The Barcelona Decay – [PART ONE]

When being asked at interviews or private conversations, “Where do you hope to be in 5 years?”, it is mostly taken as an irrelevant routine question that might not deserve a lot of attention. I discovered this is a standard Human Resource question all over the world that is aimed majorly at determining how well the person being interviewed is driven to push his goals and ambitions.

5 years ago, FC Barcelona were at the pinnacle of world football in almost every ramifications – winning trophies, best manager, best players, money in the bank and very importantly, values. Then, If anybody was asked to predict where the club would be in 5 years, the answer would most probably have been very different from the present reality.

In 2012, Leo Messi was scoring goals week in week out and was by far the best player in the world. Barcelona weren’t successful in terms of the major trophies that year, but they dominated games. The acquisition of Cesc Fabregas the previous summer had made Pep switch to a 3-4-3 for the most part of the season.

It took massive defensive blocks to stop Barcelona from winning the La Liga and even though the team created 20+ chances in every champions league game that year, the sheer effort and determination of Chelsea stopped Barcelona from playing a 3rd Champions League final in 4 years.

In all of this, the future was bright for the club and its best player, Lionel Messi.

Not only was Messi playing at his best, the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta were pulling the strings against whoever they came up against both for club and country. Dani Alves was a constant threat marauding the entirety of the right flank and even though Alexis Sanchez was not the player he is today, he added his bit to the team.

Most importantly though, the famous farmhouse (La Masia) was doing great work in drilling and teaching the younger players the philosophies and beliefs of Johan Cruijjf that is based on brains over muscle and in possession over running adversaries over.

In came Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, ousting the very successful Joan Laporta. Pep Guardiola, a former captain and an icon of the La Masia left the club, giving room for the men at the top to bring in their own view of football.

It is imperative to understand the Catalan society and how it affects the club which is obviously a symbol of the city.

The richest and most influential people in Catalunya are not the modern CEOs of multinationals who criss-cross the world and learn new ideas and orientations, they are conservative and very limited in the way they approach life and they are popularly called socis. They not only believe that they control the city, they also believe they should always be in control of the football club.

Mediocre people like Josep Lluis Nunez have become very rich being president of the club just by bowing to the richest Catalan families who are always desperate to be in charge of the affairs of the club, the media groups that sell the most papers about Barcelona: Grup Godo, owners of Mundo Deportivo and RAC1 Radio; Grup Zeta, a company that has been in financial crisis and is only surviving because they sell FC Barcelona merchandise through SPORT, the company’s newspaper.

Bowing to the Penyas, a group of conservative fan clubs in Catalunya and scattered all over Spain where old socis guarantee 13000-15000 votes for a presidential candidate in exchange for freebies like tickets for big matches, free buses to and fro the Camp Nou and flight tickets for selected away matches when they deem fit.

For most of the 20th century, socis ran the club based on propaganda and hired coaches who focused a lot on strength and running. In the early 70s, After years in the wilderness, a couple of Dutchmen came to bring happiness to the club, and a league title.

Johan Cruijjf the star player and Dutch football legend, Rinus Michels the manager. Rinus Michels is famously known to be the coach who reworked the most successful brand of TOTAL FOOTBALL and the use of Offside traps to much success. Both men made FC Barcelona a force to reckon with in Spain.

Unfortunately, as is their culture, success brought about by foreign influence instead of theirs was never going to go down well with the Catalan Conservatives on their own grounds. The star power of Johan Cruijjf was overwhelming, he was a superb player with very good looks. He spoke on the pitch with his quality and he was one of the most intelligent and outspoken people in Catalunya at that time.

They loathed and resented the Dutchman even with the success he brought to the club. They tried to find faults in his moves, decisions, and lifestyle. They used their media houses to pressurize the man and consequently, he left in 1978, a year after Rinus Michels was pushed out of the club.

Mediocrity resumed and for over a decade Barcelona went dark again, save for the 83/84 season when a strength based team won the league but obviously couldn’t sustain the winning momentum for more than one season. After unprecedented pressure from the fans, the Socis had to react, by resorting to the Johan Cruijjf they had muscled out of the club, to manage the team. What followed in the next 8 years was eventually to be regarded as the most pivotal period in the club’s history.

Barcelona won the La Liga 4 times in a row – a feat still to be achieved by any other manager at the club. The dream team even won the club’s first ever Champions League title. Cruijjf brought an identity to the club that was based on brains – over strength and running -intelligence, possession, positioning, and pressing.

More importantly, he made sure that this was being instilled in the academy at every level leading to the La Masia producing amazing talents. Cruijjf believed that playing a pleasing brand of football was the best way to enjoy the sport as it was meant to be. He also believed that choosing to play in a particular style was the surest way to win the most titles not going for easy solutions like keeping a big center forward on the bench for dying minutes when in a losing position.

Through all these transformations and the titles that came with it, Johan Cruijjf and his people were never unanimously loved in Catalunya.