The right thing the wrong way, aka “You models can’t feed me ice cream until your hair is perfect.”

The original FC Barcelona tactical manual (not actual size)
The original FC Barcelona tactical manual (not actual size)

Once upon a time, there was a man. He was a humble man, who went about his humble way, doing humble things. And yea, verily, though he doth kicketh a football around, it was in the most humble way possible.

Then, one day, during his most humble of kickabouts with his most humble of friends, a great shaft of light shone from above. Struck dumb with reverence and awe, the humble men, led by the humble man, quaked in fear. And then, in a voice trembling with fear, in part because his brain was also trying to calculate how much injury time would need to be added, he asked “Wh … what dost thou want with us, most humble of men that we are?”

And a voice like thunder, issued from the glittering column. “Take this. Read this. For verily, this is the way.”

Then the world returned to normal, except for these stone tablets, that were still warm from their otherworldly passage into the hands of these most humble of men. And on those stone tablets were written many things, but first was this:

The Barça Way

What an interesting match today, one in which something extraordinary happened. Rayo Vallecano had more possession than us. Messi didn’t score a goal. And yet, we won. I had some pretty awesome Twitter dialogues after the match, and received some fascinating responses in reply. But what prompted this post is this one:

Barça isn’t about winning, it never was. Barça’s singularity is how they win. Trophies don’t matter if they’re not won beautifully

Barça has had a great many teams over the course of its history. It has had face-smashers, teams that scored from set pieces, teams that scored from counters, teams that relied upon the amazing Ronaldo to work magic, slashing, passing, running and dicing teams.

The Dream Team (pause so that heavenly hosts can sing) brought a different way, and later came a buck-toothed Brazilian named Ronaldinho. The football was less beautiful and more tricky, and fun. Ronaldinho’s bulging thighs rushed past, and bounced off defenders. Lots of different teams have won in lots of different ways.

But man, today just knocked me out. Yes, there is still tika taka, that most logical, elegant extension of the Cruijff way of thinking, triangles, beauty and possession.

What impressed me most about today’s win was NOT the scoreline, but the way in which it was accomplished. Possession isn’t the point. It’s a means to an end, a tactic that is (or should be) one of many in a coach’s handbook. Attacking football is beautiful. Our team didn’t clog the middle of the park, knocking heads with an opponent who still didn’t believe that we weren’t going to clog the middle of the park and try to walk the ball into the net. It slashed up the wings, sliding a ball to a sprinting forward, not once, not twice but three times. It took advantage of a moment of sloppy play and slammed another goal home. And that was that.

Messi ran up the middle, Neymar and Fabregas pounded up the left wing, popping balls for Pedro to dispatch. Because that was Today’s Way, against an opponent that wanted possession and a mostly open game, thinking that was the way to beat us. In the past, it might have been. Today, it wasn’t even close. Valdes, today’s MOTM by a country mile, came up huge, with some astonishing reflex saves of the kind that crap keepers aren’t supposed to make. Did he bail the team out? Nope. But he sure helped with the win, just as in matches where Valdes wasn’t as sharp, his defenders bailed him out. That’s what teams do.

The lower possession percentage was beautiful, the fact that we scored four and Messi didn’t have one was beautiful, because as Mike Tyson once said, everybody has a plan, until you punch them in the face. Rayo had a plan. We had a better, different one. And they got punched in the face.

Messi scores our goals. So a smart opponent who is also talented, says “Stop that little guy.” And everybody gets in the center of the pitch where Messi frolics, and that’s that. Today’s match, and its beauty, I hope, is the first step in an evolution in which opponents watch footage and say “Uh, oh … what the hell do we do now?”

There was speculation, post match, about that possession statistic. Some said it underscored the importance of Busquets. I watched it, and didn’t really think, “What this match needs is …” Part of why Rayo had the ball more is that they were trying to figure out how the hell they could get it past that big dark thing in the middle of the pitch, and we just watched them do it, pressing when they got too dangerous. Adaptation is beautiful.

