2011 saw Barcelona further establish themselves as the best team on the planet. As well as winning pretty much every trophy available to them they are also edging closer and closer to the ultimate accolade…
As I discussed in last week’s column, the Club World Cup is far from being the official word on who is the best team in the world.
To an extent, the ease with which Barcelona cruised to the trophy serves as further proof of that. In truth though, it is becoming increasingly apparent with this set of players that the usual rules don’t apply.
At half-time in the final I was watching the highlights in the press room and said of Xavi’s exquisite control ahead of his assist for the first goal, “It’s not fair, they’re too good.”
A Brazilian journalist sat nearby laughingly agreed and gave me a look that said “what can you do?”
According to Neymar after the game, the answer is very simple: nothing.
“We did everything we could but Barca are too strong,” the Santos striker shrugged with a wry smile.
This had been a theme during the Catalan giants’ week in Japan, with opponents queuing up to praise Pep Guardiola’s incredible side.
Al-Sadd’s head coach Jorge Fossati perhaps put it best after seeing his team picked apart in the semi-final.
“Barca has a kingdom, but who can defeat this kingdom?,” the Uruguayan asked.
Al-Sadd and Santos may be at a lower level than some of the biggest European sides who are best placed to topple the club that is ‘more than a club’, but they represent the best in Asia and South America right now.
Even when faced with Manchester United (in this year’s Champions League final) or Real Madrid (the day before they flew to Japan) Barca came out comfortably on top.
“Barcelona is the best club team in the world,” Fossati added. “Whoever they play against they are the best team in the world. That is logical to say.”
The strength of the team rests not only with their phenomenal attacking ability and abundance of sublime individual talents, but also in a fantastic work-ethic and understanding which is a direct result of its fabled La Masia academy.
Something that always strikes me about the side is the way they hunt in packs as soon as the opposition get the ball, making it incredibly difficult to place them under any real pressure.
Guardiola referred to this aspect of his side’s play after the final, highlighting the attention to detail they pay to each specific opponent.
“We have very high quality players and also try to analyse the opponents and find space in which to use the ball,” he said. “The players just capture the ball and move around and make chances. It is not so complicated.”
It may not be complicated to them, but exactly how to stop them certainly has everyone else scratching their heads.
Santos’ head coach Muricy Ramalho was similarly at a loss, and yet again referred to Barca as the best in the world.
“We tried to stop their players as much as possible, but I don’t think it’s easy to find a team anywhere in the world that can beat Barcelona.
“I thought of many things, but to control the game or steal the game from Barca is very difficult. It’s no use talking about the shortcomings of Santos and we should be humble and accept that Barca is the world’s best club.”
Cesc Fabregas was also at pains to point out the amount of hard work that has gone into building such a phenomenal team.
“If you see that it’s easy then it’s because we played a very serious game, very professional and disciplined then that made it look easy but it wasn’t easy at all,” the former Arsenal captain said of the game with Santos.
After having had to put up with the likes of Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh until he returned to Camp Nou, I asked just how much fun it was to now be lining up alongside Xavi, Messi and Iniesta.
“It’s great,” he said with a grin. “They are the best players in the world. I’m taking advantage for my game to have more opportunities because they create so many spaces and so many chances.”
The ‘best in the world’ line is pretty unanimous, then. It surely can’t be long until the same can be said of the ‘best ever’ tag.