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Is Beckham Responsible For Barcelona's Success?

Tuesday 8th May 2012
There are a lot of things we have David Beckham to thank for; an outstanding individual performance and one of the most memorable England goals of all time against Greece, proving that English players can perform to a high standard in foreign leagues and providing Victoria with enough fame and wealth for her never have to release another pop single again (ever) are all valid and noteworthy contributions in an illustrious career that has spanned five club teams (yes, including that loan spell at Preston North End) and in excess of 680 first class appearances (thank you Wikipedia).

Yet when David hangs up those designer, white Adidas Predators for the last time, and moves onto the role of Match of the Day presenter/movie star/Prime Minister, perhaps one of his biggest contributions to European football may very well go unnoticed. In fact, it is an event so monumental in terms of its occurrence, that when historians write about ‘the way football evolved' in the early 21st century, it should receive its own chapter. I am of course referring to why the 2010/11 FC Barcelona side, widely considered by many to be one of the greatest teams to ever play the game, have David Beckham to thank for coming to be.

‘Rubbish' I hear you cry! How can David Beckham, a player who played for Barcelona's fierce rivals, Real Madrid, have anything to do with their outstanding success both domestically and in European competition? Well, there are three key points, all of which play a huge part in where we find ourselves today (2012)

1. David Beckham and Ronaldinho

In 2003, when David Beckham was ‘destined' to leave Manchester United, media outlets and reports were convinced that a deal was done to move the then England Captain to Real Madrid. With a team of ‘Galacticos' that featured Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo and Ronaldo (the Brazilian one), the ‘most famous face' in world football would have been right at home.

At the same time, FC Barcelona were in a bit of a rut. A disappointing 6th place finish saw them finish 22 points off their great rivals. Fairing only slightly better with a quarter final finish in the Champions League, a complete overhaul of the club was on the horizon, with manager Louis Van Gaal losing his job in the January, and the clubs then president, Joan Gaspart leaving at the end of the season.

FC Barcelona's new president Joan Laporta led his electoral campaign with one goal, vote me in and we will get David Beckham to Barcelona. Forgetting about the fact that this was one of the biggest names in world football, Barcelona fans would have loved to see a player deemed to be a Real Madrid star in all but a signature have his move hijacked, and the Manchester United number 7 find his way to the Nou Camp. The Beckham camp stayed quiet, quite happy to drum up publicity that grew interest from both Italy and Germany, but ultimately, the move to Madrid occurred, and Laporta, had missed out on his man.

So instead, as Madrid attempted to shoehorn another big name into a starting 11 that already featured so many, Barcelona turned their attentions to Paris St German, and in particular, their Brazilian forward, Ronaldinho. Full of flair, charisma and tricks, the striker snubbed a move to Manchester United, and made his way to Spain, where he was greeted with a hero's welcome and the clubs famous number 10 shirt (Beckham meanwhile settled for 23 at Real).  Whilst Real Madrid had their galaxy of stars, this was Barcelona's marquee signing, and along with some padding, the club went on to mount a serious challenge for the title, missing out to Valencia with a second place finish.

Ronaldinho went from strength to strength during his time at Barcelona, becoming one of the world's most famous players, developing an iconic fan base and selling hundreds of thousands of shirts worldwide. He won two FIFA player of the year awards and one Ballon d'Or, playing a huge part in Barcelona winning back to back La Liga titles, attracting big name signings such as Deco and Samuel Eto'o and helping lift the Champions League trophy (for the first time in 15 years). This saw Barcelona grow and develop back into the footballing superpower of 2011/12, and although leaving in 2008, Ronaldinho was one of the most important signings in Barca's history.

There is a school of thought that if Barcelona had signed David Beckham, Laporta would have made him the marquee signing, and Ronaldinho never would have been. Whilst we can never be sure what that alternative reality may have looked like, it would be hard to imagine Beckham having the influence that Ronaldinho did at the Nou Camp.

2. A Poor Tactical Base

With Beckham arriving at Real Madrid, there was pressure on the management to fit him into the starting line-up. Already an attacking unit, featuring players such as Figo, Zidane, Raul and Ronaldo, Beckham had to settle for a role in the centre of the park, acting almost as a holding midfield player. To accommodate him, Claude Makelele was sacrificed, and noticing this, the French midfielder moved away to Chelsea.

Whilst Beckham brought an undeniable passing ability and work rate to the Spanish side, he lacked the tactical discipline of Makelele, and Real Madrid found themselves far to open. Although finishing the league's top scorers, they finished with the worse defensive record in the top 8, and most importantly, seven points adrift of the champions Valencia. Meanwhile, Chelsea, with Makelele in his now famous defensive midfield role, were winning back to back Premier League titles and setting defensive records.

The tactical wasteland at Madrid, replacing substance with style and balance with ball players ultimately left the door open for other Spanish sides within the league, with Valencia and then Barcelona developing better football teams that Real. The damage could even be seen as long term, as Real Madrid only recently (2012) have begun to look like a defensively stable unit again.

Whilst it is as much the decision of the manager as it is the signing of Beckham as to how the team plays, the fact that there was pressure from above to fit the latest ‘Galactico' in, meant that stability was lost in the Madrid camp, and the door swung open for a new generation of Barcelona players.

3. Style Of Play

Perhaps the highest plaudits levelled at Barcelona are those related to the Tiki Taka style of football their players produce. Whilst this is mainly a Pep Guardiola influence, the short sharp passing football played by Deco and Xavi in 2005 helped bring players such as Iniesta and later on Messi to the stage. In turn, this helped smaller, less physical players such as Pedro and more recently Thiago into the Barcelona set up, thus heaping further praise on the club's well established youth set up.

Things, however, could have been much different should Beckham have signed for Barca. Renowned for his devastating crossing ability and dead ball accuracy, perhaps Barcelona would have been more inclined to field a target man that could make the most of his abilities. Ruud Van Nistelrooy is as good an example as any of a striker who benefited from Beckham's service, and with players on the world stage with similar physiques and reputations, building a team that worked on crossing and finishing wouldn't have been too hard to do.

A bigger, more physical Barcelona may have developed as a result, with Yaya Toure and Ibrahimovic replacing Messi and Iniesta as the stars. The style of play that has impressed so many both domestically and continentally may not have grown and arrived. The overpowering dominance on European football that Barcelona have possessed for the past few years may still have happened, but not in the way which we all admire today.

Yes, it may be slightly ‘what if', but there is no denying that the above factors are all very realistic outcomes of David Beckham choosing Real over Barca. Perhaps Guardiola would have got rid of David upon coming into the team anyway, or perhaps Beckham would have changed his game to suit the Barcelona philosophy. Fortunately, Beckham chose Real, has continued to be the most well-known footballing face in the world, and Barcelona have gone on to play a brand of football loved the world over!

Dan Bolas


Dan Bolas

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