If Dion Dublin is ‘Magnificent’ how good are Barcelona?
Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t really a man for banding around superlatives so it must be something special when he does. ‘Barcelona were mesmerising’ Ferguson admitted before going on to describe United’s defeat as a ‘hiding’. There are two things that strike me here; firstly Barca must be very very good if Ferguson is throwing around praise to rival that of Dublin’s manhood and secondly it is refreshing to hear a manager just be honest after a match without making excuses. It actually shows what managers would be like if they weren’t hell-bent on protecting their players egos and their own jobs throughout the season. No blaming the ref or saying we were unlucky, purely admitting inferiority. Players get paid enough to be able to hear the truth and I actually think if Premiership managers’ jobs were more secure they would be more honest. Sadly most managers are as honest post match as a FIFA enquiry into corruption allegations so I suppose we will just have to like it or lump it. This is an attitude I loathe to adopt; ‘things won’t change, so lets just get on with it.’ I genuinely feel the bigwigs at FIFA are so stuck in their ways, they have things far too good and have their own little club, that nothing will ever get done to improve the state of football’s governing body. They have so much money and so much power , there are few who can stand up to them and when the British press and FA attempt to take action it is passed off as bitter retribution for not being awarded the World Cup. Any football fan knows FIFA are corrupt and it subsequently is having a negative effect on world football.
FIFA is a registered charity and are excused from paying tax by their Swiss landlords. They are basically given carte blanche by the Swiss government to continue ruining football. They have 660 million euros saved up in a Swiss vault! Why is none of this money being used to develop world football; providing equipment for youngsters in South America, developing grass roots football in Asia or stadia in Africa instead of awarding a country hotter than the sun and smaller than Birmingham the honour of hosting the world’s premier sporting event (because they will rebuild the stadia in Africa??) – Why don’t FIFA just splash a bit of their savings on the facilities Africa need and give the World Cup to a more viable alternative, if they care that much about African football? Which they don’t! The World Cup in South Africa illustrates, in my eyes, a scandal of its own. South African citizens were charged extra taxes for the building of stadia and infrastructure in order for their country to be Africa’s pioneer World Cup hosts. Yet when it came to FIFA selling tickets and merchandise etc. in South Africa they refused to pay South Africa any tax on the money they received. Everything was profit for FIFA. This is shocking, and for a poor continent like Africa to be deprived millions of pounds that could have been used for promoting the beautiful game in third world countries, where kids are mad for the sport is a scandal. Furthermore with empty stadiums during the world cup in South Africa why didn’t they just bus some kids in from the slums and give them an experience of a lifetime. One reason. Money. Football has gone money mad and despite FIFA’s apparently ‘proactive’ policies towards preventing it, they are the cause of it.
If FIFA ironically are the anti-football there has never been a more timely messiah (a coincidental first 5 letters), than Barcelona. Having watched a lot of football in my lifetime I have seen a lot of great teams. Italia 90’ was pulsating and whilst Germany prevailed they were efficient not great. France and Brazil have been the two great national teams since and with Zidane and Ronaldo, most notably, have provided some exhilarating football. Club sides like United’s treble winners, Arsenal’s invincibles, AC Milan and Ajax of the 90’s can all pay claim to having great sides. However none can provide a more conclusive argument to footballing purity and greatness than watching the 2011 Barcelona. Lots of pundits have said they are the best in a lifetime. Others have stressed not to get carried away. But it is impossible not to – They literally, are tremendous to watch, get results and win trophies. An accolade few can match up to.
And when Wenger, Mourinho and Ferguson are all left scratching their head of how to get close to them it illustrates how good Barcelona and Guardiola are. In 90 minutes of the biggest game of their season the English Champions couldn’t even force a corner! I personally thought Pique (who was given the run around by Kevin Davies a few seasons ago at the Reebok!) and Mascherano (playing out of position) might struggle, but the tactics, pressure and ‘defending from the front’ style ensures opponents rarely get a chance to put them under any pressure.
Man Utd were outclassed at Wembley in all facets of the game; If we analyse the Passing;
777 – Total number of passes that Barcelona made in the final, more than double Manchester United’s 357. Barca had 69% of overall ball possession.
148 – Passes that Spanish midfielder Xavi completed during the game, a high for the Champions League this season. He misplaced only seven, giving him a completion rate of 95%.
Xavi is a machine but it is not just his passing. He seems so elegant on the ball and always in space, rarely needing to drive forward or track back. Yet he heads the distance covered stats with 12km. In fact Barca players regularly cover more ground than their opponents. You would think the time the other teams spent chasing the ball ( Barca under Guardiola have never played a game when they have come out second best in possession) would cover far more ground, however it is a testament to how hard the Barca players press and work that they cover more ground than their opponents. It is actually outrageous that the best passing team in the world are also the hardest working! That is a serious combination for success. For me Xavi is the best player in the world and probably as good as I have seen although I accept the presence of Iniesta and Messi (probably the next best) compliment him very well. 60 passes went between Xavi and Iniesta at Wembley (this was the most common pass journey) compared to United’s best of 16 between Vidic and Ferdinand. The two classy midfielders also found Messi a staggering 55 times throughout the game, illustrating a clear tactic to get the gifted triumvirate involved as often as possible.
There are several other statisitcs that might paint a more detailed picture to how and why Barca are so successful;
Lionel Messi was the leading goalscorer in the Champions league competition with 12 goals in 13 matches. An equal amount came in each half and 5 of the 12 broke the deadlock. He scored 5 of his goals away from home, which is always crucial in a tough competition like the champions league. He also bagged 31 goals in 32 games in La Liga – A supreme tally for the Argentine.
Barca’s average CL attendance was over 10,000 higher than Internazionale, their closest rival. This will ensure not only much needed support in home matches but also a supreme amount of revenue. Their highest gate of 95,000 is twice the size of Stamford Bridge!
Furthermore they defy clichés like ‘our players get tired’ and the ‘need for a rotation policy’ . The Barca starting XI is the pretty much the same every game and they rarely have injuries. The fluidity and telepathy of their play is helped by the fact they train and play together all week and at the weekend, they know each other inside out when there is an injury a change is made but a rotation policy is not necessary. Often too many managers can get over concerned about rotating their squad and it takes away the cohesion of a well-oiled team. Plus Spain reached the World Cup final with a Barcelona heavy starting XI. More games, more experience, still no signs of tiredness!
Barca have 7 players who have 30 appearances or more in La Liga; Xavi , Pique, Messi, Iniesta, Alves , Valdes and Villa. Compare this to to United’s 3; Vidic Evra Van de saar and Nani
Barca have ten players with 10 or more Champs League apps – Pedro, Mascherano, Valdes, Messi, Iniesta , Xavi, Pique, Busquets, Villa , Alves (all on 12). United can only boast only 3; Evra, Van De Saar and Carrick– No-one on 12
The appearances stats illustrate clear evidence to support the contention that English based players aren’t playing too many games. Granted Spain get a Winter break, but they are playing more games. Maybe a break would enable British teams to be able to field first choice teams on a more regular basis. But the stats don’t lie, Barca consistently and particularly at the top level, play their best team, no need for rotation.
It is difficult to quantify just how good Barcelona are. Comparing generations is impossible. The fitness particularly, but also the levels of athleticism and skill have been moved onto a new level in the last 10 years. Diets, strict training regimes and the like have seen the game evolve. However I am confident this Barcelona team could have competed with any team, club or country. They are that good. It really does beg the question; does Sir Alex have any superlatives left for Guardiola’s Catalan Giants? And how can Barca get any better? Maybe they could play Dion Dublin up front!