It is Wednesday night,I have just watched my favourite football club in the world. I am in a rather melancholic mood!
I watched ‘my team’ trounce Ajax Amsterdam FC in the ongoing European Champions League. It was a very exciting and very entertaining catch. Yet, I feel empty inside.
The best football player of all time, in my humble estimation, Lionel Messi, scored a brace as usual and equaled the existing European Champions League record of highest number of goals scored by an individual – 71!
But, the match is revealing. All is not well with FC Barcelona.
This season, they have left most of their fans hungry for the FC Barcelona of old, the team that won everything in club football in the world, including contributing the largest number of players to a Spanish national team that won the World Cup!
In the past 10 years, FC Barcelona have been the team to beat in global club football with unforgettable memories of performances beyond description! In terms of actual performance, for a period of years, the rest of the world was playing catch-up.
Without being disrespectful to any one of the other great clubs in Europe and South America, FC Barcelona, at their best, stood alone and apart from the rest of the world.
The secret to their monumental achievement was a system and football philosophy implanted, nurtured and perfected in the club’s Nou Camp football academy.
Personally, it is in the work perfected by coach Pip Guardiola that I started to have a fuller appreciation of how a coach can truly impact a team, how the daily grind of training sessions could transform into a playing style and system that become entrenched as a culture in the performance of a team, and etched into the psyche of their followers. Now I understand and appreciate Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, and Yelisavic Tito (the national coach of Nigeria in the mid-1970s) even better!
That was the birth of the phenomenon called Tiki Taka, an intricate ‘dance’ movement like no other with the ball, quick short one-two passes, endless, seamless movements and interchange of positions, back and forth, leaving in their wake a perplexed, bemused and confused opposition struggling to keep pace.
Match after match, the Barcelona brand of football rattled and embarrassed coaches, and dazzled the world.Playing some of the ‘weirdest’ and unconventional football imaginable, FC Barcelona’s midfield tore through opposing teams’ defenses like knife through butter.
Never had the world seen such display and such a team that performs with such elegance and ‘arrogance’, completely dominating every match with effortless running and ball possession. They were a delight to watch and a nightmare to confront.
So, last season, when Barcelona failed to win any silverware, many felt it was due more to ‘winning-fatigue’ rather than because Tiki Taka had been finally decoded.
Now we know that the football ‘laboratories’ of some of the big clubs in Europe have not been asleep, They have been very busy and on full throttle to find an antidote to the Barca epidemic.
At the same time, in order to stay one step ahead and sustain their invincibility, FC Barcelona took some steps that may now have backfired. Most significant amongst several of them are the exit of coach Pip Guardiola and the ‘reinforcement’ of the Barcelona striking force.
Last season Neymar joined Lionel Messi upfront. The combination had not fully clicked before, this season, Luis Suarez has been added to the mix. On paper it may look like a dream striking partnership, but the reality after three matches is that in order to accommodate these new players that are not nurtured on the diet of the Camp Nou style and philosophy, Barcelona’s playing style has had to change.
Last Wednesday night, against Ajax Amsterdam FC, the ‘new’ FC Barcelona was laid bare. It is nothing like the Barca of old.
Gone is the intricate ball possession that defines Tiki Taka. Gone are the endless running, the pressing and the hot pursuits every time the team loses possession. Gone is the creative ingenuity of a team playing without an outright striker but conjuring a whole array of striking and free scoring options from mid-field. Gone is the team that played with the patience of a vulture, probing, teasing and taunting opponents to pry open even the tightest and hardest defenses.
Gone is the team that dictates how every match is played, and even in occasionally losing usually is the better team.
Slowly but surely, the demystification of FC Barcelona is taking hold. The team has not won any silverware in two seasons and several big European clubs appear now to have their number – Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich. Even Celta Vigo, a team at the bottom rung of the La Liga defeated them last week so tamely and easily, it was hard and painful to watch.
Do not get me wrong. FC Barcelona are not a finished team. Far from it. After all they defeated Ajax and baring any disaster are already in the round of 16, of the Champions League.
They have only lost their edge. They have dropped from their place as the best team on the planet and rejoined the league of the great teams in Europe! They no longer stand ‘alone and apart’ at the very top of world football!
It was inevitable that the ‘end’ would come one day, but for many of us it is coming too soon!
I still love my Barca, but even I must admit that the end is in sight for the philosophy of football that made FC Barcelona the best team that ever played football, that the world stood still and watched every time they stepped out to dance to the beat of Tiki Taka!
For now, I can only celebrate in muted anticipation of what would happen next to my beloved club. My FC Barcelona have been decoded!
Blatter, Please Step Aside!
Mr. Sepp Blatter wants to run for the fifth term as President of FIFA. The thought of that decision just leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
Whoever knows Blatter well should advise him to shelve the idea for the good of the game. If he truly loves football the way he professes he does, he should step aside and halt this epidemic of remaining in power forever.
What more does he want to do and accomplish that he has not done and achieved in the long ‘centuries’ of his reign? What more does he want? What? What?
He will only be further spreading the disease of self-perpetuation in office and setting a dangerous trend that has already consumed and destroyed the fabric of football administration in Africa, and, particularly, Nigeria.
When you wonder where those who choose to attempt to perpetuate themselves in the leadership of football derive their example and inspiration from, look no further than FIFA and CAF.
Since Batter will obviously not voluntarily surrender power, the world of football must rise up now and kill the cancer of his dictatorship! No one ever voluntarily surrenders power!
No one is also indispensable! None! Blatter does not have the monopoly of knowledge or experience, or even love for the game of football.
Football can surely do with some new ideas, new faces and new thinking about its future.
Keshi, From Frying Pan Into Fire!
I do not envy Stephen Keshi one bit. When I predicted a few weeks ago that surely Keshi would be back as head of the national team of Nigeria one day, even I never envisaged it would be this soon and happen this way.
The intervention and instruction of the President of Nigeria has seen to his immediate re-instatement.
Unfortunately, even as he seems to have won his ‘battle’ against the forces in the NFF that wanted him out, his reengagement has put him in an even worse situation with his employers than he was before.
Now, he is standing at the edge of a precipice. In order not to plunge to the abyss below, he must now win the last two qualifying matches of the African Cup of Nations. Ordinarily that is a difficult enough with the average team he has now and their recent poor performances. To propound the situation he must now invite and use some players he had rejected and humiliated in the past.
He will also now work with his same bosses of the NFF that sacked him and have, themselves, been stripped of their egos, authority and power by Mr. President’s intervention.
Stephen Keshi may be back on his hot seat but he is surely not out of the woods yet! I hope he has not just been pushed from frying pan into fire!