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Howard Wilkinson
Te LMA chairman argues that you may not be able
to play like Barcelona, but there’s no reason why you
shouldn’t try to think like they do
be a totally unrealistic expectation,
especially in the elite sector of the
game. Unachievable expectations are
okay for those not in the trenches, but
not in the real world. It’s also true to
say that most managers and players are
happy just to win – and most fans are
happy to see that happen.
However, while I don’t think that
everyone can play like Barcelona, I do
element which is even more important
and which is key to their success at the
very pinnacle of the game.
In his days as manager of West
Ham, Ron Greenwood summed up
his own world-class centre half in one
short sentence: “Grace under pressure,
that’s what sets Bobby Moore apart.” I
thought he was talking about Moore’s
technical ability, but I was wrong;
he was referring at least as much to
his temperament. When Pele and
Moore embraced so warmly at the
end of their epic encounter in the
1970 World Cup in Mexico, it was
clearly no obligatory gesture; that was
two great players expressing genuine
mutual respect for each other as two
people who could compete at the
highest level in the right way.
It is here where I think the boys
from Barcelona have the edge. Teir
humility, their generosity to each
other, their respect for the game, for
the team and for the culture, history
and traditions of their club shines
through every time I watch them.
Tis is best exemplifed in their
phenomenal work ethic; not one of
these galactic ‘stars’ is ever too big
or too self-important to roll up his
sleeves and do his bit. Tey press as
ferociously as Arrigo Saachi’s (and
later Fabio Capello’s) AC Milan used
to, but they do it without the safety-
“If you can’t
be a star,
don’t be
a cloud...
stars shine
brightest in
a clear sky”
believe that more coaches, players and
teams could behave like them.
Analysis of the current Spanish
champions always seems to focus on
technical issues; their total mastery
of the ball, their passing, turning,
dribbling skills, imagination and
movement. However, in looking for
an insight into how they develop
their young players, I think they have
something else in their make-up – an
England play
against Spain in this year’s European
Under-21 Championship, I turned
to UEFA’s technical director Andy
Roxburgh and said: “I could enjoy
watching Spain winning nil-nil.”
Such was their complete and
masterful dominance of the contest
at that point.
At the moment, Spanish football –
and by that I mean the Spanish senior
team, their U21s and, in particular,
FC Barcelona – is generating a tidal
wave of admiration which, at times,
borders on reverence.
If your team was due to play
Barcelona, you’d almost be forgiven
for contemplating throwing in the
towel before the kick-of. Given the
amount of possession they regularly
enjoy in a game, it’s difcult to see
how they can be beaten. As a manager,
the only question you can sensibly
ask yourself is not “How do I make
my team better than Barcelona?”, but
“How can I beat them in this game?”
It’s possible to beat any team in a
one-of match, but taking an existing
team and making them play better
than Barcelona? Tat’s probably not
going to happen.
Tat’s one reason why I don’t
hold the (currently popular) view
that everyone should try to play like
Barcelona. For starters, it would