Juventus 1-Barcelona 3: Thoughts from the Final

Juve Show Another Way

At a time when it has become fashionable for teams of all levels, regardless of the occasion or the strength of their resources, to “park the bus” against technically superior opponents, Juventus showed that it is not only possible to take on a team like Barcelona with courage and positivity but also desirable. Thanks to their determination to attack and not be pressed back for any considerable length of time, the final was a high-quality, gripping affair that occasionally produced thrilling passages of play when the teams moved the ball from one end of the pitch to the other at a searing pace. Juventus’s approach made the game close and fascinating to watch as each team fought closely to press the advantage in a contest studded with high-quality turnovers, ball play, vision, improvisation and athleticism. It was everything a match between big teams should be and was a welcome relief after the approach of some of the teams’ counterparts in recent times. Both teams would have won themselves, and possibly football, a lot of new fans last night in a way less courageous opponents than Juventus would not have made possible.

Speaking of finals living up to their billing, there were two other thoughts that came to mind. One was that the style and slickness of the football did justice to the magnificent aerial shots of the Olympiastadion, showing a gleaming pitch below and a crimson sky as dusk slowly made its way across Berlin. Everything was gleaming: the football as well as the stunning shot of the resplendent stadium with its backdrop of a reddening sky.

The second was that any final adorned with the rare talent of Lionel Messi was likely to be elevated to greatness. His every touch was a sight in itself, while it was fascinating to experience how someone so apparently casual in his movements can carry such a great menace. Even when he was not doing much, we were anticipating his next burst of pace, shimmy into life. It was a pleasure and privilege to watch him.

Pirlo’s Tears and Barcelona’s Joy Make Us Love Football Again

To see Andrea Pirlo in tears at the end of the match, and a young successor to the greatness he embodies in Paul Pogba also fighting back the tears as he tried to console him, was to appreciate once more the gamut of human emotion that football can provoke. Pirlo’s tears were a particularly powerful and laudatory illustration of professional pride, given that he has won two Champions Leagues and a World Cup before. Alongside their skill, it is the size of the heart of men like Pirlo that makes them so special to the game. His tears and hunger for what he had lost lent a poignant gravitas to complement what had been a superb final. Pogba’s tearful consolation of Pirlo was yet another fitting, heart-rending image of the camaraderie and heroism that football can inspire in its players and through them, its fans. For such unguarded displays of emotion following their lion-hearted efforts in the finale to the most prestigious club competition of the year do their part to endear fans to football alongside the brilliance of their on-pitch displays. On the one hand, the veteran was crying and on the other, the youngster’s tears besides him showed a marvellous continuity with the game’s best traditions, of wonderful talent maximising itself, coveting the best trophies the game can offer and inspiring the next generation. Bravo, Pirlo and Pogba, for showing us all why it matters.

Equally powerful was the unaffected outpouring of joy with which Barcelona rushed towards their supporters after Neymar’s goal, almost forgetting to wait for the referee’s whistle, and converging with them in a bubbling mass of claret-blue, red and yellow. The spontaneity with which the players reacted to that final goal once again stripped football of all its trappings and reveal the beating authentic heart that still drives players, its fans and is brought alive by finals such as this.

On a similar note, Xavi bowed out last night after a seismic career, and it was also wonderfully apropos to see him embracing Pirlo at the end of the game, given how much these two great artistes have done to raise their clubs and grace the game with their immeasurable, inimitable skills.

How Truly Great Are Barcelona?

