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Is Barcelona suffering from revisionist history?

Thursday 28th March 2019
Cruijff Guardiola Barcelona Ios Mpalazzotto

To the victor goes the spoils, it’s said. The conqueror writes history. If the conquest is sufficiently supreme, he doesn’t even need to put pen to paper. The conquered will [mistakenly] remember that life was always as it was under his rule. It’s revisionist history in organic form.

When, as Barcelona manager, Pep Guardiola claimed Europe as his own with the aid of four field marshals who graduated from the Catalonian military academy otherwise known as La Masia, football scribes anointed him a genius and a revolutionary. He was the former but not the latter.

Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets stood at the vanguard of their graduating class and other La Masia products, including Bojan Krkic and Pedro [who came after], Victor Valdes and Carles Puyol [who came before], Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique [who returned to the fold after receiving further schooling abroad] dominated the squad in a manner that only one other club in Europe’s top leagues could look down upon. Athletic Bilbao’s cantera policy mandates only Basque players join the club.

Had Barca held to that level of exclusivity, European supremacy wouldn’t be possible. The Blaugrana supplemented their squad with foreign talent to make the difference. They’d been doing it for decades, as did everyone else with visions of grandeur. It's revisionist history to think a Barcelona squad dominated by outsiders goes against Camp Nou tradition. It's also revisionist history to think Pep started a revolution by promoting from within. Every club has done both since the game's beginning.

While other sides developed their own talent, Preston North End claimed the first two seasons of the Football League in 1891,92 by importing Scottish mercenaries, affirming professionalism. London club Corinthians previously dominated in the short-lived amateur era. They refused to adapt and perished as a legitimate power.

In history at large, conquering armies didn’t rely upon homegrown talent either. They conscripted the conquered. The Romans frequently hired mercenary units. In modern football, Bayern Munich and Juventus are best known for conscripting talent from rival Bundesliga and Serie A sides. Real Madrid are notorious for their mercenary policy. Galactico is simply the fancy word.

Los Blancos were European conquerors first, with FCB suffering under their oppression. They hired mercenaries long before coining the term galactico. Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo di Stefano plundered the first five European Cups. The capital club ruled football with an iron hand while Generalissimo Franco did the same with his conquered Spanish states, Catalunya foremost among them. The Merengues enjoyed his protection. The club’s dominance outlasted the dictator. For Barca to escape Real’s thrall, their own lads wouldn’t be enough. They needed help. When under Rome’s thumb, do as the Romans do.

Barcelona’s mercenaries were Dutch. They had names like Rinus Michels, Johan Cruijff, Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard and Frank de Boer. But these mercenaries didn’t supplement Barcelona like Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal and Philippe Coutinho do now. They redefined it. Total Football evolved into tiki-taka.

In 1994/95, Cruijff’s Barcelona won La Liga and made the Champions League final. The squad remained largely Spanish with a heavy La Masia contingent but the goals didn’t come from them, as they would from Messi, Iniesta and Xavi. Hristo Stoichkov [17] and Koeman [10] were the two players who reached double-digits for the campaign. Brazilian Romario added seven, Romanian Gheorge Hagi five. Spanish recruits Jose Mari Bakero [Real Sociedad] and Abelardo [Gijon] contributed seven and five respectively as well.

Cruijff’s son Jordi scored nine. He came through La Masia but it’s difficult to term the young Dutchman as Barcelona through and through when he was sold soon after dad left the club. Either he or the club didn’t see it that way.

Of the Catalonians in the squad, only Txiki Begiristain [8] and Guillermo Amor [6] were scoring threats.

Forgetting how much Barcelona relied upon foreign aid before Guardiola began his march hurts the club now. Fans worry that all these big signings compromise Blaugrana values, that La Masia products are suddenly being denied a route into the squad. Frenkie de Jong and Matthias de Ligt’s impending arrival doesn’t shut the door on homegrown talent. If anyone in the academy was a match for either Dutch starlet, the board wouldn’t waste the money. That both come from another institution rooted in total football means they will settle quickly. De Jong and De Ligt won’t change the way Barca plays, they’ll be more effective implementing Ernesto Valverde’s tactics.

A class like Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and Busquets is a rarity. Too many variables beyond the club’s control, including talent, mental acuity and emotional fortitude, affect the process, making it impossible to replicate with the same success.

It’s unrealistic to think that Barcelona can churn out another golden generation at whim because La Masia has some sort of magic in a bottle. It doesn’t. Nor is it what the club has always done. The class that produced the four legends was an aberration. They interrupted normal business at the club. As their powers fade and they retire one by one, Barcelona doesn’t compromise its values or betray academy players. The club simply reverts to the tried and true balance between homegrown talent and transfer market signings that made it a European power. It honours its tradition.

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Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.

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