As the dust settles, the result of 360 minutes of sublime action has evidently shown a crystal clear end. All around the world, tales of Spain becoming has-beens were proclaimed at the four corners of the world. Suddenly, a new thinking of football methodology was proclaimed to have risen in Germany. One of fitness, endurance and strength. The scoreline read Germany 11 – 3 Spain. I do not know if this means the end of Spain’s dominance in football. Only time will answer that question when Germany meets Spain in the ever anticipated 2014 World Cup in Brazil. However, does this 7 nil thrashing mean the end of Barca?
I would not deny that Germany will soon be a powerhouse. I have noticed the change since Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Low led the youthful German side equipped with Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski to third place in the 2006 World Cup. Since then, the irresistible Thomas Muller is turning out to be the new Messi with his clinical finishing and creative football mind. And who can forget burgeoning talent such as Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan, Mesut Ozil, Toni Roos, Mario Gotze, Mario Gomez and Marco Reus. Having seen firsthand the football training institutes in Germany that have even Under-5 teams, I am sure that it would not be long for Germany.
But back to Barcelona. I may disappoint some readers out there but the answer is simply a flat no. Barcelona’s dominance has spanned from the days of Rijkaard to Guardiola and currently being passed down to Vilanova. And I do not see it ending anytime soon. To me, Barcelona are still the team to beat in this era with their whopping 60% possession alone in their second leg match with Bayern. I guess Bayern really did learn from the former Champion’s League victors Chelsea by blending a solid defensive wall and a brilliant counter attack with clinical finishing. So where did it go all so wrong for Barcelona?
1. Messi’s Absence
Let’s be frank. Barcelona is actually Messi-lona. He is Barcelona. Without him, Barcelona is as though a lion with false dentures. It is true that Xavi oils the finely tune machine and trio Pique, Puyol and Valdes hold the fort but Messi is the spear that gives Barcelona the sharpest of edges. Having played 3967 minutes of competitive football and scoring 56 goals, it is only inevitable that his body will break down. The match result was a foregone conclusion the moment Messi’s name was not on the first team’s list especially when they needed to overturn a 4 goal deficit. And in this lies the next reason for Barca’s downfall.
2. Neglected Plan B
Many will claim that Barca does not have a Plan B other than launching the ball towards Messi. I would have to dispute that notion. They actually have a world class Plan B with the likes of Sanchez, Fabregas and Villa. These are not budding new talent but proven professionals that were once indispensable players for Udinese, Arsenal and Valencia. But what has happened to these polished diamonds? Unfortunately, Vilanova has allowed them to dull as stale knives being neglected. They have been fighting for game time and Vilanova has poorly rotated his team unlike the great minds of Ferguson, Mourinho and Benitez whom have realised that it is impossible to keep a team fresh without rotation. Vilanova could have easily had a sharp Villa on the left wing, a biting Sanchez on the right and a false -9 with Fabregas. But Plan Messi has always been the first card which has led the likes of Etoo, Ibrahimovich and the precocious Yaya Toure out of the club. However, the habit of neglect began way before counting back to Guardiola’s time.
3. Center Back Conundrum
Quite inexplicably why Barcelona has not acquired a decent center back is a question that I have no answer. The dream of playing 10 midfielders may be noble and indeed downright ridiculous especially given the fact that most Spanish players are vertically challenged with only Pique towering the rest at 192 cm. Barca have to realise that a towering and mobile center back is essential in today’s modern game. Mascherano, Song and Busquet are not the answer. And they still need to prepare a world class replacement for the ageing Puyol. The likes of Mats Hummels, Vincent Kompany or Jan Vertonghen would provide steel to the brittle defence. However, this conundrum has been neglected as well and has led to Barca’s failure especially with injuries to key personnel such as Abidal and Puyol partnered by the waning prowess of Dani Alves.
4. Inexperienced Manager
Lastly, I believe that the inexperience of Tito Vilanova was left exposed for all to see. I do sympathise with him having to battle his way through cancer in the midst of an exciting run to regain the Spanish Primera Division. Indeed, he shall have all the credit of having successfully grasped the title away from Mourinho’s Madrid although one has to admit that the Implosion of Madrid was partly caused by the precocious Mourinho himself. Things might have turned out differently had he not been faced with the disease. However, tactically, Vilanova does have room for improvement as he needs to move away from the Guardiola rule book and attain a greater insight of his team. To not play Messi is to me but a betrayal and I do blame him for the lack of rotation among the squad. Furthermore, the ability to sense the change in the tide of a game and risk things up by changing their fortunes with a substitution is certainly not apparent as seen with his 83rd minute substitution of Pedro for Villa in the first leg when he had been trailing by 2 goals since the 49th minute. I would love to say that Vilanova is not the man for Barcelona and that it would be better for them to acquire upcoming talented managers such as Diego Pablo Simeone of Atletico Madrid or Walter Mazzarri of Napoli. However, that is not true. One forgets that the Barcelona identity is not made by the manager. Quite frankly, they have to thank Johan Cruyff’s vision of Holland’s Total Football and his visionary approach for Barcelona. Barcelona made Guardiola and not the other way round. We just have to give Tito sometime. Let him learn from his mistakes. Everyone forgets that this is his first year in charge of Barcelona. However, he needs to learn from his mistakes fast as he will be facing his predecessor Guardiola’s Bayern sooner or later next year.
All in all, I do believe that we have not seen the end of Barca’s dominance. They are still outpassing teams and achieving staggering possession. All they need are a few minor tweaks and adjustments and soon the press will be flowering them superlatives of how magnificent the team is. One tends to forget how fickle indeed the press is. Maybe the word ‘Neymar’ might follow the likes of Ronaldinho and Messi to reawaken the Barca’s Spirit. You never know.