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net that was available to that great
Italian side... the old, rigid ofside law.
As David Sexton used to say:
“It’s amazing what a team can achieve,
if nobody minds who gets the credit.”
Could this be the reason that Lionel
Messi seems so totally comfortable
in his own skin at Barcelona and
yet struggles to reproduce the same
form when playing for Argentina
(where sometimes the only common
thread appears to be stereotypical
Latin unpredictability and ego)? Tere
was a phrase I used to use with my
players: “If you can’t be a star, don’t
be a cloud. Remember, stars shine
brightest in a clear sky.”
Don’t be fooled, these admirable
qualities are no accident, they are
expected from every player from the
moment that he signs for the club.
Reliable sources within the Barcelona
camp assure me that the same qualities
pervade their private lives, where
modesty and humility are bywords.
Everything is very low-key,
sponsorship deals are not seen as
opportunities to exploit their talent;
they strive to underplay their wealth,
paranoid about the possibility of being
seen as extravagant and ostentatious
and mindful of the working lives of
most of their supporters.
Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta
and Messi all know and understand
the value of a strong family and the
responsibility that comes with that.
Tis ‘family’ ethic also extends to their
working lives, where players ensure
that those who work around the club
and the team, whatever their role, are
treated with equal respect and care.
Tere could have been no better
spontaneous example of this than that
moment after last season’s Champions
League fnal at Wembley, when
Michel Platini handed the trophy over
Éric Abidal. Xavi and Carles Puyol
were equally entitled to that moment
– it’s surely every player’s dream to
life the European Cup as captain
– but both happily and genuinely
conceded that the honour and the
hour should belong to Abidal, whose
torment they had all shared during his
life-threatening illness. If you want to
know what team spirit looks like, just
picture that moment.
For me, it’s this very strong and
clear sense of identity and team,
shaped by a well defned (and
intentional) club culture which shapes
and develops the way they think,
behave and react during games. Tis
is what gives them the real winning
edge. Other teams may well have
fallen into the trap, so carefully
prepared by Real Madrid in the
semi-fnal of the same event, and been
provoked into trying to fght fre with
fre. Not Barcelona, their rock-like
belief in what they do and how they
do it, probably energised by a sense of
professional indignation, drove them
on to deal with Real Madrid in the
most efective way. Tey kept their
powder dry and, come show-time, let
their feet do the talking, delivering a
football master-class in the process.
So, at the risk of being accused
of football heresy, I don’t believe
everybody should play like Barcelona,
because, in reality, not everybody can.
However, I do believe it critical that
player developers should understand
that all players can think, believe and
act like them, because it is the values
instilled in them which give them
that most precious of team strengths,
genuine team spirit.
Catalonia may have banned
bullfghting, but the spirit of the
matador; commitment, courage and –
above all – grace under pressure, lives
on in this great team.
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Barcelona’s Éric Abidal lifts
the European Cup at Wembley
Stadium on May 28th 2011