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Guardiola’s masterwork is based on Cruyff’s art

When Barcelona brushed aside Real Madrid, it confirmed the Catalan team's brilliance under coach Pep Guardiola and the enduring power of "Cruyffism".


Pep Guardiola has taken Cruyff's philosophy to new heights.

Barcelona’s latest triumph on a seemingly inexorable march to another domestic and European double –a 2-0 victory over Real Madrid in the Bernabéu on April 10– was described in the Spanish media as cartera ganado por cantera – roughly, the youth team beats the wallet.

It has become one of Barcelona president Joan Laporta’s favourite jibes towards the team from the capital and the outspoken lawyer, who stands down from the stewardship of the club in the summer, is enjoying his personal finale immensely. “It was a victory for our mode of football and as a club,” Laporta told reporters after the match with thinly veiled glee. Of the two starting line-ups, Real’s contained one product of its academy, long-suffering goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who has had to become practiced in the art of poker-faced reaction to the antics of his defenders as the television cameras mercilessly seek him out at every moment of deflation. But for Casillas, Leo Messi might have added to his four hat-tricks this season to date.

Barcelona, however, boasted seven products of its La Masia youth academy, by some distance the best in the world but also the most expensive. Barça spends €15.2 million on youth development per season, considerably more than any other club in the world. It is no coincidence that a product of La Masia, Cesc Fàbregas, has become the focal point of the closest thing the Premier League has to a Barcelona model of football philosophy, Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal. Fàbregas was lured to the London team aged 15 but is seen as the long-term successor to Xavi Hernández in the playmaker role, at both club and international level. Another youth team product, Messi, delivered a four-goal swingeing to Wenger’s young Gunners in the Champions League that left the Frenchman, normally a notoriously poor loser, in awe. As Laporta points out: “We create golden balls, others buy them.”

The legacy of “Cruyffism”

That is the essence of Barça. It is a team philosophy that began when Johan Cruyff took charge in 1988 and it permeates the fabric of the club today. Cruyff is credited with the evolution of total football on the field, implementing Ajax and Holland manager Rinus Michels’ idea of fluid interchange between players’ positions. Despite Laporta’s frequent allusions to the Catalan identity of Barcelona Football Club, Cruyff’s legacy is the language Pep Guardiola’s team speaks. Only five of the first team squad are Catalan by birth – Víctor Valdés, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets – but all the players who pass through La Masia are schooled in regional pride and the legacy of “Cruyffism.”

“As a player he turned football into an art form. Johan came along and revolutionised everything. The modern day Barça started with him, he is the expression of our identity. He brought us a style of football we love,” says Laporta.

The sight of the world’s most expensive player, Cristiano Ronaldo, banging his head against the wall posed by Piqué during the clásico will have brought as much satisfaction to the Barcelona hierarchy as the first goal, created on the easel of Xavi and scored by a brush of Messi’s right boot. How Sir Alex Ferguson must rue letting the Spain international defender leave Manchester United. It will not be long before Piqué’s name sits comfortably in the pantheon of greats in his position.

Barça’s second against Real was slotted home by another youth team product, Pedro Rodríguez, and again set up with unerring accuracy by Xavi. At the club and in incubation at others there are natural successors to ageing players, as Pedro’s elevation to the first team at the expense of Thierry Henry demonstrates.

No team in the world has such a wealth of home-schooled talent, which allows Barça to be comparatively frugal in the transfer market. Some eyebrows were raised when Laporta sanctioned the extravagant purchase of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Internazionale, with goal machine Samuel Eto’o moving in the other direction. The acquisition of the Swede to the tune of €40 million –rising to around €70 million when Eto’o’s value and the aborted loan move of Alex Hleb to the Italian club are taken into account– has eventually proved better value than Real Madrid’s acquisition of both Ronaldo and Kaká. Ibrahimovic’s return of 18 goals in all competitions –with five in his first five league games, a record-equalling feat at the club– is a decent return in his first season in Spain. His volleyed winner against Real at Camp Nou earlier in the season, scored five minutes after his introduction, was against the run of play and skewed the momentum of the match in Barça’s favour.

A Swedish Plan B

Guardiola said when he signed the towering Swede that Ibrahimovic would offer a Plan B. Little that happens at Barça is left to chance or reputation and Guardiola has already asserted his authority over team affairs by removing the corroding influences of Ronaldinho, Deco, and later, Eto’o. This kind of autonomy is something Real Madrid’s Manuel Pellegrini and other coaches can only dream of.

And it is that ultimate trust in the manager that stems from the philosophy of Cruyffism. When the Dutch master took over at the club he swiftly brought Guardiola, an elegant defensive midfielder, and a young winger called Txiki Begiristain, signed from Real Sociedad, into the first team to play alongside international stars Hristo Stoichkov, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup and Romario. The “dream team” won 11 titles, including four straight Ligas and Barcelona’s first European Cup. Begiristain is now sporting director of the club.

“We are talking about a person who as a player changed the history of the club and as a manager… what can I say? I believe he is the best player in the history of football and the best manager in the history of Barcelona Football Club,” said Begiristain when Cruyff was named Honorary President last month.

The secret of Guardiola’s continuance of Cruyff’s success, in no small part, is that he would not disagree.

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Published: Apr 13 2010
Category: Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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