With J Hutcherson -- Sorry, but I'm not gawking in wide-eyed wonder as Barcelona sweeps away all competition with a style of play that can only be described as the best soccer currently on display anywhere in the World©. I'm also not buying into the English media's glee in using Barcelona to beat up on the Premier League's elite clubs. There is such a thing as a transition, and this isn't the first one most of us have seen.
Remember when Serie A was by default the World's best league and their top clubs the vanguard for all that was right with the highest levels of club soccer? Or when Real Madrid was so stocked with talent that they were the neutrals choice for what this sport is supposed to be about?
I'm not saying this only gets to happen once, but I do think that the current version of mighty Barca isn't getting enough of a critique. Most of that centers around people who get paid to have an opinion. These days that apparently means nodding along or confirming the obvious.Barcelona are a very good team no doubt. We already knew Lionel Messi was in the conversation for greatest player in the game. And weren't many of these same pundits falling all over themselves while tracking the 'Wayne Rooney equals World's best" story just a couple of months ago?
Are we really this one-dimensional? Do we really have to setup Barcelona as exemplar while ignoring the very basic idea that this is one of several top clubs capable of spending to fix problems?
Yes, this is a club that can point to a group of first team players and their star as proof of their player development system. At the same time, this is a mark 2 version of Barcelona, rebuilt after a bad 2007-08 season. That's 'bad' relative to scale. They finished third, the same sort of "only winning everything counts" mentality that's plaguing the top five or six in the Premier League.
Barcelona deserves credit for getting a rebuild to work, but it's still the same kind of spending that's getting so much criticism everywhere else. Zlatan Ibrahimovic did not join that club on a free transfer. His $92 million dollar fee was the third highest in European history, and the check was made payable to tonight's opponent Inter Milan.
Here's where we seriously consider 'relative to scale.' Barcelona is simply the latest club to put a price on ambition. Fair enough, but it's just not anything out of the ordinary. Their price point had Inter willing to risk selling a superstar. Same with Manchester United moving Ronaldo to Real Madrid and Carlos Tevez to Manchester City.
These are pragmatic decisions that seem to tweak those supporters and some media members who seriously believe every dollar earned by a club should be dedicated to strengthening it. Maybe, but even in the best circumstances no club has proven this works in the long term.
We've seen these super clubs before. The best of a generation of players produced and bought by one club who then manages to win a lot of games. Go figure. It's the closest thing to fantasy soccer, stocking your club through moves that ruin any indication of competitive balance.
Barcelona hasn't gone quite that far. The media's newest favorite club has a one point lead and a game in hand on Real Madrid in La Liga, with both of them doing their best impersonation of the Old Firm by leaving the rest of their league over 20 points back. They're also risking the free spending mentality of the one club still in position to outdo them. Real Madrid has shown before that they'll wait a few seasons after their last big outlay and then remind everybody that they've been buying the best for decades.
That's what's really at work here. Call it the Manchester United protest model, it's as much about the unwillingness of clubs to spend as it is about Barca demonstrating a successful rebuild after the relative insult of finishing behind Villarreal. Manchester United hasn't spent enough. Neither have Real Madrid, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Juventus, and so on.
Add in the risk of European sanctions for not turning a profit, and the love for Barcelona is as much about the fear that the whole system is shifting than it is the sudden discovery that the 2009 FIFA World Player of the Year and the European Footballer of the Year is quite a good player. Or, to put it another way, that the system is shifting against the English model for debt loaded elite clubs.
Barcelona deserve ample credit for their homegrown component the same way Manchester United did in the late 90's. Yet they're just the current example of a broken system.
Instead of redefining the scope, changing the expectations, and controlling spending, too many seem set on simply finding a new way to make sure they don't get left behind. There are lots of people who really do want a league or leagues where best is practically determined by the ability to pay a transfer fee. After all, it's working out nicely for the latest best club in Europe.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.