12 Questions for Graham Hunter about Barça, aka “You need his book, and this Q&A”

Yes, this is The Book. “Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World” by Graham Hunter is out, published by Back Page Press. If you don’t already have your copy, you’re a terrible slacker and may flying monkeys plague your existence. Now if you want to keep the flying monkeys away, you can order your very own copy direct from Back Page Press, or your very own Amazon. And that’s .com, rather than any stray warrior maidens, who might or might not be able to acquire a copy for you, and ….

Crap. Never mind.

When we saw that the book was coming out, we got to thinking about what we would want to ask Hunter who, for those of you who are just emerging, bleary-eyed from under rocks and stuff, is a Scot journalist who covers the Beautiful Game and in particular, La Liga. His work is characterized by (okay, permit a little journalist-on-journalist pride here) wit, style and a fairness that, even despite him having written a book on the club, still never makes people accuse him of being a closet Cule. That’s saying something.

Anyhow, your mods put their brains together, of course minus my contribution, and we came up with a dozen questions to ask Hunter. Yes, there have been other Q-and-As with Hunter. Many of them, in fact. But this one is the best. Not because we’re beating our BFB chests, though that’s part of it. But Hunter provides some extraordinary insight into a club, debunks some myths and clears up many a misconception on the parts of your mods, fans and Cules everywhere. Because Hunter had a lot to say, we’ll offer the answer in two posts, today and tomorrow. So with no more mucking about ….

In terms of organizational models Barca is now almost synonymous with youth development and promotion, even though it’s a myth that this has been the focus of the club for a long time. The period after Cruijff left as manager was marked by a different model, that has only recently moved back toward internal development. What were the key drivers to moving the club back towards the internal youth development model? What lessons have been learned and have those lessons been assimilated into the operations and culture of the club? Is there a risk that the club again will again abandon this model and return to short-term thinking, and are there any safeguards to prevent this from happening?

Well, I don’t entirely agree with your premise. Especially when you say ‘the club’ What changed after Cruyff was sacked in 1996 was that the first team was coached by another former Ajax legend, Louis Van Gaal. He was responsible for the debuts of Xavi, Puyol, Iniesta and Valdés. What IS true is that both during his time in charge and when the club was managed by Serra Ferrer, Charly Rexach and Raddy Antic, the board consistently invested huge sums and huge wages in first team players who were, only rarely, worth that investment.

So the look of the first team changed and the policy at board level also changed. But what it is important to acknowledge is that the beauty of the Cantera/Futbol Base at Barcelona is that it hardly missed a beat between 1996 and now. The ethos never varied, the selection policy never varied, the training methods hardly varied and while there were occasional variations of formation the fact was that the youth system had all the consistency, intelligence, philosophy and success which the first team began to lack.

Two key factors drove the club back towards USING the youth talent better. One was the arrival of a young, Catalan, fresh-minded board between 2003 and 2010 which appointed Txiki Begiristain as director of football and which fought very hard indeed when Frank Rijkaard and Henk Ten Cate were minded to loan out players like Messi and Iniesta to gain more experience elsewhere. The board and Begiristain believed in promoting quality from the cantera and it became patently obvious that the latest candidates — Messi and Iniesta — possessed more than enough quality.

Factor two, obviously, was the arrival of Guardiola who a) absolutely believed in the concept of cantera and teaching players in-house so that they were perfect for the Barça style and b) who had just come from a year of getting to know kids like Busquets, Pedro, Jeffren and so on.

As to risk, well that always exists and it would be naive to deny it. The current President was, once, a believer in the team needing to be bigger and stronger. You would hope that he has enjoyed the intervening years sufficiently to change his perspective. However I must note that it was Sandro Rosell who backed Pep Guardiola’s initiative to make all the coaches in the youth system full time — a major financial investment.

What’s your view of the Qatar Foundation sponsorship in terms of its benefit or damage for the overall organization as well as its effect, if any, on what the club has traditionally stood for? Or does nobody care except militant socis?

OK. The first thing to say is that the Socis mass approved shirt sponsorship during the 2003 elections which brought Laporta to power, and then were offered the chance to re-approve or reject it during the first AGM held under the Laporta reign. As such the club and its Socis were ‘spoiled’ in that the first shirt ‘sponsor’ was a stroke of genius — Unicef being the brainchild of Ferran Soriano and Evarist Murtra. At first people didn’t understand it but the message of Barça paying money to benefit Unicef in order to earn having that logo on the shirt became ‘of the moment’. It was new, fresh, interesting and laudable.

