FC Barcelona



”Barcelona is my life…my heart is with Barcelona, always.” 
Lionel Messi

While the crisis that has engulfed world football over the indictment of fourteen FIFA officials by US lawmakers, on allegations of corruption, may cast a shadow over this year’s European Champions League Final in Berlin, the history of one of the clubs involved, FC Barcelona, will forever stand for all that is beautiful about the beautiful game.

In Europe there are a number of football clubs whose names conjure up a certain aura of magic, consistent with histories that are rich in drama, excitement, and meaning. In England there is Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool. In Scotland Glasgow Celtic with their fantastic fans – the best in Europe according to none other than Messi – fit the bill, while in Germany we have Bayern Munich. Meanwhile in Holland Ajax of Amsterdam possess it, and in Italy who could fail to put both Inter and AC Milan on the list, along with Juventus?

Eastern Europe also has its share of such clubs: Dynamo Kiev, Dynamo Moscow, Spartak Moscow, Partisan Belgrade, Red Star Belgrade, Dinamo Zagreb, and so on. Meanwhile in Spain there is Real Madrid, Athletico Madrid, and the most famous of all, FC Barcelona, better known simply as Barca.

In fact when it comes to magic Barca easily eclipses every other football club not just in Europe but the entire world. Their stadium, the Nou Camp (or Camp Nou), exudes a magic of its very own as football’s equivalent of the Roman Coliseum. It is the centre of the universe of this most universal of sports, where the excitement regularly demonstrated and generated on the pitch is replicated in the stands by fans whose passion and knowledge of the sport is unsurpassed.

In their famous blue and maroon striped shirts, the players of Barca, past and present, have given us some of the most wondrous and exquisite displays of footballing artistry. For years now they have embodying the game as the “working class ballet” it is when at its best.

Futbol Club Barcelona were formed in 1899 by Hans (Joan) Gamper, a Swiss national who’d moved to the city and fallen in love with both it anjd the Catalan people and culture. Catalonia’s determined assertion of independence from Spain has been a constant source of upheaval and unrest throughout its history, and FC Barcelona has consistently been a symbol of that independence. This was most evident during and after the Spanish Civil War, when Catalonia was a bastion of anti-fascist and republican resistance to Franco and his nationalist/fascist forces. FC Barcelona became an expression of Catalan pride and identity during the most repressive period in Spain’s history, after Franco prevailed and the country and its people entered a long period of authoritarian and fascist rule. The club’s stadium (up until the move to the Nou Camp in 1957, the club played at Camp de Les Corts) was for many years the only place the Catalan language could be spoken without fear of arrest.

During the civil war the club’s president, Josep Sunyol, was murdered when he made the mistake of venturing into a nationalist zone of the country sporting a Catalan flag on the car he was travelling in. Fans of FC Barcelona have never forgotten nor forgiven his murder, which today still informs the deep hatred and rivalry between the club and Real Madrid. Matches between them are known as ‘El Clasico’ and are the highlight not only of Spanish football but also European and world club football.

General Franco adopted Real as his preferred team in an effort to extract as much political capital as he could from the sport’s popularity in the country. Real from then on was considered the establishment team, the club representing the monarchy, the Catholic Church hierarchy, and the rich, while FC Barcelona was and remains a club associated with Catalan independence, republicanism, and anti-fascism. This identity informs its unique ownership model, comprising some 180,000 subscription-paying members (socios) rather than a single wealthy owner. The members elect the club’s president every four years, and the maximum a president can serve is two four-year terms. This co-operative model is also responsible for the club being associated with good causes through the club’s charitable foundation, such as Unicef, to whom it donates 1.5 million euros annually.

However in 2010 the club succumbed to market pressures and entered a controversial five-year sponsorship deal with Qatar Sports Investments worth £125 million. In 2011 the club broke with 112 years of history when it agreed to carry the name of a commercial sponsor – initially Qatar Foundation followed by Qatar Airways from 2013 – on the team shirts as part of the deal. Qatar is a particularly controversial sponsor given the mounting scandal over its selection to host the 2022 World Cup and its brutal treatment of migrant workers involved in preparing the infrastructure and stadia for the event. The reputational damage to the club’s ethos has not been lost on its board, which it was reported in January 2015 was reconsidering the sponsorship deal with the Qataris. However at time of writing the partnership remains very much in place.

