It’s really difficult to come up with anything to say about FC Barcelona, isn’t it? Surely it’s all been said already. A friend of mine went to see them at the Nou Camp last season, he said he has never heard anything like the collective gasp of 90,000 people every time Ronaldinho got the ball. They have been patchy in the Champions League but surely there can’t be too many people who doubt that they are the best club team in the world at the moment. It’s not just Goofy Ron that makes them great. A quick look down their squad list shows nothing short of an embarrassment of riches: Puyol, Van Bronckhorst, Zambrotta, Thuram, Deco, Messi, Eto’o, Giuly, Xavi and Edmilson. Surely they’re untouchable, aren’t they? They’ve won La Liga for the last two years in a row, and they look well placed to make it a hat-trick this year. Unstoppable, no?
Okay, well, here’s the case against. In La Liga, they have been unstoppable at home, but their away form has been patchier. It’s by no means but and dried that they are going to win it this year, and would lose top place in the table if Sevilla were to win game in hand that they have over them at present. Every single match at the World Club Championships is going to be an away match. They’re struggling in their Champions League group, and have a fight on their hands just to make it into the last sixteen. We also have to consider how seriously Barca are going to be taking this. Considering their position in the aforementioned competitions, this could be the last thing they need right now. They have to beat Werder Bremen on Tuesday night, and failure to do so could bring about a hangover that would likely to be still be there by next week. Also, there is the small question of which Ronaldinho will turn up. Barca may have won the Champions League, but they did it with Goofy Ron playing largely a supporting role. In the World Cup, he was even worse. He has been erratic so far this season, showing tantalising flashes of brilliance, but failing to impose any authority when it mattered in the Champions League against Chelsea. It’s tempting to think that we might just see the worst, most showboating side of him in a week and half’s time. The thing is this: Europe has constantly failed in the World Club Championships. Manchester United were a disgrace in Brazil in 2000, and Liverpool didn’t have enough to get past Sao Paolo last year. In spite of this evidence (and it’s the only evidence that we’ve got), we still think automatically that the European champions are the best team in the world. We crow about this being a “Mickey Mouse tournament”, when the simple fact of the matter is that we haven’t even been good enough to win it yet. It’s time for Barcelona to step up to the plate and prove themselves.
Having said all of that, Barcelona touch a romantic nerve inside all of us. They refuse sponsorship on their shirts, and then agree a deal by which they pay Unicef to wear their logos on their shirts. They represent the ideals of the Catalan people, and run an entire sporting operation that also covers basketball, hockey and handball – “mes que un club” indeed. They play in the biggest, most imposing stadium in Europe. They’ve won their domestic league eighteen times, and have won nine European trophies. They are, if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, the team that a small part of all of us would like to support. Whether they can win this tournament or not is entirely down to them. Which Barcelona will turn up in Japan on the fourteenth of December?