There are some things about Qatar society which (having learned them since the ludicrous award of the 2022 world cup) I would want to distance myself were I in charge at Barça. And I was critical of FCB allowing themselves to be associated with a Foundation which helped fund a cleric whose teachings were abhorrent to right thinkers. That said, few sponsorships are perfect and FCB most certainly needed the income,

From your perspective, what role does Catalan identity politics play in the club’s philosophy, formation and/or outreach in the twenty-first century? How has it changed, if at all, from previous eras? Given Barcelona’s popularity throughout the world, how does Barcelona as a Catalan club relate to Barcelona as a global brand?

Well during the research for the book a former Vice President, Ferran Soriano, who I like and respect very much, told me that this whole idea of Catalan identity was something they thought long and hard about during the search for a sponsor. There is a very widespread philosophical importance placed on Barcelona as a Catalan club, as a Catalan icon and all the cultural packaging which goes with that. But Soriano admitted to me that during the Unicef discussions the club was well aware that Mes Que Un Club might be a declaration which is understood in Spain and in some of the other countries the FCB brand wanted to impact on but generally, in Thailand, US, Japan, India, China etc it was no more than a slogan which would mean little or nothing.

That was part of the idea of hitching their wagon to Unicef in that it is a world organisation and would communicate FCB values much more clearly. I’d like to believe that this club now has a more modern and open view of its Catalan identity in that sequentially since 2003, the Presidents and Vice Presidents have been Catalan and proud of that, but with world experience and a world outlook.

On the playing side there is no doubt in my mind that there has been an added value to the fact that so many of the first team are Catalan or feel that Catalunya is their home and that they understand the role the club plays in that society (Messi, Iniesta) — it has added unity and strength of purpose/spirit.

Many sports journalists describe “cycles” in a club. This season, for instance, many Spanish football fans view Real Madrid under José Mourinho as “coming into their own”, while Barcelona’s trajectory remains fluid. What happened this season, do you believe that the club will be able to sustain its record of excellence and if so, for how long?

FCB this season are a complex mix of slight relaxation, regular injuries, wafer-thin margins between winning and drawing and the head-on collision with a remorseless and very effective RM side in La Liga. From the outset I felt that the pre-season was much sloppier than previous summers, that the hangover from Wembley lasted too long and that this was the first season since the Guardiola era started when everyone got a big break — there was a collective sigh and a collective relaxation I think. Minor, very minor, but sufficient to drop the level slightly. I still firmly believe that had we not all been knocked over by the performances and stats of the last three FCB seasons then this term would be regarded as something close to vintage. Three trophies, several outstanding performances, three Clasico victories new players introduced into the squad via the market and the cantera — there has been huge achievement.

Guardiola can be taken at face value when he praises RM. They have a clearly evolved playing style, they are fitter, faster, more consistent, they are scoring more than last season, Mourinho has managed his squad and their motivation quite well and, the key, the Spanish players in the squad are absolutely driven by the idea of beating FCB to the big two tournaments. Re the FCB excellence. For so long as Guardiola stays in charge there will be an absolute emphasis on excellence and, generally, it will be achieved. Viz the long term, there is a bedrock of excellence in the first squad and coming through from the next two tiers of junior football. If FCB appoint intelligently when PG leaves I see no reason why Barça should not continue to be competitive and excellent. Thirteen trophies won out of a possible sixteen is, however, freakish and should not be the standard via which future ‘excellence’ is judged. (Editor’s note: AHEM!)

This concludes Part One. In Part Two, Hunter discusses big signings, flops, management styles and why David Villa is NOT a flop. See you all tomorrow.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

92 Comments

  1. March 5, 2012

    Thirteen trophies won out of a possible sixteen is, however, freakish and should not be the standard via which future ‘excellence’ is judged.

    Signed.

    However I must note that it was Sandro Rosell who backed Pep Guardiola’s initiative to make all the coaches in the youth system full time — a major financial investment.

    I didn’t know this, but it certainly makes me feel better about Rosell’s approach to managing the football aspect of the club. The fact that he is willing to back up Guardiola and make all the youth coaches full time indicates he respects Guardiola’s approach and he is building on the youth philosophy that has really exploded since Pep took over. And on top of that he took the decision even though there was significant financial outlay. Very promising.

  2. March 5, 2012

    I hope this book becomes a bestseller and popular enough that people can easily leech it off the net. #justkidding

  3. Ryan
    March 5, 2012

    Excellent interview. I’m still waiting on my book to arrive in the mail, but I’m definitely looking forward to reading it.

