Graham Hunter’s Barca: Like a diamond, brilliant but flawed …. and a must-have

–Did you know that Jose Mourinho came thisclose to being our coach instead of Pep Guardiola?
–Or that we almost screwed up in the case of a kid named Lionel Messi?
–How about that a lesser player’s situation gifted us with Andres Iniesta?
–Hmmmm, maybe you’d be surprised to learn that La Masia wasn’t always La Masia?

For those who might have been living under a rock or something, a book about our beloved club came out in February: “Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World,” written by footy journalist and La Liga big brain Graham Hunter. We did a Q&A with Hunter, which you can read here and here.

The book came together through an extraordinary series of interviews, background conversations, personal observations and data objective and subjective, with an aim at giving interested readers the best chronicling of this extraordinary team.

Now this is a pretty neat trick, given that there aren’t really that many books about this assemblage of players and its coach, which surprises me, for the simple reason that there’s money in that there Blaugrana.

Now my assertions of lucre-seeking won’t shock anyone, since I can state with a fair degree of certainty that Hunter and Back Page Press aren’t doing this as an act of altruism. But where most books that come together in an effort to hitch themselves to a lightning bolt are craptastic, thrown-together things, this book is a very good work of journalism, that needs to be on the reading list of everyone who is at all interested in our club.

There’s a lot that informed cules already know, but there’s also a lot that we didn’t know, all presented with precious little nonsense. One might argue that the full, unalloyed Champions League rant by Pep Guardiola, presented in its uncensored, properly translated glory, is alone worth the price of the book. That’s something that’s difficult to argue against.

But the cradle-to-grave chronicling of this club, from futbol base to complete, world-killing colossus, is exceptional as well as exceptionally informative. That’s a pretty neat trick to pull off about such an extensively covered, all-consuming subject such as FCB.

Hunter isn’t a cule, and I don’t even think he’s a fan of the club. He set out to, in his words, “chronicle the manner in which this squad, under a brilliant man, Pep Guardiola, proved that they have been the greatest team in the world between 2008 and publication (of this book) in 2012.” And further, that “Barca regularly produce football which is uplifting to the spirit.”

This is what fascinates me about this book, one which I’m sure has marked Hunter as a cule to many a person, supporter or otherwise. But in fact Hunter is fascinated with a phenomenon. Just as people came to the club for Ronaldinho or Messi, many are attracted to Barca because of the football, the world-beating nature of its cadre of wee ones, who are passing their way into hearts, minds and history. It would have been easy to deliver a sop of a “Boy, aren’t they great tome” that pleased one and all, but Hunter (usually) doesn’t do that, which brings me to one of my nits to pick with this book.

Effusion needs balance

Barca can speak for itself. Yet there are times when Hunter, for reasons of setting the hook, veers into hyperbole. This is fine, because it isn’t a work of pure, objective journalism, but it strikes me as excessive at times. In the opening “Road To Wembley” chapter, no fewer than ten different football greats are cited, all saying that Barca is among the best clubs that they have ever seen, all in slightly different ways. Is ten too much? Good question. For me, it was, because I was interested in the part that comes next: How it happened.

It is this that is one of the best parts of the book, because he takes us behind the scenes of a club that set its collective jaws and, driven by what the feeling of losing in the Copa final to Real Madrid (Note: For the rest of March, for that lovely, lovely gesture by the club and its players toward Eric Abidal in particular, the Evil Empire will be called by its real name.), went on to take care of business in a way that culminated in a blizzard of expressive, dominant football that the entire world saw.

He builds the road to Wembley and that Champions League final, brick by brick, from that Copa defeat, to Osasuna, to all the rest. We learn that the club wanted to sit there on the pitch, watching the opponent celebrate, to understand, to set the hook, to build the desire for more, the desire to never, ever have that happen again. This book is built on moments such as this, behind-the-scenes tidbits that make the results make perfect sense.

But again, there’s that setting the hook a little too deeply. The Wembley chapter has a wonderful comment from Manel Estiarte, that makes it clear why everything works. It ends perfectly. Hunter, however, chooses to have the last word, telling you what you have already read, in effect. Not necessary, and it also dilutes the power of the Estiarte comments, to my view. Is it off-putting or annoying, to a degree sufficient to make anyone reconsider the book? No. But it’s worth noting.

