Exclusive: totalBarça talks with Graham Hunter

Exclusive: totalBarça talks with Graham Hunter
Graham with his daughter Kara at a cafe in Barcelona with tB

totalBarça’s Alexandra sat down recently with renown football journalist Graham Hunter for an interview where she took the opportunity to ask the Barcelona based journalist a few questions about FC Barcelona, especially for the readers of totalBarça.

After the jump you can read why Graham thinks the most recent El Clàsico was a better performance for Barça than the 5-0 last season, why the club’s future is so bright, and who is the best sixteen year old he has ever seen play (and no, it’s not Messi).

Who of us can forget that night on 29th November 2010 at the Camp Nou when Barça humiliated Real Madrid with a 5-0 win in a game that many have named the best ever football performance from any team.  Last Saturday, Spain’s two biggest met again, there were no 5-0 this time for Barça and there were no fantasy football like that played at Camp Nou one year earlier. But still Graham Hunter considers it a better performance from the Catalan side.

I think it was a massacre, for Barcelona to play so badly away from home, to come to the Bernabeu with 8 scored goals away and 7 let in, with a draw in San Sebastian and a draw at Bilbao. To give a goal away like that [at the start of the game] and to have Valdés playing so nervously all night, and then to score three goals and humiliate Real Madrid when the score could have been 6-2, 7-2. It was one of the better performances . . . that was a better performance than to win 5-0 here [in Barcelona] against a ragdoll opposition last year. That was amazing. . . .

Since Guardiola took over as coach for Barcelona in 2008 the titles and amazing games haven’t stopped coming, and the question many of us ponder is how long it will last, because there will be an end, right? This is a question not even Graham has the answer to.

“I don’t know the answer to that question. Because I’m inquisitive, the most normal thing in the world is that eras don’t last long, and there is a burn out factor that has been seen a lot this season.”

Although he recalls some good points made by Barça legend Charly Rexach that detail reasons to believe that the team’s success won’t stop anytime soon.

There are people that are better judges [about] this than me. For example Charly Rexach. Charly is a brain at football and his point of view is that the system is built in that way that it will continue. You can take Pep out and it won’t become like it was during the two last seasons under Rijkaard. Superstar players who got lazy, fat and didn’t train well and Rijkaard had a hard time and therefore didn’t pay attention to what was going on. He also wasn’t a guy from the cantera, from the family. He was a good coach brought in. So the argument is that the kids are coming through, the futbol base system is run well. It is a system so it’s meant to be this and they train the same way. In theory the players will get through even when the coach is not Pep but someone who has a similar philosophy in how the game is played. So how things are run man to man will change, maybe he will work as hard as Pep, maybe he won’t, he might not have the same impact as Pep had when he came in and all the players knew him. So things might change but in theory, whether they are winning the Champions League every second year or not, there is now enough momentum for Barcelona to play the same way, to play this way, to entertain people and to raise cantera players. So if there is a change there won’t be wilderness years like it was from 1999 to 2005, six years without a trophy. In theory if Pep goes that won’t happen. And I think they are arguing it honestly and I think there is a backing for the case.”

But still Graham is not fully convinced because there are some players that may not be replaceable.

What happens is… how do you replace the extra that Xavi gives and the extra that Puyol gives you? They are two who are coming towards their end, we might have another three years of Xavi, but this season has showed that we might not have another two years of Puyol. We don’t know and how do you replace a character like that?

Impossible to replace?

Talking about the club’s system and the canteras coming through leads us to the topic of the youth teams, and Graham is someone who has been following the youth players at Barça quite closely. And he is impressed to say the least. Especially by the club’s B team, who he says is really well considering they are kids playing against men.

I’m close with Eusebio, the B team coach, and he tells me that his group is better than they look. Because they are kids playing against men. I mean genuinely kids, in a league where every team that plays Barça B is a second division side who sees it as their Champions League final. And they will think ‘if we can’t beat them, we’ll kick them. We’re going to give everything to knock them off the ball, if we’re going to spend a season in the second division, beating Barça is our world cup final’. And these guys are kids, so the fact that they actually are beginning to win now is incredible.”

So who are the players to keep an eye on in the B team?

There are so many . . . to mark some of them down, Montoya, Sergi Roberto, Rafinha, Bartra, Deulofeu, whose progress is slow but his talent is enormous. These guys are very good, they have a bright future in football whether this is at Barça or not.”

But in one of Barça’s younger teams is the one player that impresses Graham the most, the one he states is the best sixteen-year-old footballer he has ever seen.

In the Juvenil team coach by Oscar Garcia, who I think potentially should be the next Barça coach after Pep, there is one guy who is the best I have ever seen. I saw Messi at sixteen but Dongou from Cameroon is the best footballer at sixteen I’ve ever seen in my life. He is phenomenally quick, finishes brilliantly and works, he has been taught to work and press a lot.”

Jean Marie Dongou better than Lionel Messi at 16

Who are the other Juvenil players to keep an eye on, according to Graham?

Sergi Samper, Grimaldo, Patricio in midfield, Cristian up front, Bakoyock, and there is more. It’s a very, very good team and there are a lot of really good players… but Dongou!

So to make a conclusion, if we are to believe Graham Hunter, Barça’s future seems more than bright and Dongou is better than the 16-year-old Messi. Since that kid turned out pretty okay, let’s hope Dongou will as well. . . .

It was a joy to sit down in Barcelona and talk to Graham Hunter, and we at totalBarça wish to thank him once again for taking the time to answer our questions.

You can follow Graham on twitter @BumperGraham, as well as Alexandra @AlexandraJonson