FC Barcelona - A Fall From Grace
This is no bullet point approach but close... writing out loud...
So Barcelona has some trouble with this simple idea. They can do things that only other teams dream of in their sleep, these guys can do it. We have all seen things that have left us cheering and jumping with joy over the past three seasons, that sometimes leave us dumbfounded and glad just to be alive.
What Barcelona cannot do even with the players they have at their disposal is defend. Milito, Puyol, Thuram, Marquez, Zambrotta, Abidal these are some of the best defenders in the world. So why can't this team defend?
Well they can, at the beginning to mid season they had the best defence in Spain. What changed? Apart from the weather, things well, they just happened. What I'd like to say is this, in La Liga things are crazy.
In Spain there is no structure on the field, no sense of responsibly, the way to which there is in Serie A, or even to a smaller extent in the English Premier League. Just ask Fabio Cannavaro, the greatest defender over the past four years. The world cup winner has been so shocked at the lack of structure in La Liga, his job is a mind field.
People ask why is he so great and such a leader for Italy, but lacks in Spain for Real Madrid? There are many variables to this question. One simple answer is, he is human and makes mistakes, but overall it is the style of play by default that is played in Spain.
The midfield attacks, it does not track back, it leaves the defence to hold on for dear life at times. In Italy they move across the pitch in one line, defined as if they are playing table football, they all know their roles and understand their individual jobs they have to undertake in order to play in a team. This understanding does not exist in Spain, and more importantly they never would want it to.
Mix this Spanish style with Barcelona, and you then understand why at times, in looking back at some of Barcelona's results this season and last, why once the team absorb a goal something is found wanting in the Barcelona squad.
To defend in sports is the first step to winning. So when your not interested in defending then you are immediately up against it, and huge pressure then goes onto your attacking players. Barcelona have the greatest attacking players in the world, threat comes from all areas, but it is built on shaky ground with little foundation.
Mr Cool, what a player he was, what an absolute great player, he won it all even in the midnight hour of his career with the great Ajax side. Frank Rijkaard was an exceptional player and is an exceptional manager.
Barcelona have only won the European Cup twice in its long and illustrious history. It has the image of winning more, but it has only won the European Cup twice, which is not a huge take for such a big and influential club. The idea that Rijkaard should be or is being pushed out of Camp Nou is mind blowing.
Some say it goes deeper that there are many issues as to why he may depart but I say this Catalonia, cool down please stop looking for a story. Rijkaard is a heavyweight, he has delivered cups, style and calm. I know many who think the Camp Nou is far from calm but from looking at recent history I know it is.
A lot of that is down to the coach, the focal point of any club for leadership and authority. The marker he puts down is unique in the modern game, and it is of great value. In terms of etiquette to the way he carries himself with the media and during a game, Rijkaard has been the constant reason that keep things from spilling over in Barcelona.
When in Barcelona things can pill over very easily, from the hype that surrounds Barcelona coming to town (Thierry Henry described it recently "much like the Beatles"), to keeping his players egos in cheque and away from direct quotes to the media, to political fall outs from inside and outside the club, there is a calmness that he supplies and more importantly commands.
What he visibly lacks at least, to one who has no idea what goes on in the dressing room, is a certain fire and visible anger when things go wrong and the good ship Barcelona begins to sink on the pitch. Although you cannot wish for things that someone cannot deliver on, he does not have that in his makeup at least not on the surface as a coach.
Although is no reason to look elsewhere. Although I admit the Scotsman in me, where fire and drive come with the nationality, maybe wishes for more visible heat from Rijkaard when things take a turn for the worse. However when it comes to Barcelona, calm is the order and necessity of the day.
In addition to all this there is one thing not frequently talked about in the media realm of Barcelona, and this is his family situation. From the interesting fact that his daughter dates Ronaldinho, to the more serious issue of the time a father wishes to spend outwith football in order to spend time at home with his young son who is disabled and needs care.
The rumour always was that Rijkaard wanted to quit last year but was convinced to stay, a rumour is a rumour and although I can speculate it means nothing to us. My rumour is there is no secret deal, no other highly prized man the board want in Rijkaard's stead, to me the first and essential in either his leaving or continuing the job, basically comes down to, does Rijkaard have the hunger to be the manager of Barcelona anymore?