That tendency to restate the obvious rears its head on more than a few occasions, such as when Hunter relates the story of a player who injured himself as a child, playing the game he loved. “Tough lad, that ….” isn’t necessary. It’s clear from the story told, and its context. Moments such as those made the editor in me roll my eyes, even as I flipped the page like an addict looking for his next fix.

Because what Hunter has done with this book is create a true page-turner. It isn’t a mystery or thriller, because it’s impossible to make events that have already transpired a mystery. I always wonder how people who made the film “The Right Stuff” thought about trying to build the “Did he or didn’t he die” suspense around test pilot Chuck Yeager, who was all over TV at the time the film came out, doing commercials for AC Delco batteries. And yet, just as they pulled it off, Hunter manages to make you interested in a subject that you already know about. He does this by being a journalist, a chronicler of events, but events that you didn’t know about.

La Masia wasn’t always the wonderful thing that it is. Johan Cruijff had a huge hand in creating it, making it so, even as he was being treated shabbily by the club. And even when the club was going through its “Anybody except our boys” phase, La Masia kept on track, churning out little diamonds. Hunter tells the stories of many of these players, going behind the scenes about how Andres Iniesta benefited from a then equally talented friend; how the club almost screwed up with a young player named Lionel Messi, how a board member took it upon himself to start making good on the compact the club had with the player, as the board had precious little seeming interest in doing so.

It is this kind of information that makes this book such a delight, even through cringe-inducing moments such as the sentence, “All hail El Guaje. In fact, no — Viva Villa!”

Interspersed with chapters about aspects of the club and its immense recent success, chapters that build joy and suspense by using valuable information, are segments on “making-of” matches, important moments chosen by Hunter that illustrate key moments in the success of the club. There are the tests by Shahtar Donetsk, the Clasics, the Liga matches that dangled failure over a precipice, every important match in an array of successes that make the excellence of this group sound logical, like it makes sense. The right things get the right amount of weight, at the right times. Messi and Guardiola get more page space, and they should. But you also get to know Dani Alves, and Hunter’s view on his value to the club.

This isn’t some starry-eyed tome, despite my editor’s nit-picking. Hunter doesn’t have kind words to say about the Eto’o-for-Ibrahimovic deal, the way in which Ronaldinho let himself go, or the tiff between Rosell and Cruijff that has resulted in one of the most important architects of the club’s success taking his talents to Chivas instead of keeping them at home, where they belong. And yet, you shouldn’t go into this book thinking that it is an objective piece of journalism. Far from it. Hunter has a point of view, as differentiated from a bias. And he isn’t shy about letting you know exactly what that point of view is.

You get the roundabout path of Pep Guardiola back to the club he was seemingly born to coach, a compare/contract of Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol, the Odd Couple of the back line. You get the doubts, the flirtations with Mourinho and the board’s unanimous “feeling” (that word …. oh, that word) about a coach who, despite his successes past and present, didn’t seem the right man for the Barca leadership role.

Hunter is best when he doesn’t get in the way of the story, something that he doesn’t do in many of the player profile chapters. At times, Hunter sounds like a fan. The cule and soci in me likes that. The cranky editor in me wishes for more distance during those moments. Is Hunter’s approach perfectly fine in the context of the book’s stated mission? Absolutely. Does it strike the ear incongruously, given the painstaking efforts that Hunter does make to deliver all the information that he can to help his readers understand exactly how this wonder of a club was built? Absolutely, again …. to me.

When there is information, a story to be told and a hungry journalist willing to tell it, Hunter’s book crosses the line into extraordinary. His chapters on La Masia and the club’s futbol base are an absolute delight, from beginning to end. You can actually see our little wonders being shaped, now and for the future, the way they are all taught to play, the ones who make it and the ones who don’t and further, exactly why they didn’t make it, are all here. And it’s wonderful.

This club, in a recent match, had 9 graduates from La Masia in the starting XI. And it kicked the crap out of its opponent. That is spectacular, a feat unrivaled by any club. Hunter makes it all make sense, even the value of losing for players who can get so used to winning that they get complacent, and stop doing the things that brought them such glory.

