Tuesday 21 November 2017

Outside the box: Barcelona too big for their boots

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

AS well as the Zadok the Priest theme tune and nobody being able to remember the competition's group games come next May, one of the sure things about the Champions League is that every team will be written off as potential winners at some stage.

Manchester United are too reliant on Rooney; Chelsea too old; Arsenal too young; Spurs too naive; Liverpool too Europa League; AC Milan dodgy at the back; Inter dodgy in the dugout; Bayern Munich can't defend and Real Madrid will still be the usual circus, albeit with a new ringmaster.

Then there's Barcelona, the clear favourites for the tournament, who kick off against Panathinaikos at the Nou Camp tomorrow night with a couple of question marks hanging over their defence but, once again, with a halo around the club in keeping with the current sporting love-in of all things Spanish.

"More than a club" is the motto on which the club is based but, from the evidence of the past year or so, they seem determined to behave in just the same manner as any other team, with the only difference being that nobody seems to notice.

As is his wont, Didier Drogba accompanied Chelsea's exit from the Champions League with a hissy fit at Stamford Bridge when Barcelona knocked them out in 2009 thanks to Andres Iniesta's injury-time strike.

"It's a disgrace," roared Drogba into the television cameras for which he initially received a six-match ban after Chelsea had been denied several legitimate penalty claims and, had they being playing against anybody else, most would have agreed with Drogba's moment of punditry.

Instead, because it was Barcelona, Chelsea were depicted as sore losers and, despite much evidence to the contrary over the previous 180 minutes, Barca's progression was seen as a victory for football with the coronation arriving a few weeks later in the final against Manchester United.

Fast-forward to last year and the reaction to Barca's behaviour when they were knocked out by Inter at the Nou Camp.

Jose Mourinho was typically ebullient, yet Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes felt within his rights to man-handle him in the celebrations which followed. And that was before the sprinklers were turned on in an attempt to douse the mood of the celebrating Inter players. UEFA decided to ignore both blatant acts of petulance.

No team is a model of purity, least of all Inter, yet the most conniving act of the tie came from Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets as he peered through his hands to double-check that Thiago Motta had been sent off before leaping to his feet and carrying on with the game.


Even though Inter had 10 men for an hour after Motta's dismissal, had Bojan Krcic managed to score or Barca's late goal not been controversially ruled out, another bout of revisionism would have ensued to ensure that any bad deeds carried out by their players were merely the acts of the game's missionaries trying to preach the good word in a footballing world of unedifying long passes and hard tackling.

To prevent a repeat of such an injustice, Barcelona set about on a summer spending spree yet, while Real Madrid, Manchester City or Chelsea have often been criticised for their transfer tactics over the past few years, Barcelona's pursuit of Cesc Fabregas took such strategies to a new and breathtaking level of arrogance.

Barca, it seems, feel that Arsenal owe them something after the Gunners nabbed Fabregas as a teenager, although it's doubtful whether the same moral code would apply should Newells Old Boys ever come with a derisory offer for Lionel Messi, who left Argentina for Barcelona as a 13-year-old.

That Barcelona sold Yaya Toure to Manchester City for £24m seemed irrelevant when they revealed the £29m valuation they were putting on Fabregas. The Arsenal star will probably complete his "dream" move next summer, although the fact his prospective employers value him at a mere £3m more than James Milner might cause him to think twice.

Unlike Arsenal, Liverpool were happy to let Javier Mascherano go to the Nou Camp for an £18m fee, which probably reflects more the finances at Anfield than it does an accurate valuation of a player who had two years left on his contract, is Argentinian captain and -- despite being nicknamed 'short, back and sides' for his passing abilities -- is the sort of player Barca need in the absence of Toure.

In the brief Mascherano saga, Messi had urged Liverpool to "act humanely" and let his fellow Argentinian leave, despite everything they had invested in the player who came to England and was stuck in West Ham's reserves.

Messi's comments, hopefully, were lost in translation, but the message of a club determined to depict itself as being above all others certainly comes through loud and clear.

Irish Independent

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