It be a fool who wishes this coach gone, he has shortcomings like any man, but he is a perfect fit believe it.
Ah Henry the once queen of English football and ambassador of French attitude. Maybe the move to Camp Nou was a year to late, not to say it won't come good in the coming two seasons, but I do feel the light does not shine over him like it once did.
For me, I wonder will his game as he gets older, deteriorate due to his pace slowing down?
Roberto Baggio, Henrik Larsson and Dennis Bergkamp all managed to play very well and to a high level into their later years, but was there game ever built on pace? As young men they had such a thing but there game wasn't built on it.
This is not to say Henry has only just pace and not much else, for he has much more, from his touch and vision to his shot power and accuracy in front of goal, he has and always has had more than brutal pace.
But worryingly it is in fact his injuries that cast a more troubling shadow, so much so that Barcelona and the medical team have been aware and have tried to temper this issue. The fact Henry can't play more than 4 to 5 games of 90 minutes in a row in the major problem above all others, his body can't keep up to that level of competetion anymore. Is it a lingering injury that needs a long summer rest or is it the slow resignation of the downfall?
A great player but the move was wrong at the time in my eyes and not much has made me change my mind.
Barcelona need drive and leadership one thing they lack on the pitch outwith the great Carlo Pauyol. However, they need it to come from midfield, they desperately need an out and out defensive midfielder.
The turn around at Barcelona remember came not only with the signing of the great Ronaldinho but in the not so much talked about signing of Dutch defensive midfielder Edgar Davids. Davids was simply essential in the recovery and history of Barcelona's recent rise to the top, which resulted in their European Cup victory against Arsenal in Paris. Since Davids' loan came to an end three seasons back they have yet to replace or attempt to replace the role a defensive midfielder brings to the first eleven.
Roy Keane and Edgar Davids, two of the greatest players at the position in the history of the game, along with their generation have now moved on, either ending their careers or have since retired. The new generation offers up a new breed of defensive midfielders, but there are only two, Daniele De Rossi and Javier Mascherano, whom I believe may reach the heights of a Roy Keane or Edgar Davids, when they arrive at the peak of their currently young careers.
This celebration of these two players though is not the answer for Mascherano should have been bought after the last Fifa World Cup and is now lost to Liverpool. Where De Rossi the "Roman of Romans" only second to Francesco Totti is not likely to jump ship in the next two seasons, until he has seen out where the good ship AS Roma is headed.
So Barcelona must keep looking at the best available to them now or in fact groom a young player for such a job.
Time to move on some would gladly say, he still wants to play but maybe a new club would be the best thing at this stage in his life.
Xavi + Ineista
May not be the most glamorous two, they don't yet attract the headlines, but they are the reason Barcelona's midfield has been of any worth. Great vision on both parts and Barcelona through and through.
OK this could be the longest part but lets quit that idea and make it short. We know who he is, we know what he is capable of, what he has done and achieved in a Barcelona shirt, and we know what has been going on at least on the pitch but less so of it. We have no clue what is going on really apart from performances on the pitch and they have been few and far between this year.
Ronaldinho himself, he says little publicly these days. It is certainly possible that he is not mentally attuned to the rigours of a lengthy season in three competitions year in year out, and if this is the case, then Barcelona may need another approach in order to help him. But even if this is the case - and that's a big if—he cannot be helped unless he's willing to put in the hard work himself. And if he doesn't do so, then the party may well and truly be over. Personal issues arrise again and again, and their is the influence of his older brother and agent Asis that causes much of this, but don't listen to the rumours, they have arose each and every year without doubt.
I love him, I love how he makes me feel and how he makes everyone else feel when he does his thing, but the joy has been misplaced recently it comes and goes. All to do now is pray for the footballing world and for the game that personally Ronaldinho gets fit in mind and spirit as well as in body, lets see what he does over the rest of the season, then we will wait and see what gives come the transfer window.
But it is safe to say, FC Barcelona the warning signs are there and have been for over a season...
Part Two to follow...
**this article not written on back of recent defeat it is not a reaction piece**