Possession is a means to an end. So is having Overmars/Rivaldo/Kluivert/Henry/Eto’o/Neymar dashing up the wing or the middle in a bust-out dash up the pitch, to feed or slot home a ball. Seeing the back of that net bulge is beautiful. Seeing a deeper-playing, Neymar-linking Messi celebrating those goals as if he himself had scored, minus the props to grandma, that’s beautiful. The casual way that Xavi dislocated his leg to keep a ball in play with a backheel volley, then run after as if nothing had happened is beautiful. 4-0 is beautiful.

Further, I would suggest that today’s win was beautiful for its elegant play, open style and effective finishing, rather than for its curlicues, triangle and shimmying sprites. Those wins will come, and they will be all purty and stuff, and we will celebrate those as we celebrate these. Personally, I don’t think that “just winning” is for pragmatic teams such as Chelsea, the example most offered up. I think that just winning is for championship football clubs, clubs that, when they just win enough, get to hoist trophies and get drunk on open-top buses.

And that, for me, is the Barça Way that is the most fun. I hope we get to see it this season, even if the only goals that we score come from hump-backed troglodytes shooting the ball into the net from between their butt cheeks. Yes, I rather imagine those goals will be ugly. But that bus ride won’t be.

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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.

264 Comments

  1. KEVINO17
    September 25, 2013

    La Liga just died of shame. The RM players knew that if one of them flopped they would get a penalty. The ref wouldn’t be able to stand the pressure. Unbelievable

  2. Roberto Senyera
    September 25, 2013

    Just backreading a bit. Some people actually think that Celtic will be a real test this year? Seriously??

    Celtic are far weaker than last season. They lost the strength of their spine: their best striker, best CM, and best CB. They lost at home to second tier Morton last night in the Scottish League Cup. Celtic should be absolutely delighted that they made the group stages this season. Period.

    Celtic is one of the teams I follow. This season, we should be able to go there with our weakest 11 and still win. After their shock victory at Parkhead against us last season our squad will be fully focused on next week’s match. Celtic are anything but a real test.

    Our whole group is very weak. Milan, this season, is about the weakest Milan in my memory. They’re having serious problems in Serie A already and have plenty of injuries. Ajax lost their best player in the offseason and lost a league match 4-0 this past weekend.

    Our entire UCL group is total pants. We won’t have a real test in the UCL until the R16 at the earliest. Depending on the draw, our first real test in the UCL may not occur until the QF.

    • Jim
      September 27, 2013

      Celtic, at Celtic Park, can always be a test. Never underestimate the effect the crowd has, not on Barca, but on the performance of the home team. It can be frightening.

      Having said all that you are right – they are weaker and we should beat them.

  3. ooga aga
    September 25, 2013

    i agree that pepe and his friend (Atraco!) were scandalous

    i will say that sergio busquets goal the other day should have been disallowed. alexis was in an offside position and was partially blocking the view of the keeper. hence should be an offside call, since he affected the play. not sure how the ref could have ever made that call, but just sayin…for the sake of fairness.

    wouldnt have affected the outcome, as it did for RM, though…

    • KEVINO17
      September 25, 2013

      Maybe, but that was a debateable goal. But what’s debateable about a ref giving a penalty for a foul on a corner kick (how often does that happen?) which wasn’t a foul anyway and allows a team to win a game?

      • G6O
        September 26, 2013

        It was a foul. By Pepe

  4. Jafri
    September 26, 2013

    That was a proper takedown by Pepe… Whether due to corruption or incompetence, the referee did make a grievous error. My question is, why is there no accountability for this sort of thing?? He’ll probably still be refereeing and screwing up matches five years from now.

  5. September 26, 2013

    Saw the incident of penalty… The only question is who fouled whom? Sanchez did hold him in the beginning but when Pepe was doing his judo move, he looked to have simply let go off him. Brilliant application by Pepe… Something all team could do when this referee is officiating… The best person to replicate this is in the other Madrid team – Diego Costa. Come on Diego, show us what you are capable off this weekend.

  6. barca96
    September 26, 2013

    Not liking this at all. Pique shouldn’t have commented at all. And I don’t like Isco being close to the Madristas (less chance of him ever playing for Barca).

    Tw Pique: “Watching a comedy on Canal+ Liga… Always a good thing this time of the night!”

