Updated: May 10
There’s going to be plenty written about the Barcelona team that has just won the Champions League, but I just want to add my tuppenyworth. Because the current team’s combination of beauty and class and competitiveness and intelligence is pretty much the perfect combination and anyone who appreciates football is going to feel the need to comment.
I’ve always considered Barca my second team, partly because of the side’s symbolic importance as a political and cultural institution and partly because of the thread that runs back from Guardiola and the current team , through Cruyff and the Dutch renaissance, that is so vivid an exposition of football’s best qualities for fans of my generation. And I simply fail to see how anyone that really knows their football can begrudge this current side its place in the sum.
I’m sure that there’s a backlash brewing. As is often the case in football, there’s a lot of mythology that contributes to the Barca image. Much of it is well-placed, and if you don’t understand why you should read Jimmy Burns’s excellent Barca: A People’s Passion. But Barca are now a modern, multinational brand. The politics of the past are in the past and this is no team of anti-establishmentarians pushing football socialism. And Barca’s history has not been exclusively glorious, as the Spurs players who faced the cloggers of the early 1980s will tell you. But recognising this is what makes the current side so attractive.
Pep Guardiola’s team play football as it should be played. They use space perfectly, they are technically accomplished; they pass the ball so that it shares the workload with the players; they are patient, considered, intelligent and ambitious artists. And they conduct themselves with class. Putting Eric Abidal up to lift the trophy tonight epitomised that classiness.
What’s also worth noting is that, in this era of multinational brand teams lining up with expensively imported players form around the world, the core of Barca are home-grown players who know what the club means. Despite the wealth and power Barcelona wield, their current success surely represents an underlining of what is best about football.
One possibly discordant observation though. While it is of course right that the current Barcelona side are lauded and appreciated, the view that they are “simply unbeatable” cannot go unchallenged. One of the great attractions of sport is that it throws up new challenges, and the focus now must be on how to beat Barca – preferably without resorting to Mourinho-style anti-football tactics. That’s the attraction – how to beat the best and therefore become the best. Of course, I would love my Spurs to be the team that does it – but good as the current Lilywhites are we have some way to go. Learning the lessons from Barca about building a club ethos and conducting yourself with class would be a good place to start.