  4. Humphrey Bogart
    March 5, 2012

    Arh, where is the next part??? You are cruel, completly fixed me on and now let me hang out to dry,..

    Very good interview, re the questions asked, but also very thoughtful answers from the Hunter

      • mom4
        March 5, 2012

        This is a global community and technically somewhere in the world it is already tomorrow. So could we have our promised part two now please?

        jk…maybe jk

        • Chiu
          March 5, 2012

          A few hours after you post this, it’s tommorow already for me haha… very insightful interview. thanks

  5. Megster
    March 5, 2012

    Very good read! A must read for every cule and also to the band wagoners.

    • Chiu
      March 5, 2012

      haha, maybe some bandwagoners already jump to the white one

  6. March 5, 2012

    Sensational interview. You all have my pity and/or sympathy re: waiting for part 2.

  7. March 5, 2012

    Drumroll please…

    @curious_calvin

    friend me and I’ll friend you

  8. March 5, 2012

    Thank you so much to Graham Hunter for doing this interview. It’s enlightening, a good read, and well worth your time. Also the book is EXCELLENT.

    • blitzen
      March 5, 2012

      I’ll second this! Interesting questions and thoughtful answers. Can’t wait for part 2.

      And anyone who hasn’t bought the book yet, you are really missing out. It is full of behind-the-scenes information and eye-opening anecdotes, and parts of it are very very funny.

      Go buy it. Go now. We’ll wait here.

  9. mega_tajh
    March 5, 2012

    I just love Graham Hunter. Read every piece goal.com published on the book, and can’t wait to get my hands on it. Hope to see him on Revista tomorrow.

  10. mega_tajh
    March 5, 2012

    BTW those who use the Kindle its available for quite a reasonable price.

    Sadly the paperback on Amazon.com is temporarily out of stock.

  11. Messiah10
    March 5, 2012

    If you click on “backpress” link you can find a link for books artist. He makes t-shirts as well. Pretty dope ones of Xavi, Pep, Messi, & Barca DNA

  12. messifan
    March 5, 2012

    Excellent questions, mods! Relating to the youth question, Barca and Boca just announced a deal regarding transfers and rights of youth players who are now playing for Boca Juniors. Good to see that the board is continuing this youth development policy and expanding its reach elsewhere.

    OT: Has anyone read/heard Barca spokesperson’s press conference today regarding Pique’s situation? Divided opinions among cules on this matter.

    • March 5, 2012

      I for one believe its about time we voiced our grievances about the double-standards of the RFEF. If petulance gets a few legit calls in our favor, so be it. Even Pep had to use strong words last season. Our opponents aren’t named EE for nothing. Why should we keep quiet when Pepe/Mou/Iker-face can go scot-free?

      • nia
        March 5, 2012

        Not fair how the RFEF is attacking Pique considering nothing was done to Iker for what he said after the copa game and in my opinion worse when u compare the 2. Spanish FA treat Barca players like poo, yet the Barca players are alway profesional and give 100% everytime the play for the country. It’s a shame that they are willing to make RM happy in that way, mistreat Barca and yet hope to win the Euro’s with a mostly Barca team. For that reason alone, i hope Spain doesn’t go far this summer coz they really don’t deserve the services of the Barca players. Why Rossel doen’t say anything is beyond me when it come to defending the team. Yet Mou say Barca has never won a clean cup, pfft

      • Chiu
        March 5, 2012

        No, I think EE soldier in the border will shoot down that pigeon before reaching the RFEF office haha 🙂

      • nia
        March 5, 2012

        I thought it was timid as well. They should have had stronger statements, including examples from Mou, Iker, Ramos and Pepe in comparison. Perfect example, what Iker said after the copa game to the ref and in the mixed zone, accusing the ref to be a cule at heart and telling him to go celebrate with us and a few f bombs thrown in for good measure. Doesn’t seem fair of how the FA is victimizing us this yr and the lack of response from Rossell is worrying as well. Only a fellow cule would understand how annoyed i am right now, ARRRGGGG!!!

    • March 5, 2012

      To imagine the stress of this job and managing this team with High Expectations Cules seeing a Draw as the end of a cycle, Look at the Color and Amount of hair Pep had at his first year.

    • K_legit in Oz
      March 5, 2012

      iUsa la Cabeza..
      Is that like ‘Use your head’ as in ‘The fuck did you do that for?’ ?

      • blitzen
        March 5, 2012

        Yes, “Use your head” as in “Don’t overstretch yourself and pick up an injury when we are 2 goals up and only a few minutes left to play!”

