on 24 May 2012
If you want to be informed of the history of FC Barcelona, of Catalonia, and the bloody Civil War, in order to have a greater understanding of where the club stands today this is not the book for you. The Scottish journalist, Graham Hunter, based in Catalonia for the last ten years, has focussed the story entirely on the recent triumphs of the present generation of Barça players, currently under the coach Josep "Pep" Guardiola since the summer of 2008.
It deals with the top names: Xavi Hernandez, Andrés Iniesta, Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, the goal-keeper Victor Valdés, David Villa the "kid", and king Leo, their successes in the Clasicos matches in La Liga against the age long foe Real Madrid, and the UEFA Champions League finals in Paris against Arsenal in 2006, and the two against Manchester United in 2009 in Rome and two years later at the new Wembley.
But for Hunter the adventure commenced almost a generation earlier with the arrival as coach of the Dutch idol, Johan Cruyff, who in addition to bringing some immediate successes including the winning of the first Champions League trophy in 1992 by the "Dream Team" of international stars of the Koeman, Laudrup, Stoichkov calibre, plus of local products like Salinas, Zubizarreta and Guardiola, planted the seeds of the club's future through its youth nurseries in La Masia, out of which most of the present team, as well as its last lost exile, Cesc Fàbregas, were nurtured and groomed. This distinct long term system of investment is to be compared to the short-term grab and spend practices of tested prima donna galacticos -from Di Stefano to Cristiano Ronaldo, since the 1950s by Madrid.
The author touches on the training methods with the use of CCTV cameras, the friendly family environment, giving the club a head start over the "predatory" hawk-like schemes of British and other Spanish teams, and for any true Barça fan success eventually arrives for those with talent who are prepared to wait rather than fly the nest to the glitter of promised dreams elsewhere. That, however, sounds a little less the thoughts of an observant journalist, but those of an emotional Barcelona supporter analysing events in hindsight, as just as often there is a very fine line between winning and losing a competition, no one waiting on the bench is certain if ever ones luck will indeed change and the manager-cum-coach is prepared to give the thumbs up and allow him to run out onto the field.
The adventure crossed the highs and lows of the mega-stars Brazilians Deco and Ronaldinho, the inability of others stars such as Ibrahimovic or Henry to integrate themselves into the structure after their great days at Inter and Arsenal respectively (hinting that big names whether at Real, Milan, or these days at Mancini's Manchester City are not a prerequisite to instant success), as well as the internal behind the scenes jealousies and power struggles of the top directors that assist or jeopardise the tenure of the latest trainer on the bench.
One must not be starry-eyed. A football club even with gems like Messi and Iniesta is no different to any other business trying to beat its competitors in order to make profits, which in lean times of economic crisis may signify making grave sacrifices and down-sizing its staff. The book is in effect a study of management in action. Hunter shows that whether it concerns the modern decision to adopt a commercial sponsor, UNICEF, Barça knows well all its individual qualities of its goods, and realizes how to market them in the global market beyond the confines of the Iberian peninsula and of Europe. It does this by marrying its Catalan family past with its present and future aspirations. Unfortunately, the author has purposely chosen to avoid dealing with its long past, something which Spanish fans are obviously fully knowledgeable of, whereas outsiders reading the story in English will not be so familiar. Why?
Barcelona, according to Hunter, is not interested simply in the idea of winning rather than losing, but winning in their own fashion. Winning 9 or 10-0 in every match, exciting as it might be initially to the fans, is no competition, a bore, and a waste of time; it simply encourages complacency, the stars start to take things easy, to think less, and it makes the firm gradually slip and slide into dangers, in the same way that General Motors, IBM, or Gilette behaved and failed to maintain their goods and customers during the 1980s and 90s
For British readers unaware of the regular outbursts of José Mourinho since leaving Chelsea in 2007, Hunter has clinically illustrated both his professional merits and personal destructive weaknesses, comprising his so-called "emotional intelligence", and recounted the reason why this record winning and highly charismatic figure was rejected in 2008 over an untried, but loyal Guardiola, and why the club is still the better for that choice despite recently losing La Liga to its rival in 2012 after two incredible years.
In a sense Barça: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World is the story about the club from Guardiola the genius player to the play genius, and the makings of his little diamond Leo Messi. FC Barcelona is more than the sum of the individuals, since the team without Messi and his crown still has many other kings, knights, and court jesters, but when he is not playing it lacks that piece of brilliant unexpected wizardry, and has faulted, something recognised by none other than another former Barça and Argentine legend of the early 1980s, Diego Maradona. Indeed, there is already the case where the "hand of Leo" entered the stadium.
The book aimed at a wide interested reading public is, however, far from perfection. In its over 400 pages it is inevitable that when covering a limited period of the club's life history that as a lot of the material comes from the author's own regular features the analysis, and certain key phrases are repeated several times. It is also surprising that it has relatively few illustrations or photos, no index, and the printing is poorly finished (which realistically is not the fault of the author but of the publisher Backpage Press). And yet, Graham Hunter has still managed to produce a worthy addition to the growing Barcelona collection: useful as most football books for all football fans everywhere, but equally for eager managers wishing to employ original proven ideas to their own work situations.