José Mourinho thought the job was his. He was, within the eyes of many observers and most crucially the board, the frontrunner to turn out to be the subsequent supervisor of Barcelona. Every thing was arrange for the Portuguese to return to the Camp Nou because the boss, having been the membership’s translator a decade beforehand. The opposite candidate for the job, nonetheless, was Pep Guardiola.
Within the alternative between Guardiola and Mourinho 12 years in the past, Barcelona had been confronted with a query of their very own id. The very fact they picked the previous, an unproven disciple of membership icon Johan Cruyff, over the latter, a hardened win-at-all-costs champion, underlined why Barca are completely different.
Or had been completely different.
Barcelona’s id is not so clear. Whereas they had been as soon as an extension of the famed La Masia youth academy, the place the rules of dynamic, expansive soccer are instilled in youngsters as younger as 8, the Catalans aren’t anymore.
They’re one thing nearer to Actual Madrid, everlasting rivals who did rent Mourinho two years after Barca turned him away. On the time, it highlighted the stark philosophical distinction between the capital membership and Barcelona. Mourinho was a confirmed winner and marketable model in his personal proper. He was the proper “Galáctico” supervisor.
Actual Madrid, historically, usually are not so involved with ideology. Simply successful. As 13-time European Champions and 33-time Spanish champions, they’re fairly good at it. However whereas this put them at odds with Barcelona for many years, there’s now extra to attach the rivals than divide them, not less than from a sporting perspective.
The 2 golf equipment have turn out to be two sides of the identical coin, and Barcelona have thrown extra cash at gamers than most different golf equipment in latest seasons. This can be a group that has spent greater than $1 billion within the switch market over the past 4 years. In the identical time interval, Actual Madrid splurged round $650 million – a major sum, however not sufficient to justify the capital membership’s conventional standing as La Liga’s greatest spenders.
It’s not simply the amount of cash spent by Barcelona that has blurred the traces of their historic id, however the best way they’ve spent it. There’s distinction between being an awesome participant and an awesome Barca participant. The Camp Nou is a stage that calls for one thing completely different of its performers. There’s a completely different set of requirements.
These are requirements that Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé, signed for a mixed $310 million, have fallen wanting. Barcelona had no actual plan for both participant’s integration. That noticed little greater than the title on the again of their shirt, one thing Barca used to deride Actual Madrid for when assembling skills like Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham.
Barcelona have turn out to be the very factor they beforehand rallied in opposition to. Their blended performances this season have mirrored it, whereas the hasty firing of Ernesto Valverde and equally hasty hiring of Quique Setién signify the membership’s perception it must revert again to outdated methods, with none actual concept of how to do this.
Proper now, Actual Madrid may need a clearer imaginative and prescient of what they’re and what they need to be. Sure, it is a membership that paid $100 million for a 28-year-old Eden Hazard this summer time, nevertheless it’s additionally a membership that has prioritized the signing of the perfect younger expertise from South America, most notably Brazil — see Reinier Jesus, Rodrygo and Vinícius Júnior.
On high of this trio, there’s Fede Valverde, the younger Uruguayan midfielder whose emergence this season has seemingly ended Actual Madrid’s curiosity in Paul Pogba. Defender Éder Militão was signed from Porto final summer time, with attacking midfielder Marco Asensio nonetheless thought-about a future face of the membership regardless of some latest damage troubles.
Think about Martin Odegaard, the on-loan Norwegian who has shone for Actual Sociedad this season, and Achraf Hakimi, one other on-loan prospect who has established himself as one of many sport’s finest younger fullbacks at Borussia Dortmund, and Actual Madrid boast a squad that would maintain them for the subsequent decade.
In some ways, it has been simpler for Actual Madrid to transition into a brand new technology. It at all times can be. Whereas Barcelona have been raised by the concepts and strategies of Cruyff, additionally it is a burden on the membership. Actual Madrid don’t have that burden.
Because the La Liga season resumes this week, which membership will stand tallest is but to be decided. In previous years, the Spanish title race has been a dash to the end. This season, the successful runner will merely be the one which has stayed on their ft with out falling flat on their face the longest.
Barcelona, after all, have Lionel Messi, and that in itself may give them an edge. However even he appears more and more not sure of himself. Whether or not as a consequence of a rumored damage he’s carried for months or his unease on the poisonous boardroom politicking that has taken maintain on the Camp Nou, Messi has dragged Barca behind him this season by way of pure obligation. His physique language has been with out pleasure for a while.
These are two golf equipment that set the zeitgeist for a complete period of the sport, however from completely different ends of the spectrum. Now, the issues Barcelona and Actual Madrid are at the moment going through are related. Separated by only a single level on the high of La Liga, they aren’t simply shut within the desk, however in lots of different methods too.
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