There’s a strange obsession in football whereby people want to see this Barcelona team—arguably the greatest any of us have ever seen—play in England to prove one thing or another. Barcelona performing a full league campaign in England will either legitimise the claim that Barcelona are indeed the best football side we’ve seen, or it will hammer home the idea that this team have been cuddled and comforted to glory through the lack of fight from La Liga teams.
Underneath it all, in waters that aren’t as muddy as people would like them to believe, Barcelona’s dominance is an indirect attack on English football. It’s a claim that the greatest team, the greatest player and the most breathtaking football didn’t come from English shores. Fans want to be proved right that the Premier League is king and that the kings of football would become mere peasants when thrown in against the heavy-hitters from the English game.
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Well I’m not having any of it. I’m not saying Barcelona could win the Premier League, I’m saying they could do so in equally convincing fashion as they have done in the past when they lifted the Spanish crown. They won’t like it “up ‘em” when they go up north and the rain beats down a little harder? Quite the opposite: they’d thrive under it, they’d play faster and with greater ferocity. The stakes would be raised and so would their game. The idea that Barcelona have never played a difficult, tough or physical opponent is wrong. And more often than not they’ve won.
Who has been the greatest threat to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona? Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese manager ruffled their feathers when he was in charge at Inter Milan and during that two-legged Champions League semi-final. Barcelona could have won, maybe they should have won. Julio Cesar was one of the world’s best goalkeepers that night in the Camp Nou. Bojan should have converted while at the same time not having his perfectly legitimate goal ruled out. The most important factor of that game is that Barcelona didn’t shy away, they didn’t hide when a physical team came to town and they still played their fantastic brand of football.
Would their style of play work in the Premier League? Why not? Many clubs have tried to emulate what they’ve done, either by adding players who they believe are good enough to recreate that level of football, appointing managers who follow that line of thinking to the Catalans and the Dutch, or going on to hire people who held significant roles in the conversion from theory to practice.
The idea that Barcelona wouldn’t like to travel to Stoke City or square-up to one of Sam Allardyce’s teams is nonsense. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton, and whoever else you want to name have gone to places like that and won. Manchester United is and will remain for a long time the highest standard of Premier League football – they’re the best England have to offer and have been so for the best part of two decades. Barcelona toyed with them, drew them in and delivered crippling blow after crippling blow. United, Chelsea and City are the standards Barca have to live up to in England, not Stoke. Barcelona have beaten the best England has to offer and will continue to do so in the future.
And lets look to another important factor in the current makeup of this Barcelona team. Tito Vilanova’s team are greatly different to Guardiola’s. Ok, the principles remain the same but this is Vilanova’s team now. They’ve played against the most lethal natural no 9 in the game and their closest rivals in the La Liga title race and annihilated them. They enjoyed the occasion, it was something different and it was an Atletico Madrid who weren’t afraid of the obvious gulf in class in various areas of the pitch.
Barcelona have to travel to Pamplona every season and face the always tricky and noticeably English style of Osasuna. Barcelona have to travel to Sam Mames and face the noisy crowds in Bilbao. They’ve had to face Mourinho’s “dirty” tactics and his decision to deploy Pepe as the destroyer in midfield. They came through each of those hurdles not unscathed, but with further evidence that they can do it against the rougher sides in the game.
Guardiola was far too meticulous, far too aware and far too good to allow his sides to fall at the hands of physicality. They have their enforcers in the team, but Barcelona’s group as a whole are far tougher than they may look.
It would be an interesting experiment to see the results of Barcelona in English football. But as I’ve said time and again in the past, it’s not needed. Would they win the Premier League? They’re the best team in Spain, the best team in Europe, former world champions. English football is not that special.