SPORT OPINION: 'Barca cannot be the greatest until they come up with Plan B'
It’s an all too common, and annoying, sight these days to find people drooling while watching Barcelona pass their way to an all too pretty and superlative-inducing 5-0 win against the might of Osasuna, Levante or Celta Vigo.
It’s annoying on two levels. First, the saliva makes a mess on the sofa and, second, we sometimes think the droolers are missing the point. Obviously Barca are a top, top side - you don’t win three Champions Leagues in seven years without being half-decent. However, are they, as the droolers so often insist, the best club side ever?
We’re sorry, but we have to answer no.
We apologise because, as regular readers of this column will know all too well, we are huge fans of the Catalan giants. We love the history of the club, its principles and philosophy, and yes, we are partial to staring in awe as they out-pass another out-of-their-depth victim on their way to a handsome victory.
However, the greatest side of all time surely has a Plan B? And, on the evidence of the past few seasons, that’s something the current bunch of brilliant Barca boys seem to have forgotten.
Last week’s ‘shock’ (was it really?) 2-0 defeat at AC Milan was almost an exact action replay of the side’s defeats to Inter Milan three years ago, Chelsea last season and Celtic last November. The script goes something like this: opposition set their stall early on not committing too many men forward and defending in numbers. Barca have over 70 per cent of the possession and pass the ball around with the ease we’ve come to expect. However, in the final third they lack the cutting edge to break through the two banks of, what seems like, 20 and ultimately get picked off on the counter attack or at a set piece. They then come off the pitch wondering how they managed to lose.
As far as scripts go we’re well aware that paragraph isn’t going to be made into a Hollywood blockbuster, but then again watching Lionel Messi and Co pass the ball sideways in vain for 90 minutes isn’t exactly exciting either. In fact, forcing yourself to watch the cream of club football be made to look clueless against a side whose tactics were well known before the kick-off can be utterly tedious and deals a knee-high tackle to the beauty of tiki-taka.
Where’s the nous, the aggression, the Plan B?
That’s what all great sides have. The great Liverpool teams of the 1970s and 80s could look brilliant going forward, but they could also mix it up and get involved in a dogfight if needed. The same could be said of the last side to win back-to-back European Cups, AC Milan, and, dare we say it, the great Real Madrid teams of the 1950s and early 60s. It’s all well and good looking like world-beaters against the lesser lights in La Liga, but if your one Achilles heel is exposed time and again in Europe then perhaps a trip back to the drawing board should be in order.
SWANSEA SHOW FOOTBALL HOW ITS DONE
It was somewhat ironic that Swansea should win a trophy sponsored by a credit card. However, that a club run, in part, by its fans and with long-term security and success as the key aims, was able to celebrate success at Wembley in the Capital One Cup,
should serve as a warning to their rivals. The past 10 years have seen many sides subscribe to the ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’ mentality that has at its heart the idea that only by splashing the cash can you achieve success.
That’s the sort of model that has seen Leeds United, Rangers and many clubs to come, fall by the wayside as they’ve mortgaged their futures on the forlorn chance of domestic and European glory. It’s the sort of model we suspect would have been approved by the crooks on Wall Street for whom every risk was one worth taking regardless of the potential, and all-too real, consequences. However, the Swans have ignored that school of thought and gone about achieving success another way. Back in 2001 Swansea Supporters Trust was crucial in saving the club. Ever since, the fans have owned 20 per cent, elected a director and been instrumental in all the club does.
Just two years later Swansea were one kick away from being dumped out of the English Football League and into non-league oblivion. However, they avoided the drop on the last day of the season and ever since the Swans have flown high on the back of sensible, prudent management, and faith in a succession of quality coaches, the latest of which is the brilliant Michael Laudrup. It’s a tale that should be followed by every club which thinks the only route to success is a bigger overdraft and more debt.
In their first season in the Premier League Swansea made £14.6 million profit. How many chairmen would love to be able to say that, and how many fans would have loved Sunday’s victorious day out at Wembley to boot?
PROTEAS HARD TO LIKE?
Is it just us, or does anyone else find the South African cricket team hard to warm to? The Proteas are easily the best Test side in the world and, bar the lack of a world-class spinner, are packed with brilliance from 1-11. Graeme Smith’s a great skipper, Hashim Amla is as elegant a batter as you will find and the pace attack as deadly as any we can remember this millenium. However, they just seem to be much like their main man, Jacques Kallis; utterly brilliant but hardly anything to get really excited about.