No, there isn’t as much on the Rosell/Laporta time and falling out as I would have liked, but as a voracious consumer of that information then and now, my filters are a bit finer. Hunter makes it all make sense. You understand why and how it happened, how Sandro Rosell went from a valued member of the Joan Laporta regime, one that turned around the moribund fortunes of the club to glorious effect, to an enemy of the ex-president. Do you find yourself wishing that some of the sources were better? Yes, even as they were the players on the scene at the time.

But when failed presidential candidate Marc Ingla has unkind words to say about Rosell, they might be true, but the more you know about matters, the more you want a true outsider speaking on the matter. Is this impossible, given that an true outsider wouldn’t have the same level of access and information? Absolutely. And it is probably true that Ingla’s words are truthful and from the heart. They give amazing insight into so many aspects of that time that shaped the destiny of the club at that time and in the present, making any seeming perspective flaws easily forgivable.

There’s even the text of Rosell’s letter of resignation which, then as now, makes me want to grab a table leg and get on a plane to Barcelona. Hunter just presents it, and lets his readers make up their own minds.

This last bit for me, is ultimately why I recommend this book so highly, even as I lay out its very few flaws. It is a sterling work of journalism. Guilty of a bit of excess? It happens. But “Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World” does exactly what it set out to do, which is give a window into a remarkable time in the history of this delight of a football club. Cules will love it, casual fans will love it, neutrals will find it as informative as those who think they know the club inside and out. It makes something seemingly absurd and meteoric as a club becoming one of the best, if not the best football club in history, make perfect sense. Which, when you think about it, is pretty remarkable.

Recommended without hesitation, it goes without saying.

Raffle PS

BFB will, once we figure out how to do it, raffle off this signed copy of the Hunter Barca book. So stay tuned for that. It goes without saying that only BFB family members, registered as of today, will have the opportunity.

By Kxevin

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.


  1. Look forward to getting the book. Quick question…what are the chances Abidal plays in Milan? I keep seeing him training with the team. Could he provide spot duty until surgery?

    1. From everything that is known about his condition, chances are less than zero. His transplant is next week, and by all reports coming out of the club, his playing career will be over after that. It probably explains why he wanted to have surgery to give him one more season, and that indelible moment at Wembley.

    2. I’ve been hearing his playing career is over as well. However if we assume that his playing career isn’t over for a second – there is still almost no chance he will be returning this year. It always takes time to recover from any surgery, but it takes lover to recover from a liver transplant than it does to recover from a surgery to resect a mass. Add in that he will necessarily be on drugs that suppress his immune system, and it’s no surprise they are saying this is likely the end of his playing career.

    3. When he’s willing and capable to return to Barca he could always serve as some kind of advisor – the world’s best left back must have tons to pass on to the next generation of full backs!

  2. *clap clap clap*

    Very good review, Kxevin! Makes me want to read the book all over again (and I will). I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book for all the reasons you have mentioned, and also because Graham’s genuine respect for the subject matter and the people involved came through in his tone. There were several parts that made me laugh out loud as well. Including what may be my favourite Pique story of all time.

    I also agree that there were a few phrases or sentences that were a bit repetitive or flippant in tone (“Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you…”). A second edit could have fixed that. But those bits were few enough not to make any real negative impact on the writing style or my enjoyment of the book. For a journalist who is only used to writing short pieces and for a tiny start-up publisher, they really did a tremendous job. The books also included original art that is very cool.

    I can’t even say what my favourite parts of the book are. The Xavi chapter, obviously. And Cruyff. The Laporta/Rosell split was fascinating. Or was it the contrast between Puyol’s hardworking country roots and Pique’s life of privilege. And I loved his characterisation of Busquets as the “enforcer” of the team. I never really thought of him that way.

    Anyway, like Kxevin I highly recommend this book to any fan of football. Cules will get more out of it, of course, but anyone who is interested in how this Barcelona team became what it is today should make this a must-read.

  3. And speaking of Graham Hunter, he has written yet another exceptional piece on Messi here:

    My favourite bits:

    “He’s aware of his genius, but completely unaffected by it. He knows he is venerated, that he is becoming the most recognisable sportsman on the planet – but he treats that like a curious and irrelevant by-product.

