I guess every reader of this column knows by now that I am a fan of Barcelona.
I love the team because, like me, they are football purists, always winning by playing the better football, cleanly, clearly and on the field, never in the boardroom.
Without question, Barcelona have been the team of the 21st Century, winning the world’s most coveted club trophy three times since 2000, getting to the semifinals six times, and the quarterfinals twice. Compare this to Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, who have won it twice each in that period.
This century, the world has been treated to a brand of football that had never been seen in the history of the game.
Tiki Taka was a deliberate style of football conceived in Barcelona’s youth academy and mastered by the collection of some of the best players in the world.
Tiki Taka became an art exhibition on display every week and everywhere Barcelona played. With this style of play the team ran rings around most opposing teams.
They were a delight to watch until critics of their style began to describe them as boring and monotonous.
In the past decade particularly, the ultimate challenge for European club managers was how to decode the team’s play. In the past three years a few have succeeded.
Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in Spain, and Bayern Munich in Germany, have discovered the Barca antidote and reduced Barca’s impact and dominance.
Barcelona needed to do something different to win the Uefa Champions League again.
I have just watched Barcelona take Manchester City to the cleaners in the first leg of the round of 16. It was a comprehensive performance that captured the essence of a ‘new’ Barcelona.
What is clear is that Tiki Taka has been dismantled and is changing into something new; something less dramatic but, potentially, more exciting and more deadly when the ‘concoction’ fully matures.
The old Barca played with seven or more midfield players without a permanent striker up front. Now, from outside the influence of the Barcelona youth academy, the team has been experimenting with new players for two seasons.
They may have returned to the conventional style of European club football but they have created a new headache for European club managers.
The price that Barca has had to pay for this new formation is a midfield and defence that now look less compact, with more open spaces for opposing teams to play.
Barcelona are no less exciting than they once were, are less patient in attack than they once were, are less dominant in ball possession than they once were, and less imposing on opposing teams than they once were.
For all that they now are in deficit, they make up for with a striking partnership of three of the best goal scorers on the planet in their team. In Neymar da Silva, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, Barcelona now have a dream attacking formation almost unmatched by any other team, with the exception of Real Madrid.
Having said all of that, the question now arises, can the new Barcelona win the 2014/2015 Uefa Champions League?
I run a betting shop so I know a good wager when I see one. This one is not. I will not put my money on Barcelona winning the Champions League this season.
Don’t get me wrong. With a little bit of luck they can win it, but the chances of that happening are slim.
It may require the experience of one more season for the emerging philosophy to take a firm hold and make them champions once again.
Lionel Messi – back and better
Lionel Messi’s lethargic performance at the World Cup cost him a great deal. All he needed to do was alter his mind-set and commit 100 percent to the cause and lead Argentina to win the World Cup. That feat would have earned him the highest honour in the history of football – the best footballer that ever lived.
But something happened to him during the World Cup that I still cannot fathom. He did not play with the spirit of one who wanted to win very badly! He ‘strolled’ through the matches and even got to the finals while playing without conviction and fire in the eyes.
When Argentina lost, Messi lost even more.
As a result, no one raised an eyebrow when an obviously less talented Cristiano Ronaldo took the World’s Best Player Award from him again. Ronaldo thoroughly deserved it.
Now here comes a new season and suddenly, for the first time in a long while, Barcelona and Messi are back.
Lionel Messi is playing with spirit again. It reminds me of the early days of his career.
There is no doubt in my mind that he is the greatest human to have ever played football. In terms of sheer natural ability and affinity with the ball at his feet, there has never been a better player.
From what I have seen of Messi this current season, if all goes well and he remains injury free, he is set to extend his grip on world football. He will likely win the World’s Best Player Award again for an unassailable 5th time.
Probably the world will accept, as I have claimed over and over again, that there has been no player like Lionel Messi in the history of football.