Tuesday April 23rd was Sant Jordi day in Catalunya. It is a day full of love. In cities such as the mistakenly overlooked Girona, and the ever popular Barcelona, lovers celebrate their equivalent of St.Valentines day.
Men present their loved ones with a single red rose. Women buy their amour a book. Towns and cities are perfumed with the smell of flowers and the printed page.
Barcelona footballers tweeted their love to all from their base in Germany. But, by bedtime, they had been dumped.
Football fans the world over had ditched them for another. They seemed to be letting down their old lover gently, but with haste. The online sentiment appeared to be a case of “move over Barcelona… we have a new, German lover.”
Now as I tipped Bayern Munich to win the Champions League at odds of 16-1 last September (to members of my selections service), I am hopeful that the German side can replicate the performance of last night when they play in the final at Wembley next month.
But I felt a little grubby watching Barcelona torn to pieces from the first minute of their semi-final first leg in Germany.
After all, I fell in love with FC Barcelona ten years ago when I stood in torrential rain for over 90 minutes to watch them beaten 5-1 at Malaga.
These were the pre Lionel Messi days. Barcelona were yet to develop into the magical side that football fans the world over would relish watching. The side that won the Champions League. The team that peaked in November 2010 when beating Real Madrid 5-0 and playing the most sublime football I have seen since I watched Brazil in the 1970 World Cup.
But all good things come to an end. We Barcelona fans knew last night was coming. Barça getting well beaten was an accident waiting to happen. With the exception of Messi, the most influential players in the squad have themselves peaked.
My favourite, Xavi, for sure. And arguably Iniesta has passed his best by date. That is not to say the individuals or the team is finished. They most certainly are not.
Messi was not remotely fit when the team travelled to play Bayern Munich. I was surprised manager Tito Villanova named him in the starting eleven. I don’t think he should have. While to my mind Cesc Fabregas is an inadequate replacement for Xavi, he probably should have played instead of Messi last night. And David Villa should have made an appearance long before he did. But had Messi been left out, and Barça still been thrashed 4-0, then the manager would have been criticised for not playing him.
There has been much sympathy around for Tito. Rightly so. To be fighting cancer at his tender age is just not right.
But, on the touchline, he is no Pep Guardiola. He appeared to say nothing to his players from the sidelines. He didn’t even appeared moved to say anything when Bayern got away with the ridiculous and decisive third goal.
Remind me. What are all these officials at Champions League games for? The foul that allowed Arjen Robben a free passage to score the third goal was so blatant that Barcelona players stopped in their tracks. Like me, they awaited the referee’s whistle. It never came. Even the Bayern players looked astonished at what they had got away with.
That followed on from a second goal that was clearly offside. So you have the ref, the linesman and the extra official on the touchline; how come not one of them can see what everyone else saw? What is the point of that extra official behind the goal if he has no say in proceedings?
Watch that second goal last night and you see the 5th official look to the linesman. He could see the scorer was offside so why couldn’t the linesman? The touchline official is impotent. So why have one? It was the idea of Michel Platini. A great player himself but a fella whose arrogance as an administrator makes Sepp Blatter look like a modest man.
Five officials – and they still can’t get decisions right!
While I am at the head of the queue in praising the pace and passing of Bayern Munich last night, it should not be ignored that the second leg is now a non game only because the officials allowed at least two goals to stand that should have been ruled out. Had Barcelona been defending only a two goal deficit in the home leg, we could still be looking forward to another gripping match.
But Barcelona being outplayed has been coming. Though of us who have watched Barcelona week in, week out for years knew with certainty that the best days were over. In La Liga there have been too many unconvincing performances against inferior opposition.
Not being able to see off the likes of Celtic with ease was another tell tale sign that the sublime Barcelona side that made us drool, was no more.
Tito Vilanova is no Pep Guardiola. I did wonder what Guardiola made of last night. Soon the man who led Barça to greatness will become the new manager of Bayern Munich. He may well inherit the European champions.
It would be wrong to say that Guardiola always had a plan ‘B’ when things went wrong for Barcelona during his time in charge. The truth is he didn’t. Barcelona could only play one way and, little by little, opponents learned how best to take them on. Even teams struggling in La Liga were picking up points against the table topping Catalans.
But Guardiola would have been much more vocal from the touchline. Having said that, so would Harpo Marx!
Guardiola would have been much quicker to make tactical changes last night. He would have sent Fabregas on for Xavi or Messi. And he would have had Villa on much sooner and quite possibly from the start.
There is a reluctance in Spain to criticise Vilanova because of his health problems. But I am far from alone in asking questions about whether he is the right man to be in charge of the next Barcelona side. I don’t think he is. Not for a minute.
As I have money on Bayern Munich at both 16-1, and again at 6-1 last February, I hope they win. I do worry that they themselves may have peaked last night. At least for this season.
Will they be able to replicate the performance at Wembley?
Real Madrid are more of a one man team than Barcelona. It’s nonsense to say Barça are a one man team. At their best they have won several games without Messi. I have seen the world class Xavi and Iniesta dominate many matches. Throughout the best days of this Barcelona side, over a few years, there has always been more than one conductor of this fine orchestra.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid without Cristiano Ronaldo would be no better than a mid table team in La Liga. They even lost to my local club, Granada CF, and that was with Ronaldo in the line up. And look at the points gap in La Liga this season. Barcelona are 13 points ahead of Real Madrid. That is no fluke. So what makes them think the games against Borussia Dortmund will be a cakewalk?
As for Barcelona, money will be spent. Have no fear of that. In my opinion they shouldn’t give it to Tito Vilanova to spend. They could do worse than to hire the outgoing manager of Bayern Munich, Jupp Heynckes. He is sure to be courted by other clubs this summer.
As for the love affair with Barcelona well, for neutrals at least, it is over. Judging from comments online, those unfaithful folk have kicked FCB into touch.
That will never happen with me. Since that first live football match in Spain, when I sang in the rain as Malaga swept aside Barcelona, they have been my adopted team in Spain.
Since the first time I was in Girona for Sant Jordi day, I have been in love with all things Catalan.
I have been lucky to live through the finest decades of football.
Thanks to having three elder brothers, I was taken to English football matches at an impressionable age. In the sixties I saw Law, Best, Charlton, Greaves, Moore, Hurst, Peters, Bell, Lee, Summerbee et al in action. In the flesh.
In the 70’s I saw either live or on TV the best footballers the world had to offer. Brazil of 1970 being the greatest team of all.
Working for newspapers in the late 70’s, or in television in the 80’s and 90’s, I have been lucky to witness at close quarters some of the best teams and greatest players ever to kick a football.The Barcelona team that produced magic such as that below remain the best club team I have ever seen.
The team of today, as was proved last night, is not as sexy as it once was.
They may no longer bring us to a climax on every date.
But write off Barça at your peril. They were no one night stand.
This lover will not be trading them in for a new model.
FC Barcelona will always have a place in my heart. Thanks for the memories. Like this one[symple_heading type=”h3″ title=”William Hill are offering new customers a £25 free bet when they sign up” margin_top=”2px;” margin_bottom=”5px” text_align=”left”] Interested? Sign up here. I want a Free £25 bet.
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