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Sunday 23 July 2017

Reminder that there is much to love still

Eric Abidal lifts the European Cup

Not even their self-righteous assumption that they are demonstrably a force for good can upset the reality of Barcelona's greatness.

If any other side played the football Barcelona played, maybe they would also be hailed but hovering over their brilliance is the glow of their own self-satisfaction. Forget the sponsorship deal with Qatar or the refusal to treat every other club in the Spanish league fairly, Barcelona have achieved a pr spectacular by compelling many writers to view them as a utopian ideal lowering themselves to compete in football's unregulated markets.

Other clubs can win now and they will still feel they've failed. Where are their centre-backs in unconventional positions? Why is the goalkeeper kicking it long when he should be attempting impossible balls to the defender?

Andre Villas-Boas wanted to turn Chelsea into a version of Barcelona but with the understandable fear that he would instead be fired and next be given the opportunity to turn Anzhi Makhachcala into the next Barcelona.

So he goes slowly now, aware the world has witnessed Barca and wants more of it, believing that all you need to is pick a team full of midfielders or utilise a 'false nine' (Liverpool have done some pioneering tactical work in the development of the false big number nine, Andy Carroll) and the rest will come.

A team full of Jon Obi Mikels wouldn't get you anywhere. Barcelona have a generation of gifted players and they have one of the great coaches.

"Guardiola gives all the glory to the players. That's the difference with Mourinho, who looks for his own glory," Johan Cruyff said after Barcelona's World Club Championship victory. Guardiola was desperate for that trophy but their Champions League win at Wembley was another moment when they asserted their greatness.

Manchester United were full of running until they realised running did no good. The sight of Alex Ferguson imploring his players to chase back from the advanced positions they found themselves as they tried to harry Barcelona told it all. Barcelona were in total control. It is rarely any other way when they send out Messi and Xavi.

But there was also a reminder of what they can't control. Eric Abidal lifted the trophy 10 weeks after having a cancerous tumour removed from his liver. The players surrounded him and hailed him. Puyol let him lift the cup and Guardiola and Xavi called him a credit to humanity. For once, it wasn't propaganda and it was a reminder that there is so, so much to love.

Dion Fanning

Sunday Indo Sport

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