xavi and Iniesta, the Argentine showed that any suggestions that he wasn’t as complete a player as Cristiano Ronaldo, was far from the truth – if anything Messi is the more absolute package.

The mark of Barcelona’s superiority is particularly evinced by the passing statistics. They completed a whopping 636 passes to Madrid’s 279 on the night with Xavi alone effecting 114 out of his 117 attempted passes – each one of them hit with purpose and precision. For all of Messi’s and Iniesta’s brilliance – the other nominees for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award – it is hard to look beyond Xavi, who has been in almost otherworldly form, as the best player of the year.

At the core of Barcelona’s success is Cruyff’s ideology – pass, pass and pass to death – tweaked to suit modern day requirements. Cruyff during his time as Barcelona’s coach had ingrained in the club an ethos for developing players of a certain ilk, ones to whom the collective constitutes the ultimate. No one typifies this better than Sergio Busquets, the often underrated midfield anchor. Busquets’s ability to read the game and let it flow with simple, yet perceptive passes is a crucial ingredient in Barcelona’s system. He frequently drops into defence as a third centre-back of sorts to allow Dani Alves and Maxwell or Eric Abidal, as the case may be, to bomb simultaneously from full back, creating in effect a 3-3-1-3 shape. The tiki-taka system as Barcelona’s possession style of play has now come to be known is as much a defensive scheme as it is an offensive one – after all, a team must have possession of the ball to score a goal.

But the tactical aspects of their game only tell a part of the story. Eight of their eleven starters on that night – all bar Villa, Abidal and Alves – are graduates of the famed La Masia youth academy, nurtured to uphold Cruyff’s tenets. Cruyff as manager of Barcelona had no doubt had the benefit of an ensemble of star footballers that saw the club win four consecutive La-Liga titles between 1991 and 1994, but the Dutch, himself a product of the famed Ajax Academy was quick to endorse a school of similar virtues at Barcelona, the fruits of which have been splendidly laid bare in recent times.

The present lot are perhaps the cream of the crop, the ultimate oeuvre of Catalonia, a team that rivals the late 1950s Madrid side of Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas, the celebrated ‘total football’ playing Ajax team of the early 1970s, the Manchester United team of the mid to late 1960s that contained the Holy Trinity – Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and George Best – and Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan side of the late 1980s. They are, though, only two points ahead of Madrid, and come the end of the season may not even be crowned Champions, but the victory at Camp Nou on November 29 has left an ineffaceable impression that will reverberate through history – a mark indeed of true greatness.

2 Comments on "2010: It’s Barca’s Year"

  1. ganesh January 3, 2011 at 10:12 pm ·

    being a barca fan, i was overwhelmed with joy when i read the article…ur article adds more beauty to the epic match…..the way by which match has been portrayed was excellent..great work..hats off.

  2. rajendrakop January 4, 2011 at 5:41 am ·

    phenomenal article mate.

    la viva barca

    mes que un club

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