For so long, Barcelona represented the highest level of European football.
Although not much more needs to be written about how their decision to appoint Pep Guardiola as manager in 2008 changed football, it is genuinely hard to think of another example which had close to such a widespread impact across the modern game.
Even today, amidst Barca’s struggles, the idea of turning to a former player in order to instigate the same kind of change Guardiola managed during his time at the club is often repeated at leading clubs around the continent. Chelsea, Manchester United and Juventus have all been swayed by that notion, only to see it fail. Trying to be like Barcelona was considered the best way to run a club.
Indeed, Manchester City perhaps best define that notion. In order to capture Guardiola themselves, they undertook a lengthy recruitment strategy, appointing Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain to further smooth out the process. Years of planning went into getting what they wanted, the landscape needed to be set before Guardiola could change it.
These days, it is City who best represent the Barcelona way. They have the playing style, the conveyor belt of talented academy prospects an the relentless ability to keep winning league titles their way. They even have the strange obsession with winning the Champions League.
Something that crippled Barcelona (and a formative Guardiola) before the 1992 win is also palpable at the Etihad Stadium. So then, it naturally makes sense Barcelona would, in turn, try and replicate the success at City. The teacher has become the student.
Eric Garcia, Sergio Aguero and Ferran Torres have all been signed from City in the last two transfer windows. Granted, Aguero was probably somewhat of an opportunistic addition in an attempt to get Lionel Messi to stay but the transition between clubs seemed natural enough.
Garcia, of course, is an academy graduate in the mould of Gerard Pique framed as a homecoming hero and Torres is the first headline addition of the post-Messi era. If you’re looking to restore former glories, why not copy the club who copied you?
That’s not to say every Barcelona signing will now come from Manchester City of course, although the Raheem Sterling links might be one to keep an eye on, even in light of Barca’s financial problems.
Barcelona, who have always prided themselves on their ‘more than a club’ motto, are taking lessons again. Just as Johan Cruyff changed the complexion of the club forever by bringing his Ajax ideals to Spain in the 1970s, Guardiola made them palatable in a modern context. Having already reaped the rewards of them, it’s only natural to crave it again.
In Xavi Hernandez, they have perhaps the most Guardiola-like figure in charge they possibly could. Clearly, he has a long way to go before matching his former coach and, frankly, is unlikely to but Xavi is the best tribute act they could have appointed.
A studious, slight but steely presence during his playing days, the comparisons (at this stage anyway) are endless. The project at least makes sense now and is not reliant on the superhuman talents of Messi to paper over the many, many cracks.
City are now the elite. Even aside from the money they spend, they represent the kind of club everybody else wants to be, albeit that jars somewhat when you consider the nature of their backing.
Trophies and trinkets, fun as they are, may not be the biggest indication of their dominance. It’s the fact that the old money now want to replicate what they’re doing. They’ve modernised the magna carta of football. Football, if nothing else, is one big cycle and Barcelona now need to learn from the best if they are to reach the top again.
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