A Season of Observations: Barcelona and then the rest

By | June 19, 2011

“A Season of Observations” will include a series of articles that will review the biggest events of the past season, and offer analysis of the upcoming season.

The urge to coronate something or someone as the best is virtually inescapable. Arguing that one thing is better than another is habitual, and one will readily offer a multiplicity of “facts” in order to support one’s claims.

In the world of soccer, the “who’s better” argument has mostly centered on Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and which of the two reigns supreme. Recently, however, the discussion has shifted to Barcelona, with the overall consensus being that the Catalan giant is the best team of all time. Yet, while the facts in this case are pretty sound, skeptics remain, bringing up the great Real Madrid and Santos squads of the 60’s and 70’s, respectively.

Still, no matter what one’s view of the team’s place in history is, Barcelona is currently the best team in the world; and perhaps sadly, there isn’t a single team that comes close. The Champions League final was probably the best indication of the gulf that exists between Barça and the rest of the so-called European giants, when Xavi, Messi, & Co. dismantled Manchester United in embarrassing fashion.

What makes Barcelona’s accomplishments so impressive is the fact that the club relies on a philosophy has not only persisted throughout less triumphant days, but is implemented throughout the club, starting with the cantera. This philosophy was delineated by Xavi Hernandez when he revealed to The Guardian how much emphasis Barcelona’s coaches put on playing an attractive soccer that subsists on quick passing and moving, and where seemingly every player can fill any given role.

The systematic employment of Barcelona’s philosophy, and its subsequent success poses one of soccer’s most dumbfounding questions: why aren’t other clubs following Barcelona’s model? It couldn’t possibly be more obvious that cultivating academy players is the basis for future success, especially in the current culture of over-spending, and “what have you done for me lately?” quotas.

Of course, one can argue that some clubs have adopted comparable models, but have failed to replicate Barça’s success. Arsenal (dubbed Barcelona light) for example, has established a similar method, yet, have remained trophy-less for over six years. The marked difference between the two clubs, however, is that for the most part, Barcelona inculcates its philosophy on local youth who have an emotional attachment to the club. Arsenal of the other hand, poaches teenagers who’ve developed at other clubs, and as a result, have no real vested interest in the club other than its ability to catapult them into the limelight. This is clearly the case with Cesc Fabregas, who has long desired to be reunited, not only with the club of his youth, but the players with whom he grew up.

Judging by the talent that is slowly defusing into Barcelona’s squad, it is reasonable to say that the club’s dominance will continue for the foreseeable future, and that it is unlikely that another club will dethrone it unless a similar philosophy is adopted. Unfortunately, if the recent weeks of transfer speculation suggest anything, it is that Barcelona’s potential usurpers are only interested in the now, and will attempt to buy themselves the top spot.