    When he scored five against Bayer Leverkusen the other week, he made history; the first to achieve that in the Champions League, the first to score four goals twice in that competition. History? He couldn’t give a stuff. But when I spoke to him post match in the tunnel at the Camp Nou he was inordinately proud that Christian Tello had come on, scored twice and demonstrated that the path from the Barcelona youth system to the first team remains paved with gold.”


    “Immediately the theme of how enchanted he is with the company of his brothers’ kids, how much he enjoys playing with them, entertaining them and helping to give them financial security comes up.

    One of the hardest things which has happened to him in his life was when, in the very early Barcelona years, his little sister grew so homesick that she and her mother needed to abandon Spain and return home to Rosario. More than the loneliness, he felt the impact that his change of life had ripped up the family template. So while they are all now wealthy, fulfilled and happy, there was no guarantee at all back then that the sacrifice of changing country, indeed continent, was going to be worth all the heartache. So to see his extended family running around his mansion near the sea in Casteldelfells now that the whole project has handsomely come to fruition gives him enormous satisfaction.”

    Good stuff!

    1. Yeah – it’s a good article.

      The “no supercars” thing is a bit erroneous though. Messi drives a Maserati when he’s not in his company Audi. Flashy, like Ferrari or Porsche, it may not be – but it’s still a car that’s up there.

    2. True enough. I think the point is more that we never see tabloid stories about Messi speeding, drunk-driving or smashing up his fancy cars. More about the lifestyle than the actual car.

    3. My Maserati does 185. I lost my lic…oops…sorry…you girls sent me into a 70’s music flashback 😉

    4. Just read it. Super fun article. Hunter goes just a little fanboy over our little flea.

    5. I tried to read it but when I click the link there’s only a few sentences–so weird

  4. Thank you for the review Kxevin. I’m pretty excited to read, I already started, don’t ask me how I got it here in Peru.
    Hunter also explained the tradition in celebrating in a rondo on center field each cup. It was a catalan tradition! So Pep Guardiola, that guy is awesome…
    Here’s the dance, it’s pretty entertaining!

  5. Totally looking forward to reading the book, and it’s taking all my strength to resist starting now, but I’ve decided to wait til after Euro 2012 so I have something to get me through Withdrawal Season.

  6. Jusy bought my e-book copy and I must say that I’m dissapointed with the functionality of these electronic books. Everytime I’m to read an e-book, I have to sign online and read it from an application which does get quite irritating. I thought I would be able to download it straight to my computer and read it off whenever I want to but I guess its due to copyright infrigment reasons that my beautiful copy is chained.
    I want to be able to hold my own physical copy of a book, caress it, and turn to a random page every now and then.

    Gonna have to try and look for a hard copy now…ugh

    1. I bought it from the Amazon Kindle Store. I can read it in a browser app, on my phone, tablet, etc. In fact, I have 20-30 books on my phone, in the kindle app. It’s quite convenient, but I certainly understand the sentiment of enjoying reading a physical copy.

    2. Forgot to mention, if you have the app on your phone or tablet, you can download the books for offline reading.

    3. Oh and one more thing, if you get the app for your computer, you can download the books and not have to sign in everytime or need the internet once they are downloaded.

  7. I read the book last week.

    It is a great piece worth reading for the Cule, as it stitches together narratives (in a non-linear fashion) that go on to establish how the present “golden era” was constructed. Hunter uses his access and his presence in the limelight to good effect – bringing in insights from up close and even the personal.

    The best part of the book for me was the narrative explanation about how the club turned around from the depths reached under Gaspart regime. Hunter tells us how it took a re-envisioning of “Cruiffism” by a bunch of young renegade lawyers but who had to use Machiavellian tactics to get to a position of power. And how once in power, they had to build a structure in bricks and mortar solidifying that vision – the recruitment of Guardiola and the debate about it, the replacement of players like Ronaldinho who lost the plot after reaching a zenith, the management of the brightest talent, Messi, even as internal contradictions broke that management team apart. It is a coherent narrative and very explanatory.

