By Callum O”Toole
This one will probably be the most recent game featured in the series but it’s likely that it’ll be talked about for years and Callum was fortunate enough to be there. One of if not the greatest club side of all time were taking on a Real Madrid side swamped with talent. Featuring were a dozen World Cup winners , the winners of the previous two World Player of the Year awards and the world’s most expensive player. Then there was the added factor of one Jose Mourinho. But it was Barcelona who lived up to the hype. You can follow Callum on Twitter @cotoole17 and read more of his articles on Bleacher Report.
Drama or excellence? Sport throws up many questions like this, not least in its modern form where administrators and organisers frequently refer to matches as “entertainment”. Contrary to popular belief, sport is not a part of the entertainment industry. Sportsmen should not aspire to be entertainers, but to achieve the ultimate expression of their event – to be the incarnation of greatness for their sport. If this can be done in a dramatic fashion, like Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal so often achieve, then it is an added bonus. Yet, often, to achieve so highly necessitates the suspension of drama, as opponents are swept aside in a predictable, almost inevitable fashion.
I was fortunate enough to have been present in the Nou Camp on Monday, 29th November 2010, when Barcelona gave, arguably, the most complete single performance in the history of football, in El Gran Clasico against their great rivals Real Madrid. While there have been more significant performances before, notably Brazil in the 1970 World Cup Final and AC Milan in the 1994 Champions League final, these are set in the context of their achievements. Both these sides played brilliantly, and the performances were greater in that they won trophies as a result. But in terms of the highest expression of their sport, they fell just short. What Barcelona provided was a near flawless display of footballing prowess in the biggest club game in the world.
Prior to the game the excitement was tangible, and it was being billed as the greatest club game in history. Twelve world cup winners were to make an appearance as were the previous two winners of the Ballon d’Or (and the winner before that, Kaka, only missed out through injury). The clash between the two dominant sides in Spain often decides the title, so there was also a significant prize to be had. A tight, unpredictable affair was expected. What we got was a sumptuous showcase of footballing prowess from Barcelona, who demolished their rivals 5-0 in front of an ecstatic Camp Nou faithful.
It was not just the margin of victory which shocked that night, but the way the Catalans set about their task. There have been big wins in El Clasico before – two seasons ago Barca scored six in the Bernabeu on their way to a 19th La Liga title, while Real had a 4-1 victory in the May 2008 fixture. What was striking was how Barcelona made their opponents submit to the inevitability of defeat by keeping possession and forcing Madrid to chase shadows.
Barcelona’s style is a subtle mix of fast-paced possession football when attacking, and a highly organised pressing game when without the ball. The two often complement each other beautifully, and they were used to devastating effect as Real were penned back in their own half for long periods. The Madrid attacking threat was virtually non-existent, with Cristiano Ronaldo starved of service and brilliantly shackled by Carles Puyol. Until his half-time substitution most in the stadium were unaware of Karim Benzema’s presence on the pitch.
Barcelona had the ball for more than two-thirds of the game. They weaved, they shimmied, they toyed. Xavi Hernandez was metronomic with his passing, Lionel Messi balletic with his runs and David Villa lethal in scoring a brace. But the game was about far more than mere individuals. Barcelona’s enchanting display was as close to perfection as team sport can be and it may influence the way the game is played in the future.
The performance, and the success of Barcelona and the Spanish national side in recent seasons, has shifted the balance of football heavily in favour of the technicians. For the last few seasons, many sides have attempted to compensate for a lack of skill and guile with physical power. But Barca’s dedication to their traditions has made other clubs take note of the benefits from youth development and attacking football.
Barcelona’s artistry and invention are means to an end. They are not the end in itself, just what the club regard as the most reliable and effective way of achieving victory. Without the success they would be dismissed as “lightweight” as their imitators at Arsenal so often are. Yet results like that against Madrid help to shape the views of a generation. No one watching could deny Barcelona’s prowess and dominance of the game, yet they also thrilled with their mesmeric patterns.
So, while it was not dramatic in the sense of being a one sided game, Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid was exciting nonetheless as it could, perhaps, have heralded a revolution in how the game is played for the next decade.
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