Here’s Part Two of the interview with Graham Hunter, author of “Barca: The Making of the Greatest Club in the World.” In case you missed Part One, fie on thee! You can read it here. If you don’t already have your own copy, you can order it directly from Back Page Press, or via Amazon.com.
Today, we deal with management styles, players and assimilation complexities and other fun stuff. And as an aside, management style is suddenly become very interesting, in light of our spectacularly dim-witted decision to, like petulant schoolchildren, boycott the RFEF meet about the Plat del Reig final because we’re in a snit because Pique made a stupid decision in a match, got red carded, then compounded the stupidity by blathering inanities after the match. By the by, the final will be at the Vicente Calderon on 25 May. You people planning ahead will note that this means 3 matches in 12 days, if we make the CL final. Here’s hoping.
Back to business: The final part of the “Graham Hunter Triptych” will be a review of the book, to come next week. So those of you sitting on the fence, thinking about waiting to see what I say are misguided, as you already know what a biased jackass I am. Further, you should automatically buy any, all and everything related to Our Beloved Club, so long as it doesn’t have “Qatar Foundation” on its front (yes, I said it). And without further ado, here is Part Two:
As the club “internalizes,” restricting membership and the potential number of socis, what is the potential damage to the club as regards its roots (and perception) as a member-driven entity?
Zero as far as I’m concerned. The restriction seems to me to be well-founded. In the time I’ve lived in Barcelona the Socio numbers have gone up by around 80,000. That is serious, serious revenue and it would have been in FCB’s interests to allow that revenue stream to grow. Their argument that there are not seats for all those who want to be a Socio and buy a Carnet is well founded. The waiting list is huge. If they argue, as they do, that controlling the list and only allowing family members of existing Socios with a certain number of years on the books to become new members, it seems to me to be an intelligent policy. For those who cannot join it’s a shame but FCB is still, wholly, a member-driven entity.
False equivalency in sports is a widespread malaise. Why do you think people believe diving and violence are equivalent, i.e. “Divers deserve to get kicked?”
I’ve never heard the term ‘false equivalency’ before. And here’s where I betray my Scottish roots. I don’t like diving but I get less rabid about it than some in the UK. It happens, it’s cheating but it’s for the referee to spot and punish. Increasingly I think that Spanish refs are getting more robust about it. However I lament the fact that football is becoming a non-contact sport. I acknowledge that some who are myopic will claim it’s hypocritical of me to promote the values of a brilliantly gifted and entertaining Barcelona era while making a case for football to retain physical contact but I don’t see it. The brutality of some of Pepe’s, Diarra’s and Ramos’s play in trying to bully Barcelona during the Juande Ramos and Jose Mourinho Clasicos has been reprehensible. But football cannot, or must not become a totally non-contact sport which is the direction some are trying to drive it. Going back to what you said, there is no ‘equivalence’ between diving and violence. Diving is an affectation, a transgression which can be punished (or missed) without the same kind of consequences which deliberate violent play brings.
People generally despise dynasties, but the hate for Barca seems out of proportion. Is it the “mes que un club” business? Fabricated quotes? What accounts for it?
I’m well aware that there will always be people who tire of an era and want it to end. I didn’t enjoy the Schumacher era, not at any stage did I take great joy in Tiger Woods — both stood for an excellence which I never felt emotionally attached to given that both talked and acted with an arrogance and disdain which, I felt, distanced them from the joy I get from truly great sport. So I’m a victim of some of what you refer to … but I had no idea that there was widespread ‘hate’ for Barca. If there is it’s a bit foolish. RM fans must pray for a reversal of fortune but it’s pretty shriveled if you can’t find some level of respect for this quality of football.
How would you express the difference between Rosell and Laporta in terms of management style / ethos / effectiveness?
Boy, thanks for that one. They are hugely different individuals but with some shared facets. I thought that, initially, Laporta’s project and his decisions (particularly about those who he surrounded himself with) were brilliant. He might not have been consistently brilliant but people like Cruyff, Soriano, Ingla and Begiristain were.
