Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Simon Kuper’s brilliant exposé of CF Barcelona a ‘must read’.

Photo:  The cover of Simon Kuper's tell-all book about Barcelona. 

Barcelona have hundreds of millions of followers around the world and have been the most successful football club for the past couple of decades.

That reputation appears to have come to an end and for a club that prided itself in the motto “Mes que un club” (More than a club), it has become just another club.

The departure of superstar Lionel Messi was the catalyst for the decline.

As noted journalist Simon Kuper explains in his latest book, “Barca: The Inside Story of the World’s Greatest Football club”, (Short Books, London, 2021), Barcelona relied more and more on Messi to bring them success.

They failed to renew an ageing team and, when they did buy players, they were not the right ones.

The supply of home-grown products from La Masia, the club’s famous academy, dried up and new signings were mostly over-priced and did not add value to the team.

The decision to get rid of Luis Suarez was a monumental mistake, while Ronaldinho lost interest after being the best player in the world while at Barcelona and his lack of discipline spread to other players.

One quarter of Barcelona’s income last year was being spent on Messi’s salary and the club was headed for a fall  -  which has now happened.

The club has had its ups and downs before, but it has never been on a higher precipice.

Kuper details how Dutch superstar Johan Cruyff transformed the club in the 1970s as a player, and again in the 1980s as a coach.

He introduced the Ajax style of ‘total football’, leading by example when he joined as a player in 1973.

He was a contrary, arrogant figure, however, and often did what he wanted on the pitch, defying the coach’s instructions.  He believed in conflict and not harmony in his relationships.

Cruyff’s belief in personal conflict was the same when he was appointed coach.  After being sacked after an 8-year reign as head coach, he summarised his time as Barcelona coach by stating:  “When I started here, I was three times more famous than Barcelona.  Now we’re about even.”

He didn’t get on with fellow Dutchman Frank Rijkaard, the Dane Michael Laudrup, nor with English striker Gary Lineker, whom he played on the wing rather than at centre-forward.

Lineker felt that Cruyff was deliberately humiliating him and even tried to arrange a transfer, but Cruyff wouldn’t allow it until the rift eventually became too great.

Cruyff’s influence was profound, however, and the club was always associated with Cruyff from then on.  Every team at the club, from juniors to seniors, played Cruyffian football.

The problem with that was that when things went wrong in the Cruyffian system, they went very wrong.

One of Cruyff’s players, Pep Guardiola, who described Cruyff as a genius and who went on to become coach, summed it up thus:  “And if a genius does it right, and that’s nearly always, the result is perfect.  But if a genius does something wrong, it goes so incredibly wrong that you want to murder him.  Only geniuses take those risks.”

Guardiola, himself a product of La Masia, built up a super Barcelona team that featured up to eight La Masia graduates, including Messi, Iniesta and Xavi.  They swept all before them and accumulated trophy after trophy.

Guardiola was obsessive in his approach and it was no wonder that he was burnt out when he left Barcelona and went to New York on sabbatical before returning to coaching.

His departure was the beginning of the end for Barcelona.  The coaches who took his place all had only brief tenures.  The club realised that it was easier to sack a coach than to try and placate a team.  There was no substitute for talent.

The first team gradually got older and was not replaced by the same quality of player.

The departure of stars such as Xavi and Iniesta was catastrophic and Messi’s departure for Paris St Germain at the end of last season was the final straw.  The club is now deep in debt and success on the field is starting to elude them.

Kuper was given privileged access to people within the club and this is probably the finest book ever written about Barcelona.

It's certainly one of the most interesting and it’s well worth reading as you wait for the NPL Tasmania season to begin.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Walter

There is also another book that is worth the read called Diggers journey.