This is the second part of a series exploring the evolution of FC Barcelona as one of the greatest teams in football. Find a link to the first part here: The Heydays of FC Barcelona
What was absolutely remarkable was how a team like Barcelona filled with pivots mostly from the homegrown La Masia, could upset the physically demanding and brusque designs of English clubs. In spite of having several players in the starting eleven below 5 feet 8 inches, they never let their physical diminution get in the way of this footballing apotheosis. Barcelona became the only squad in the history of Football to ever win a Sextuple i.e., six out of six possible trophies in a single season. They outshined the grit of Guus Hiddink’s Chelsea side who were unlucky enough to face the best ever team in the history of the competition. Chelsea had to surrender to Iniesta’s decisive finish (despite struggling to put up a commendable show) of which they were to avenge themselves in 2012, when they would meet Barcelona again. With brilliance, they decimated Alex Ferguson’s much adored Manchester United. Such was the strength of their big-game mentality that they refused to let the Red Devils get a decent whiff of the ball in the Champion’s League Final.
FC Barcelona’s dream run was no one season wonder; on that analysts, managers, journalists and former players have concurred. Cutting across the varying difficulty levels of each competition and gratuitous dressing room issues, 2010 was a transitional season for the club. Joan Laporta had to step down from Presidency. A controversial figure, Sandro Rosell took over. Barcelona had to cede their Champion title to Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan, despite being rooted to domestic dominance. This can be evinced by the fact that the FIFA Ballon ‘D’ Or (a prize for the best Men’s Player in the world) had shortlisted only Barcelona players Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez for the top three. Lionel Messi went on to win the title. It was only a stepping stone to his even better years.
On the international platform of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa (2010), the brilliance of Barca players was once again exuded; in Spain’s seamless cruise to victory. Needless to say, a majority of those representing the Spanish team were men who were used to wearing the Catalan crest in club football. If not for Carles Puyol’s sublime finish against Germany in the semi-final and Andres Iniesta’s fine winner against Netherlands in the final, the much sought after Spanish glory would still be a distant dream.
2011 was the year when observers declared FC Barcelona to be playing the most exquisite brand of football yet. The team dynamic had changed as Sergio Busquets, under the tutelage of Guardiola, had become an indispensable part of the 4-3-3 midfield. He had displaced the work-horse Yaya Toure who set out looking for greener pastures after simmering tensions between Pep and himself. Slowly, the off-field highlights were making a foray into the field. Florentino Perez, the President of Real Madrid CF, clearly frustrated by the fact that his significant investment was cutting no ice in terms of achievements, appointed Jose Mourinho as manager. Mourinho, who had been an interpreter under Van Gaal in 1999, had previously been vocal in his dislike for Barca. It is here that the rivalry turned into bitter enmity, violent aggression and hate.
Throughout the El Classico, players of both teams were caught abusing verbally and fighting physically in the tense atmosphere. Into the match, Sergio Ramos brought Messi down with a dangerous tackle and this set off a fierce face-off in retaliation. Sergio Ramos even laid his hands on his national team captain Carles Puyol and team veteran Xavi in abject disrespect. It was an inclement atmosphere, charged with flames of passion. Mourinho seemed to only be encouraging his player’s misdemeanour from the touchline. Mourinho understood that no one could match up to Pep in terms of the style and manoeuvred to ‘park the bus’. Furthermore, he went all ballistic at press conferences. Visibly instigated and agitated, Pep’s loss of concentration was seen when Barcelona despite being the more decisive team of the season, lost the title to Real Madrid. Nevertheless, they still achieved monumental success by replicating the Champions League triumph against Manchester United.
As ESPN puts it, the game of Football is like Rock ‘n’ Roll– if it’s not sensational, audacious, cocky and leaving you breathless, you aren’t doing it right. There will always be people who love Pop, Jazz or Country and for their genuine reasons shall not hold Rock ‘n’ Roll in their halls of fame. So it is with football, and it is this unforgettable tune, this poetry, this class at FC Barcelona, that takes away my night’s sleep and at the same time, restores me to what I call a sound dream.
Picture Courtesy- www.goal.com