It’s clear that FCB was run in an increasingly erratic and whimsical way towards the end of the Laporta reign and that is something that, thus far, Rosell has steered firmly away from. There is a more conservative, focused, orderly and businesslike feel to the club during the short time Rosell has been in charge. Less flamboyant but more consistent. His great, great tests are a) finding a way to help Guardiola stay, willingly and full of energy. b) replacing him if he leaves c) managing and reducing the debt.
What is the dynamic like between Guardiola and Rosell in regards to club management, that you know of? How about personally, and how do both compare to the dynamic between Guardiola and Laporta?
I think that’s fairly easy. Laporta was a boisterous, flamboyant, passionate Barça fan. Generally the fit between him and his coach was very straightforward, and open-door. If there wasn’t a paternalistic relationship then perhaps there was an Uncle-favourite nephew thing going on. They also shared an absolute respect for Johan Cruyff.
Guardiola and Rosell began on a slightly more wary basis. The structure is now far more corporate and more structured. In no way is that mean to be disparaging or denigrating. Rosell has backed Guardiola on a number of issues and I’d judge that there is a decent level of respect between the pair. There has been chafing, no doubt and I think that their personalities do, certainly, have the capability of falling out. Guardiola would like to be left alone and not pressurised about renewing, for example, but for the moment things are acceptable.
What do you think has been the principal failing of Guardiola and the club, in some of its more recent high-profile signings, including Hleb, Chygy, Zlatan, Villa (to an extent), Maxwell (to an extent) as compared to those that have been successful, including Mascherano, Keita, and Alves.
First I don’t accept, under any circumstances, that Villa should be in this list. AT ALL. Second it’s important to say that while Guardiola sometimes holds the whip hand he is in no way solely responsible for signings. Finally the key thing which links Hleb, Chygrinski and Zlatan is personality. Not one of them is a poor player but Hleb acted like an immature teenager once he reached the Camp Nou, Chygrinski froze on the ball but was trying like a badger to adapt. He was only sold because of financial necessities. Zlatan took about six months to decide that he knew better and to play the way he felt he needed to not the way he was told to. These are personality traits which betray even the closest market preparation. On the other hand, for as well as Masche, Keita and Alves have played (and they have been excellent) their personalities have been utterly outstanding — committed, mature, team spirited, well liked, grown up, intelligent men.
With the selling of Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, tailspin/loan of Bojan Krkic and the rapid decline of David Villa, some suggest that Messi may have some difficulties playing with a “9”. What are your thoughts on this?
I disagree with the concept, totally. When he played with Eto’o they won the treble and Eto’o scored 36 times yet Messi was absolutely fundamental to that year. However IF you want to play Messi as a ‘false’ 9 or even as the regular centre forward then it absolutely utterly goes with the fact that any other player who considers himself to be a No. 9 is going to find it hard to cope. Villa adapted. I don’t think he prefers playing as a ‘false’ winger compared to being the king of the jungle but he adapted. Zlatan’s decline and subsequent sale were nobody’s fault but his own. He acted like a clown. Bojan is not top, top level. End of story.
The line between Cruijff and Rosell, as you see it, seems to be a huge deal. What do you see as the next step? Do we revert to Laporta-era Cruijffism that led into Pepism or do we move toward a Rosell-centric way of life, if such a thing can be defined? And what does any of this mean for Barcelona and Pep?
The question confuses me. It’s too complicated. What I would say is that Cruyff’s basic principles, his advice and his vision have all guided Barcelona for the good since 1988. It’s not a coincidence that the fallow years came when his teachings were least adhered to.
I’d go so far as to say that Rosell seems to be pathologically opposed to everything to do with Cruyff and I will take my hat off to him if he manages to maintain his dislike of the man but to show great Presidency by accepting that the general philosophy of how to recruit, train and play are what makes this FCB era great. If Rosell can maintain an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach to change and development by buying into the Cruyff philosophy without, for him, necessarily buying into Cruyff, he’ll earn my respect.
And that’s it from the Graham Hunter interview. Hope everyone enjoyed it. Expect the book review about this same time next week and as everyone knows, we have a bit of business to tend to between now and then, in Champions League and La Liga.
But I want to close with expressing an immense debt of gratitude to Graham Hunter (he’s @BumperGraham on Twitter, so follow him. Now.) and Neil at Back Page Press for making this all happen. My hat’s off to you both, gents.