        • Laurentiu88
          March 6, 2012

          nice video.
          ever since i saw Alexis run after that ball i feared an injury..

          in the end this is what happens when players give all for 90 min!!

          thou’ Messi learned to rationalize his effort his not running after every player with the ball, dozes his effort…

      • mega_tajh
        March 5, 2012

        Damn. Pep straight up cursed him out.

        Excuse my translation but from what I read,

        PEP: Your mothers ****!!x2, 90 Minutes!!,Use your head.!!

        • K_legit in Oz
          March 5, 2012

          I think Pep refers to his mother rather than Alexis’s 😀

        • Nav
          March 5, 2012

          Who was he talking to there? Jesus Christ he looks really really wired… :S

    • Jim
      March 5, 2012

      I’m gonna have to go have a nap after watching that. He seriously needs to calm down a little.

    • messifan
      March 5, 2012

      He looks so intense. Do you know what he said to Xavi, Lexis and Tello?

      • Ryan
        March 5, 2012

        He’s asking for a 4-3-2, with Tello and Alexis as the 2 forwards.

    • Ryan
      March 5, 2012

      Thanks for the link! Pep really doesn’t mess around and wears his heart of his sleeve, eh? He was indeed pissed at Alexis’ injury!

      I like how he mentions everyone by first name btw. 🙂

    • mom4
      March 5, 2012

      Dang!

      There’s not enough valium in the world!

      • K_legit in Oz
        March 5, 2012

        Now here Pep does look like a Praying Mantis on crack..where’s NZM? 😀

        • nzm
          March 5, 2012

          No, no – he’s looking for a heart attack.

          I’d rather that he looked like a Praying Mantis on crack. 😀

    • BarcaOwl
      March 5, 2012

      I just finished watching that little clip. He’s such an intense person. We are lucky indeed to have him. I just hope he knows when to switch off. That kind of stress can’t be good for health.

  13. March 5, 2012

    Can someone illustrate or help me understand what he means by

    “a Foundation which helped fund a cleric whose teachings were abhorrent to right thinkers.” ??

  14. nzm
    March 5, 2012

    BTW – Barca TV shows Alexis already running around the practice pitch doing recovery work, so it can’t be that bad….can it? 🙂

  15. March 5, 2012

    Glad everyone likes the questions and more importantly, the answers. Hunter could have phoned it in, dashing off some rote answers. But the thoughtfulness and quality that went into the answers is tip-top.

    And I like part 2 even more. 😀

    What fascinates me about Hunter is that he isn’t afraid to take a stand on things, when that stand is backed by research and knowledge.

  16. mom4
    March 5, 2012

    This could get ugly in a hurry.

    All courtesy of barcastuff:

    Freixa (spokesman board): “We appeal Pique’s red card. We ask the referees to explain their complaint, it seems they use double standards.”

    Brito Arceo (ex-referee): “Seems Spanish referees continue to live in the times of Franco. Pique? You have to judge all, not a few.” [com]

    note: jimenez, spokesman referee committee, is member of falange, franco’s fascist anti-catalan party http://bit.ly/wW6gpy (2nd pic, middle)

    I guess when one falls in love with a club one inherits not just the beautiful football, but the political crap/baggage that comes with it. what joy, what rapture, what heavenly bliss!
    (all the time hoping somebody has gotten to inventing the darn the sarcasm font already)

    • March 5, 2012

      Go read the twitter account of Barcaoffside! She was on fire today!

        • mom4
          March 5, 2012

          OK

          BTW, I’m not doing cookies anymore since I went to Spain… Here, have a churro and hot chocolate. Bet the dark side doesn’t have them. 🙂

          • March 5, 2012

            Everything is bitter and tastes like death here! Thank you! Hope you enjoyed your Spain visit!

          • mom4
            March 5, 2012

            Loved it.
            Saw Barca beat R. Betis.
            Met nzm.
            Survived R. Betis v Sevilla derby. INTENSE
            Somehow managed to stomach buying a Madridista we know a EE calendar. Thought the darn thing was gonna burn a hole through the suitcase. 🙂

            Will forever be searching the US for decent churros and chocolate a al taza. 🙁

        • messifan
          March 5, 2012

          I read her comments and found them to be a bit condescending tbh. Yes, any rational cules will acknowledge that Barca are second because of their form and RM deserve to be first. Yes, Pique is stupid to accuse the ref and in any major European leagues aside from Spain, he would be justly punished without the club protesting.

