It seems fair to say that 2012 has not been the greatest year in the recent history of FC Barcelona. First and foremost both Eric Abidal and Tito Vilanova suffered recurrences to their respective illnesses, reminding us all that the game that we love with such passion, is at the end of the day, just a game.
If the object of the game is to win trophies than the year was below par by recent standards. Having won thirteen titles in the previous three years, only winning the Copa del Rey in May should probably be seen as not quite enough for a team with so much talent. However, I can’t help remembering the immortal quote from the great Irish international Danny Blanchflower: “The great fallacy is that the game is first and foremost about winning. It’s nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It’s about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”
In this sense I feel we can be very satisfied with the last 12 months. Yes, we lost a couple of crucial games in April to Chelsea and Madrid which saw us miss out on the two major prizes but we have seen an abundance of spectacular football thanks to our attacking philosophy. When Pep Guardiola announced his departure there were obvious concerns with how we would cope without our charismatic leader. But Vilanova, and now Jordi Roura, have demonstrated how ingrained the philosophy is at the club. Just before Christmas I watched a game with Franc Artiga’s Cadet B team and it was striking how similarly the 14-year-olds played like the first team.
The difference between Barça’s family feeling and what is going on at Real Madrid is certainly worth noting. While Florentino Perez has to deal with an unpredictable coach who is capable of benching Iker Casillas and dividing the dressing room, things at Barça seem incredibly calm. There may be some transfer interest in Dani Alves or David Villa but it seems that both players will stay, at least until June, while the new contracts given recently to veterans Xavi and Puyol send out an excellent signal through the club that loyalty will be well rewarded in the end.
I may not be Sandro Rosell’s biggest fan but he deserves credit for allowing the footballing philosophy to remain unchanged when he became club president, and by choosing ex-dream team players Andoni Zubizaretta as director of football and Guillermo Amor as director of youth football he has ensured the continuation of the work started by Johan Cruyff nearly 25 years ago.
The result is that we continue to be seen as the team to beat and the club that most look to as an inspiration. At Levante in November the team fielded 11 canteranos for an hour and it is not at all unusual to see eight or nine homegrown players in the side, and with this formula we have made a record-breaking start to the 2012/13 league season, finished top of our Champions League group and moved very close to the Copa del Rey quarter finals.
Our prospects appear to be excellent for 2013 but what should our targets be? There are still 21 games to play in La Liga though our ample advantage over our closest rivals suggests we will have to screw things up in a very big way not to finish champions. As fans I’m sure we would love to see the team remain unbeaten in the league and we can be inspired by the idea of beating Madrid’s points and goals records from last season, though these records may be complicated by the lack of a good enough competitor to push us right to the line.
Our main objective has to be a return to Wembley on May 25. Xavi, Messi, Iniesta, Puyol and Valdés have won three Champions Leagues each but I don’t think they have finished yet. This Barça team has sometimes been compared to the great AC Milan that won Europe’s top prize in 1989, 1990 and 1994, and another victory in this season’s tournament might tip history’s view in Barça’s favor. How fitting that Milan should be our next opponents in the last 16.
However, whatever happens, let’s remember it’s not just about winning. This team has already earned its place in history, and not so much for the number of trophies we have won but more for the way we have done it. Here’s to a thrill-filled 2013 full of spectacular scintillating football.
Finally, I’d like to thank you all for reading. I’ve had my ups and downs as a Barça blogger for the last five and a half years but I’m happy to say that pageviews for Barçacentral are up by about 45% for 2012 compared to 2011. I apologize for the occasional sponsored link but times are hard in Spain at the moment and these little things help cover costs. I also recognize I haven’t had so much time for blogging recently but this is due to a book project I’ve started on the four years of Pep Guardiola’s time in charge. Of course, I’ll let you know when it’s out (with endless plugging I’m sure) but it’s taking me longer than I’d originally hoped. There should be more blogging time when I’m finished.
Peace and health to you all.