Anti Joga Bonito (Love All Football)

Celebrating club football and shining the light on incompetent and biased journos indulging in stereotyping and negativity.

Tag Archives: Lionel Messi

The Finger

The most fanatical club supporters of some of their main rivals aside, Barça is today universally held to be the best club team in the world.  The sextuple title season in 2009 was the standout but perhaps more remarkably the consistency of results since then (if viewed from a short term perspective) and, from a long-term perspective, the achievements over the last 8 years (2 Champions League titles, 4 Ligas, 1 Cup and 4 Super Cups) all significantly exceed previous records from an all-European perspective.

There are several reasons for that, including the oft-discussed technical and physical quality of Barça’s players, but most important of all is the stability. Unlike Real Madrid, which has been plagued by endemic instability at all levels (president & senior management, technical staff, coach and players), Barça has consolidated a robust framework that has provided the platform for the current success, consisting in my view of three main factors:

1.    Talent development: the youth training academy, where the current generation of players like Iniesta, Valdés and Messi were able to flourish and develop their individual skills as well as collective bond, is perhaps amongst the world’s best. But let’s not also forget astute recruitment: Messi himself was somewhat luckily (by his own admission) snapped up the early age of 13 by Carles Rexach; Villa’s recruitment from Valencia this year helped to cancel out the Ibrahimovic exception to the rule, while other past acquisitions of proven players such as Dani Alves, Seydou Keita and Adriano (all from Sevilla incidentally), have added depth and class to the squad.

2.    Management stability: only two coaches in the last 8 years, first Frank Rijkaard (from 2003-2008) and since then Pep Guardiola, against the backdrop of a stable presidency of Joan Laporta, certainly help to steer the ship in one direction. Not as stable as some, but by Madrid’s standards, that is nothing short of extraterrestrial stability.

3.    Guiding principles: Perhaps most importantly, Barça’s strong club culture, built upon its specific Catalan identity), has its expression of a certain vision of play and general philosophy, perhaps best embodied by that Khadafi-like non-elect demi-deity that is Johan Cruyff. Apparently it was he who suggested to Laporta to appoint Guardiola instead of a big-name coach. By virtue of his personal player credentials as well as managerial successes with the club (11 titles: 1 European Cup, 1 Cup Winners Cup, 4 Leagues, 1 Spanish Cup, 1 European Super Cup and 3 Spanish Super Cups) Cruyff bestows upon Barça that air of timeless aristocratic confidence and entitlement to greatness that many other clubs wish they had – and he makes sure that others don’t forget it.

Ronaldo & co. celebrate the decider against Barça

For all of the above reasons, it is a significant achievement and an especially delightful one (for myself and many others) that José Mourinho has already been able to deny this Barça team an important title, whose symbolic value has been rendered even greater by the continuing rivalry that exists between the Portuguese coach and the Catalan outfit. And it is indeed delightful due to the mistiming of Barça’s most titled coach deriding the current Real Madrid coach for being “merely” a “coach of titles and not a coach of football (following the 1-1 tie in the Bernabeu last Saturday on April 16). As many times in the past, the result (“the finger” was sufficient to defeat Barça, no “manita” needed) and José’s perfectly simple retort (watch video) will have El Flaco wishing he had kept his big mouth shut.

Another legend that probably now wishes he had done the same is none other than Madrid’s own Alfredo di Stefano, who was openly critical of Mourinho’s game plan in the Liga game at the Bernabeu preceeding the cup final. As Phil Ball from ESPN points out quite well, what di Stefano, Barça and pretty much everyone failed to see is that the formation and strategy deployed by Madrid in the 1-1 draw in the Bernabeu was a deliberate choice by Mourinho. Its success in containing the blaugranas gave him enough supporting evidence to extend it into a more attack-minded version the second time around in the cup. Barcelona failed to cope with either version. No surprise that not much has been heard from the 85-year old since then, and that only muted embarrassed approval was forthcoming from Valdano, another nemesis lurking in the backstage and scheming against the Portuguese but whose time at the club is probably soon coming to an end.

But ref, we are Barça and Real: surely we're entitled to at least one penalty each?

