Bernardo M. Villegas
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The BARCA Way of Playing

           "Nothing in this world is forever."  I am paraphrasing one sports commentator who announced the defeat of the Spanish team in its second game against Chile in its group in the last World Cup, after the devastating loss in the hands of the Dutch.  It was obvious that the Spanish national team were suffering from aging, tired, and injury-prone players.  Their defeat already had been heralded by the disastrous performance of the FC Barcelona (BARCA) team in the last season:  they were completely trophy-less, with the exception of the minor Supercopa in Spain.  They were beaten by their archrival Real Madrid in both the King's Cup and the Champions League and succumbed to Atletico de Madrid in the Liga.  Since seven of the lead players in the Spanish national team were from BARCA, it wasn't a surprise that "its remarkable run of success (two consecutive European League titles and the World Cup of 2010) had to come to an end eventually" as an AFP report predicted a few days before the start of the last World Cup.  I would, however, disagree with those who are mourning the death of tiki-taka, the positional and possession-based game based on team work and precision passing that won for the Catalan team under the management of Pep Guardiola fourteen trophies in four seasons, a record that would be very difficult for any team in the world to beat.

          I have just finished reading the book by British sports journalist Graham Hunter entitled "The Making of the Greatest Team in the World:  BARCA."  I can hear howls of protest from fans of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, and other top teams in the world.  It cannot be denied, however, that from 2008 to 2012, BARCA was acclaimed as the best football team ever by numerous sports journalists (prominent among whom was Rob Hughes of the International New York Times).  At almost the same time, Lionel Messi, the Argentine star player of BARCA, was touted as the best football player ever in the world (he won the World's Best Football Player award for four consecutive years).  The fact that BARCA have lost their touch and that Pep Guardiola is facing some serious challenges as coach of Bayern Munich does not take away the historical fact that there was a period of three to four years when the team coached by Guardiola from 2008 to 2012 became the "greatest team in the world."

          The book by Hunter contains very detailed accounts on how Guardiola turned around a demoralized team under the former coach Rijkaard ( I was a personal witness to the two agonizing years from 2007 to 2008 when BARCA were literally in the pits).  Guardiola reintroduced the tiki-taka style that he learned from Johann Cruyff when he was himself a star player for Barca in the late 1980s to mid-1990s. He disciplined the players and sacked primadonnas like Ronaldhino, Deco and Eto'o who refused to toe the line.  At the same time, he treated the players humanely by going to great lengths in having the entire team attend the funeral of the father of their goalkeeping coach and in making sure that the players spend as much time with their families despite the rigors of training and traveling.  He was very strict about punctuality and the need for persevering exercise; but he was a father to his players.

          The results are there for everyone to see.  As Hunter concluded his book: "There are the 14 trophies won over four incredible seasons.  Then, there is his part in establishing Messi as the greatest player in the world.  In Guardiola's final season, Messi scored 72 times at club level, in doing so he became the club's record goalscorer, aged 24; he equalled a single-season Champions League/European Cup goalscoring record (14) which had stood since a fortnight after The Beatles had their first No 1 in 1963, and he became the only player to top score in the Champions League for four straight seasons.  However, the legacy Guardiola leaves overshadows any of the breathtaking moments his team produced.  They have shown generations of kids around the world how to play the game beautifully.  And it is not just the next generation who have been watching learning.  In England, both Wigan Athletic and Swansea have adopted a creative, attack-minded possession-based game with its roots at the Camp Nou.  Liverpool, one of the great world names, appointed Brendan Rodgers from Swansea in search of precisely that brand of soccer.  At Chelsea, Roman Abramovich is patently obsessed with duplicating the BARCA values and yearns to attract Txiki Begiristain and Guardiola to his staff."

          I may be wrong and I submit to the opinions of experts.  But from my amateurish knowledge of football, I got the distinct impression that all the four teams that reached the semi-finals in the last World Cup--Germany, Argentina, the Netherlands, and Mexico- played some form of tiki-tika to one degree or another.  They were all experts in precision passing and minimized the long ball, scrabble and rumble approach of other teams.  That is why I fully understand what Hunter proudly reports at the end of the book:  "After 10 years in Barcelona, I am besieged wherever I travel by coaches, scouts, parents, kids, professional players and anyone who loves football, all yearning to learn about and emulate the BARCA way of playing.  The Guardiola way.  What more impressive legacy could there possibly be than to make millions around the world more in love with football?"  I can only say Amen. For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.