Barcelona’s second treble has prompted inevitable comparisons with Pep Guardiola’s team. However, despite their deserved triumph this season, doubts still linger about the current line-up’s true claim to greatness. If greatness is measured by a style of play as well as great players, then it is arguable that this Barcelona team falls short of the Guardiola team that has left such a mark on football and contributed so much to the Spanish national team that have dominated international football over the last decade. Guardiola’s team dominated the game from first minute to last in a way that required more of the ten players apart from Messi; Luis Enrique’s looks more porous during games and appears to rely disproportionately on the three individual talents in their forward line, with the remainder relegated to a supporting cast. As with “parking the bus”, using a counter-attacking tactic may seem sensible when Messi and Neymar form part of your forward line but also comes across as the obvious, uninventive, easy way out. Part of what made Guardiola’s team great was that they presented a vision of football that was so radically different from all that surrounded it, which seemed to elevate itself above the stratosphere in which other teams could play. It was riskier but also harder to pull off and its uniqueness was what merited titles such as “great”. Barcelona under Enrique appear to be deliberately jettisoning some of of that cherished ability to nurture the ball in possession through technical talent and footballing intelligence, in favour for a blitzkrieg version of football which, whilst admittedly exhilaratingly effective, looks like a copycat of the approach of many other teams in Europe throughout the last five years. Instead of being the innovators, Barcelona have bought really well and become the imitators. While they have deservedly been successful, such a jettisoning of their higher aspirations may see the club shorn of its sheen and unique identity that have made them a pioneer and a paragon over the years.

Celtic’s passion reverberates around Europe as they revel in Glasgow rain on big night

From first minute to last, and probably well before and after kick-off, Celtic’s fans and stadium were a sight to behold and chorus to listen to in the 2-1 defeat of Barcelona on Wednesday. Recalling the resplendent way in which they decorated themselves with the green-and-white colours of their crest, and the soaring volume with which they sang throughout a cold Glasgow night flashing with rain, brings goosebumps to the skin now just as it brought a smile to the face then. Here was a crowd that appreciated the convergence of Celtic’s 125th-year anniversary with the arrival of Barcelona’s majestic team of artists, and willed their team on to rise to the occasion with the same magnificence as they were doing. Here was a crowd, in short, who love the game with a passion and positivity that radiates even through the television screen and left a notable impression on Barcelona. Xavi and Pique’s fulsome, awestruck tributes to the Celtic crowd were perhaps made in the rueful acknowledgement that the Nou Camp never quite gets up to salute its players and the game in the same ravishing way. Would that a deserving team like Barcelona could experience the joy of playing a team like Celtic before supporters like those at Celtic Park every week. The wonder of British football’s culture was communicated to them loud and clear, and Celtic’s contribution on Wednesday night served to enhance the Champions League in an unforgettable way. Well done Celtic, well done Scotland, and here’s to another 125 years of raw passion and moments like Wednesday night that will live long in the memory.

Fabregas’s stature diminished by switch to Barca

Cesc Fabregas has revealed that new boss Tito Vilanova wants him to make slight adjustments to how he played the role Barcelona assigned for him last season. Instead of being so “static on the inside left”, he is instructed to “be more mobile…and look for space, help my team-mates by playing the easy ball.” To anyone who saw him scale rare peaks during season upon season of increasing excellence at Arsenal, the mere suggestion that Barcelona have prescribed a role for Cesc that circumscribes and modifies his talent to the base requirements of the team is scandalous. A player of his potential should not be running around like a makeshift winger in a team whose pretentious attempts to make midfielders play like forwards contributed to their own downfall last season. In fact, it is difficult to imagine Cesc being denied the chance to fill the prime years of his career in the position that he was born to play: playmaker, dictating everything that happens on the pitch and treating lovers of the game all over to a demonstration of rare artistic talent and footballing intelligence.

However, it is fast becoming apparent that the freedom he enjoyed at Arsenal that was behind his rise as a footballer of rare genius will not be afforded him at Barca. Xavi and Iniesta’s occupation of the most privileged berths football has to offer is warranted, but Cesc’s love of Barca may well blind him to the point at which they begin selling him short and stalling his career through rigid tactical game plans and the evergreen presence of Xavi. The level of acclaim he commanded among the entire footballing fraternity has already diminished since he left Arsenal – not because he is among finer company but because his unmatched footballing intelligence is being circumscribed and starved of the chance to shine in his misplaced role at Barca. It is sad to see him being relegated to just another name amid players with greater technique but lesser vision in discussions of the best midfielders in the world today. It is a reversal of the path of thrilling ascent that Arsene Wenger set him on at Arsenal, and may well ensure that the second act of his career is not quite as luminous individually as the first was. One would not go as far to say that his accelerated return to Barcelona was a misguided decision, but Arsene Wenger’s assertion that the challenge of leading Arsenal to glory would have had far greater value for Cesc than being just another champion at Barcelona will echo around for him for as long as he takes to find terra firma at his boyhood club.