Anyone who ever faced a job interview (or watched one being shown in a TV Series or movie) knows of the cliché question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
I never cared to read the reasons why that is a standard HR question basically everywhere in the world for lots of years already, but the main goal is simple: to know if the person being interviewed has the desire to grow and achieve more than what he currently possesses, which means he will make the company grow as well with said drive.
5 years ago, had any FC Barcelona fan been asked “where do you see your team in 5 years?”, the answers would be VERY different from our current reality.
Messi was by far the best player on the planet, scoring and absurd number of goals, yet not really taking any of the two important titles home before taking his vacation.
Guardiola’s last season saw the addition of Fábregas, and a more frequent use of 343, that even allowed us to crush RM at home for 1-3, despite conceding on the first few seconds and taking it easy against them on the second half.
FCB wasn’t able to win the League, due to an inability to beat deep defensive blocks over and over again, besides suffering with refs mistakes against our club, while RM would get all the calls their way.
On the Champions League, while the team was still completely dominating the games, creating 20+ chances on each match, Chelsea’s effort (and sheer luck) made us fall on the semi finals, at home.
But the future was bright for Leo.
Not only was he on the peak of his powers, but the squad was balanced enough (even though Alexis was far from being the player he is right now), Xavi and Iniesta were still running the show wherever they went, and the work being done in La Masia was still focused around Cruijff’s style and belief in brains over muscle, in possession over running adversaries over.
Then Rosell’s and Bartomeu’s revenge against Laporta started.
Since Guardiola was no longer around, someone who was a Masia icon, first team Captain, and the coach who won 6 titles on his first year as first team coach, while beating RM at the Bernabeu for 2-6… they would finally put THEIR view about football in motion.
But before we focus on that, you need to understand how the Catalan society works, and especially how it moves around our club.
The richest members of the Catalan society are not modern entrepreneurs who travel around the world to experience new cultures and accept more intelligent views as a way to move forward. They are conservative, limited, who think they are the OWNERS of not only Catalunya itself, but especially our football club.
FCB has made many rich people even richer, and turned someone as mediocre as Nunez in a very rich man. As he needed to do to be FCB’s President for 22 years was bend the knee.
Bend knee for the richest Catalan families, who want their own people running our club.
Bend the knee to the media groups that sell the most newspapers about our club: Grup Godó, who owns Mundo Deportivo and RAC1 radio; and Grup Zeta, which has been in financial peril for years, and can only survive by selling FCB merchandise through SPORT, its newspaper.
Bend the knee to the Penyas, fan clubs around Catalunya and Spain, where older, conservative people see that the 13.000 or 15.000 votes they hold on any Presidential Election are enough to warrant them free buses to pick them up to attend Camp Nou matches, free tickets for big games, or even free airplane tickets to watch away games, any time they see fit.
Things were like that throughout the whole 20th century.
Conservatives with closed minds running the club by spreading propaganda and hiring coaches that focused on strength and running. The only exceptions came during the Kubala Era, where the Hungarian influence took over our club, and we won 5 very important titles in a very few years. However, that superb team ended in 1961.
After more than a decade of more mediocrity, while the powers that be remained where they were, a couple of Dutchmen brought happiness and a League title back to our club. In 1973-74, Michels and Cruijff turned a sad, losing team and an ever sadder and abandoned fan base in a force to be reckoned with.
But, you see, the thing about conservatives is that they do not like foreigners doing well on “their” ground.
Even less so when said foreigner is a star like Johan Cruijff, who was good looking, a superb player… and more intelligent and outspoken than anyone in Catalunya back then. Therefore, even though they loved the title and the respect he brought back to our club, they always resented him. Mediocrity will always loathe brilliance.
So, naturally, Michels and Cruijff left. And many more years of mediocrity and zero League titles happened yet again. We did win the Liga in 83-84, but with a very physically based team, that was not able to keep the winning momentum for more than one season.
And, once again, when the pressure from the fans was too big, the conservatives had to resort to the Dutchman who saved them back in 1973: Cruijff did come back as coach in 1988, and, on the 8 years he remained as first team coach, FCB built not only a winning team, but a Dream Team, what was able to win 4 League titles in a row (something our club hasn’t done before or since), and even give us our first European title, something we waited 37 years to come to fruition.
Cruijff not only gave us a playing identity, focused on possession, pressing, positioning and intelligence, but also made sure the same elements were taught in our Academy.
