By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 27, 2012) US Soccer Players — So now we know. Pep Guardiola has exited Barcelona, stressing his belief that what once worked with a group of players shouldn’t be expected to be effective after a few years. Relative to Barcelona’s scale, ‘effective’ takes on a substantially different meaning then a struggling club looking to make its way toward respectability and eventually competing. Guardiola’s Barcelona was never about reversing a sharp decline that had left a once mighty team floundering. It was about doing a better job of consistently winning.
He did that, without question. It was as much the trophies as how his team won them. Guardiola’s style doesn’t need yet another tribute. It didn’t change the game because it was and is too hard for most teams to play.
"Like Barcelona" became another soccer cliché, spouted by coaches who frankly had to know better. You don’t teach the Barcelona method. It emerges from a group of players that simply don’t exist anywhere else. Real Madrid might have beaten them to the La Liga title and head-to-head at the Camp Nou this season, but Real play a very different style of soccer. It wasn’t Real Madrid undoing Barca’s style any more than Chelsea showed that something in Guardiola’s method was flawed.
Yes, we’ve already seen pundits attempting to prove that last bit wrong. Barcelona has to be flawed because they lost, and then lost again. Yet neither of those disappointing results should remake what Barcelona does. There’s such a thing as luck in professional sports even at Barcelona’s level, and for a week they simply didn’t have it. Shots didn’t fall, opportunities were wasted. It was nothing the other team could’ve planned for, diagramming ways that would lead to Barcelona players suddenly missing connections and not taking advantage.
Guardiola’s choice to exit the club at this point arguably adds to the crowd that thinks they’ve found a flaw with Barca. Like with the comparison to the Chicago Bulls dynasty, it’s that feeling that another season might be too much, that changes have to be made to preserve what they’ve already accomplished. There are only a handful of teams that win one Champions League title and only see it as a step towards more. That’s the Barcelona way, for better or worse.
Barcelona’s decision to go with transition rather than another coaching revolution is telling. Pep’s assistant, Tito Vilanova.
"Why Tito?" Barcelona technical director Andoni Zubizarreta said. "Because he represents the game, the analysis, the preparation. He puts the extra hour into preparation. He has the capacity and the personality to be here because we know him. So we decided to look inside our house and it was easy."
That’s certainly a cheaper option than what Barcelona did when Guardiola took over. Though Pep was also an in-house choice, his appointment wasn’t a continuation. The original moment that made Barcelona his club was Guardiola’s decision to part with world-class players even if it meant taking a financial loss. The construction of the team was more important than placating personalities, something that is exceedingly rare at any level of professional soccer when those personalities have unmatched pedigrees.
Barcelona might historically be one of those clubs that changes elite player for elite player, but what Guardiola did risked helping out their closest European competitors. The Barca alumni didn’t exactly end up playing minor roles at provincial clubs.
Neither Vilanova nor the club have that option. They have a core, a style, and something to prove with both. Whatever changes they make before the start of the 2012-13 season will have to be made with that firmly in mind. They can’t break the system the way Guardiola did. Though it would be too simple to refer to their role as caretakers, they have to take care not to break enough that they end up in significantly more serious trouble than a runners-up performance domestically and a semifinal exit in Europe.
With that in mind, Barca slipped but they didn’t fail. We know what that looks like even at this level, and it’s simply not Barcelona. At least not yet.
Should the style council that’s already decided Barcelona’s setup has revealed a flaw be proven right through results next season, today will be the next critical moment in Barca’s history. The decision to keep going with the coach, tactics, strategy, and players already in house.
Credit them for belief that their system still works, even if they’re playing a game where any glimpse of weakness is enough to wreck their plans. What Pep’s last season with Barca has demonstrated is the problem with almost. In a game reserved for the elite where clubs are more alike than different, Bayern Munich and Chelsea have shown other ways forward. For a club like Barcelona, built on doing things a certain way and setting a new European standard along with it, that should raise some concerns. For their fans, so should the quick commitment to staying with the way they play the game.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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