This season was always going to be tough for Barcelona. Following the Champions League and Spanish double successes of the last campaign, what else could Pep Guardiola’s side do, other than try to win the lot all over again. To be fair, they’ve made a decent attempt to repeat last year’s glories. They’ve won another La Liga title, and were only a goal short of another Champions League final.
However, the semi-final exit to Inter Milan will silence those who claimed the current Barca team is possibly the greatest club side of all time. While the Italian’s were hanging on in the closing minutes of the second leg, they were deserved winners over two legs. Barcelona lacked the creativity to break down a stubborn defence and, tactically, Jose Mourinho got it right once again.
Naturally there will be disappointment at the Nou Camp following their exit, particularly with the final being held at the Bernabeu – home of bitter rivals Real Madrid. However, Barcelona need to avoid overreacting and making wholesale changes following their elimination from the Champions League. Over the last couple of years , they’ve been the envy of the football world and for good reason. It’s not just that in Pep Guardiola they have a top manager – it’s the fact he’s a rookie coach who was also played and captained the club so understands the history and the expectation that goes with life at the Nou Camp. It’s not just the results they’ve achieved and trophies they’ve won – it’s the cavalier, and at times breathtaking, style of play they produce on the way to success. It’s not just that they’ve assembled a squad of world class players – it’s the fact that the spine of the team are players like Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Xavi and Iniesta, Catalans who came through the youth ranks – though Pique had to be bought back from Manchester United.
Next season these homegrown talents will again be the key to Barcelona winning at home and abroad. They should have an even stronger squad, now that David Villa’s signing has been confirmed, surely replacing Thierry Henry who looks likely to move to the USA. Cesc Farbegas also looks likely to return from Arsenal after the World Cup, and while he may not be an automatic starter immediately, he will be the long-term replacement for Xavi.
Had Barca gone on and won this season’s Champions League, they would have been compared to the greatest ever European club sides. Many excellent teams have been champions of Europe, but only the truly great teams win it more than once. The achievement would have been even more special since no team has ever defended the trophy since the European Cup became the Champions League in the early 1990’s. It’s no surprise that it’s become so difficult for clubs to retain the trophy, as Europe’s top club competition is now as much a test of stamina, as it is footballing ability.
While Barcelona were also Champions League winners in 2006, that was Frank Rikjaard’s team, led by Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o. Guardiola’s current group of players are capable of winning the trophy once or twice more before they go their seperate ways. If they do then they will be up there with other multiple winners including Real Madrid (1950’s), Liverpool (70’s) and AC Milan (1989 and 1990). Defeat to Inter Milan was a blow, but it doesn’t have to be the end for the current Barcelona side.