Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The look of love: A case for F.C Barcelona

They say love is fleeting and this may well be true but do you remember that feeling? That certain sense of excitement and fear? Like the beautiful painting you can't help but stare at for hours on end. The beauty I'm about describe is not of paint on canvass, but of sweat and skill on pitches lush and green. Of course I'm sugaring my word for dramatic effect, however football does provide its own form of art in motion. In the past we could point to the flowing creative Brazilian or Dutch sides of the 1970's as proof. Even for those old enough they could describe the Real Madrid sides of the 50's and 60's who dominated with pace and power.  In the new century F.C Barcelona presents itself as the first side to truly reach the level of legendary sides.
To start off, I'm not a Barcelona supporter per say. I certainly was not at the Brazen Head in downtown Toronto at the end of May, jumping for joy after their 3-1 masterpiece against Manchester United in the Champions League final. However what I was doing, in between sobs, was marveling on how this team worked and moved as a unit. Of course this team is comprised of many individual talents (Messi, Iniseta, Villa, Xavi, Pique, Pedro, Puyol etc..etc..) however what sets this team apart from their European rivals is how they play as a team of 11 on the pitch. At times during that game, and many though out the past 3 years in particular. The footballing world has been witness to an art form come of age.

By no means is the system they play or the tactics they use new, this "total football" system first brought to the forefront by the Dutch in the 1970's was the most technically gifted and far too advanced method of play for its time. The one thing the Dutch could not do, that Barcelona have been able to figure out. Is how to defeat the physical brand of football that is still widely used. This can be demonstrated by not just the Champions League final this year, but also by 4 out of their 5 encounters with Real Madrid last season. Madrid especially in the last 3 games displayed what can only be described as bully ball tactics against Barca. Yet no matter how hard they fouled, they like so many other just could not hold out against the dominate passing, movement and possession game of Pep Guradiola's side. Like the Dutch system preaches, everyone on the pitch can play anyone else's position and fit in seamlessly. If a left wing back moves forward on the attack, a holding midfielder can step into the void he left and execute the defensive responsibilities as if he'd played the position his whole life.

With all this said, and the throphy haul to show (4 straight Spanish titles, 3 Cpoa Del Rey's, 3 Champions Leagues, 3 World Championships...all in the past 5 years). The single largest reason as to why this generation of Barcelona maybe the best of the past 50 years if not all time, is the imprint it has left on the Spanish national side. Since Spain's thimuph in the 2008 European championships, each successive team from the senior team down to U-15's have had at least 5 Barcelona players on the squad. The 2010 World Championship side had 8. They way Spanish football organises its training facilities, runs its youth programs and advances its coaches are all based on the Barca way. What other club, aside from the club Barca modeled itself after (Ajax in Holland) has this kind of hold on it national side? What other club is producing this many players as first choice selections for national sides?

The art of football is for the most part suttle. A dash of individual colour here or there and you can have something this is passable, something that can be sold at the local Wal-Mart. Then you have true art, at times alluring a vivid, and at time obtuse and strange, but you are drawn to the power of it none the less. This is what F.C Barcelona are right now, a Tate musuem masterpiece.


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