Homage To Catalonia

1 Dec

Note: This Dispatch is replete with superlatives. Apologies.

It’s Wednesday, I know. Dispatches comes out on Sundays. But there are some times in life when traditions need to be subverted. What needs to be said couldn’t wait until the end of the week. We’d all be too concerned with the fallout of England’s failed/successful (delete where applicable) bid to host the World Cup. We’d all be salivating at a second virtuoso display in the space of a week from Dimitar Berbatov. Or hailing Ian Holloway’s abrasive style of man-management as his Blackpool team laid a buoyant Manchester United to the sword. Football, like life moves very fast… is it really nearly Christmas?

And it is fitting that this break of tradition has been prompted by a game of football that has left many fans of the game agog at the technical excellence and joie de vivre that was witnessed on Monday night at the Camp Nou, where Barcelona produced some of the most breathtakingly beautiful passages of play I think I’ve ever seen, as they tore Real Madrid so comprehensively to shreds. This was not a team that is simply making up the numbers in La Liga. This was Real Madrid. The club that has won the most European Cups. Which boasts the most expensive footballer in history in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo. Who retain the services of the most charismatic, media-savvy and successful manager of his generation in the form of Jose Mourinho. Unbeaten Real Madrid. Made to look amateurish. Ragtag. Bereft.

I could go into many of the cultural and political reasons as to why I have always felt an affinity with Barcelona as a club and Catalonia as a region but if you know your football, you’ll probably know why that is. No. I just want to focus on the game as a representation and execution of how football, when played with such majesty, is the rival of any artistic endeavour.

Danny Blanchflower’s quote may have been overused as the years have rolled by, but in a time when many bemoan the sterility of our heroes and their motivations, it is Pep Guardiola’s team which breathes new fire and truth into the frayed edges of the great man’s words:

“The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

One of my colleagues at work has been having on on-going debate with me over the last couple of years about his view that football is a morally bankrupt game. Being a rugby and athletics man, he waxes lyrical on the rigorous training regime of his childhood hero, Sebastian Coe and the discipline and sacrifices needed for athletes to truly succeed in their sport. He prefers his sportsmen to show the excruciating pain they are going through on their scrunched faces, in every stretching sinew of their bodies. For him, footballers just don’t cut it.

Evidently, I’m inclined to disagree. Barcelona, as a team, didn’t even look like they were breaking sweat. In fact at times, they seemed as though they pitied Madrid by naturally slowing their tempo so a Madrid player could receive treatment. When in possession, there was a fluidity of movement and assurance on the ball that was so controlled, it bamboozled Madrid’s players to such a degree that they were reduced to scything down and baiting their opponents. With their long, flowing manes and shirts tucked out, Lionel Messi and Carlos Puyol seem to play from another time; as warriors fighting a Catalonian guerilla battle, the world of the media circus and moneymen of football far from thought or comprehension even. Compare that to the highly stylized, slicked-back, peacocking of Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos, the self-absorption visible on their faces, the solitary frames of the camera highlighting their individual rather than collective plight.

Barcelona’s effortless hard work comes in the training, in the academy system that rears young boys to play with free expression. It is a club steeped in the will of the collective as opposed to celebrating the cult of the individual – something Madrid have always been prone to doing. Iniesta, Xavi, Messi and David Villa are all exceptional players but what truly makes Barcelona a unique and epic entity is the fact that they truly encompass the spirit of the game that Blanchflower alluded to.

Mourinho is one of the game’s great manipulators. But even he was left rooted to his bench as he seemingly for the first time in his illustrious career was sapped for ideas. However much he tried to disguise it by claiming that his side was ‘not humiliated’, in his heart of hearts he knew that he had come up against a team that on that night, took the game to glorious, gob-smacking heights, the like of which is not conceivable to be replicated for many years to come. Mourinho’s teams are designed to win. At all costs. Regardless of entertainment value, dirty play or an aggregate loss described as a ‘beautiful defeat’ when it results in victory. For Guardiola, it would appear that it is something very at odds with this philosophy that drives him and his team. After all, how do you define quality? It is the pursuit of brilliance, surely. And brilliance is most certainly entertainment, devoid of dirty play and does not result in a victory by technicality.

I’ve already watched the game twice over. I’ve even recorded it, so that my unborn children can one day sit down and watch a team that will be lauded in history. And I hope, I really sincerely hope, that my beloved Spurs meet them at some point in this year’s Champions League. And it wouldn’t matter if we won or lost. Because, really when you’re blessed enough to see such wonderful football in your lifetime, the glory of it all takes precedence.

Further Reading: World Cup Dispatch: 11th July – El Mayor Espectaculo del Mundo

One Response to “Homage To Catalonia”

  1. Winston Cuthbert December 2, 2010 at 11:23 #

    Your prose flows like the passes from Messi’s left foot. You should have your stupendous prose translated into Catalan and send it to el Periodico. Have you thought of writing for other countries’ newspapers?

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