Hassan Chamas


“Dos de Mayo” is a day that is forever embossed in the minds of the Spanish people. On 2nd May, 1808, the citizens of Madrid – how ironic – led a “revolucion” against occupying French troops. 201 years later, the French got their reprisal against Castilla rebellion leaders, and this time, honours were even, and more, as Thierry Henry led a brilliant Barcelona side at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium with one purpose only: defeat Real Madrid and destroy their hopes of La Liga glory. Going as the underdogs in that match – for the first time this season – Pep Guardiola’s Blaugrana demolished Real Madrid, ending the season-deciding fixture 6-2, Los Blancos’ most humiliating defeat at their own ground in recent memory.

But what is it that has made this Cules side so good, so dazzling, so efficient that they have eclipsed past versions, such as the Johan Cruyff side, or the dream team led by Brazilian wonder Romario?

1) Because Guardiola is already a proven coach

He hasn’t been under the microscope for long, but you cannot but be impressed by the work the former B-team coach has done so far. Blessed with a blend of Fabio Capello-like discipline, the cachet of Alex Ferguson, and the bad-ass spirit of Jose Mourinho, Pep renovated a side that said “expiry date” all over. The commitment and obedience that he demanded from the team is noteworthy, a shake-up that was much needed after the latter shaggy days of the Frank Rijkaard era.

2) Because Guardiola purged his team

The iconic figure of the Rijkaard dynasty was right away a source of shakiness for the new coach. As such, Pep made sure to offload Ronaldinho to pastures new, as it was clear that the Gaucho had no share in the new cake that was about to be portioned. With Ronnie’s departure, Guardiola put his “Fantastic Four” DVD on the top shelf, and made sure to skip the sequel, opting for the more traditional hand-to-hand combat as he replayed “The Three Musketeers” over and over again this season.

3) Because they’re the best Barcelona team since…

It’s for others to finish the sentence, because pundits have tried and still can’t say. Forget Cruyff; out the window with Romario; drop both Maradona and Rivaldo: This is by far the best Barcelona team ever. The whole team structure is flawless: From the defence led by Carles Puyol, to Xavi’s midfield, up to Lionel Messi’s genuine talent. Simply the best, and the results are there to show it: In 36 league fixtures, they’ve missed out on the three points on just nine occasions, losing just four matches. In the process, Barcelona managed over 100 goals, and conceded approximately a third of that number.

4) Because they kept Eto’o

Back when Guardiola assumed office, Samuel Eto’o was one of the last symbols of the past regime, and his stay was considered a danger to putting a new project in place. Yet, he wasn’t shipped out after all, and Pep turned him into his very own – not that he was on Rijkaard’s speed-dial – attacking spearhead. At 29 – nearly a third of Barcelona’s – strikes to his name, the Cameroonian leads the Pichichi standings. Needless to say, his goals are a major factor behind Barca’s stunning season.

5) Because Daniel Alves is not Zambrotta

Both players are very much alike: They are both full-backs, can operate on either flank, and have a powerful shot. But the balance maker is here: While Zambrotta is 32; young Dani is just 25, and more suited to Barcelona’s fast tempo. Back when Zambrotta was operating on the right, he saw some of his worst career days in a red and blue shirt. With Daniel Alves, the former Sevilla man guarantees to terrorise the flank, and let off powerful shots a la Roberto Carlos. If there’s one question mark raised over him, it’s over his defending. Nonetheless, he still remains one of Barca’s pillars this season and by far their best signing.

6) Because Messi is from another planet

“Marca” broke it the other day: Barcelona megastar Lionel Messi is confirmed as an alien, as so much talent cannot be held by just one person. Hailed by Diego Maradona as his heir, Leo Messi is the finest there is. Maybe he was eclipsed last season by a certain 42 goals, but this year, the word’s out: Seconds after Cristiano Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or, the France Football crew started Adobe photo-shopping their most recent cover, placing the Argentinean at the centre of next year’s corresponding edition. And why shouldn’t they, as the player already holds 23 goals to his name so far, three of which became memorable after he beat down the Real Madrid defence in both this year’s Clasicos. The best there is. Period.

7) Because Xavi should pursue a career in politics

Such has been Xavi this season for Barcelona: The man behind the puppet, the string-puller, the maestro, the general. He honestly never had a bad game all season. Against Real Madrid recently, he just guided one through-ball after another. And yet, when all’s said and done, little fame is usually left for the Barca vice-captain. In the wake of Puyol’s absences this season, Xavi stepped up to the plate, and led by example, still continuing his Euro 2008 form. Certainly the Spanish player of the season.

8) Because Henry took Sergio Ramos to school

He’s done it before, and he did it again. Back at Arsenal, Thierry Henry managed to just outrun Sergio Ramos and slot it home into the back of Iker Casillas’ net, rewarding the Gunners with a memorable 1-0 win at the Bernabeu. Three years later and it seems as if Sergio Ramos still hasn’t learned from his mistake, as he seemed just tormented by the Frenchman, who managed to beat his man, not once, but twice, to have a hand in the Bernabeu triumph. It might have taken him some time, but “Titi” finally found his mojo on the left side of Guardiola’s 4-3-3 attacking trident, and 19 marks to his Barcelona record so far this season is nothing but a confirmation of this star’s effort.

9) Because Gabriel Milito, anyone?

Does anybody still remember Gaby Milito? Tall, well-built, curly-haired defender? You’d be excused if you have forgotten, because the former Real Zaragoza defender has been out for well over a year now. During his absence, Gerard Pique filled in marvelously when needed, and in the process, grew to be one of the pillars of the Seleccion under coach Vicente del Bosque. Can you imagine an even better Blaugrana back-line, with the addition of Milito next to Puyol?

10) Because even their centre-backs score goals

Yeah, that’s the smallest of reasons, but a worthy one to note. During el Clasico, Xavi lifted a trademark cross for Puyol to give the advantage to his team for the first time, while goal number six was Pique’s for the taking, after the defender manipulated the entire Real defence – Casillas included – to add the final touch to a marvelous looking cake. Puyol and Pique were still able to come back to their initial defending duty, and shut down any potential Madrid attacks. Sergio Ramos, please take note.

These are a few of the factors behind Barcelona 2009. Their guaranteed 19th-league accolade and the meeting in Rome with Manchester United in the Champions League final isn’t anything but the harvest of a fruitful season. Living up to 2009 won’t be easy for the Blaugrana.


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