Barça saved Barça

Pep Guardiola became Barcelona coach in 2008. Pep guided the club towards years of glory. He created what was considered the best team in history.

It was considered the best team in history for many reasons. That team could entertain, win matches, win trophies, and go out every match day with ridiculous score-lines.

Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola
There is much more to say about Pep’s team but no one is interested in a history lesson. So, we move on.

Move on? I guess that’s the correct word to describe the rest of this article.

You can’t help but notice how people (not only Barcelona fans) are deeply attached to Pep’s Barça. They link that team with any possible version of Barcelona whether in the past or present. Although this type of comparison may be healthy as it encourages Barcelona to always move forward, it is also the most devastating comparison a person could make about football teams.

Back into history: Pep’s team was not only an exception to football teams, it was an exception to football itself.

Pep’s team created images such as: The goalkeeper can last matches without being involved much. The midfield will always link up perfectly regardless of the opponent and how the opponent reacts. More could be said about what Pep’s team portrayed but the main point is that it was an exception to powerful football teams, let alone football teams in general. No team could dominate a match so easily.

Pep’s team shifted the average score-lines upwards. Football was always averaging 1-0 and 2-1 scorelines. Pep’s team simply crushed that average. We witnessed easy 3-goal differences. We sat back on the weekend to wait for another 5-goal difference against a mid-table team. Pep’s team turned 4-goal differences into a norm. And 4-goal differences are an exception in football, so how would you describe the scorelines with 5, 6, or even 7 goal differences? Ridiculous.

I am sure Barça fans worldwide can describe that specific team (precisely the 2011 team) better than I. Pep’s team took football out of the reality it lives in.

Consequently that team also took football fans, specifically Barça fans, out of the reality of football. Barça fans became so deeply attached to that team, and can you blame them? With all that glory why wouldn’t you be deeply attached?

And here comes the most dangerous part of all.

Barça supporters were staring happily at Pep while he built the perfect Barça. However while doing so, some bricks fell off. By the time Pep left Barça these bricks formed one huge wall. This wall is known as the ‘creativity block’.

A simpler way of explaining it is this: “Do it like that. It’s how it worked before. Don’t think of something different. Different is bad.”

The more ironic part of this is that Pep was and still is one of the most creative coaches in the world. However, he seemed to have left some certain “rules” in Barcelona. He left rules and ideas that were so strict and rigid that creativity had no place anymore. And the moment creativity, innovation, and taking risks have no place is when anything declares failure.

What rules?

From player positions to instructions to a complete style of play, Barça fans and possibly even the people in charge were stuck to the idea: “Well, that’s how it worked before.”

There is a fear of trying something new, even as, again, many disregard that “trying something new” is mostly what Pep himself attempted.

There is a fear of seeing Lionel Messi in other positions. There is a fear of Busquets not being the center of the team. There is a fear of Xavi not being the main controlling force in midfield.


And the examples about other players and more importantly the style of play also exist.

There is a fear of seeing a long ball and actually not being 100% safe. There is reluctance to shoot from outside the area to break a defense and be more direct (this is changing recently) instead of passing your way through it.

This is not a request to push Lionel to other positions. This is not a request to bench Busquets. This is not a request to stop Xavi from being the main orchestrator. This is not a request to shift play toward constant long balls or endless shooting. On the contrary, these players are doing great and our style of play has been proven effective for years.

However, this is a request to keep an open eye for other options and not be afraid to try them. Because if football was dependent on a set of rules and certain ideas we would never watch it because it would be so boring. In reality, football changes a lot and obviously so do teams.

With that said, let’s move more into the present.

Barcelona recently defeated PSG in a match that witnessed Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suarez scoring. Many might argue that it wasn’t the best Barcelona performance. That’s true. The team seemed shaky on several occasions. However, the team was also experiencing a lineup that made everyone in the world go: “Huh?”


PSG has a very talented midfield that gave us problems. This, was in addition to knowing that Andres and Busquets are not exactly going through their best periods.

