Don’t get caught up in Barcelona hyperbole
I got up at 6.45am on Sunday morning – set my alarm and everything – expecting to see the last 15 minutes of this year’s Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United. What I got was UEFA president Michel Platini handing the cup over to Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, who raised it aloft.
So, Barca won then…
Fortunately, the SBS lads took those-who-missed-it-all through the goals, and it must be said that they were blistering strikes, and all seemingly from a fair way out as well, a good sign that modern forwards can still hit ‘em hard.
Anyway, barely three minutes after that first image of the cup being presented to Barcelona, SBS chief analyst Craig Foster launched into his now apparently usual Bill Lawry-esque la-la moment, declaring the Catalan side to be “the best ever,” the “greatest of all-time” and “from another planet” – where they still play football, funnily enough.
The game played by Barcelona was “absolutely pure,” according to the Fozz. Whatever that means.
Now, before any fellow Roarers get hackled-up about me, I must say that I admire Fozzie’s passion for the world game. I can also understand why he likes Barcelona – they supplied a fair slice of Spain’s World Cup-winning XI and have just won a fourth European Cup. But how can Fozz, on national telly, state that these guys are virtually the most ultra-evolved human beings on earth in such a split-second?
“A triumph for artistry, patience, imagination… Magnificent, actually,” said Rick Williams in London’s Guardian. That’s fair enough. Again, I’m not denying the result – even United boss Sir Alex Ferguson reckoned it was the best opposition he’d met in the last 25 years at this level – but one does wonder exactly how, statistically I mean, football fans and media pundits can make such sweeping statements so easily.
Football seems to be, at times, made up more of the personalities and the memorable matches, rather than quantifiable individual performances. Maybe that’s why it’s never quite gripped the average United States sports fan – it’s a very socialist activity, with everyone working together towards the aim of scoring a single quantifiable event – a goal. Yet, glance at the plethora of stats for a baseball, gridiron, basketball match and there’s plenty to chew on for comparison’s sake. Capitalism at its best – me first, etc.
Or, let’s use the cricketing analogy for something closer to home. Does anyone really recall many truly great one-day international contests? Twenty20s? Or even The Ashes? Sort of. They can become a bit of a blur, though. What do stand out are that dogged innings from Steve Waugh against England at wherever, the time Dean Jones pushed through sickness against India in season something or other…
When Ricky Ponting held aloft that little urn after being handed it by some cricketing administrator or another at the Sydney Cricket Ground after the 5-0 Test win in 2007, did Richie Benaud instantly claim that the Aussie XI would not only beat Don Bradman’s 1948 Invincibles, but also Warwick Armstrong’s side of the 1920s, and the 1970s Windies, and everyone else, and so on? Of course not. But at least there are series batting and bowling averages for fans to dip into and make imaginative merriment with.
That’s not the same in football, or at least, it didn’t feel like it to me when I heard Fozzie’s super-lauding of Barca. According to UEFA.com, the following categories applied in it’s official match statistics section related to Saturday’s final: goals scored, shots on target, shots off target, corners won, percentage of overall ball possession, fouls committed, yellow cards and red cards earned. I suppose what I’m asking is, is that enough?
I’d like to know exactly how, in an obvious moment of absolute Catalunyan adulation, Craig Foster could say that the 2011 ECL-winning Barcelona XI would undoubtedly beat – all things being equal, man for man – the Man United side of 1999, Real Madrid of 1960, Liverpool of 1984 and AC Milan of 1989, the Ajax of 1972, the Celtic of 1967, Notts Forest 1979, the George Best United of 1968? And, by ‘eck, even Barcelona 2006? (all listed among the top 30 XIs since the game began by The Daily Mail in a 2009 feature). That is a huge call to make, Sir.
“No disgrace for United to be beaten by the best club side in history,” said the Mirror’s Mike Colvin.
“Barcelona answered the call of history, and ended football’s most enticing debate. The identity of the greatest club side was revealed… A team that deserves to be rated beyond Pele’s Santos, Di Stefano’s Real Madrid, Cruyff’s Ajaz and Gullit’s AC Milan.”
Colvin continued, calling it the best club football game he’d seen in 25 years.
Tom Smithies joined in for Melbourne’s Herald Sun. “Sometimes there is no denying the course of history,” he wrote. “Barcelona are, officially, the best team in the world.”
But are they really? Really? How can they all be so utterly sure?
Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola was more measured, telling Associated Press reporters that he was not certain whether his side was indeed the greatest thing in the known universe.
“It is impossible to say,” he said. “I didn’t see the Real Madrid of Di Stefano and the Ajax of Cruyff. We try to play as well as possible. I hope in the next 10 or 15 years the people will remember them and have enjoyed them.”
The next 10 or 15 years. Guardiola’s got it right. That’s how long it might take to truly compare Barcelona v.2011 to everyone else on earth. Not three minutes, Fozz.
Proclamations about being the best of all time are well and good, but keep some statistical perspective (please, wherever possible).
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