If You Think Barcelona Are Boring You Know Nothing About Football

With it now fashionable to sneer at Barcelona and their tiki-taka style of play, one man shows his appreciation of a team featuring the collective genius of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta that is likely to be one in a generation.
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With it now fashionable to sneer at Barcelona and their tiki-taka style of play, one man shows his appreciation of a team featuring the collective genius of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta that is likely to be one in a generation.

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A few days ago, on Twitter, I suggested that football hipsters who think it cool to sneer at Barcelona are to be shunned. Yes, Bielsa's Bilbao are cool and fun to watch. Yes, there is much to admire in the way Napoli play and the players they have. But Barcelona are epoch defining. They are the team that we will remember in thirty years time. They will join the pantheon.

We should enjoy this Barcelona whilst we have them. Teams like this only come along once in a generation. Indeed, some might argue that there hasn't been a team this good since the AC Milan team of the early 1990s or, even, the Ajax teams of the early 1970s.

So, we should cherish them. We should think ourselves lucky that Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta play in the same team, at the same time, at their peak. Let us not be outré or contrarian. Let's not be the sort who, when discussing Cruyff, nods knowingly and assures everyone that Rensenbrink was a better player. Let us leave our polar necks, berets and Gauloises to one side.

There are two further commentating trends coming from Barcelona's brilliance.

The first is to say the style of football that Barcelona play is ''boring''. Like beauty, what one finds interesting is in the eye of the beholder but the idea that this team - a team blessed with such talent, beauty and creativity - is boring seems to me to be the call of a man looking either for attention or hits for his blog. My view? If you consider intricate possession moves, technical excellence and some of the greatest players in history boring then, well, go and start watching another sport.

One can appreciate AC Milan, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona. If you truly love football it isn't, or shouldn't be, a zero-sum game where the winner takes all and everyone else be ground to dust.

The second trend is more striking. This is that individuals find Barcelona's brand so intoxicating, or in viewing their results conclude that there is no other way to win, that they no longer acknowledge that there are other ways to win a football game and that there are other forms of beauty in the game. Like Barcelona's suffocation of their opponents via their harrying of opposition ball-carriers and quest for total possession, increasingly tiki-taka is suffocating the idea that other methods can work. This is the second it is viewed as the only way forward. Notice the media and blogosphere focus on Cleverley and Wilshere as ''our'' Iniesta and Xavi (stop sniggering in the back). Rather than develop our own footballing culture - which, undoubtedly, these two young talents will help shape - we are increasingly obsessed with attempting to become Spain. Still, that'll keep soul-searchers like myself in business for another generation.

My last post focused on this Manchester United team being under-appreciated and there is an argument to say that the increasing Barcefication of football means that, in some sectors of the footballing community, the excellent wing-play of Valencia is no longer truly appreciated neither is the blood-and-thunder of elements of the English Premier League or, hell, a good old fashioned long-ball. I am not a fan of long-ball tactics but it can be very effectively utilised (Albert Riera's goal vs Aston Villa a few seasons ago springs to mind).

Others could point to the lack of appreciation for AC Milan's exploits against Arsenal, the almost unnoticed rise of Bayern Munich,  Internazionale's 'shepherding' against Barcelona two seasons back, or, even, the majesty of Real Madrid this season. Real Madrid are currently six points ahead of Barcelona, have done so scoring 100 league goals already this season, and are a team littered with talent. The media - in this country at least - seems to focus not on their achievements but on whether or not Barcelona can catch them.

So I have a quandary. The contrarians I scorn above are performing an important role. They are  ensuring that other teams, and other styles, get noticed and admired. They do so, however, in a frustrating, infuriating and futile manner.

They appreciate Napoli, Bilbao and Lord knows who else. They go too far the other way and start scorning something wonderful. This is wrong-headed. One can appreciate AC Milan, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona. If you truly love football it isn't, or shouldn't be, a zero-sum game where the winner takes all and everyone else be ground to dust.

So, let us make a pact. We shall love and cherish tiki-taka and its exponents. Especially when it is done as breathtakingly as it is by Barcelona. But we shall acknowledge there are other ways to win football matches and we shouldn't shun teams that succeed in other ways. Pigeonholes are for pigeons. And we aren't pigeons.

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