    As Kxevin points out, we tend to get the narrative directly from the horse’s mouth and would have benefited more if Hunter had used his unique position to weigh on things in detail. He does – in bits and bytes – about the wrong decisions vis-a-vis the letting go of Eto’o – but tries to be more an observer bringing us views rather than a normativist explaining what he feels about it all.

    One thing that I thought was a significant omission from Graham Hunter’s account was the lack of a tactical explanation. After all, if your title is the “Making of the greatest team in the world” you can’t limit yourself to a journalistic exploration of what and how this squad was assembled. There should have been a tactical exploration as well – a la Jonathan Wilson – which explained the tactical evolution of the squad which made it the most unique ever (a team featuring mostly highly skilled dwarfs who redefined football play). The focus is instead on individuals and not so much on the collective vision even if he invokes Cruyff again and again.

    Or this is maybe my own subjective reading, as someone whose understanding of Barcelona has enhanced after reading many thoughtful posts by Euler, for e.g. But I reiterate that an exploration and explanation of the best squad in the world is incomplete if it is not explained in footballing terms as well. That I thought was some kind of a failing of Hunter’s book which could have used some insights of the Wilson kind.

    As an aside, I remember Sherlock Holmes berating Watson on the manner the latter portrayed his investigations in his writings (in one of Conan Doyle’s short stories; in fact Holmes himself “pens” one story). Holmes says that Watson focuses on the individual and his brilliance and little on the science of observation, inference and the empirics; making a fetish of Holmes’ abilities rather than explaining the nuances of how Holmes went about his profession.

    Hunter’s explanation of Barca was something like that – a terrific and informative tribute – but lacked that Holmesian edge.

  8. excerpt from a soccernet article:

    Villarreal’s Angel Lopez believes Madrid have no justification for their complaints.

    “They’re trying to put pressure [on officials] for upcoming matches,” he said. “We might argue that Lass [Diarra] should have been dismissed, or that we should have had a penalty when Nilmar was fouled, but you can’t do anything about it. As they say in my hometown, they can go cry in a park.

    “It was fortunate for us yesterday that the referee had a strong personality. I’ve known him for many years and he sent me off in the past for the same thing Ozil did.”

    He added: “We all like to win and, when you don’t achieve what you set out to do, you’re a little upset.”

  9. official site says that we are 8 goals away from having the most goals of any Guardiola team…and this is with at least 13 official games left to play, and as many as 16.

    Temporada…….Goles con Guardiola
    2011/12………150 (with at least 13 games left to go)

  10. OT:
    I know ther isnt such a thing as a conspiracy theory but Real are such hypocrites honestly one draw and its us against the world again. Pardeza,the clubs sporting director said, “”We just want to play under the same conditions as any other team. All we are asking for is to be treated like the rest,”
    “”We share the team’s outrage and perplexity with what’s happened. We understand that some players were unable to suppress their astonishment and frustration.”
    “”This was a refereeing performance that we have yet to see for Barcelona. We are concerned about the apparent unequal treatment.”

    Cmon what about about against Osasuna and so many others that are not worth getting into. The apparent “Same treatment” other teams have got against EE, it was all well and good then. Xavi was right EE are such bad losers even though they only drew LOL.

    This just makes me even more proud of our club and PEP for never coming out and talking about refs even if the decisions are against us. I was one of these people that wanted us to come out and speak up about refs but after seeing how Real are embarrassing themselves theres absolutely no need

    About the book yeah we bought it last month and Ive already read 200 and something pages. Its fascinating my favourite chapter so far it The Exile Returns about Peps return and how the players reacted to the changes he made

    1. unfortunately it is already accepted that they are the victim of bad refereeing.

      it is truly Kafkaesque, you make two clear penalties, you protest at every decision and when referee shows you cards to call you down it is he that is nuts.

      i wonder what will happen to the first referee that whistles a penalty against them?

    2. No legitimacy in Pardeza statements. He should make thorough observation of the match before blatantly blame the referee to solely held responsible. His words expressed an alarming testament even though they still have the substantial 6 points of cushion. I consider the approach they take is a bit excessive for a top team leading with pretty secure gap over the 2nd placed team.

    1. Their sense of entitlement is sickening. Maybe it’s a wishful thinking but if this is true, the league must surely do something about this.

