This article first appeared in the Jul/Aug 2011 issue of World Gaming magazine.
Barcelona is the best club football side in the world. There is no argument; it’s just a fact. It will take an incredible turnaround for anyone to come close to them again in next year’s Champion’s League.
“I expected us to do better but at the end of the day we were beaten by the better team. They are the best team we have ever played; they are at the peak in this cycle of their team.”
What more could Sir Alex Ferguson say? All he could do was shake his head in bewilderment as Barcelona played close to a flawless game of football in the Champions League Final at Wembley. All United could claim was there was no shame in losing to the best.
Pedro, a product of Barca’s famous La Masia youth academy, opened the scoring for Barca in the 27th minute after an engrossing opening. It was as if the Spaniards were toying with their heralded opponents while the crowd wearing red were left wondering how they could possibly make a contest of the most awaited Champions League final for many years. The bookmakers had it right and Barcelona deserved to be the odds-on favourites despite playing Manchester United on the English team’s home soil.
In a moment of sheer brilliance England’s most feared striker, Wayne Rooney, pulled one back for the English champions before half time. But in the second half there appeared nothing that Ferguson could do to address the dire situation his champion football side faced. Sir Alex Ferguson, who is not a man that gives undeserved compliments, paid the Spanish champions the ultimate compliment after the match, saying, “In my time as a manager, it’s the best team we’ve faced.”
Messi, who is arguably the best player in the world, was without doubt the best player on the field and his man of the match display was mercurial. That Messi is a magician is beyond argument. But we shouldn’t underestimate the team effort of Barca as a whole unit. Barcelona plays with a flair that would make any Brazilian national team beam with pride and a defense that would have any Italian licking his lips. They are quite simply breathtaking to watch.
Not since the brilliance of the early 1990s AC Milan outfit has there been a team who can dominant the world to such an extent. Many wonder why. The answer leads us back to Barcelona’s youth academy La Masia (in English, “the farmhouse”). The academy has produced numerous talented footballers, such as Messi, Pedro, Piqué, Iniesta and Xavi. Almost half of the current Barca team are La Masia alumni. The football philosophy of slick passing and pure technique was drilled into La Masia teenagers. In the next decade, these kids trained and played every day honouring this philosophy, to the point they can execute any complicated tactic team manager Josep Guardiola cares to dream up.
It’s clear the dominance of the Spanish national team also stems from La Masia. In 2008, Spain won the European Cup for the first time in 44 years, and most of the key players came from Barca, or more precisely, La Masia. When Spain lifted its historic first-ever World Cup last year, the familiar names of Piqué, Iniesta, Pedro, Xavi and Puyol were there. They all have one thing in common: La Masia.
The La Masia phenomenom continues to this day. In the under 21s European cup in Denmark, the bookies installed the young Spaniards as favourites, despite their group including the promising young English and Czech teams. The Spaniards had two wins and a draw, getting through to the knockout stage as top of their group. These youngsters share the same football philosophy as their senior counterparts: pass and run and dominate every game. Among them, you’ll find more football talent produced by the La Masia factory, such as Thiago, Bojan and Montoya. These youngsters might not quite be household names yet, but just wait a few years.
Barca’s stadium Nou Camp is now the mecca of football. Last summer, both David Villa and Javier Mascherano transferred to Barca. When leaving Valencia, David Villa only had eyes for Barcelona. Defensive midfielder Mascherano described his own transfer from Liverpool to the red and blue strip as a “dream come true”. This summer, lightning quick Chilean winger Alexis Sanchez was the main target of many premier league clubs. But he snubbed the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City, to join Barca for the princely sum of £32million. These transfers will cement the dynasty.
Barca has been the most feared club worldwide during the last six years, and there are no signs of that fear abating. Barca is simply the best team in the world. It is an undeniable fact.