In terms of value, Barcelona came third in the 2013-14 football rich list, compiled by the US-based accountancy firm Deloitte, behind Real Madrid and Manchester City with £407.5 million (574.21 euros) in revenue.

On the pitch, meanwhile, the total football that Barca have perfected and are famous for began with the arrival of Johann Cruyff, the legendary Dutch player and star of the famous Dutch international side of the 1970s. He joined the club in 1973 to team up with his old Ajax manager, Rinnus Michels, and made an immediate impact, inspiring the Catalans to a 5-0 thrashing of their archenemy, Real Madrid, en route to that season’s league title, the club’s first in 13 years.

Cruyff returned to the club as manager between 1988 and 1996 and continued to exert his influence on the club’s playing style and philosophy, leading them to four La Liga titles, one European cup, one Cup Winners’ Cup, and a Copa del Rey in that period.

The Barcelona style that places an emphasis on possession, movement, and the fast transition from defence to attack in waves with short, quick passing. Former Cruyff player, Pep Guardiola, modernized the style when he took over the reins as manager in 2008 with intense and aggressive pressing of the opposition when they have the ball. The style came to be known as ‘tiki-taka’, though it’s a description and a label is one that Guardiola – who left Barca in 2012 and now manages Bayern Munich – loathed as reductive and simplistic.

Some of the world’s greatest players have worn the famous maroon and blue shirt; however Barcelona is known for its outstanding youth academy, through which it develops and nurtures talent from a young age. Lionel Messi, currently the best players in the world, joined the club at 13 from Argentina before progressing through the ranks. Describing the experience, Messi said: “The Barcelona youth programme is one of the best in the world. As a kid they teach you not to play to win, but to grow in ability as a player. At Barca we trained every day with the ball, and I hardly ever ran without a ball at my feet. It was a form of training aimed very clearly at developing your skills.”

When the players of this famous old club take to the pitch at Berlin’s Olympiastadion on 6 June to face Italian giants, Juventus, in the Champions League Final, they will do so in the knowledge that they represent not just a football club but a history and an idea of how the game should be played that resonates with people all over the world.

19 comments on “FC Barcelona

  1. Feodor on said:

    Good article. 🙂

    I’m not old enough to remember the Barca team(s) Cruyff played in, nor really even the ones he managed. I loved watching them under Guardiola, ‘tiki-taka’ and all. Xavi in his pomp controlled and orchestrated the game like no one I have ever seen, and it was a bit of a culture shock to see a central midfielder of his diminutive stature play like such a giant, particularly given the fondness the British game has for big, athletic central midfielders who have nothing of his technical ability.

    But I have to say, watching them this season, particularly with Suárez, has been even more of a revelation. The energy he and Neymar display in pressing and winning the ball high, the room they create for Messi by stretching the pitch more than Guardiola’s teams did, the addition of Rakitić, who adds a directness and capacity for goals which Xavi didn’t–it’s incredible to behold. The way all eleven–including the goalkeeper–move the ball with total mastery, the exquisite touch and control, the flashes of trickery: it’s like watching a cpu game, like watching me play Fifa, in fact! At times they move the ball up the pitch with such speed and grace that you think you’re watching basketball. It’s as if the Harlem Globetrotters made a football team.

    That said, you’ve got to love the way Italian teams are always so well set-up and organised, esp. defensively. The final’s going to be a cracker, even if only from a tactical point of view. Can’t wait.

    < / end boyish gushing 😉

  2. Karl Stewart on said:

    They’re certainly a great club, with an illustrious history.

    But to be truly legendary, I think a club needs to provide a World Cup Final hat trick goalscorer, which none of the clubs you mentioned have achieved..

    And I’m afraid for all Messi’s brilliance, he froze in last year’s WC Final.

    I’ve got a feeling Juve may play the role of pantomime vilains this evening and perhaps pinch it on penalties.

  3. Vanya on said:

    I usually find European Cup finals to be exceedingly anti-climactic (aka boring).

    Hopefully, like the 1997 final when Juventus were beaten in Kiev by Borussia Dortmund, or the one 30 years before in Lisbon, this will be an exception to the rule.

    (Before anyone mentions 1999 btw, all the excitement in that game was crammed into 2 minutes at the very end imho).

