They say you don’t miss the water until it’s gone. In the case of Barcelona, there is no water in the world capable of replacing Lionel Messi. The problem is, they have hardly had to answer that question, for one simple reason: he has rarely been out of action. Messi’s importance in the Barcelona team have only increased in recent years. His appearance stats from 2009 to 2012 read as follows: 51, 53, 55, 60 appearances. 38, 47, 53, 73 goals scored. As much as stats don’t tell the full story, appearance statistics can hardly lie; Messi continues to appear in more and more games for Barcelona as the years go by. Any game in which Messi does not appear for Barcelona is an outlier, a statistical, even a footballing anomaly; it is unimaginable. Unconventional. Out of the norm. When Barca plays, Messi must play.

One can be forgiven to think that the extent to which Messi seems synonymous with Barca would simultaneously mean Messi = Barcelona, and while this is unjust to the extreme to a team which makes up 3/4 of the European and World Champions, anyone with a passing familiarity with Barcelona knows one thing. It is a natural feeling, an expectation that flows effortlessly. You know it in your bones, even if you can’t put it into words.

That Barcelona without Messi is…not the same. It’s a cheeseburger with no cheese. Messi is the X-Factor, he is Chemical X. If Barcelona were the Avengers, Messi would be the Hulk. The one who puts the odds on your side. But how did a team such as Barcelona, the club side which produced the core of the most dominant international team in recent history, come to rely so much on one player? Continue reading


Play well or win? – Part 1

“Even if we had lost, I would have said the same thing: I am proud of the team,” Jordi Roura, the assistant coach, said. Mascherano added: “The fans have gone home happy, because of the performance as well as the result.”

Above all, because of the result. But the two things are not mutually exclusive and it is baffling that they have so often been treated as if they are. “Would you rather win or play well?” is a question asked often in Spain. Quite apart from the fact that “play well” is the most loaded of phrases, the response should be obvious: the best way to win is to play well.

In recent years, Barcelona has become THE byword for “beautiful football” (some would go as far as to argue, football itself). It is “how football should be played”, “the right way”, “joga bonito”, as the men at Nike put it. There is no shortage of neutrals who confess to having Barcelona as a second team, and they include players and managers alike. “When I watch Barcelona, I see art,” Arsene Wenger once said.

While Barcelona’s success make it hard to argue against the effectiveness of their style, it becomes a hefty stick for critics to beat the club with when it fails to deliver results. Why do they insist on playing the same way even when their opponents appear to have their gameplan figured out? The definition of insanity, Einstein was alleged to have said, is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. “Mes que un club” becomes a personification of Barcelona’s arrogance, a stubborn chauvinism that their style is superior to the others.

It is for this reason then, that THAT question in Spain is most often thrown Barcelona’s way: “Would you rather win or play well?” While in Barcelona’s case it is more a matter of adhering to a style that their players are best suited for (you would hardly lump long balls forward to Messi if he played in your team), it does not disqualify them from being placed under the proverbial microscope; namely, would a team win at all costs, even if it means “not playing well?”

Continue reading