Teamwork makes the dream work

Are Barcelona again? Anticipate Van Bommel, Antwerp to check them

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FC Barcelona have all of a sudden begun to play like Barca once more, which is to say they appear to be the overwhelming, engaging, dynamic groups during which their present supervisor, Xavi, used to conduct magical soccer symphonies.

There was numerous dross from Spain‘s champions over the previous few months. Profitable dross, however pattern-free, cussed, uninspiring stuff all the identical. But this weekend’s 5-0 win over Actual Betis was an exhilarating show of instinctive, daring, one-touch, third-man working, passing-triangle soccer. Not since Xavi’s crew performed with sprint and enjoyment of beating Actual Madrid 3-1 in January, within the Tremendous Cup last, have the lads in Blaugrana produced something even vaguely comparable.

That efficiency was eight lengthy months in the past, so perhaps it is the proper time for the Catalan supervisor to be reacquainted with somebody who symbolises each the most effective and worst of occasions for Xavi, and for the values of Johan Cruyff which have infused this membership for the reason that Dutchman turned coach in 1988. That somebody is Marc Van Bommel, the Royal Antwerp supervisor and somebody whose persona, physique and soccer mentality embodies a debate that would corrode and undermine the values Xavi’s attempting to ascertain, simply because the Champions League arrives in Catalunya’s capital metropolis once more.

Defined in short, that debate is: peak, energy and aggression vs. imaginative and prescient, approach, pace of motion and thought.

Van Bommel joined Barcelona in 2005 simply as Xavi suffered the worst harm of his profession. The Dutchman began nicely — in reality, there is no higher introduction to Cules (Barca followers) tradition than to announce that you simply’d supported the membership since visiting the Costa Brava on vacation as a child and stumping up the cash it value to go on the Camp Nou tour.

Lower to the tip of that 2005-06 season. Xavi had missed 31 LaLiga and Champions League matches by means of harm however performed 4 occasions, together with two begins, instantly earlier than the Champions League last towards Arsenal in Paris. He was prepared; nonetheless extra prepared was Andres Iniesta. He’d starred all through that championship-winning season, however when sport day arrived in Paris, three dramatic lightning strikes hit within the Barcelona beginning XI, introduced nicely earlier than Jens Lehmann’s 18th-minute crimson card.



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Lionel Messi — who’d loved six matches and 4 begins within the competitors that season — was disregarded of the squad altogether in favour of Maxi Lopez, a giant, brawny, not noticeably gifted ahead who’d performed one single minute in that Champions League marketing campaign.

Subsequent: each Xavi and Iniesta had been benched for the check towards Arsenal, which supplied Barcelona their first European Cup win since 1992. As an alternative, Van Bommel began in midfield alongside Edmilson and Deco. Barcelona’s then-coach, Frank Rijkaard, had opted for peak, energy, energy and brawn proper throughout the board — preferring these attributes over the smaller, slighter, technically sensible, Barca-trained, house-style abilities.

What occurred? Barcelona had been outplayed by 10-man Arsenal for a very long time, trailing 1-0 earlier than Iniesta got here on at half-time. Henrik Larsson joined him quarter-hour later and the ultimate turned on these two males. Xavi would later state that “except Andres got here on in that match, we weren’t going to win.”

Iniesta finally revealed in 2018: “Rijkaard took me apart and mentioned one thing actually robust to me, one thing that had no logic to it, and that meant he selected to not begin me in that match. It is nonetheless one of many hardest issues to digest all these years later in a sporting sense — one of many profession moments that left the worst style in my mouth.”

Van Bommel, huge, aggressive and difficult, was whom Rijkaard went with. When Iniesta left Barcelona to play for Vissel Kobe, Xavi wrote him an open letter that alluded to that state of affairs. “It made me livid when folks used to say that Barca wanted extra ‘muscle,'” he wrote. “What had been they saying? The extra essential muscle wanted to play soccer, as Cruyff mentioned, is the mind. The bravest, Most worthy factor is to make use of intelligence. You and I simply needed to undergo in silence: we most popular to do our speaking on the pitch.”