  4. Ian Cameron on said:

    “….football boring ….” …. right on. Its OK but not all its cracked on ….and the costs? Garbage goings on. Utterly corrupted ‘cos of the costs. Wonder how many fashion icon UK footballers have won the Tour of France?

  5. Karl Stewart on said:

    Ian Cameron,

    You think cycling’s better than football???

    Come on Ian, get real mate. Cycling’s fun – I enjoy going out on my bike, but as an activity it just doesn’t exist in the same context.

    It’s a bit like comparing sex with toast.

  6. Feodor on said:

    Karl Stewart,

    I think providing the nucleus of that great Spain team was pretty impressive–two European Championships and one World Cup in consecutive tournaments is quite incredible, esp. given the paucity of Spanish international football’s achievements prior to that.

    I agree Messi disappointed in the last WC final, he’s still got at least one good tournament left in him though–hopefully he’ll get his hands on the trophy, it’s be a shame if he didn’t.

    Also agree that Juve might pull off a shock tonight, though without Chellini that might be much harder. However if I were a betting man, I’d be tempted to back them. At least that way if my heart was broken, my wallet would be fatter!

    Lastly, are you a West Ham fan by any chance Karl? 🙂

  7. Lenny on said:

    Ballet is working class football now as It’s cheaper to watch, participate in and the clothing and equipment needed are more affordable.

    Ballet also requires a greater level of strength, fitness and dedication.

    Can’t say I prefer it though.

  8. Sam64 on said:

    Good article. A couple of points, well more as usual:

    Worth noting that the CL Final tonight is 30 years since the Liverpool v. Juventus European Cup at the Heysel Stadium, Brussels in which 39 Italians were killed. I don’t want to go into the events that night in Brussels, except to say that it sort of summoned up all what was bad in the game, in respect to the almost complete lack of UEFA organisation, the crummy stadium, the policing and, yes, some Liverpool fans – who went over there with the express intention of doing the Spics etc.

    I don’t know what ticket prices are like for the final, but the ticket allocation to the fans of the clubs is decent as these things go: 60,000 of 70,000. That’s a good proportion more genuine fans at the game than is the case for Cup Finals at Wembley as the FA flogs of 10,000s of seats to corporates etc.

    ‘Tiki-taka’ was actually first used as a derisory description of Barca’s play, I don’t know who by, some hostile pundit I guess. It kind of stuck and became a commendation – though Pep didn’t like it.

    Shout out for the Women’s’ World Cup, should be some good matches over the next few weeks in Canada, a form of the game that was, until fairly recently, derided.

    Hope Suarez is fully fit, best player I’ve ever seen. Better than Daglish, Cantona, Bergkamp etc etc – but still not the best player in the Barca team amazingly.

  9. John Edwards on said:

    Did Bill Shankly describe football as working class ballet? I always thought it was a quote from the fictional TV character Alf Garnett

  10. John Grimshaw on said:

    “In terms of value, Barcelona came third in the 2013-14 football rich list, compiled by the US-based accountancy firm Deloitte, behind Real Madrid and Manchester City with £407.5 million (574.21 euros) in revenue.”

    Just to be pernickety. The last top ten shows that Manchester City were the sixth richest team behind Real Madrid in first, Manchester Utd in second and Barcelona in fourth.

  11. Vanya on said:

    Expecting a big row at my local branch of a well known turf accountant today. I had Barca to win 2-1 at 6 / 1., and they told me that was in 90 minutes. Suspect they’ll say they meant normal time. Any advice? I’ll tithe part of my winnings to a progressive cause 🙂

  12. John on said:

    John Edwards:
    Did Bill Shankly describe football as working class ballet? I always thought it was a quote from the fictional TV character Alf Garnett

    You may well be right about that. I’m sure there were/are thirst kicking about attributing the quote to Shankly though.
    Great quote regardless.

  13. Vanya,

    Indeed – 90 minutes means normal time including stoppage time. I had 3-2 and thought I was a little unlucky!

  14. Karl Stewart on said:

    jim mclean,

    Cheers for the links Jim – the shirt looks good.

    Unfortunately, the article you linked to is a bit pretentious – the writer can’t be much of a football fan if he gets England’s 1966 World Cup quarter-final result wrong!