Monday, 30 April 2012


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I always look forward to the media haranguing the following morning of a football match. Regardless of what occurred, the losing manager more often than not gets hung out to dry and it can't be comfortable reading. Barcelona, the team on everyone's lips at the moment were the team of choice for the past couple of days and the snippets that I have perused over are just ridiculous. To quote Alan Shearer on Al Jazeera after the game: "Barcelona don't have a plan B. Why don't they lump it up into the centre with 10 minutes to go. This intricate passing is all well and good but when you need to win games you need to be direct". Glenn Hoddle on Sky Sports: "They need overlapping players, where's the runs and the diagonal balls over the top?" Jamie 'I know nothing' Redknapp: "Messi was poor"I'm not about to get into a Lionel Messi love-in, as 63 goals in a season speaks for itself, however I am flabbergasted at how such people are employed to judge footballers and create a furore among common-folk just who just repeat the same old dross that they heard post-match. 

Three games stick in my mind which contained so called anti-football against Barcelona. It started in 2008 with Manchester United, 2010 with Inter and 2012 with Chelsea. I may be a Manchester United fan, however I am still a football purist and I've never enjoyed the manner in which it can be defeated by doing the opposite of playing football. Much like 99% of the population despise Stoke's style of play and will freely admit it, many around the country will be praising the 'spirit' of the Chelsea 'performance'. Now I do understand that football is about winning but it is the way in which victories, whether one-legged or two legged, occur to stifle not just a footballing style but an entire philosophy.

When Manchester United drew 0-0 at the Camp Nou in 2008, although I was happy that it didn't end in a defeat, I was still cornered by friends about the way in which it happened. It was that ever present cliché of 'parking the bus'. Other than the early missed penalty, there were only 3 shots from United. Barcelona had 73% possession over 90 minutes which evokes an air of relinquishing possession. I mean these are the best teams in Europe not coming out to play the game and that's disappointing. I wouldn't want to say that they should come out like Mourinho did in his first Clasico and lose 5-0, but you need to perform to some degree when it comes to football. The tactic most certainly should not be to wait and wait and foul and time-waste and then smash and grab. It's horrible viewing for the neutral and for people like me. In 2010 when Inter were drawn against Barcelona, they came from behind in the first leg at home to beat Barcelona 3-1. Their tactics weren't the best but hit Barcelona on the counter and Inter came away with a respectable victory. It was, however, the return leg that is completely mystifying. Let's just start by saying Inter did not have one shot. Not one. Yes Busquets acted like a complete pansy, however disgusting that is to see, it should not be the memorable moment of the game. 'Parking the bus' became a verb after this match and it was 'To Mourinho'. Piqué scoring in the 84th minute was a mere consolation as Barcelona struggled to get through a 4-5-0 formation that didn't come further than the edge of the centre-circle. It was of no surprise to note that Inter amassed 5 yellows and 1 red card.

The Chelsea match is still clear in the minds of many and I'll just start with the stats. This was by far the worst in terms of possession for an opposing team out of the three that I've mentioned. Barcelona had 82% of the ball. Eighty-two. That's ridiculous and a team that can go to the Champions League Final having 18% of the ball are not a team I have much time for. (Seems that Guardiola feels the same because as I write this he has confirmed he is leaving the club at the end of the season). 6 yellow cards and 1 red seems about right with the laughable John 'I'm not that type of player' Terry, brazen with his lies only to come out with his tail between his legs. I'll briefly mention the histrionics of one Didier Drogba in the first leg as well as the constant fouls not picked up by the inexperienced referee in the second. There was also the deliberate hand ball by Drogba that was neither seen by the referee or the television studios for some reason. It was things like this, coupled with the quality of the football that angered me that evening. You simply cannot ask for a plan B when you're from the continent and know you can't beat Chelsea at corners. It's beggars belief to assume that Messi couldn't dribble past 6 players and score. However, this is Chelsea remember and as much as I don't have time for the club in general they're still a decent side. It's not Getafé when it's possible to dribble from the half way line and score, it's a 4-6-0/5-5-0 formation which is nigh-on impossible to penetrate. It wasn't a case of Chelsea relinquishing possession, they just weren't good enough with it. They showed glimpses though and when you have 7 shots on goal, 3 on target but score 2 shows that there is ability there; just not an inkling to use it and that is a shame.

