Luis Enrique's Barcelona. Nathan Bliss asks whether it is the eradication or evolution of Barca’s footballing philosophy.
Luis Enrique’s Barcelona. Nathan Bliss asks whether it is the eradication or evolution of Barca’s footballing philosophy.
Top of La Liga, quarter finalists in the UEFA Champions League, clear favourites for the Copa Del Rey and Messi back to his mesmerising best. It has been a fantastic debut season so far for Luis Enrique. However, there is a but. To achieve this, Enrique has changed the style of play of Barcelona and it raises a very important question, are Barcelona still ‘mes que un club’, or are they becoming frighteningly similar to other teams in world football?
Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were widely acknowledged to be one of the best teams the world has ever seen. They combined their unique style of football with the individual brilliance of Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Messi to devastating effect. It was a period of absolute dominance, under Guardiola’s tenure Barca won 14 trophies in four years, including three La Liga wins and two Champions League triumphs. The style of play suited the team and individuals perfectly, as the majority had come through the youth system, and therefore had the system etched into their footballing brain from their education at La Masia. None more so than Lionel Messi, as he went on to win the Ballon D’Or four years in a row and establish himself as a true footballing great.
“Evolution” is how Luis Enrique described the changes he wanted to make upon becoming manager. He has taken the Barcelona philosophy and instructed his players to play more direct football, with quicker transitions, allowing the ball to cover bigger distances when attacking. Essentially, he says, this makes Barcelona less predictable to opposition and they are able to find more options when breaking down stubborn defences This means Barcelona are much more dangerous on the counter attack as it encourages the midfield players to run directly at the opposition defence when the football is recovered from the opposition.
The results speak for themselves, with 78 goals scored and just 16 conceded, they have the best defensive and offensive record in La Liga. It sounds ridiculous that anyone could question the type of football that they have implemented, when you see such clear statistical evidence to prove its efficiency.
My point is this; the essence and identity of Barcelona’s philosophy is unique. It’s a philosophy that has been in place since La Masia was born in 1978, when Johan Cruyff had a vision to “create one philosophy, one mentality, from the bottom of the club to the top”. The actual style of play is a mix of the ‘total football’, derived from the Netherlands, and traditional Spanish Tiki-Taka (one-touch play), focusing on technical ability over physical attributes. La Masia is the most successful youth academy in world football, and has produced an astonishing amount of exceptionally talented footballers. Players such as Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Busquets, Pique, Valdes, Pedro, Fabregas, Icardi, Pepe Reina, Thiago Motta, Pep Guardiola, Albert Ferrer and many more. These players were then able to fit into the senior team with confidence, as the style of football a senior level is identical to the style at youth level. This is the very essence of the “mes que un club” motto.
What Luis Enrique has done by changing the style of play is go against everything the Barcelona motto and philosophy stands for. The club is now in a position where it is producing young, talented players for a senior team that now play a completely different style to the one taught at La Masia. What this means, is that Barcelona are no longer unique. It makes me sad to say this, but right now they are just like any other club with a good youth academy.
Whilst its clear that Luis Enrique can bring some immediate, short-term success to Barcelona, the long-term future of the philosophy remains in doubt and they need to act quickly if they want to preserve the unique Barcelona identity.
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