In the politics of Man, history is written by the Conquerors.
In sports however, sometimes history is bigger than simply who won or who lost. The German World Cup winners of 1954 are long forgotten, while the Hungarians they actually beat in the final are still revered today. Likewise, old-timers’ eyes light up when they recall a bunch of orange-clad, long-haired rock stars playing a brand of (total) football that had never been seen before. It must be said that the Germans once again had the last laugh, as Gerd Müller scored the winning goal.
That’s right. The same Gerd Müller whose name you know because his astonishing record of 85 goals in a calendar year is about to be broken by our beloved genius from Rosario is responsible for traumatizing the past, present and future generations of his small neighboring country. I was born four years after that fateful final in the summer of ’74 and I carry the wounds deep in my heart as if I lost a loved one on the pitch that day.
On jornada 13 we had the opportunity to deepen some wounds ourselves, since on the previous day M*drid was sliced open for the third time this season by a hardworking and somewhat fortunate Real Betis. A team have never won the league after trailing by 8 points (I think), and they have never ever won it after trailing by 11 (I think even more).
To make it so, we had to beat Levante – a team that does not invite you into their home to give you easy access to the master bedroom. They certainly gave our eternal rivals a run for their money two weeks ago and you might remember that they almost beat us before our title race was definitely killed last season.
Professor Tito decided on a line-up of VV, Dani Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Cesc, Iniesta, Messi and Pedro.
The first 15 minutes or so were largely uneventful, the only actions of note being an excellent save of Victor Valdés and a corner headed over by the home team.
But then something happened. Dani Alves hurt his knee and came off for Martin Montoya, the significance of which I did not realize at the time but was soon pointed out by the commentators: the eleven players on the pitch were all from la Masía. For the first time ever in a Liga game a line-up that had been speculated on for months became a reality, and a dream come true for many culés.
Not that it made any difference to Levante, who certainly lived up to expectations. They defended in packs like hyenas guarding a piece of dead meat, only letting us sniff at the goal from a distance. They crowded the middle, a strategy bolstered by Dani Alves’ substitution and our midfielder on the left wing. Both Messi and Xavi tried some long range shots to no avail. In the meantime our opponents were all too quick to attack us on the break, playing dangerous balls over our back line for their forwards to run into.
We reached halftime with a sweaty sigh. At nil-nil the 11 point difference we set out to claim seemed far away. Eleven valiant Valencianos shut down our farmhouse players. With no space to sow, our combinations were bearing neither fruit nor vegetables. Could our big dream turn minor nightmare? Could the first game in which we play an all-academy line-up be a dreary goalless affair? Or even a loss?
Those questions were soon answered by two of Barça’s favorite sons. The first, who cried his eyes out as a young boy 500 km away from his family, split the defense with an immaculate through ball. The other, who was so shy and quiet legend has it that his teammates initially thought he was dumb, only needed one touch to pass the keeper with a gorgeous chip – one we have seen him perform on countless occasions but never fails to delight.
The 2nd half had barely even started and already we were up 1-0. To their credit, Levante did not immediately roll over. They tried to get right back into the game, with José Barkero (love the name) blasting a left-footed volley well wide.
However, like so often when dealing with an opponent that knows it is outclassed and compensates for this with a relentless will to block any and all paths to their goal, one is all it takes. It soon became clear that Levante’s resistance which made their defense so indestructible for the first 45 minutes of the game, was most definitely broken.
Ipso Facto, let the Iniesta show begin.
While his first assist was a quick pull of the trigger, taken from the midfield to a Messi going deep, his second was the exact opposite. Starting from the top of the box he dribbled to the end line. Four defenders plus Leo were waiting for the assist they knew was heading their way, the only possible pass he could make, the sole remaining option. And here the Illusionist showed his true genius, holding on to the ball for a split second longer, waiting and deliberating for all to believe that the pass was no longer going to come. All but one, that is, as la Pulga coolly slotted the ball into the net.
The onslaught had well and truly begun. Before long our bees were buzzing and humming, passing each other the ball in a flurry of single touches when they gave the rock to Ghostface, who showed off his killer instinct and spanked it into the net for his first league goal of the season. Three-nil and the Don’s not done. Another assist for Cesc made it four. Game over, at two Pedro misses short of a manita.
In an era in which our rivals spent more than half a billion euros to assemble the most expensive collection of footballers in the history of the game, F.C. Barcelona, on the 25th of November of the year 2012, made history by fielding an entire team of academy players. Eight Catalans, two Spaniards and one fierce Argentine beat a motivated Levante with four goals to none.
History, you say? In 1973 the club could choose between Bayern Munich’s Gerd Müller, who had scored a whopping 85 goals in the previous year, and Dutchman Johan Cruijf, who was in the process of leading Ajax to a third consecutive European Cup. Coach Rinus Michels, having experienced Johan’s strong personality first-hand, was said to be in favor of the German’s scoring prowess. The top brass, knowing who was the biggest star in world football at the time, decided on number 14.
As a player Cruijff only brought us one league title in his five seasons on the team. Yet his coming to Catalonia altered Barça’s destiny like perhaps no player at any club has ever done. It was he who suggested to then president Josep Nuñez to use La Masia for housing youth players and to train them according to a specific philosophy – an idea he further refined when he came back to Barcelona as a coach. It was he also who plucked ‘Pep’ Guardiola from the cantera as a gangly youth and made him the linchpin around which the Dream Team evolved. His teammate Francesc Vilanova i Bayo was not deemed good enough for the first team. His time would come later.
The same Pep one day made way for a canterano by the name of Xavi Hernandez, to whom he said, upon seeing a young Andrés running rampant with the ball at his feet: “This one will replace us both”.
History might be written by the conquerors, but it has been in the making for a long time.
“I’d think I was never going to make it. But you have to be strong. Even at the age of 12 you think: I have to fight. I’ve come this far, there’s no going back.” ~ Andrés Iniesta