    Arbeloa’s response;

    “Very happy because of the three points. I’m glad someone changed theater for cinema/movies, that’s always good!”

    This is what it’s all about;
    *http://d3j5vwomefv46c.cloudfront.net/photos/large/811128716.gif

    *https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BVC4IiZCQAAhqXz.jpg

  7. September 26, 2013

    Since I’ve been traveling, I missed 2 Barca games in a row.. for the first time in 6 years. Did I miss a lot? Lot seems to have happened.

    • PrinceYuvi
      September 26, 2013

      In 6 years ? That is admirable devotion.

      Two completely contrasting games, but somewhat same result.

      Apparently, now we play differently against different opponents.
      Sounds pretty badass to me.

  8. September 26, 2013

    I just saw the highlights of the penalty for Madrid. I don’t even know what to say. It is shocking and disgusting at the same time. Disgusting that a player as dirty as Pepe still gets away with shit like this and shocking that a referee as bad as this can officiate in one of the best leagues in the world. This ref should have been fired the next day but knowing our league he will probably be assigned to the clasico!

    • barca96
      September 26, 2013

      Problem is now people are saying how WE get favorable treatment as well due to the foul call on Sevilla 2 weeks as many don’t bother to check the replays. 2 different situations. It was a clear foul on Alves.

      • September 26, 2013

        To be honest in general the refereeing in the league as a whole is just a joke. We don’t get as many calls in our favour because our players are not as good at getting calls as Madrid’s players. There is an art in tricking the referee and it is an art our players have not mastered.

        I do not think it is favourable treatment for one team or another, it is just really poor officiating all around and some teams/players know how to take advantage of it better than others. I do not really believe that the refs favour Madrid, I just think they are really shit at their jobs and the Madrid players (well some of them) are really good at taking advantage of that.

        The problem is that there is no accountability for refs, which is just ridiculous really. How can anyone do their job properly if there is no accountability for their actions. This referee for example should not be officiating games at the highest level, that has been clear for a while now and yet here he is, making another awful decision.

        The Spanish league really needs to get its shit together.

      • Roberto Senyera
        September 26, 2013

        And he’s a FIFA accredited referee — the highest level. Personally, I think all the hair gel has seeped into his brain.

      • Jim
        September 26, 2013

        I have trouble believing the penalty would have been awarded in that same context to Elche.

    • barca96
      September 26, 2013

      Yeah. I visit that site too. Funny commenters but it’s pretty daunting to comment there. They’re all like sharks. Look out for Flake, Playmaker10, dublin, leokunpipita, bocanegra, fotobirash (from here), flashrat (which really sounds like a member from here).

    • barca96
      September 26, 2013

      I really like your style of writing even though I don’t agree with most of your views. You have a way with words.

      • barca96
        September 26, 2013

        I just remembered printing out a US dollar note with Figo’s face on it with Judas written on it and used it as a cover for my file for school 😆

      • September 26, 2013

        Hello friend, today during his online chat in Guardian, Sid answered 3 of my questions. (Nothing like your excitement of drawing attention from Valdes, but..) He has answered before too, but this one is special to me because, from one of the answers, I have a feeling now that he too may not like Ballague. funny to even think that..

      • barca96
        September 26, 2013

        Namaste! I didn’t know such a thing existed (online chat). What did you ask him? And what did he answer?

        I’ve always found Sid to be more believable than Guillem.

      • September 26, 2013

        Now you’ve peaked my interest, I’ll have to go see what he said (or implied) about Ballague.

      • September 26, 2013

        @barca96
        He does it occasionally in guardian like before an el classico, or a CL finals etc.. It is a very interesting session. Some times I am able to follow it live, like today.

        Today’s one is part of the release of his book on El Classico. here is the link/
        http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2013/sep/26/barcelona-real-madrid-history-webchat-sid-lowe-live?commentpage=1
        it is better if you can go through the whole session, some excellent questions and answers are there (unlike mine!)

      • September 26, 2013

        @blitzen
        sorry if you will be disappointed. He didnt say anything about Ballague, I asked for his favourite liga writers, and he didnt name Ballague….

