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Kings of Catalonia, Kings of the World

Friday 4th March 2016
Last weekend, I was lucky enough to undertake what felt like football's greatest pilgrimage – visiting the Camp Nou to see FC Barcelona in their quest for another La Liga title. After a decade of being held aloft as the ultimate footballing team, and now sustained dominance at home and in Europe, it is clear that Barça's trail blazing is far from over.

First up, prior to the game, was a tour of the cavernous home of Leo Messi, Iniesta and co. The Camp Nou sits a couple of miles from the heart of Barcelona and, even on a Friday evening in February an hour before closing, was totally mobbed by tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of what makes the Catalan club tick. After winding down several flights of stairs into the bowels of the building, you find yourself at the top of what is the player's tunnel. Bathed in the iconic colours, you edge past a small chapel to the right - presumably where opposition players say their final prayers before facing the challenge in the amphitheatre ahead. Unbelievably, you then head up steps to an immaculate, carpet like pitch laid before you. 98,000 seats sore upwards (soon to be 110,000) lessening even the size of the sky above. One can only be left imagining, dreaming what it must feel like to take to the field moments before kick-off.
The players that do currently take to the pitch are edging towards the fabled level of Pep Guardiola's glory years, in which they won all there was to win with a level of style previously unimaginable in world football. A League title, fifth Champions League and Club World Cup have all been added to the jam-packed trophy room in the last twelve months as Luis Enrique begins to carve another chapter into the history of Barcelona.

Enrique, like Guardiola, was already a legendary figure at Barcelona despite having represented Real Madrid prior to his arrival as a player. And the symmetry does not end there as Enrique succeeded Guardiola as Manager of Barcelona B, following the latter's promotion to the top job at the club in 2008. Both are individuals intertwined with the philosophy of football at the club, credited largely to Johan Cruyff's dedication to youth and his ‘dream team'. Where Guardiola had total domination of possession with Xavi and Iniesta at their peak and unrelenting pressure to win the ball back, Enrique has been able to assemble what is arguably the best front three in the history of the game.

The combination of Messi, Suarez and Neymar has spent the last eighteen months terrorising defences week after week with Sevilla the latest team to be stung on Sunday evening – in front on just short of 80,000 fans. One thing that cannot be emphasised enough is the sheer pace and power with which these three combine and attack. Television alone does not do it justice. In Messi, they have a player mentioned amongst the greatest ever, with many who have all seen Pele and Maradona placing the current Ballon D'Or as the best. Suarez has, incredibly, managed to top his goal scoring form at Liverpool and Brazil's poster boy, Neymar, has speed and flare that can win any match outright.
Despite taking the lead early on in the game, a very solid and adventurous Sevilla side were pegged back by a moment of astounding quality. Suarez brought down around twenty-five yards out summoned thousands upon thousands of expectant phone cameras to light up in the crowd. On a side favouring a right footed strike, many expected Neymar to step up, but it was Lionel Messi who whipped the ball over the wall and into the far top corner on the side where the goalkeeper stood as much of a spectator as I up on the second tier. Even Messi and his team mates seemed astonished at the wand like master stroke, celebrating wildly.

It was then no surprise that the winning goal came from a slick combination of play between the Captain, Messi, and Suarez who's cross shot left a relative tap in for Gerard Pique. As Sevilla pressed for an equaliser late on, they were left wide open to wave after wave of counter attack that only missed a final deft flick or irresistible pass from one of Barça's holy trinity. Eventually though, a win to take Barcelona's current unbeaten streak to a record-equalling thirty-four games.

Surely now it seems that La Liga is theirs, with a Copa Del Rey final on the horizon and the ultimate European prize still available to complete a second treble in consecutive seasons. Widespread supremacy on the pitch, supported by vast development ahead of it in both the stadium and global appeal. Even after a loosely enforced transfer ban was lifted by UEFA in January, Barcelona announced the registration of seventy-seven (77!) players across all age groups including Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal. Turan and Vidal both spent months away from competitive football just on the promise of playing for FCB.

Yes, they have sailed close to the wind, but is a relentless ascent to be the best in all facets that continues to provide the people of Catalonia and foreign visitors with football to worship. Like Gaudi's great Sagrada Familia or Parc Guell, iconic wonders of Barcelona, the current team is one of the great pieces of art in the city. Enrique's men reflect the area that they so perfectly represent; massive in presence, studded with stars and like Messi's free kick, mind blowing to look at.
James Dean
A lover of football. Season ticket holder at Sheffield Wednesday and known as the "Andrea Pirlo of the North".

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