In Manchester United's 2009 final it was a rematch of the 2008 semi-final with a completely different outcome. An angry Barcelona came to the final displaying a ruthless style of football championed by their old number 4; Pep Guardiola. From what happened the previous year, I had a sense that this one would be tough. Having Fletcher or not would not have made a difference, as much as United fans would protest. Sometimes you have to take a step back and watch in awe. At times that is what I did, knowing that it was happening against the team I support was painful at first but that subsided as the match went on. Reason being is that Manchester United went there to play. They had 49% possession and this is against a team that can keep the ball for fun. No one tried to Mourinho anyone as this is how the game should be played. Each team having shots in double figures, not too many fouls/yellow cards. This was an enjoyable game for the neutral too. I would rather lose and play well than play in an uber-catenaccio style and win like Capello's Milan in '94.

Arsenal last season at The Emirates surprised everyone, even me, by beating Barcelona. You know what? I was supporting the Blaugrana that evening but had to applaud what Arsenal did. They actually went for it. The defensively weak Arsenal, including Arshavin, went out to play football against the team that are better than most at it. It worked and there are a few that say they were the better team that day. The fact that both teams played actual football that evening negates all of that. Let's be clear though, Barcelona had the better of the chances that game and most of the ball as usual however it's irrelevant as you know that's what is going to come. This was one of two occasions I've been proud of an 'English' team against Barcelona. The other occasion being last years final where United were humbled 3-1. This was the only time in my life I was prepared to lose knowing what had happened for the last three years. It sounds strange and I've been pilloried about it by 'hardcore' fans but it was my two favourite teams playing and I honestly didn't mind who won. I would have been happier if United lifted the trophy but I wasn't as upset as I was in 2009. No where near as upset in fact.

I won't go into details but Bilbao have played and been successful against Barcelona, Real in the Clasico's as well. Even in the Copa Del Rey they were unlucky. They played football but it wasn't suicidal. There are other ways to play against Barcelona than to sit and wait and make the game as annoying as someone refusing to blow their nose and rather sniff every 0.4 minutes. 

Something I learnt in 2008 from playing Pro Evolution Soccer was that you need to play the game not the system. It was back then that a friend of mine would rarely lose by playing the system, a flaw in the game which as much as it isn't, it was a version of cheating. Yet nothing can be done as it's entirely in the rules. You use what's available to you and Chelsea, Inter and Manchester United did. It doesn't feel right and it's all forgotten once a trophy is lifted. Maybe that's why Guardiola is leaving Barcelona at the end of the season. Maybe it's his opinion that he is at the end of a cycle; the most successful cycle Barcelona have had with 13 trophies won in 4 years. Either way, his legacy will be told to generations of children. I for one will be telling my son and he will definitely be telling his son. Sometimes Wikipedia just isn't enough.

1 comment:

  1. Good read.

    I'm not very comfortable with the notion of their being a 'right' way to play. I hear it a lot, especially about Barca, and I'm always perplexed by how people arrived at it.

    The thing I like about football is the way it can be interpreted in different ways, and there are many ways a team can arrive at a result. It would be horrible & boring if all teams played like Barca. I goalline clearances as much as a through ball, paul mcgrath v italy 1994 as much as argentina v romania 1994 , a near impossible save as much as a 30-yard volley.

    That Milan side in 1994 weren't catenaccio for me, there was something amazing about their power and control of that system, and they had lots of magic too. And Stoke have their place in the Premier League too, I really believe it would be a poorer place without them.

    If Chelsea had gone full out at Barca they would have been destroyed over two legs. They couldn't play a Bilbao style pressing game over two legs. They no longer have the power of a Madrid either. They took a chance and played a way that gave them the most chance at progressing. It wasn't beautiful, but it was spirited. They worked hard, ultimately they were lucky, but I don't think I would have found it too entertaining if they were destroyed. They played for the result.