The shallowness of these two outbursts, the embarrassing tirade by di Stefano and Cruyff’s half-hearted snipe, is reinforced by a fact that any football specialist should be able to recognize, and that is that skilled football is not defined by any particular set of skills, but a balance of many. As the first incarnation of the galacticos at the turn of the century quickly learnt through defeat, Barcelona is only as successful as it is because it has an excellent defense (best of the main European championships this season <1>: only 17 goals taken in) and surreal-like pressing and ball recovery capabilities, which are key to allowing it to enjoy as much ball possession. At the other end of the spectrum, Real Madrid beat Valencia 6-3, away at the Mestalla, by playing some rather attractive football punctuated by numerous and spectacular goals, including this beauty by Kaka. The simplistic juxtaposition of “an all-attacking Barça” versus “a defensively pragmatic Real Madrid” is clearly only appealing to those who choose to disregard the facts.

Irrespective of what happens on Wednesday in the Champions League and thereafter, hopefully Madrid fans and management have now really understood (although it is not necessarily this writer’s wish), that which their own bizarre mindset and identity prevent them from grasping fully, which is that José can and will deliver more, but that he needs more time in order to reinforce the structure and mentality of his team in order to restore a modicum of stability comparable to that enjoyed by Barcelona. As was the case at Inter, with a little more influence on the composition of the squad and by building on the achievements accomplished this year, it is probably next season that could prove to be a decisive turning point in the club’s fortunes.

<1> Interestingly, Borussia Dortmund are a close second with only 19 goals in the Bundesliga so far, followed by Milan AC in 3rd place with 23.

Grande Remontada de Sevilla

In a classic case of media-applied Murphy’s Law, ever since I visited Sevilla in October 2010 and wrote a report on the team proclaiming it to be the only outfit that could challenge Madrid and Barcelona for the title (which I plan to re-post here shortly), the Sevillistas have struggled to reproduce the kind of form that made them two consecutive UEFA Europea League Cup winners and Barcelona’s executioners in Monaco for the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 2006. This season they are performing even less consistently than last year despite the recruitment of experienced coach formerly with Mallorca, Gregorio Manzano.

Iniesta tries to initimidate Medel

Medel is not impressed with Iniesta's CV

But tonight all that has been forgotten and at least momentarily put to right with an outstanding performance against Barça at home in the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán. Of course, it wasn’t without the customary dose of extreme suffering that all teams who face the modern football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters must bear, which was mostly felt in the 1st half in the form of suffocating pressure by Barça and almost total lack of ball possession by Sevilla. Fortune was involved for sure as the night could certainly have ended in a humiliating defeat too, as both Iniesta and Messi once hit the crossbar each, and another timely clearance by feisty Chilean midfielder Gary Medel prevented Barça taking the lead.

KanouteControl

Another superb control by Kanoute

But putting it only to luck would be completely incorrect as Sevilla did stand up to the bookies’ favorite and put on a formidable fight back in the 2nd half, powered forward by none other than veteran Frederic Kanouté who came on for an uninspired Zokora. The former Spurs man (standard Brit journos’ EPL-centered reference) was clearly feeling very confident as his deft single touches frequently made the difference and outclassed the now predictable one-twos by the blaugranas. Most importantly, he provided much needed maturity, intelligence and skill that was lacking in the first half and especially in midfield, by his ability to win, hold and distribute the ball. Combining deftly on the left with another 2nd half substitute, the Argentian Perotti, Kanouté and his teammates created numerous chances in the 2nd half following the quick equalizer by Jésus Navas on the 48th minute, and will surely rue the missed opportunities to put the game away, notably a Jésus Navas shot that had seen the Barça defense in tatters.

Guardiola will know that his team got away relatively lucky. Sure, they showed their usual brilliance and notably that midfield magic pair of Xavi and Iniesta shined in both delivering caviar crosses begging to be put away by strikers. But the powerful resistance mounted by the home team shook them in their confidence and thus they experienced a significantly long wobbly patch between the start of the 2nd half and 80 minutes that led their coach to take El Guaje for midfielder Seydou Keita, a sure sign of acquiescence to a draw.

A much needed inspiration for an otherwise sad week that has seen the departure of Sevilla’s providential striker Luis Fabiano back to his homeland. We will miss you but you shall not be forgotten, Faboloso.