Manchester United vs Barcelona: Barca Are Beautiful, But Their Values Stink

As Manchester United and Barcelona prepare to lock horns, I'm ready to blow a gasket at their holier-than-thou posturing about values...
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As Manchester United and Barcelona prepare to lock horns, I'm ready to blow a gasket at their holier-than-thou posturing about values...

As Manchester United and Barcelona prepare to lock horns, I'm ready to blow a gasket at their holier-than-thou posturing about values...

I can’t get enough of Barcelona’s tiki-taka. It’s entranced me ever since Frank Rijkaard took over in 2003 (and let’s not forget it was the Dutchman who first reacquainted the club with the beguiling possession football that made Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team the envy of the world). The movement, the passing, the slow-slow-bang, you’re dead: It’s been a joy, and it’s only got better under Guardiola. A fact that all at Manchester United will be aware of.

I’ve got a lot of time for most of the players too, and the coach, el puto amo, the number f**king one, who only went up in my estimation after wiping the floor with Mourinho at the press conference he gave on the eve of the Champions League semi-final first leg with Real Madrid. And I can forgive them their badgering of the referees and occasional play-acting during the four-game collision with Madrid in April. High-minded broadsheet hacks like to depict Barcelona as the guardians of beauty but they’re a machine programmed to win, and if that means bending the spirit of the game a bit, then so be it. It won't be all sweetness and light against Manchester United.

But what sticks in the craw is their recent drive for the moral high ground, which began when club president Sandro Rosell popped up on Spanish TV after that semi-final win to proclaim: “It’s a victory for football. It’s a victory for values.” By the time the players had sewn up the league and been presented with the trophy they were wearing specially commissioned Nike T-shirts bearing the legend:  “The value of having values”.

Already hollow after the referee-bothering and simulation, that claim to moral supremacy was further undermined when footage emerged of Sergio Busquets allegedly calling Madrid’s Marcelo a “monkey” (“mono” in Spanish). When UEFA began to investigate, Barcelona tried to have us believe their player was saying something far less derogatory:  “Mucho morro” (You’ve got a nerve) as opposed to “Mono, mono”. It might have been enough to throw Platini’s disciplinary dogs off the scent but I and many others didn’t buy it, not with that giveaway hand cupped over the mouth.

If Guardiola’s side do prevail at Wembley today against Manchester United, there’ll doubtless be more talk about values. The battle for hearts, minds and revenue streams demands it. By the time the microphones come out though, I’ll have changed channels.

The Catalans have had recent experience of racism. Former striker Samuel Eto’o was a not-infrequent target for Spain’s boo-boys, which makes their perceived dissembling and disingenuousness in the Busquets case all the more disappointing. But then again, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. Dab hands at nurturing talent at their La Masia production line, Barcelona have proved equally adept at wriggling off the legal hook in recent years, dispensing with values when the occasion demands, putting their own narrow interests first.

Take the 2000 Copa del Rey semi-final against Atletico Madrid for example. Having seen his side beaten 3-0 in the first leg, coach Louis Van Gaal tried to have the return leg postponed after several members of his predominantly Dutch side had been called up for a friendly with Scotland, leaving him with only ten first-teamers. Rather than draft in youth players, not something Van Gaal was ever particularly keen on doing, he sent his ten men out and instructed captain Guardiola to inform the referee and opposing captain they would be unable to fulfil the fixture, the punishment for which is one year’s exclusion from the competition. The following year, however, Barcelona were back in the Copa del Rey, reaching the semi-finals. The value of having values.

Fast forward two years to a vicious Camp Nou clásico made infamous by a pig’s head and myriad other objects launched in the direction of Luis Figo, a former Barça idol who had grown tired of carrying Van Gaal’s malfunctioning team and was now treacherously decked out in white. The Spanish FA ordered the closure of the stadium, an order that was never carried out thanks to a suspiciously timely change to the Association’s statutes. Other clubs have since had their grounds closed for less, but the Camp Nou has remained open for business. The value of having values.

Were the values that Rosell has been lauding the same ones that inspired a Barcelona official to turn on the sprinklers that soaked Mourinho and his celebrating Inter Milan players at the Camp Nou last year? Or perhaps they were the same values that led to a briefcase stuffed full of pesetas being handed over to a Valencia player at a motorway service station in 1994, Barcelona’s illegal reward for Los Che’s 0-0 draw with Deportivo La Coruña, one that handed Cruyff’s Dream Teamers their fourth straight league title.

Such skullduggery is commonplace in Spain, and Barcelona are far from the only club to bend the rules to their advantage and evade responsibilities that don’t suit their interests. I don’t particularly have a problem with that. “Es lo que hay”, as they say here, the way of the world. It’s the T-shirt and the weasel words that bother me, especially when racism’s involved.

If Guardiola’s side do prevail at Wembley today against Manchester United, there’ll doubtless be more talk about values. The battle for hearts, minds and revenue streams demands it. By the time the microphones come out though, I’ll have changed channels.

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