Is one man bigger than a club? If your answer to that question is no, then I’ll ask another. Is one mans ideology, an ideology that has helped shape their existence and created the majority of their success, bigger than a club? If you’re answer is still no, then I suggest you go and look up what Johan Cruyff is to Barcelona and how important he is to the club.
Now, this isn’t strictly a tribute to the Dutch legend but it will pay testament to how vital Cruyff was to FC Barcelona, a club that finds themselves without an identity and in crisis on and off the field. Whilst I may discuss Cruyff at length, this is more about how this current Barcelona is in the mess it is in because they have left behind and disregarded what Johan Cruyff helped create.
As the current Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola once said “Johan Cruyff painted the chapel, and Barcelona coaches since merely restore and improve it” and that couldn’t be any truer. Even going back to the days of Louis Van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard, Barcelona still had elements of Cruyff in their set up. Now, that has been lost. Cruyff created the world famous La Masia youth academy, which is now being taken down and made irrelevant.
Many still believe that the “Dream Team” that Cruyff created was the greatest Barcelona squad of all time, even better than Pep’s, but when you watch Barcelona play now, there is nothing even close to resembling those sides, nothing that comes close to linking the past history and legacy of the club. This problem occurs both on and off the field, but firstly let’s take a look at what’s going on the field of play.
At the time of writing, Barcelona has just completed the signing of a Brazilian international midfielder for €40 million. No, it isn’t Casemiro or Philippe Coutinho; it’s Paulinho, a man who was voted in 2015 as the worst player to ever play for Tottenham Hotspur (and he had a lot of competition). Why would they sign a 29-year-old from China to solve a problem he isn’t able to solve? Club legend Xavi, the closest thing I have seen to Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff in recent times, pleaded with the club to sign Nice’s Jean Michael Seri, a player who has been dubbed the “New Xavi”.
Five or ten years ago, the board at Barcelona would have listened to Xavi and bough a young, better player for the exact same price, but why haven’t they listened to him? They need a midfielder to play the controller, the type of player Xavi was and Seri is the perfect player for that, not Paulinho.
I don’t even know what kind of midfielder Paulinho is! Moving away from that signing for a second, but even on the field the team has lost an identity. Under Pep Guardiola, Barcelona would pass teams into submission. They would pass and pass and pass until Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o, Pedro, David Villa, Neymar or Luis Suarez found a way through. That was their model, the Pep and Cruyff way but for the past year or so they’ve completely by-passed the midfield.
Fobbing the ball forward of on Messi?
Now, it seems as if the tactic has been to give it to one of the MSN and hope for the best. There’s no thought and sometimes it feels like there isn’t any planning or preparation. Even the pressing game died! Cruyff and Pep emphasized the midfield, noting that to win a game you had to win the midfield battle, but you’d never see that in this Barcelona side.
There is no midfield battle, because Barca’s midfield is fobbing the ball forward in the hope that Messi can do something.
On the field, this is where the problem is. There is no identity to this team and the signings are just as bad, especially in the midfield area. In 2014, they picked Ivan Rakitic over Toni Kroos, Arda Turan was signed in 2015 for whatever reason, 2016 was the year where Miralem Pjanic was overlooked for Andre Gomes and now Paulinho over Seri in 2017. It’s stupid business! But who exactly is doing the business at Barcelona? Well, the answer to that is Josep Bartomeu, the man that is somehow single-handedly taking down what was once a great, iconic and unique club.
To be fair to him, he essentially inherited the Titanic of football clubs as his former boss Sandro Rosell, who is now in prison, left him with a complete mess. Wasting money on players like Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song from Arsenal (both costing the club a total of €53 million) instead of having Thiago Alcantara, the real heir to Xavi’s throne and La Masia graduate.
It was probably at this time where those La Masia youngsters realized they weren’t going to get the chances anymore. Back then the club would waste a lot of money on a player they didn’t need and even now they haven’t learnt their lesson. Why? Because whilst the man at the top has changed, the ideologies are still the same.
Profit and making money is apparently more important to modern Barcelona than winning trophies, but they fail to realize that you can still do both, just like Real Madrid are doing. They make tons of cash and still win trophies and have even started breeding in new youth players, just like Barcelona used to do.
And that there is the problem. Barcelona used to pride themselves on being unique, “Mes Que un club” was there motto, but there aren’t any different to Real Madrid or Paris Saint Germain.
What made Barcelona special was their style of play, the fact they used La Masia graduates and that, no matter what, they stuck to their principles.
But whatever soul Johan Cruyff gave Barcelona is being ripped out at a rapid speed, and even the man himself said “Money is secondary. Before anything else there should be principles, values. Barcelona has lost them”.
Joan Laporta turned down Jose Mourinho for Pep Guardiola because Pep suited the principles and values of Barcelona. Now, with Ernesto Valverde, they have a manager who won’t challenge the board and will do whatever they say. Like I said before, this isn’t a Johan Cruyff tribute, but if anything it has given you a look into how important that man has been for the club, and how they are trying their to move away from his legacy ever since the great man passed away.