Barcelona conceded first with a goal from non other than Zlatan. However, if Barça fans learned anything from the recent scorelines in La Liga it is that this team has a resilient character. From being down by one goal against Espanyol then reacting, to fighting until the last second against Valencia, Ibrahimovic’s goal was obviously not going to keep this team quiet.

A long ball from Mascherano to Luis Suarez caused Lionel Messi’s goal. Later, Neymar showed his own brilliance with a beautiful shot from outside PSG’s area. Finally, and after a beautiful passing display, Suarez ended the match with a rebound goal after another Neymar attempt.

Luis Suarez

Team needs improving? The answer to this question should always be a ‘yes’.

Formation needs to be used more so that players get used to it? Yes.

Among all the discussions one discussion remains the most intriguing:

“Barcelona and Luis Enrique were saved by individual brilliance, not team display.”

Again, it wasn’t the best team display. It is also worth mentioning that individual brilliance is actually one of the most beautiful parts of the game. The ability of these very talented forwards doesn’t show the lack of the team’s structure in any way. In fact, it only shows one thing: they are world-class players capable of changing any game. That’s what they’re here for.

However apparently Pep disagrees. According to many, in Pep’s era Barcelona scored most of their goals by team play. The players held hands as they passed the ball into the net. This statement is true, yet very inaccurate.

Many, if not most, of Lionel Messi’s goals in Pep’s era or now are based on his individual brilliance. Why stop at goals? When Lionel Messi dribbled 3-4 players and his teammate went for a tap-in, isn’t that also an act of individual brilliance from Lionel?

When did individual brilliance become something that displeases the fans?

More importantly, when did individual brilliance deviate away from manager instructions? Was it only Neymar’s decision to take the shot against PSG? Probably. However it is surely not only Neymar’s decision that he is shooting more this season. Instructions exist too. From hitting the post with a beautiful shot to his excellent goal against Real Madrid, Neymar has obviously been given more freedom. He has obviously been given instructions to do what he sees fit. He is individually brilliant but he has also been given the proper instructions.

Individual brilliance cannot be separated from team-coach brilliance, especially in a team where Lionel Messi plays.

Individual brilliance saved Barça? Not exactly … Barça, being who they are saved Barça.

The ideas of Pep and the past won’t save the team now. Brilliance and innovation were always the two things that kept this club going. They’re the reason why I fell in love with it.

It is safe to say: Barça saved Barça.


    1. LE on critics around the new formation – “I already made these types of changes at Barca B but not even Saint Peter was watching”

      Now I dont know who Sain Peter is, but that was hilarious.

    2. He guards the gate to the Christian heaven, the assumption being that he knows what you’ve been up to in order to let you into paradise.

  1. Brilliant post. I especially liked the last bit about individual brilliance and I will never understand how anyone could try and use it as a criticism, ESPECIALLY of Barcelona. From Ronaldinho, to Deco, to Messi, to Iniesta the last decade or so of Barcelona success is very much down to the individual skill, brilliance and talent of key players. I became a fan of Barcelona and of football itself as a direct result of the individual brilliance that Ronaldinho displayed in his first season at Barcelona. We now have in our front line, possibly the 3 most talented, intelligent, creative and exciting players in world football. I for one hope to see a hell of a lot more individual brilliance!

  2. Pep gave us (unintentionally, it has to be said) the illusion that there is a rigid formula that one can faithfully stick to and be successful in perpetuity. This is, of course, in direct contradiction with the fact that the success of that teams was due to in probably almost equal parts to player brilliance, the underlying philosophy, but also his meticulous preparation and the tweaks he implemented for each game. But the latter remains invisible for most fans, so the myth of the winning formula persists.

    Which is really another manifestation of that eternal human desire to find some magical trick that will do all the hard work for us and relieve us of the pressure of doing all the difficult and uncertain things ourselves. Pep’s team made that seem possible and this is why we’re clinging so hard to the myth. But there are no free lunches in the real world so the sooner we move on, the better.

