Paying Homage to Catalonia

Posted on January 27, 2012 by

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The fawning Phil Dodds is full of praise for FC Barcelona.

They’re always positive, idealistic, yet ruthless and never naive. They’re incredibly effective, but the opposite of “functional.” Their play is never aimless, but their passing is an end in itself. They’re champions, high achievers, perennial winners. While the 5-0 victory in last season’s Clasico represents the zenith-point of modern football, they still routinely defeat the superstars at Real Madrid.

They play with immense passion and joy, but are always calm, patient, and intelligent in their use of the ball. Theirs is a glorious brand of distinctive attacking football, which treats the ball with respect and puts the collective wisdom and skill of the team to its very best use. Recall Sid Lowe’s magisterial words back in December:

“People say: ah, but how many of [Barcelona’s] passes are relevant? The answer is: all of them. The pass is Barcelona’s identity; it is through possession that they feel comfortable and it is through possession that they do everything – from creating chances to preventing them, from speeding up the game to slowing it down. Even time wasting, even resting, happens with the ball. Possession is aesthetic but also anaesthetic.”

There are some for whom such a vividly positive depiction rankles, for whom the pro-Barcelona media consensus cannot end soon enough. They scoff at the perceived “copycats” who try to play like Barcelona as if they are some universal standard (although, of such teams, I can only really think of Swansea City, who have been an enjoyable and effective force, punching above their weight, in the Premier League this season). They lament the narrative of Barcelona’s pure good versus Real Madrid’s cynical evil; and while of course there is nothing inherently morally valuable about football teams, it is amazing how believable such a dichotomy can appear when you attempt to understand these two opposites. Moreover, on a basic level, it is testament to Barcelona’s immense, sensational quality that the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain have generally featured in the defensive, conservative side in recent Clasicos.

The criticism of their “holier than thou” attitude doesn’t stick, because their nasty side is there for all to see (see, for example, Sergio Busquets). Despite some seemingly pompous rhetoric from the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Pep Guardiola, the narrative which depicts the cherubic Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi et al as untouchable bastions of sainthood is primarily media-driven.

As such, the anti-Barca backlash just seems sad. Again, the wording will infuriate the aforementioned cynics, but it is lamentable that this team, which is rivalled historically by only one or two others, cannot be fully appreciated and enjoyed while they remain at their height. Their football is transfixing, something which I occasionally even crave. Lionel Messi is one of few players for whom Ray Hudson’s commentary doesn’t seem overenthusiastic. I firmly believe that we will look back at this Barcelona team in years to come as one of the greats (see Jonathan Wilson’s imaginative “Legends” tournament, where Barcelona are beaten in the final only by their great idols, the Ajax team of 1972). While they might not be “more than a club,” they are certainly an exceptional one. For now, I cannot praise them highly enough.

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Posted in: Football