Thursday, 1 January 2009

Barcelona Is Winning With Style

author: Braden Phillips
source: New York Times

date: 24 December 2008

For some, watching FC Barcelona play soccer these days is akin to reading a book that is hard to put down. So much is working well that many fans do not want the season to finish and yet cannot wait to see what will happen in the end.

At the heart of the plot is coach Josep Guardiola i Sala, who is often called Pep and whose only experience guiding a team was one season with Barcelona’s third division squad. When he was chosen to replace the Dutchman Frank Rijkaard, making him the Spanish Primera Liga’s youngest head coach at 37, many were hard pressed to see the rationale.

The question gained urgency after the team scored only one goal in Guardiola’s first two games in charge — a loss and a tie. But then, his cure for the team’s ailments seemed to kick in: Barcelona won 15 of its next 16 league games, scoring 48 goals. The team enters the winter break with 41 points, its most ever at this stage, leaving second-place Sevilla 10 points behind.

"This team has the possibility of being one of the best in Barca history, ranking with the best of Cruyff, if it can sustain it," said Carles Rexach, a retired coach and a former assistant to Johan Cruyff. Cruyff led Barcelona from 1988 to 1996, when along with four league titles, it won its first European Cup and erased Barcelona’s stigma as second fiddle to Real Madrid.

Considering that Barcelona finished 18 points off the lead last season, the team’s turnaround has been resounding. Even Joan Laporta, club president and staunch supporter of Guardiola’s promotion, expressed his surprise. "We had all the confidence in Guardiola, but it was hard to expect that things would go quite this well," he said.

"I’m going to try to seduce my players because I believe in the power of the word," Guardiola said in June at a news conference. "They’ll have to learn that they’re not worth much alone, that talent and inspiration can only become great when they are at the service of the team."

He has taken on less-heralded players, like the Brazilian international Dani Alves and Mali’s Seydou Keita from Sevilla, and the former Barcelona youth team player Gerard Piqué from Manchester United. He brought in 20-year-old Sergi Busquets, who played for Guardiola in the third division, demonstrating the vitality of the team’s farm system.

But a majority of Barcelona’s starting 11 are the same players the team fielded last season. The veterans Eto’o and Henry both attribute their resurgence to Guardiola. "Giving Pep the credit is not an exaggeration," said Henry, who scored the winning goal last weekend against Villarreal, the team’s most recent victim. "We needed discipline and his style of football, the Barcelona way."

Guardiola grew up less than 40 miles from Barcelona, attended its youth academy, La Masia, and played for Barcelona for 11 years, six under Cruyff, who gave him his debut in 1990 at age 19. Until Cruyff, Barcelona had no distinguishable style, but since then the team has melded its identity with his philosophy.

No one represents this more than Guardiola, "the first great player to come out of the Barcelona system with the Cruyff philosophy wired into his boots," said Martí Perarnau, a sports columnist for El Periódico de Catalunya, a Barcelona-based newspaper. Guardiola’s success is not so much a revolution as a return to the team’s roots. As coach, his rigorous training sessions emphasize passing, possession and pressure.

"If the ball is in the opposite side of the field, I’m relaxed; if it’s in ours, I’m not," Guardiola said, according to the Spanish newspaper El País. Barcelona controls the ball for more than 60 percent of the game, well above every other team in the league — not merely controlling it but relentlessly and methodically pushing toward the opponent’s goal.

The team’s slogan, més que un club — more than a club — has various interpretations. Once a symbol of democracy and Catalan identity during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Barcelona is still a source of regional pride. As part of a five-year charitable commitment started in 2006, it donates more than $2 million a year to Unicef, whose name is emblazoned across the front of the team’s jersey, instead of selling the space to a high-paying corporate sponsor.

In the end, however, the sheer pleasure of its style of play is one of the reasons Barcelona has the most paying members, about 160,000, of any soccer club in the world, and more than 1,800 team associations around the world.

They and countless other fans are riveted by the sight of Barcelona’s intricate attacks, with passes caroming from one player to the next. Or by the sight of Messi charging to the goal with the ball, not so much running as skimming over the field like a water bug, luring defenders and leaving a streaking teammate open for the perfect pass. Style is the name of the game at Barcelona, and that, more than anything, is what makes it més que un club.

read the full and original article here

Read more:
The impressive start of Guardiola
Barcelona's home-field advantage explained
An introduction to the coming stars

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All the culés in the world, older or younger, wait for a new Dream Team as Cruyff´s team.

The todays team strated the leauge amazely, but the have LOT to prove yet.

The old dreamteam winned 4 la liga titles by row, the europien champione cup, Copa del Rey and some more.

The todays squad did win nothing yet.

But all culés are dreaming.

We can start first of all by winning the primera this season and we will see later.

Eto'o is gonna meet his old club Mallorca on two days.

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