As for Messi? He was so livid at having been displaced by a bang-average participant like Lopez, countryman or not, that he misplaced his mood and refused to come back right down to the pitch and be a part of the trophy celebrations with the remainder of his teammates. A few months later, I had my first-ever interview with him and he was clear that he regretted the assault of fury, stating firmly that “God keen, I will have many extra probabilities to win it.”

There have been a few different parallels between that wet evening in Saint-Denis and the go to of Van Bommel’s crew to Barcelona’s momentary stadium on Montjuic this week — not simply the apparently perpetual brains vs. brawn argument. Barcelona beat Arsenal 2-1 that evening because of a striker in his mid-30s (Samuel Eto’o), Larsson along with his two assists and a Portuguese-speaking right-back, Juliano Belletti, who crashed house the winner.

Earlier than drawing the thread tight, and mentioning Robert Lewandowski (a striker in his mid-30s) or rampaging Portuguese right-back João Cancelo, it could be enjoyable to throw in a really little-known anecdote.



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Two weeks in the past I used to be with Larsson, and we had a duplicate Champions League trophy. Impressed by being with “my outdated good friend” (the trophy, slightly than me), he instructed me that when the celebrations in Paris had been finally completed that evening, he and his spouse, Magda, ushered all the opposite squad members into taxis after which could not discover one themselves. A few drinks had, understandably, been loved they usually randomly requested the nightclub bouncer if he knew how one can get a cab. As an alternative, he phoned his brother, who was a painter and decorator by commerce, received him to get off the bed at 5 a.m. to show up in his work van and drive the Larssons again to Barca’s resort in Versailles.

Think about the scene of a Champions League winner and his spouse rattling round behind a fan surrounded by paint pots, ladders and quite a lot of workman’s instruments. “Portray the city?” At any price, what glamour!

Simply earlier than leaving the Van Bommel topic to deal with Xavi’s Barcelona, it is value remembering that these ailing emotions, which sprung up between the Dutchman and his two former Camp Nou teammates, resurfaced within the World Cup last 4 years later. That evening in Johannesburg, the now-Antwerp coach correctly put the boot in, was extraordinarily fortunate to not be despatched off earlier than half-time and bullied Iniesta so typically that the person who finally scored that wonderful aim reacted and admitted that he, himself, was just a little lucky to not be despatched off.

This week, it’s going to be attention-grabbing to see whether or not Van Bommel sanctions ways aimed toward testing the referee’s tolerance by aggressively bullying a aspect filled with bodily diminutive abilities like Alejandro Balde, João Félix, Gundogan, Frenkie de Jong, Ferran Torres, Lamine Yamal and Gavi.

Again to the comparisons with Larsson and Belletti. With the arrival and quick eruption of Joao Felix subsequent to him, Lewandowski has begun to appear to be… Robert Lewandowski once more.

His aim towards Betis, the essential strike to make it 2-0, was embellished by him turning to Felix and warning the Portugal worldwide that he wished a dummy when the ball was performed in. Then getting that, when Andreas Christensen slid the ball by means of, and the Pole produced the kind of dash and end he hasn’t actually proven for simply in need of a 12 months.

Final week Lewandowski admitted to the Polish media that “earlier than coming to Barcelona, I used to be a little bit of a aim machine … right here I’ve turn out to be a bit extra ‘human.'” Is he again?

After which there’s Cancelo. Like his Portugal teammate Felix, he seems custom-made for this crew not solely due to his skills, however due to the issue he solves at right-back. He performs with Pep Guardiola orders in his head and pops up as an “inside” fullback, perpetually providing himself as a “free” man in midfield. It is intoxicating to look at.

Every of the Joaos scored, every of them appeared just like the “lacking piece” and every of them, you would possibly say, has arrived at Barcelona simply in time. I wager Van Bommel could have his personal ideas on the matter. They will most likely be grumpy ones, too.

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