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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.