I guess every reader of this column knows by now that I am a fan of FC Barcelona.
I love the team because, like me, they are football purists, always winning by playing the better football, cleanly, clearly and on the field, never in the boardroom!
In the past decade, it is hard to find many lovers of football that have not been captivated by the club’s achievements, its football brand and philosophy, its youth academy and its very exceptionally gifted players.
Without question, FC Barcelona have been the team of the 21st Century, winning the world’s most coveted club trophy three times since 2000, getting to the semi-finals six times, and the quarter finals twice. Compare this to Bayern Munich and Real Madrid that have won it twice each in that period.
This century the world has been treated to a brand of football that had never been seen previously in the history of the game.
Tiki Taka was a deliberate style of football conceived in Barcelona’s youth academy and mastered by the collection of some of the best players in the world,many of whom played for Spain and made them World Champions for the first time in their history!
Tiki Taka became an art exhibition on display every week and everywhere FC Barcelona played.
The team taught the rest of the world the ultimate art of ball possession, the quick one-two passing and movements, the short interchange of passes, back and forth and sideways, the players running and pressing when they lose possession, and maintaining a fluid but intricate organised pattern of movements all the time like a well-oiled machine.
With this style of play the team simply ran rings around most opposing teams.
They were a delight to watch until critics of their style began to describe them as boring and rather monotonous.
In the past decade particularly, the ultimate challenge for European club managers was how to decode the team’s play. In the past three years a few have succeeded.
Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in Spain and Bayern Munich in Germany have discovered the Barca-antidote and reduced their impact and dominance.
FC Barcelona need to do something different to compete to win the UEFA champions league again.
I watched Barcelona FC take Manchester City FC to the cleaners in the first leg of the round of 16. It was a very emphatic and comprehensive performance that captured the essence of a ‘new’ FC Barcelona.
What is clear is that Tiki Taka has been dismantled and is metamorphosing into something new, something less dramatic but, potentially more exciting and more deadly when the ‘concoction’ fully matures!
The old Barca played with 7 or more midfield players without a permanent striker upfront. Now, from outside the influence of the Barcelona youth academy, the team has been experimenting with new players for two seasons.
FC Barcelona may have returned to the conventional style of European club football but they have created a new headache for European club managers.
The price that Barca have had to pay for this new formation is a midfield and defense that now look less compact with more open spaces for opposing teams to play.
FC Barcelona are no less exciting than they once were, are less patient in attack than they once were, are less dominant in ball possession than they once were, and less imposing on opposing teams than they once were. But for all that they now are in deficit, they make up for with a striking partnership of three of the best goal scorers on the planet in their team! In Neymar da Silva, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona now have a dream attacking formation almost unmatched by any other team with the exception of Real Madrid.
Having said all of that the question now arises: can the new FC Barcelona win the 2014/2015 UEFA Champions League?
I run a betting shop so I know a good wager when I see one. This one is not. I will not put my money on FC Barcelona winning the Champions League this season.
Do not get me wrong. With a little bit of luck they can win it but the chances of that happening, in my humble estimation, are slim.
Looking at how they have been playing this season, with Tiki Taka dismantled, and a new style still developing, it may require the experience of one more season for the emerging philosophy to take a firm hold and make them champions once again.
Lionel Messi – Back And Better!
Lionel Messi’s lethargic performance at the World Cup cost him a great deal. All he needed to do was alter his mindset and commit one hundred percent to the cause and lead Argentina to win the World Cup. That feat would have earned him the highest honour in the history of football – the best footballer that ever lived!
But something happened to him during the World Cup that I still cannot fathom. He did not play with the spirit of one that wanted to win very badly! He ‘strolled’ through the matches, and even got to the finals playing without conviction and fire in the eyes.
When Argentina lost, Messi lost even more.
As a result, no one raised an eyebrow or complained when a few months later ardworking, but obviously less talented Cristiano Ronaldo, stole the show again and took away the crown of World’s best player from him again. Ronaldo thoroughly deserved it and it appeared as if the spirit to win had left Lionel Messi.
Now here comes a new season and suddenly, for the first time in a long while, Barcelona FC and Messi are back.
Lionel Messi is playing spiritedly again! It is quite apparent in the way he plays these days, chasing and running around, joining in defending when his team loses possession, getting involved more than ever before during play, and playing his team from the front through physical effort!
It reminds me of the Messi of the early days of his career. He anchored Barcelona FC’s unique brand of football that dominated world football in the past decade.
At that time there was no disputing the fact that in FC Barcelona and Messi, the world had the best team and the best player respectively.
For Lionel Messi, there is no doubt in my mind that he is the greatest human to have ever played football. He may not have the complete range of skills like Pele, or almost singled-handedly led his country to win the World Cup like Pele and Maradona, but in terms of sheer natural ability and affinity with the ball at his feet, there has never been a better player.
There is a magnetic relationship between his left foot and the ball that makes him do almost anything with it at will, almost effortlessly. It is hard to put into words his ease and prowess on the ball, his dribbling ability even in the tightest of corners, how he wriggles between defenders, how he rides tackles, how he glides and races past defenders, how he makes difficult shots look so easy, how he makes goal scoring a habit.
From what I have seen of Messi this current season, if all goes well and he remains injury free, he is set to extend his grip on world football. He will likely win the World’s best player award again for an unassailable fifth time! And probably the world will now accept, as I have claimed over and over again, that there has been no player like Lionel Messi in the history of football!