The ability to play with precision at pace combined with incandescent flair, confidence and supreme technicality is a luxury and gift most footballers do not possess.

The club motto affectionately reads “Mes que un club” more than a club, a term which fundamentally underlies Barcelona’s philosophies on youth development, education & charity work.

After visiting the Nou Camp on Sunday 16th of January and witnessing first-hand the brand of unworldly football Pep Guardiola has bestowed upon the Cataluña giants, it is easy to see why they are the considered one of the best footballing teams to have existed.

Whilst snacking on my Spanish Omelette and non-alchoholic Estrella Damm lager it occurred to me that the combination of undeterred hard graft and willingness to seek back the ball from the opposition. A feat drilled into the team by Pep who enjoys a close relationship with his tightly knit squad is nothing short of miraculous. Especially when you combine this with the retention of the ball, the 700 + passes made a game, whilst also an attacking supremacy which more than often results in an average of 3.40 goals per game…

Funnily enough the game I attended resulted in a 4-1 victory against a poor Malaga side which featured the likes of Julio Baptista, Martin Demichelis & Young Spanish talents Sergio Asenjo & Ignacio Camacho whose only goal came from an exquisite free-kick from left back Duda.

Moreover it was Barcelona’s ability to retain the ball and keep possession in tight spaces which really raised questions about the contrasting styles in play between the Spanish & English leagues. A question so expertly highlighted by Arsenal’s almost depressing demise in the Champions League.

An underlying theme within English football particularly from a young age, is that kids are placed upon an 11-a-side pitch and expected to play. Children are not educated and do not spend enough time with the ball at their feet developing their touch and feel of the ball. An opportunity which is likely to decrease in today’s age of technology with kids increasingly staying indoors.

Guardiola’s seven second rule on regaining the ball is clearly implemented in Barcelona’s ideology; Arsenal could simply not retain possession, a worrying thought considering they are England’s best footballing side and do this week in week out against Premier League opposition.

The contrasting argument to this would be – For all of Barcelona’s possession, chances & wastefulness in front of goal albeit due to the grand performance of Almunia, Arsenal even with 10 men could have potentially won the tie were it not for Bendtner’s woeful first touch.

Even Arsenal’s goal wanted to be headed in by three Barcelona players, perhaps defensive frailties which could be exposed in later rounds, although a quick glance around Europe suggests there are no real contenders for Inter Milan’s 2010 crown other than the ‘Blaugrana’.

Barcelona’s strategy against Arsenal was not dissimilar to their normal approach, however missing two of the finest centre-backs in the world Puyol and Pique they had to employ Sergio Busquets normally a defensive midfielder & Eric Abidal normally a left-back as centre backs, a choice that hardly backfired as Arsenal failed to muster a single shot on target while Barcelona managed 20!

The full-backs Daniel Alves and Maxwell as standard procedure hugged the touchlines, especially Alves who for the majority of the game seemed to be in the opposition’s box. While Mascherano was his dogged self pressing in the defensive midfield position. Arsenal managed to survive for the first 44 minutes as they were not prone to through balls behind the back of the defence as they defended from deep.

Problems arose when the creative midfielders Xavi and Iniesta ran at the defence through the middle as Arsenal’s defenders were largely static due to the emphasis on splitting through balls Barcelona usually adopt with alarming rate, perfectly highlighted in their 5-0 rout of rivals Real Madrid.

Guardiola’s stamp on this team since 2008 where he won the Tercera Division with the Barcelona B team is clearly visible since he took over the first team from Frank Rijkaard where he inherited a largely ill-disciplined squad predominantly in the mould of Ronaldinho, Deco & Eto’o.

The team now which went through a transitional period of getting rid of the dead-wood is now settled and the squad and first 11 has remained mostly the same during Guardiola’s tutelage, a continuing reign which has brought Catalonia 2 La Liga’s, 2 Spanish Supercup’s, 1 Copa Del Rey, 1 Champions League, 1 European Supercup & a Fifa World Club Cup.

Barcelona – A club steeped in rich culture, a club which projects its own morals & values globally & has perhaps the best community based facilities in the world. Barcelona is a family; this is visually portrayed through the player’s intrinsic bond upon the pitch for club & country: Pique, Puyol, Busquets, Pedro, Victor Valdes, Iniesta & Xavi have all been raised the Barcelona way which not only requires immense talent but also an ability to listen & live the correct way and a strong emphasis upon the team rather than individual.

A leaf could be taken from Barcelona’s book in attempts for English football clubs to start investing in youth not only to nurture talent but also educate children and start building bonds between club & community.

As Sir Bobby Robson once said: “You have to understand that Barcelona is a nation without a state, and Barça is its army.”


Leave a Comment