A delicious story about the rise and fall of FC Barcelona

2009 was the most difficult year of his career for Andres Iniesta. The then 25-year-old Barcelona midfielder did not play badly, but for several months he struggled with mental problems reminiscent of depression. Once he felt so bad that he asked his parents if he could sleep in their bed. At their side, Iniesta found support and understanding from his employer. The club organized professional assistance and Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola encouraged him to leave training if he felt the need to. “Don’t ask permission, just go,” said the coach. “You are important: you and you alone.”

The story of Iniesta’s depression returns in a new book about FC Barcelona by British journalist Simon Cooper, to be published in Dutch translation on Tuesday. For Cuper, the club’s handling of the psychological problems of one of its players symbolizes the sense of family in Barcelona. The Catalans dominated the biggest sport in the world at the time, but within the club there was room for friendliness, culture and bonding rarely found in other top teams.

It was just one of Barcelona’s quirks, according to Cuper, that made the club’s buzzwords More than a club (“More than a club”) was more than a hollow phrase at the time. FC Barcelona also played great football with self-trained players, was a beacon of Catalan anti-nationalist resistance and was the only club in the world to have the name of a relief organization (UNICEF) on its shirt.

In a story as extensive as it is entertaining, Cuper explains how FC Barcelona managed to do just that, only to fall prey to pride and commercial temptations. The fact that the author, who has been following Barcelona since the early 1990s and has spoken to several stakeholders, had his book published in conjunction with Lionel Messi’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain shows a particular sense of timing.

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Cruyff’s legacy

For Dutch readers who have not seen Johan Cruyff play football or coach, the early chapters read as an introduction to the origins of modern football. It is common among coaches to speak of “Cruyff’s legacy”, Cuper explains what it entails and how much recent success FC Barcelona has had as part of it.

at the time Defense Catinaccio The rule was, based on fixed positions and physical duels, the slender Cruijff invented “total football” in Ajax, where everyone attacked and defended. “The Ajax players were able to switch positions so fluently that you can’t talk about positions anymore,” Cooper wrote. Ajax’s game has evolved into what Cruyff calls ‘censored chaos’. […] He saw football as engineering, a space game.”

Johan Cruyff has also become the great innovator of FC Barcelona since 1973. First as a footballer, he gave Barcelona dribbling, and most of all channeling confidence with a rare league title and victories over arch-rivals Real Madrid. But more than that as a coach (1988-1996), by teaching the club the art of dominant positional play and the use of space. ‘Rondos’ started setting out courses under him and long distances were a thing of the past. In 1992, Cruyff’s “dream team” won the European Cup 1.

More important than Cruyff’s impact on the first team was his renewal Youth education. made of farm house Cooper wrote “University Corridor”. “Exchanging passes with his teammates was a kind of conversation, like musicians in a jazz group communicating silently.”

He paved the way for sons like Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and above all: Lionel Messi, who came to Barcelona when he was 13 years old. Before Cruyff participated, La Masía . was chosen Like other clubs in terms of length. There was no place for young players. Cruyff believes that Barcelona should explore young technical footballers with a good overview.

Lionel Messi in 2018 as captain of FC Barcelona.
Foto Power Sport Images / Shutterstock

Best batch ever

Cooper’s book is not an homage to Cruyff. He writes extensively about his quirks and shortcomings as a coach. Without Cruyff, tiki-taka ball for Barcelona led by Messi would not have been possible, but it was not possible with Cruyff as coach. He was very volatile, very undisciplined and above all he was very fond of striving for it. It was Guardiola who transformed Cruyff’s ideas into a coherent vision and abandoned his model of conflict.

Helped by probably the best crop the youth academy has ever produced, Messi was the biggest star of them all. The Argentine won the Champions League with Barcelona four times, and became a national champion ten times.

But Barcelona has come to believe in his superiority. While other European clubs have watched and continued Cruyff’s ideas, development in Catalonia is stagnant. La Masía ceased to provide the best talent and the club became increasingly dependent on Messi, who demanded an astronomical salary in return. A series of expensive bad buys has pushed the club to the brink of collapse.

What is sad is how the club sold itself to fund its expensive roster. UNICEF disappeared from the front of the shirt in 2010. It was replaced by the Qatar Foundation. The club, which was all about local fans, started all kinds of initiatives to gain as many fans as possible around the world. Barcelona has become a Disney version of itself. Cuper concludes that FC Barcelona has long been “nothing more than a club”. As he sums it up: “The club is becoming less and less for a growing number of people.”

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