          But they are playing in the Spanish League, and you and I know how the league functions. The issue at hand is why punishing Pique now, and not others before him? Obviously, the most comparable/high profile case was Mou and a few RM players’ behaviors. The league has established precedence by doing very little to punish the aggressors. So, I find it completely justifiable for Barcelona to ask for “the conditions and criteria that the Referee Committee follows when they report [a case] to the Competition Committee” (Freixa’s presser).

          You can call that complaining, I see it as asking for a reasonable explanation and protecting the club. Saying that the committee acts because of media impact is not a justifiable explanation.

          Smaller clubs have aired their grievances, but received little attentions. Now, a big club like Barca can bring this issue to the media and let the debate begins. Why should we stay silent when it’s obvious that the standard has been so poor? This thing is similar to the TV rights issue, it’s always good to have discussions when something is not working. It may not lead to anything, but at least it’s now been debated.

          Also regarding referee and luck, I don’t have any problem with Freixa questioning it. The club is protecting its interests. Barca players and coaches can say they don’t want to talk about referees, but you can read between the lines and decide for yourself.

          I read between the lines from that press conference and one line that strikes me is, “our players with FC Barcelona AND the NATIONAL TEAM, have been impeccable.” If Barca wants to play politics, they can use the national card. Simply suggesting that all FC Barcelona players from youth to senior teams will not participate in the national teams and see what happens. Of course, that is very sinister, but they have that card if they choose to use it.

          I don’t think the Board is asking too much for the ref to be fair when it comes to officiating Barca matches.

  17. March 5, 2012

    Really fun read, even for a supporter of the other spanish club. Thanks for the effort, Kxevin! Graham Hunter is an absolute joy to watch. He’s always calm until you mention Marcelo. He makes him cringe haha

      • Dave
        March 6, 2012

        Or says anything that contradicts The Word of Madridistas, eh? And he’s right Marcelo is a liability.(And IMO a toe-rag, brat of a player)

  18. Gogah
    March 6, 2012

    i need this book.
    the cover could have been better though..

  19. Laurentiu88
    March 6, 2012

    I liked when we bitched about the referees or the president just hinted to it…

    But the new turn of things does not look good! I wonder if it can be a motivation thou’? Make the team stronger and more determined, giving us what we lacked? Even Pep was really annoyed by it and maybe on general refereeing as well… Hope it determines him to continue to 🙂 would’t want to quit after a loss…

  20. March 6, 2012

    @nzm

    Being an Egyptian Muslim, I know Yusuf el Qaradawy.

    I’d like to see a video or the quote itself since I saw a lot of these cases were a mistranslation, misunderstanding, or the quote taken out of context.

    But if these said comments are true I’d like to say that I completely disagree with them and these aren’t the Islamic teachings.

    I’d like also to add that I’m not so sure about the 3rd Influential person thing, He’s not that Influential here but he is heard and well known.

    • nzm
      March 6, 2012

      Diego – you asked, I gave the info. I give no personal opinion in what I wrote.

        • nzm
          March 6, 2012

          Well – there are 2 things in this world that are 100% certain to evoke controversy, and they are religion and politics.

          I try to avoid both! 😀

  21. barca-su
    March 6, 2012

    Way OT, but I can’t wait to post this video. I saw this yesterday on tv from a show, so I looked it up on youtube to share this with you all. Especially to all the women in the house at BFB. You are all awesome. 8 march, International women’s day. We are awesome!!!.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Cl0f3gxBJo

  22. barca96
    March 6, 2012

    Now they’re checking into Alexis’ eating habits 😆

    • mom4
      March 6, 2012

      Because he doesn’t use hair gel?
      🙂

    • Chiu
      March 6, 2012

      His body shape look good. I thought all players are supervised by the same team nutritionist, eating and doing the same diet, no?? 🙂

      • March 6, 2012

        Different diets, preventive training regimens, etc. Guardiola’s program in that regard has been exemplary until this season, thanks to what Hunter specifically spelled out above: A crap pre-season, chasing money with exhibitions instead of taking care of business as the club should have been doing.

    • March 6, 2012

      Cue lame joke: They’ll find he’s been eating a lot of Liga defenders.

    • Chiu
      March 6, 2012

      Fine decision I think.

      May 13 = La Liga last matchday
      May 19 = CL final
      May 25 = CDR final

      Plenty time for quick party and then get ready for the next final, if we make it to Munich 🙂 Amen

      • March 6, 2012

        Imagine if Barca were to snatch the Liga away on the last matchday, win in Munich, and then win again at the Calderon. Would be the best cule 12 day stretch of all time. #wishfulthinking

        • Chiu
          March 6, 2012

          By just imagining it now already make me happy. That’s all our wish 🙂

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