La Masia would produce several amazing talents due to Cruijff’s views and undying belief that playing a pleasing brand of football is the surest way to enjoy the sport as it was intended and that that was the way to achieve the most titles: by believing in a style at all costs, and not going for easy/cliché solutions (like keeping a tall 9 in the bench for when we need a goal to save us in the dying minutes).
Nevertheless, even through all of the titles and the dominance, Cruijff and the people around him where NEVER unanimously loved in Catalunya.
Remember: conservatives were never able to form a mold to themselves as human beings, so they need to keep hammering the same pitiful ideas they heard from their older relatives to feel relevant. And someone as flashy and crass like Cruijff will never be accepted by said people.
And these people, that made and broke Presidents and that controlled what the fans would consume about our club, be it via newspapers, radio or TV, always sold Cruijff was “genius, but unpredictable”, a “mercenary”, a “careless coach”.
Therefore, in 1996, when Cruijff was thinking about building a new winning generation, while considering names such as Bergkamp and Zidane… he was fired. On the dressing room. With no previous warning.
The conservatives got rid of the strange person on “their” club, and went first with Bobby Robson, then with Van Gaal, to keep the momentum from what Cruijff built coming. (Remember this; it is happening right now to our club).
When things are done properly, when La Masia is raising kids that would fit into the team/playing style seamlessly… said momentum will easily go on for 3 or 4 years, even if you bring coaches like Robson or Van Gaal.
But the fact of the matter is: our playing style will always need someone who actually believes in it to make improvements and changes to keep us competitive, to value La Masia before even looking to sign a new player, especially midfielders, but that will also bring foreign stars when they are able to introduce to the team something that just isn’t taught in Masia, but that will make our team more competitive in the long run.
That momentum ended in 2000.
2000-2001. 2001-2002. 2002-2003. The three seasons where, with no Cruijff Momentum going on, our club was barely able to finish in the Top 4 in La Liga. Ugly football, one-route coaches, focus on strong players over intelligent ones. Just the way the conservatives wanted our club to be. However, naturally, no results came.
The fans had enough. Manifestations on the Camp Nou, complaints, and, finally, exactly 7 years after Cruijff and his legacy had left the club by the backdoor, those ideals were seen as important, once again.
Laporta won the elections, with Cruijff by his side, and chose coaches that believed in the same brand of football Johan did. He also hired people with the same views to run La Masia and to value good players over strength or speed.
We were soon on the winning path again. Two straight Liga titles, the magic night in Paris, where we lifted our second European Cup, and young players coming from La Masia frequently to help strengthen our squad.
The initial “comeback” lasted 3 years, and after 2 very disappointing seasons, Rijkaard was let go, and Pep Guardiola, who had never coached a professional team in a top European league before, became our leader.
And the rest is history. 14 titles in 4 seasons, and a level of footballing dominance that Europe had not see for decades.
Everything was being built in a way to keep our winning mentality and possession based style around for as long as humanly possible. Guardiola would each week talk to Masia coaches, and would plan for when to debut young Masia talents.
But remember the conservatives? The ones that run Catalunya, the media, the penyas and that can make the fanbase change their minds very quickly? By 2010, they had enough of Laporta, who was too loud, too much of a party animal, too much of an independentist for their taste. And they elected Sandro Rosell, one of their own, someone they trusted to run THEIR club.
Soon enough, they were after Guardiola, for the same reasons they went after Cruijff: someone who is immensely intelligent and successful will always have huge flaws, in their minds. Moreover, do not forget: we were winning Leagues and reaching UCL finals/semifinals EVERY SEASON back then.
So they would have their media (they are not FRIENDS with the media, they own it completely) attack him whenever we lost a match, or a title. Whenever a sub caused us to draw or lose a match. Whenever they could.
And Guardiola said enough. Even though he’s Catalunya’s poster boy, especially when it comes to the Independence movement, Pep up and left the club of his life, the place where the achieved what no other team had achieved before or since… because there were just too many people (important, powerful people) against him.
And the conservatives were back in power, to run the club the way THEY wanted. To hire coaches that could sell as “Barça DNA” bearers, but with the personality to blindly obey whatever they were told. Leaders like Cruijff and Pep were too “unpredictable”.
Remember when we talked about the momemtum after Cruijff left in 1996? And that it lasted for 3-4 years?
Check our 12-13, 13-14, 14-15, 15-16 and 16-17 seasons.