    2. I really hope that Villarreal lays a formal complaint over this. The RFEF then cannot sweep it under the carpet.

      It’s going to be interesting to see what gets done for the non-appearance at the press conference. All clubs are under contract to have someone show for the press conferences. Apparently, RM aren’t giving pre-match interviews this week before the Sociedad match.

    3. Agree, physical insult and verbal offense to other team locker room is unjustifiable. Moreover, EE status was a visiting team. It’s their home and they can do whatever they want. RFEF must investigate and give sanction if proven true.

    4. Is it true their apparent complaint was that Villarreal were celebrating too loud in the locker room? LOL

  11. Just the main points from Guardiola’s press conference from barcastuff:
    Guardiola: “No full backs left, it’s a chance for B-players. Montoya is an excellent right back. Muniesa can perfectly adapt to left back.”
    Guardiola: “Events at Villarreal-Madrid? Saw some images, but didn’t watch the whole game, I can’t judge.”
    Guardiola: “Of the 19 players who’ll travel, 15 are formed in this club, that’s our success.”
    Guardiola: “6 points is an important gap. It’s not as if we easily will win the 10 games left and Madrid will draw every day.”
    Guardiola: “Coentrao caught smoking, what’d I do if it happens to my player? Telling him his lungs become black and that it’s not healthy.”
    Guardiola: “Mourinho not giving press conference? Everyone is free. I don’t like to be given lessons, so I won’t be the one giving them.”
    Guardiola: “I didn’t see Madrid’s game because one has a family and sometimes you watch movies together. There’s more than only football.”

    Its good that somes cules are optimistic but lets not get too excited. All we can do is try to win every game from now till the end of the season and if that is not good enough then credit to Real they have been the better team during the course of the season as much as It pains me to say that. If they were to lose tomorrow and we won then that would make things very interesting, however.

  12. So what happen with Pepe? no decision, is he suspended? when are we finding out about others too?

  13. The way EE camp got mad straightforwardly after Senna goal might indicate that they couldn’t put up the pressure when realizing Barca would cut down the gap. I think the whole incidents stem from the trepidation to be toppled by Barca soon.

    Even when they knew the gap will still be a very comfy 6 points, but they didn’t feel so. I couldn’t understand why everybody got panic with such a large lead. I could only assume; deep down EE still consider them self inferior against Barca. So the 6 points couldn’t cool them off and ensuing the behavior degradation from the whole members.

    They may say it’s the referee that cost them 2 point. But all the brouhaha occurred after the equalizer. Referee performance was just OK and has no straight “influence” on final score. Not giving a penalty for Villareal, but also ignoring harsh foul on Callejon balanced out the equation for both. Ramos foul deserve a card whoever the referee is. It’s not the referee liability that Ramos made that unintelligent foul and dragged the team down by his sending off. Likewise, Mou and Faria couldn’t resist bashing the referee resulting nothing to help them overcome the setback.

    EE drew because they couldn’t kill off the match and incorrect tactics; the typical situation akin to our draw in Anoeta or loss in Getafe. The deplorable aftermath just demonstrated the emotional outburst from that fretfulness. Just saying.

  14. Well, the consensus out there (among fans, players, and journos alike) is that even though RM are winning the league and the CL is still up for grabs, Barca is still the best team in the world. No matter what happens at the end of the season, there will be Barcelona, and then there will be everyone else. Even if they win, they can’t win. Can you imagine how infuriating this must be for the EE and their colossal egos?

    RM, CR7, and Mourinho performing like this at any other time would be considered the absolute best, but they are unlucky to be coinciding with an otherwordly era at Barcelona. For RM to be that good and still be considered second to their arch nemesis–I imagine it must feel like agonizing psychological torture.

    The good news for us is that RM have tended to crack under this kind of pressure. Meanwhile, Barca now have a new challenge bigger than just another trophy, and it seems to be motivating them and driving them out of complacency. Will it be enough at this late stage, with all the fatigue and absences?

    A convincing win at Mallorca could do a lot of damage on the EE psyches just before they go into the Sociedad match without Mourinho, Ramos, Ozil, Callejon, Coentrao (I believe he is still suspended for getting caught smoking), and Pepe (if he does get disciplined for the tunnel rant)

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