  3. Nice post chief.

    Once again star sports have shown its step mother attitude to liga , today, in India. They are showing everything else except the Barca match live (In fact they are showing one match on three different channels live, if only they had shown Barca match in one of these channels). I hate to watch Barca on stream.

    Is there anyone who can communicate to the Liga authorities that their idea to have early matches to reach more Asian viewers may not be working, at least in India. If Star sports have to chose live matches between EPL and Liga they always go for the former. And now many liga matches are happening at the same time as EPL and at least in India, EPL gets the priority by Star Sports.
    If not, if Liga can ensure that Liga rights are not sold to the tv who also have EPL may be.. its really disappointing.
    And to my knowledge, the numbers of people who want to watch liga are growing.

    1. Yeah, it’s pretty similar actually in the UK. We have a rule prohibiting live matches to be shown on TV before 5pm on a Saturday. As a result today’s game has been reduced to highlights at 9pm which is a bummer. Although in general coverage of Spanish football on Sky is pretty good.

    2. So there are many who will miss Getafe today. what a shame.

      I heard about this no football before 5 pm rule during el classico – what is the logic.
      What do they do for Cricket, when they have tests / one day?

    3. The logic is a law from the previous century, it’s intended to boost stadium attendances both in the Premier League and (more importantly) the lower divisions.

    4. It’s funny to hear you talk about last century meaning the 1900s, Peter. 🙂
      But you’re correct and tbh I don’t really have a problem with the rule. I’m just greedy in expecting La Liga to organise themselves around my viewing habits. Bit disappointed that Sky chose to show another game rather than delayed transmission of the whole game starting just after five.

    5. It’s funny to hear you talk about last century meaning the 1900s, Peter.
      I know, right? 😀 I did it deliberately, to emphasize what I think is outdatedness of the law and and the fact that it was indeed enacted before 2000.

      For a lot of people, chiefly those born in the 20th century, the 20th century remains “this century” at least on a subconscious level, so sometimes it has to be stressed. Speaking as a child of the late 80s.

    6. As I said though I’m not sure I can honestly oppose the rule. I “support” a small team whose survival largely depends on home gates. At times when our attendances are declining showing a Clasico at three on a Saturday afternoon would decimate that attendance. I have visions of a future where games are played in empty stadia but the teams are viable solely through TV money.. It’d be like watching Barca with the sound muted. (Mind you, when Gerry Armstrong is commentating …….. )

  4. Anyway, the delayed highlights gives me time to take my granddaughter to her first Christmas party so it’s not all bad !

    Wishes for today are ( in order) a win, a Suarez goal, four at the back – (despite what some are saying that was painful to watch defensively against PSG) and a bit of form from Ini. Oh, and if Santa chooses to give me another chance to watch Xavi I’ll not be complaining.

    1. Not even close. Now that we drop points, action will be taken. It’s better to drop points now and Lucho realizing that there is something wrong especially with the midfield, he has time to fix it. It’s been weeks now except for PSG and 2nd half Espanyol since we had a convincing display. The midfield has been pretty poor. There is no creativity from the midfield, no penetration, just poor.

      Bringing on the weak Munir who can’t hold the ball against adults?! Rafinha has 1 year La Liga experience and can play LW, and is much stronger and can actually hold the ball and dribble, why not use him?

      I liked what I Pique did bringing the ball forward. I don’t why he stopped doing it. He’s slowly back to his best. It’s going to be tough for Bartra to break into the starting line up. Messi tried and tried but he can’t do it all alone. We really missed Neymar out there. I read a couple of times that Suarez had the most successful dribble in EPL. He can barely beat a man. Speaks volume of how tough this league is. Messi needs to sit out in midweek.

  5. The silly thing to me, is that Enrique says he is not unhappy about the way the team played. Wow.

  6. First time commenter here but been reading for a while now.
    I can’t say the players don’t want to win but one really expects more running esp towards the end of matches like this. all is not lost though

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