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.
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.
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.
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.