Despite all the unlevelling of the playing field through commerce, which has created a near oligopoly in European football, the game still produces thrilling nights in the Barça- Arsenal match one wish would never end. It was hyped up before the start, and boy did it deliver..
In a replay of the 2006 final, Barcelona did blew Arsenal off the field (their own) with football from another planet. And that despite their best player having an off-night (apart from the first minute), their architect not even on the pitch, and their striker missing the first 25 chances or so (he did make up for that in the second half though). Arsenal were hapless spectators having just 29% of ball possession in the first half.
One or two holding midfield players is what they seem to barely lack (like their former player Patrick Viera, now at City but well past his peak or Edgar Davids whose rather brief spell at Barça five years ago set much of it in motion by liberating Ronaldinho). But this lack actually contributed to the spectacle.
After two injuries and allowing two goals it looked all over, but Wenger used his last substitute opportunity to change the game bringing on Walcott, who had a direct impact by scoring within five minutes of coming on the pitch. They were lucky to get a penalty (didn’t look like a foul to us) but their spirit in facing such brilliance was rather admirable.
Thierry Henry, hero at Arsenal but now playing for Barcelona even came on the pitch, but why we don’t know, perhaps as a gesture of goodwill and Barça thinking they had the game already in the bag. Henry though hasn’t hit a decent ball (or even a half decent one) in three years, apart from that one with his hands, of course (a move that would not even have been allowed under basketball rules though).
- More than just a team that won four successive league titles between 1991 and 1994 and the European Cup, the Dream Team were an ideal, a model of touch, technique and movement. Cruyff gave Barcelona an unshakeable identity that runs right through the club, one whose roots are in the Ajax school and Dutch Total Football.
- Guardiola was, rarely scored goals and insisted that but for Johan Cruyff he would never have escaped the Third Division.
The latter is by no means an isolated incident. The distinct philosophy at Barcelona and their attacking style is why the football magazine FourFourTwo has argued that Cruyff is the player with the biggest impact in the game:
- “It is impossible to identify one man who ‘invented’ British, or Brazilian football. They just accredited over time. Yet Cruyff – with Rinus Michels, his coach at Ajax – invented Dutch football. The game played today by Holland and Barcelona is a modified version of what the two men came up with in Amsterdam in the mid 1960’s,”
This is what we argued as well. He even played a role in those wonderful Danish teams of the 1980s. Would Michels not have concocted that Beenhakker, and not Cruyff became the coach of the Dutch national side for the 1990s worldcup, Cruyff, instead of Michels, might have been regarded as the greatest coach of all time.
That Dutch national side, which won the European Championship (under Michels) and fielded the likes of Koeman, Gullit, Rijkaard, and van Basten, the latter three running rampage at that great AC Milan side of Sacchi and Capello, fell apart in rival camps under Beenhakker, as most wanted Cruyff as the coach.
Beenhakker wasn’t exactly a fan of Cruyff, as he humiliated him by coming down from the stands to advise him midway through an Ajax match (Beenhakker was coach, Cruyff the director of football, a more administrative job and he was supposed to leave the tactics to Beenhakker) which Ajax was losing badly. After Cruyff’s advice, they turned the game around in rather dramatic fashion, coming from 1-3 behind to win 5-3.