“It was not that they thrashed Madrid 5-0, defeated Mourinho and his unbeaten €292m team. It was that they did it their way.”
I wanted to write a column about Barcelona’s magical night yesterday, but there isn’t much left to say that hasn’t already been said, especially anything that would do full justice to Barcelona’s performance.
With that said, Sid Lowe did a great job putting down the Barcelona performance into words in his column in the Guardian today! Below is a reproduction of his column. The original can be found here.
Eric Abidal raised his hand. Gerard Piqué raised his. And the crowd that engulfed Jeffren Suárez raised theirs. Víctor Valdés raised his hand, latex glistening in the light. Soon the Camp Nou raised its hands. So did the fans that gathered down the Ramblas – palms open, fingers outstretched as if willing the nails to grow. Not far away, a hand was raised on the front cover of Sport. On the back, their cartoonist was taking the easy way out. “Today, instead of drawing,” he wrote, “I have decided to scan my hand.” So he did.
Meanwhile, right about the time Andrés Iniesta was posting pictures in his pants, in a warehouse somewhere they were already rushing off a batch of T-shirts to go with the Barça tupperware, Barça knives and Barça tool set. Blue and yellow and yours for just €9.95. On the back it reads: “great theatre”. On the front it doesn’t read anything much. Just the dateline and the score from last night’s clásico between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid: Camp Nou, 29/11/2010. 5-0. And, above that, a giant yellow hand.
Jeffren’s late goal made little difference, but it made all the difference. Madrid were already being humiliated. José Mourinho, already suffering his worst ever defeat as a coach, felt “impotent”, barely moving as fans chanted for him to “come out the dugout! José, come out the dugout!” It was already 4-0 and into additional time and Almería’s Henok Goitom, thrashed 8-0 by Barcelona last weekend, had long-since noted: “I know how you feel: you just want the game to finish.” But the game had not finished, not yet. The fifth goal had to arrive and when it did, it mattered. It turned a baño – a bath, a drubbing – into a manita, a little hand. A goal for every finger. The most perfect of beatings.
Especially for Barcelona. Because if manitas are symbolic in Spain – and even fans of Racing Santander have their T-shirt – in Barcelona there’s something even more emblematic about them. If Abidal didn’t know exactly what the gesture meant, Piqué, son of a Barça director and a soci from birth, certainly does. Last week, after that win in Almería, Cristiano Ronaldo had shrugged: “I’d like to see them get eight on Monday.” They could have done and eight would have been great, but somehow five, while fewer, feels more fitting today.
When El Mundo Deportivo called it a Super Manita, everyone in Catalunya knew what they were measuring it against. This was the fifth time Barcelona had defeated Real Madrid 5-0. Beyond 1934-35 and 1944-45, two linger in the memory: the 1973 team led by Johan Cruyff the player and the 1994-95 Dream Team led by Cruyff the coach. No one could watch last night and not recall Cruyff. Or Romário. Just in case, television programmes drew on the archive. Last night two epoch-defining victories became three.
Under Guardiola, Barcelona had already beaten Madrid 6-2 at the Bernabéu and this result may ultimately change little. This was a single match, maybe a one-off and Barcelona’s lead is just two points with 25 games left. Lessons will have been learnt. Madrid had, Mourinho insisted, “been to blame” too. And as the Portuguese coach pointed out: “Last season I lost here with Inter before returning for the semi-final. We were the ones who reached the final – they watched it on television.” And yet last night felt similarly historic, similarly symbolic; another exhibit to present to the jury in the case of This Barça v All The Others.
It is as if there is a checklist of things this Barcelona side have to do to emulate their predecessors, to prove their worth. And beat Madrid 5-0 is one of them. The parallel was not lost on anyone. Pep Guardiola appeared in the pressroom and dedicated the win to Charly Rexach and Johan Cruyff, “the men who started us like this; laying down the approach we consider non-negotiable”. Xavi talks about this Barcelona team as being “sons of the system” – in Sergio Busquets’ case, literally.
It was not just that Barcelona beat Madrid last night, or even that they hammered them. It was not just that they defeated Mourinho – although they loved that – and a starting XI that cost €292m. Not that they defeated a team that had been unbeaten. It wasn’t even that Guardiola completed a manita of his own – he’s now won all five clásicos as coach, with a barely plausible aggregate score of 17-2. It was not just that, it was that they did it their way.
A way that would be risky for any other team. Busquets produced a drag back despite being under pressure and the last man. If hearts were in mouths, his wasn’t one of them. If Xavi turned into trouble, he invariably turned out of it again. Even Víctor Valdés, true to Cruyff’s great obsession, was playing the ball out short. The second goal came after more than 20 passes and a minute of uninterrupted possession to a soundtrack of olés. If Barcelona scored from their first four shots on target – Messi’s fantastic chip against the post counts as off target – it’s because they didn’t shoot until putting the ball into the net was just another pass.
Barcelona battered Madrid. Not some team of donkeys: Madrid. Only battered isn’t really the word. Barcelona killed them softly, with precision not power. As Ramón Besa wrote in El País: “Goals fall at Camp Nou like autumn leaves: naturally, beautifully and serenely.” It was the control that was stunning, the bewilderment felt by Madrid. “The worst thing isn’t losing, the worst thing is not having a clue what’s going on,” sobbed AS’s mad Madridista Tomás Roncero.
Barcelona completed 636 passes, Madrid 279. “They could have played with two balls,” wrote Roberto Palomar, “and Barcelona would have controlled both.” Xavi, the best central midfielder in Spanish history and the man who ran last year’s clásico, completed 114 of 117 passes. It was the sixth time he’s gone over 100. Xabi Alonso – the only player to have even done it once – completed fewer than half. Busquets and Iniesta moved the ball with a pace and precision, usually with a single touch. And then there was Leo Messi. He didn’t score for the first time in 10 games. Or do one of those runs. But he gave two perfect assists and laid bare the fallacy that Ronaldo is a more “complete” player, by doing the thing often missed amid the goals and the dribbles: controlling the game. Again.
Even the clinically obsessed Marca, while whining a bit about the referee, admitted that Barcelona had been “too MOUch for Madrid.” Roberto Gómez described it as “intolerable”, the “most ridiculous thing this century” – and he wasn’t talking about one of his ‘articles’. He was talking about Madrid. But it wasn’t just about Madrid; it was about Barcelona producing what Santi Segurola described as “a symphony” – one of the most extraordinary displays anyone could remember AS declared Barcelona “still miles ahead of Madrid”. Inside, Santi Giménez – who should probably seek medical advice – was having a “blue and red orgasm”. Prompted by Xavi’s claim that beating Madrid was like a spot of carnal bliss, both Sport and El Mundo Deportivo followed suit, leaping from the Dream Team to the Wet Dream Team. Barcelona, they declared, are the “Orgasm Team”.
There is a question that keeps getting asked: which Barcelona team is the best in the club’s history? Last night, the current side raised their hand.