The Heydays of FC Barcelona

Greatness is only excellence waiting to be overshadowed by a success larger than itself. So it appears in the history of football, a sport embellished by several memorable teams, over the decades of its evolution. As the years pass, playing philosophies change and so does the metric by which greatness is judged. Enthusiasts of the bygone era often lash out in unison if one speaks of the modern game in higher esteem than what has been. Unequivocally the ‘Real’ prodigy of Di Stefano and Puskas laying waste to the rest of the European teams in 1940’s is memorable for those who witnessed their spectacle on a daily basis. Others might hail the tactical genius of the Hungary juggernaut that thumped a clueless English side in the 50’s. The nub of my contention here is that one can go on and on about a Pele’s Brazil, Maradona’s Argentina, a 70’s Munich, a 90’s Milan coached by Capello and Sacchi, a Paisley Liverpool or the Busby babes. Taking nothing away from the pride of such fan bases, however historically significant, someone needs to step up and tell them– greatness cannot be taught, hammered or wired into belief. Greatness can only be seen, felt and experienced in a way which leaves our own feelings beyond comprehension.

The world has seen many feats of greatness, but seldom do these feats kindle an inner fire, an overwhelming passion and an unimpeded joy all within of a span of ninety minutes. To say that the Barcelona dream team of 2009-10 was the greatest ever will only provoke the statistical ire of a certain section of ‘Galacticos’, ones who cannot be reasoned with. The opinion here, to their restricted minds shall be an ineffectual read. But my unflinching love for a team that then transcended all forms of beauty on field, can be corroborated by the disbelief (or belief) of millions at Camp Nou, at Bernabeu, at Wembley– you’ve just got to name it!

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have Mozart, Michelangelo and Tarkovsky all in the same room creating a surreal experience for us in artistic terms. In footballing grammar, one team had them all and perhaps, a few more. The immaculate playmaking duo of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta was the linchpin of the fabled ‘Tiki-Taka’ style. Principled on the core beliefs of Johan Cryuff’s ‘Total Football’, Barcelona’s ingenious philosophy was characterized by domination of ball possession, quick movement, short passing lanes, narrow triangles, and buildup play. In the words of Cryuff and the actions of Guardiola, Barcelona showed the world that the defender is the first attacker and the attacker is the first defender. The meteoric rise of Lionel Messi, a player quite unlike any other since the inception of the game, was eagerly followed. The passionate leadership of Carles Puyol and the vigilance of goalkeeper Victor Valdez integrated the team into a cohesive unit. World-class players the likes of Eric Abidal, Thierry Henry, Samuel Etoo and Yaya Toure, coupled by La Masia prospects in Busquets, Bojan, Pedro– touted to be the future, achieved a summit quite unseen.

But just like the ‘potential’ of certain prodigies is doomed to fizzle out by the decree of God’s plan, some geniuses don’t become geniuses unless God’s plan deems it so. Barcelona too had a God off-field, who goes by the name of Joseph Guardiola, fondly known as ‘Pep’. Large sections of Camp Nou loyalists greeted the appointment of Guardiola with obvious skepticism. Though a former player and protégé of Van Gaal, he was not a household name. To put the reins of management into the hands of a man who did not have a single convincing stint with any other first team, was bound to raise eyebrows. It was the prudence and faith of the incumbent Blaugrana President Joan Laporta, that veered the team into the Pep era. The mastermind of Pep’s God-plan (or game-plan?) cemented this inimitable team among the greatest, if not as the greatest.

Albeit excelling in winning silverware Barcelona’s magic lay elsewhere. It was not the score line against eternal rivals Real Madrid which mattered so much as the grace with which they toyed with them. Their football was artistry, it was less but it was more, the more one watched them the more intrigued they felt. The hawk-eye vision, the effortless beauty of possession football and the team’s overarching presence on field was a sight to behold. Barcelona did not always win by huge goal margins, but their suave control and impeccable poise while playing the game meant that supporters were forever on their toes with their eyes transfixed.

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