The Catalonian Camp Nou. Photo by borja iza | argazkiak from Flickr
This article is a reply to this article from Surreal Football, which also featured on Life’s a Pitch. It wouldn’t fit into 140 characters so I wrote it here.
Barcelona spend big money on players. Why shouldn’t they? Apparently it’s because they pedal the notion that they’re too good to buy talent, and they rely solely on their La Masia youth academy to continually churn out world class first team players. But where does this moral stance originate from, and do Barcelona as a club (sorry, Més que un club) actually believe this themselves?
Some extensive research consisting of a Google search for “Barcelona too good to buy talent” returns the article mentioned above, which leads us to think that it’s something they created for the sole purpose of creating a dialectical entity (we don’t really know what this means). And if you read the article and the comments below it, you will see that it did just that. Though there could still be some truth to the idea that Barcelona tend to look down on other clubs.
Their Catalonian base means they are forever linked with some of the left leaning politics of the area. The club, the fans, and the history are all interlinked, as is the case with many of the popular clubs around world football. They carry their historical and political baggage with them, and like to apply this in a footballing context. Barcelona’s cultural heritage means that the El Clásico can be more like an international match for them – Catalonia v Spain – rather than a match between two rival football teams. This sort of mentality will sometimes seem to some that they are taking a moral high ground, and that they are painting Madrid as the right wing dictator and themselves as the anarchists, rising up against the odds.
With regards to dirty capitalist sponsorship income, Barcelona didn’t even have a sponsor until recently, choosing to carry the Unicef logo on their shirts for several recent seasons, paying the charity for this privilege. This could be seen by cynics as another attempt at moral points scoring. However, this doesn’t matter anymore as they have signed a lucrative sponsorship deal with the mysterious Quatar Foundation, which itself is a non-profit organisation, but seems to have found £25m per year for the next 5 years to sponsor Barcelona.
On the hypocritical side of things, Joan Laporta recently claimed it would be justice if Cesc Fabregas returned to the club after apparently being stolen from them by Arsenal as a youngster. Arsene Wenger countered this argument by suggesting that Barcelona may have done the same with Lionel Messi, but the story here runs deeper into the fact that his club at the time, Newels Old Boys, couldn’t afford to help Messi with the growth hormone deficiency from which he suffered as a youth. Another point to Barca then.
How about on the pitch? Well, we’ve all seen them take apart Manchester United in two recent Champions League finals, but in their performance against Chelsea in the semi-final of 2009 they were far from convincing, and had a few refereeing decisions gone the other way it could have been a different story. Their only shot on target in the second leg was Iniesta’s late winner.
Some of their antics during the recent spate of El Clásico matches left a lot to be desired. Some diving around by players such as Alves and Busquets was reminiscent of the last time they felt a threat to their pass and move style, when Inter Milan defeated them in the 2010 Champions League semi final, showing that they aren’t devoid of a nasty trick or two themselves when things aren’t going their way.
Their nurturing of home grown talent is something they openly pride themselves on as a club, and here we can’t find much to argue against. The accusation that their pride in their youth academy should mean that they give players a chance, whether they look ready made for the first team or not, seems unfounded. To quote directly from Ethan Dean-Richard’s article:
“For all the trust placed in reserve team graduates and the noise made about it, this summer’s targets reveal convenience, not ideology, as the explanation. Like every other club, Barcelona trust their reserves when they’re outstanding talents like Pedro and Sergi Busquets, otherwise they buy in replacements of better quality.”
Pedro in particular was a slow burner who was given chance to develop in their B team, before being gradually introduced to the senior squad, and given a chance by Guardiola when many doubted the player’s ability to step up. Even so, if a player from their youth academy isn’t good enough, or doesn’t fit in with a current requirement for the team, why should they keep them? Guardiola’s suggestion that their reserves posses many players as good as Jack Wilshere could be correct, but to suggest that they are being kept out of the team by big money signings is wide of the mark. If anything it’s the big money signings who are kept on the bench due to the likes of academy products Pedro and Busquets, as players like Keita and Mascherano are often seen on the bench unless they are called upon to replace injured players.
Maybe you could argue that since Guardiola has made the step up from B team to first team, he doesn’t feel as attached to the next batch of reserve team hopefuls as he did to those who were successful under his guidance. Pedro and Busquets are two players who succesfully made the step up with their mentor, but we also have the likes of Thiago Alcantara and Andreu Fontas, and it will be interesting to see of they receive the same treatment as they reach first team age. Defender Fontas seems the more likely of the two to be given a chance.
To summarise, it’s fair to say that Barcelona aren’t the moral savours of football that some make them out to be, but neither do they deserve to be shot down from all angles. It is also questionable as to who it is that takes this stance on behalf of Barcelona – is it the media doing it on their behalf, or is it the club or the fans? Whoever it is, is probably doing them more harm than good, as this naturally attracts the extremes from the other side and, as is often the case with these things, there is a balance to be had somewhere. In Barcelona’s case, this balance is best shown on the pitch. Putting all the moral, political, statistical, and dialectical hyperbole aside – Barcelona are a good team to watch when they play football. But without hyperbole most football blogs would be pretty boring, and many wouldn’t exist.