        I just want to think he dont like him too……

      • Roberto Senyera
        September 26, 2013

        Thank you.

        But you would be mistaken if you disagree with my views which are invariably always infallible.

      • barca96
        September 26, 2013

        Are you Portuguese Roberto?
        You were just talking about Portuguese but now you sound just like Mourinho! 😆

      • barca96
        September 26, 2013

        Note: before anyone gets offended, it is NOT a personal attack. Just a friendly chat.

      • Roberto Senyera
        September 26, 2013

        I’m a man of the people, 96 😉

  9. Roberto Senyera
    September 26, 2013

    And isn’t Ronaldo an absolute disgrace for celebrating like he just won the WC after scoring from the spot as a result of an unwarranted penalty? The guy has absolutely no class whatsoever. Is it any wonder that he’s a Portugeuser? Here’s a short litany: Ronaldo, Pepe, Mourinho. There must be something in the water in that country.

    • norden
      September 26, 2013

      another Portuguese 🙂

    • G6O
      September 26, 2013

      I had heard about that agreement before. But I didn’t know the details. Good read

  10. teddy
    September 26, 2013

    was googling around for free soccer API, just came across some interesting stat, we have 5 clean sheets in contrary to EE only one. The only clean sheep they had kept is against Granada if my source hasn’t fail me. Fascinating.

    • ooga aga
      September 26, 2013

      Puyol also has a clean sheep, equaling RM’s total on his own…

      • September 26, 2013

        ^ 😆

        (But you know Queca died, right?)

      • ooga aga
        September 26, 2013

        NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

      • September 26, 2013

        It was a couple of years ago now. It was very sad. Puyol tweeted a picture of them in happier days.

    • September 26, 2013

      Let’s be honest. These kind of things do happen, only that it happen with Madrid more than often. If you study referees performances across Europe, one could say that many favor the big teams. It’s not that it’s a deliberate choice, there might be more pressure on them when dealing with a big team.

      The problem with la Liga is there is absolute no penalty for a bad performance by the referee. Or may be I would word it better, there seems to be no penalty for this referee even after repeated horrible performance.

  11. ooga aga
    September 26, 2013

    Iniesta’s presser, in progress….he says he wants to end his career at the club…and maybe i missed it but maybe he said he wants the club to offer him a longer contract than the one they offered.

  12. psalmuel
    September 26, 2013

    People are complaining about the sevilla disallowed goal too, but they forget that it was a different scenario cos, if the goal was allowed, it would have been 2-1 with enough time for us to score(remember we scored 3mins into injury time). Thats very different from awarding a non-existent penalty at the death

  13. September 26, 2013

    So. Fernandez was “sanctioned” for his performance in Barça/Sevilla. The referees’ committee is also studying Elche/RM in the aftermath of which, presumably, Fernandez will be executed.

    • September 26, 2013

      Except that he is being protected by powerful friends on the Technical Committee.

    • Huckleberry
      September 26, 2013

      it makes perfectly sense, but in an other way. His fault was to not disadvantage Barça in the game against Sevilla. Now he had to show that the bosses can still count on him..

  14. September 26, 2013

    In an interview, Iniesta says he wants to end his career with Barça, and that the contract renewal is not a question of money. So there ya go.

  15. ooga aga
    September 26, 2013

    NEWS: PUYOL DID THE ENTIRE TRAINING TODAY WITH THE FIRST TEAM!!!

    i thought that justified some caps…

    • ooga aga
      September 26, 2013

      here are some awesome pix:

      **http://www.fcbarcelona.es/futbol/primer-equipo/detalle/galeria-de-imagenes/puyol-hace-todo-el-entrenamiento-con-el-grupo

  16. bhed
    September 26, 2013

    So who do we like in the Madrid derby this weekend? I hope Athletico can pull it off, not least because I think they’re more likely to drop points over the course of the season than those lily white bastards. I’m not holding my breath though.

    • September 26, 2013

      I don’t know whether Atletico can beat Madrid… But it will be a kick fest for sure… Yahooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Someone kick the hell out of that Arbeloa….. Diego Costa you are the man….

  17. hansh
    March 23, 2015

    ok

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