Ruiz, Michels, Tort, Cruyff, Guardiola.. The Best Is Yet To Come

On 23 December 2000 Real Madrid won the Fifa club of the 20th century. Winning 31 La Ligas, and 9 European cups is certainly not an easy task, and a feat that not many teams will ever be able to achieve. Something that makes us Cules a bit frustrated. But rest assured, we have much to be proud of, and more to be looking forward to.

Pep Guardiola's unprecedented success during the past 4 season has been a breath of fresh air, and something to be proud off. His 13 titles (hopefully 14 by 25 may) are nothing short of historic. Pep not only gave us something to cheer about, a team full of legendary players, a football philosophy that has been the club's identity for several years now, he also gave us the bragging rights over Real Madrid fans.

Before Laporta's reign we have always been in Madrid's shadow, coming second best in almost all competitions. But now we are so good that when our team draws a game, alarm bells are rung. We are so good that when we beat Milan in the quarter finals of a champions league, we get harassed for failing to score on their turf. We are so good that, when Chelsea manages to shoot 2 times on target in Stamford
bridge while playing Drogba as a left back for an entire 90 minutes we are pictured as the conquered. this has been the case for the past couple of years. But what was it like before?

Every Culture, every club has an icon, an idol, that represents what it stands for. Well we have many. Aside from the many legends that passed through our club, the Catalan identity, the Seny, we have a clear football philosophy, a gem that was polished and improved throughout the years. It's something that we will always build upon and successfully reap it results.

Laureano Ruiz once said (addressing an ex-barca youth coach): “Let us say that you and I coach two teams with kids that are 10, 11, and 12 years old and all are about equally good. You try to teach them to play good football, a passing game and with tactical basics while I tell mine to only play long balls and try to shoot. I can assure you that [at first] I will always win against you, by using your mistakes. Break a bad pass and goal. If we however continue with the same training methods during a three year period, you will most likely win every game against us. Your players will have learned how to play while mine haven’t.

That’s how easy it is.” His expression defines our football today, we have learned, improved, and enhanced the way football is played. Our much revered La Masia has been a revelation in graduating gifted youngsters. players are encouraged to think, think, and think more before acting, on, and off the field. Generation after generation we started to yield smarter, and more versatile players.

Rinus Michels imported his "Total Football" to Barcelona, the football that depends on generalists instead of position players, where a players could and should be able to play on any part of the pitch. The importance of this system lies in the off-the-ball movement that was able to free space for the man with the ball in order to spring passes and dictate play.

Michel's protagonist was Cruyff who would later become a legendary coach at the club. Cruyff's versatility allowed him to roam all around the pitch freeing space for his fellow teammates, not sticking to one part of the pitch, searching for the place that he would be able to inflict damage to oppositions, and his teammates would adapt themselves to his movements (does that remind you of Messi now? and Pep's system of play?). But the story and evolution of "total football" was to be later developed and perfected.

When a team plays in a successful way- a way that yields titles- for so long, opposing teams will sooner rather than later find the antidote. That's why evolution is always required. Kind of the same way Pep tried this year to shift our style of play from the glorious 4-3-3 to the 3-4-3 only to be criticized by some.

Back to our sequence of successes. La Masia is now named Centro de Formacion Oriol Tort. A man who was poised on searching for young talents, way before La Masia was there. A man who discovered Don Andres, Busi, Albert Ferrer, Sergi, Barjuan, and many more. "Oriol Tort was a wise man. There aren't any more left like him. he would come in to the club and work for hours until he had done what he needed to. Because of people like him, we are where we are today"

Josep Guardiola. An average man, humble and in love with football that he made it his daily mission to work and search for young, unrecognized talents. He passed away before witnessing Guardiola's success, but now he is surely watching from above with a smile.

When Johan Cruyff was appointed by Josep Lluis Nunez, he embarked on a mission of improving Michel's "Total football". He successfully started filling the gaps, in ways that emphasized on players replacing each other, where if a player moves from right to left, another player has to fill in at right, in order for the team not to lose its organizational structure. Every players has to be a defender, a midfielder and an attacker. He went on to lift 11 titles.

Guardiola has always been a quick learner, a wise man who was taught to think before acting, improving mistakes, and studying opponents closely. He always looked up to his predecessors, and tried to better what they already did. Before taking control of this legendary squad, he travelled to Argentina and had a 4 hours barbeque lunch with Marcelo Bielsa, then went to Holland and met with Johan Cruyff. How much do you think these two meetings benefited him in his successful journey?

Pep perfected the 4-4-3 system in his first 3 years, stressing on the importance of expanding play, using the width of the pitch wisely, pressing from the front, off-the-ball movements, and triangles passing. These were the components of Barca's latest success. He always said: "We defend like crap, but if we hold the ball for 70% of the time we would never need to defend". We saw Pedro, Messi, and Iniesta defend more than Pique and Puyol, winning the ball back before it reached our territory. These were the impetus for his trophy-filled 4 years.

And the rest is history..

Real Madrid might have won the team of the century, but a quick look to the past 20-22 years: we won 11 La Ligas they won 7, we won 3 Copa Del Rey (and in contention for a 4th) they won 2, we won 4 UEFA Champions Leagues they won 3, we won 9 Spanish Supercopas they won 6.

Here's a little something to inspire you:

Barcelona's best is yet to come.

Wait for it.
Posted by: Hassan Chakroun, Columnist at  'Blaugrana Insight'