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Monday, January 25, 2021
MIAMI, Aug 19 2020 (IPS) - The Barcelona Football Club disaster in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, which was once more appropriately called the European Cup, is indeed a cataclysmic event, unprecedented, with predicted drastic and hurtful consequences.
Future Barça fans, when faced with the hardships of life, will argue that “more was lost in … not in Cuba … but in Lisbon.”
The end of Barcelona in the maximum European competition has all the characteristics to be not only the closing of a chapter of its sporting journey, but the end of an entire era of a team led by Messi.
The Barça of two long decades, trained by technicians who tried to follow the anthological schemes of Johan Cruiff and Pep Guardiola, transferred their style to the Spanish team that won two European Cups and a world trophy.
That strategy was embodied in the Cruiff doctrine composed of the three Ps: position, possession and pressure. Now the new European style is predicted to be based on physical power and speed, embraced by Bayern Munich, who have destroyed Barça.
What can also be blurred in the future Barça is a set of identity signs that had made it emblematic. Barça has been the refuge of foreigners who chose to nest in Catalonia at different times.
It was founded in the late 19th century by a handful of Germans and English, led by the Swiss Hans Gamper. It was presented with a name that did not fit with the academic rules: Football Club Barcelona, which only the Franco regime managed to hispanicize by force into Club de Fútbol Barcelona.
This external insert in the Barcelona of that time, which had already exceeded its medieval limits with the Cerdá Plan grid, sent a global message that received the “national” response from a sector that called itself the Club Deportivo Español, later spiced up as Real. Thus a rivalry generally resolved in favor of Barça would be born, which would not hide its foreign inclinations.
As an example, its “culers”, in a friendly match in 1925 booed the Spanish Royal March, the national anthem, and applauded the God Save the King performed by an English Navy band that had landed in the port of Barcelona.
That whim would cost Barcelona five years of closure decreed by General Primo de Rivera, a strong man of Alfonso XIII. Dazed by financial debts, Gamper was forced into exile and upon his return his health deteriorated to the point that he committed suicide.
Politics continued intertwined with the life of the club, and at the beginning of the Civil War, with Catalonia allied on the Republican side, one of its presidents, Josep Sunyol, of the pro-independence party Esquerra Republicana, was shot by Franco’s troops.
At the end of the conflict, a group of its players, who had moved to Latin America in search of income that had evaporated during the war, opted for self-imposed exile and their return was prohibited by Franco.
Despite the fact that Barça managed to recover and win several national competitions, thanks in part to the leadership of the Hungarian Kubala, only under the direction of Cruiff’s “Dream Team” it did manage to capture the longed-for first European Cup until 1992 at Wembley with the goal by Koeman.
In line with the rebirth of democracy, Barça built a nationalist image, although not pro-independence, since the majority of its mass was socially conservative in its upper sectors, and moderately leftist in its bases.
Some presidents contributed to claim that Barça exceeded sporting limits. Narcís de Carreras forged an emblematic slogan: “Barça is more than a club.” The shirt incorporated the Catalan flag on its neck and back. The captain, a position to which Messi was elevated, wore, in addition to the regulation armband, another with the “senyera”.
The slow transformation of Catalan nationalism into independence-seeking, which increased the percentages of radical votes to almost half the electorate, coincided with the rise of Barça to the heights of European football, without dangerously contaminating the collective image of the club.
The international style was reinforced by the incorporation of young products from La Masía, the players’ school. Spanish-speaking immigrants used the support for Barça as a remedy for the always difficult integration. Even outside the Spanish borders, Barça was recognized as one more product of globalization.
But after Guardiola’s departure, various presidents, poorly advised by the stars, inserted a long dozen players with a difficult fit (such as Neymar, Coutinho and Giezmann) and others with financially unjustifiable contracts.
Simultaneously, the offspring of La Masía were unable to join the team. Only Sergi Roberto had reached the Spanish team, in contrast to the seven Barcelona starters who won the World Cup in South Africa.
The few national titles and the unaffordable Champions League did nothing more than make up the triumphant emptiness of yesteryear. The musketeers who had once forged Messi’s supremacy had grown old. You could smell the decline. Future failures will be relativized with a comforting sigh of “more was lost in Lisbon.”
Joaquín Roy is Jean Monnet Professor and Director of the European Union Center at the University of Miami
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