Tito was the one they chose to “replace” Pep. They knew the backlash from the fans (and players) would be too much if they went with someone from outside Catalunya, so they went with Tito.
And soon the media would say EXACTLY like they did from 1988-1996: the coach (Cruijff/Pep) are the leaders, but the one who actually thinks of the tactics and excel at it are the assistants (Rexach/Tito).
History will always repeat itself, but in our club, that is just too easy to see.
12-13 kept the momentum of what Pep built alive and well. We won the League with 100 points, but since the care about the most minimal parts of our style was gone, we were destroyed in the UCL by Bayern. That moment right there should have been proof that we had to work on making our midfield younger, or at least give experience to those would eventually take over for Xavi and Iniesta.
But the conservatives didn’t do that. They brought Alex Song to our midfield that season, and sold THIAGO as soon as our Liga title was wrapped. Why keep a controlling, organizing midfielder around when they needed the money to sign… Neymar?
Sadly, Tito’s illness cut his time as FCB coach short, and Tata Martino was signed as FCB coach. An argentine with some success in South America, but zero european experience. But the conservatives sold him as “having more Barça DNA than many here”, and had several people from the media they own link his arrival with a demand from Messi (who had never met the man before in his life).
Messi’s dominance is so abundant, and the momentum was so strong, that we almost won the League (we actually won it, but we won’t talk about that Messi goal, cause I’m sure Atleti would just score another anyway), but failed once again to win the Champions League.
Neymar, who was signed by Rosell to do one thing and one thing only (replace Messi, while making the conservatives and club lots of merchandise money) had a very shy first European season. So Messi stayed, Tata left, and then came Luis Enrique.
Remember the care for possession, positioning, pressing? The urge to value keeping the ball above all other things, since the best way to both attack and defend is to do just so? Luis Enrique never believed in those things. He saw football just as he sees life: as a competition where you need to reach your goal faster than your adversary, and no “style” or “philosophy” were necessary. Just winning.
And he did win. Even though the one midfielder we signed for our Treble winning season was Rakitic, and Xavi was on his way out, we won La Liga and had one of the most memorable runs in Champions League history, beating the League Champions of Netherlands, France, England, Germany and Italy to win our 5th European title.
15-16 came, and even though Arda Turan (!) was chosen as the midfield signing, Lucho’s competitiveness and what was left of our momentum (and Messi), made us win the League yet again, but fall short on UCL due to the same reasons Tata did: lack of proper creativity and midfield organization to beat a team like Atleti.
2 Leagues and 1 UCL in 2 seasons. Of course the conservatives would keep Lucho around. And they added… Andre Gomes to help us regain our winning ways, after Real Madrid had won the UCL yet again, their 2nd in 3 seasons. So we went for the 16-17 season with the last few ounces of our Cruijff/Pep momentum, and whatever was left of the speed and verve Lucho and his MSN were carrying.
That wasn’t enough. Lucho’s focus was always on getting results as soon as possible and with the least suffering possible. Such a view may turn you into a winning team right now (like it did in 14-15), but won’t help you build for the future or keep an identity alive at all. You can’t be fast forever, after all. That’s why no actual relevant title came in 16-17.
And, right now, there’s nothing.
No momentum from what Cruijff/Pep built. Nor the speed and sheer competitiveness from Lucho.
There’s just an older team, that never got properly rejuvenated, especially in midfield, and that, since 2012, only signed the likes of Song, Rakitic, Arda, Gomes and just today PAULINHO to try to return to the winning days provided by Xavi/Iniesta’s brilliance and the undying loyalty to our style and the way Masia should be developed.
The conservatives went with Valverde as coach, a person that never managed a big team or ever played a brave style in his career… but will certainly be a very obedient employee of the conservatives and to whoever they choose to run our club, be it Bartomeu now, or Cardoner when they see fit.
So don’t waste your energy on criticizing Valverde. He’s been hired to get results with the tools/players the board sees fit to give him. He has no voice, no control or weight in any footballing decision. They will all be made by the people that acting on revenge and pettiness, destroyed all that we had going for us in 2012.
What will it take to bring us back to the ONE football identity/philosophy that turned us in the best in the world? Another 3 sad and trophy less seasons, like we have from 2000-2003?
Or will the Catalan socis react once again before we waste Messi’s and all of our player’s potential?
By the end of September, we’ll know. And before that, I’ll write the second part of this article, where I’ll focus on every single shady deal the conservatives and the people behind them pulled since 2012, where they all got richer while our club decayed and withered.