Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Makes Current Barca This Good – The Mental Aspect

What Makes Current Barca This Good – The Mental Aspect

Some telling statistics from Phil Ball’s article:

“These are 3 (Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi) of the 442 players who have gone through the Masia system since it was inaugurated some 30 years ago; 41 of them have gone on to make their debuts with the first team, and 38 others made it to top-flight status. That leaves 363 who fell by the wayside, although I don’t know the figures for those who made it professionally outside of the Spanish first division. Two of the most prominent are Cesc Fabregas and Mikel Arteta, but that still leaves 361 to account for.

These are just the statistics of those players who have actually ‘graduated’ from La Masia, that is, those who played there till they were deemed to be too old for the youth team and not good enough for the senior team. Several more would have fallen by the wayside even before this. These statistics show how much heartache and heartburn is there in ‘La Masia’ for those who do not make it to the hallowed turf of Camp Nou, and there are many of them. People may see the glorious ‘cantaneros’ coming in, but forget the innumerable players who fail to make it. Non-Barcelona fans probably don’t know much about how many players from this academy would enjoy the awe and respect that Xavi and co garner, but it is safe to say “Not too many”.

The current Barcelona of the 2000’s will be ranked right up there with Dutch legends of 70s and Brazilian wizards of 80s. Folklores, epics and maybe even ballads will be written about this gifted bunch.

But this article is not about the shiny side of “La Masia”. It is not even a tactical analysis of how Barca does ‘IT’. It is a story about a phenomenon, that seems more improbable and even more confounding when juxtaposed with some cold, hard facts. Although this will make one appreciate the current Barcelona team even more, it will also put some things in perspective. This is a speculation about the mental side of what makes the current generation of Barca tick the way it does. How is this Barca side able to do things that others before it could not accomplish?

Except in a very few cases, most of Barca’s defeats or draws in the last 3 years have come against midtable teams – teams who are not very good, but were not relegation fodder either. Rarely have they lost against ‘big’ teams. There is a reason for this.

Apr. 07, 2010 - 05733234 date 06 04 2010 Copyright imago BPI Barcelona Manager Josep Guardiola applaud Lionel Messi PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUKxFRAxNEDxESPxSWExPOLxCHNxJPN Football men EC 1 Champions League 2009 2010 Barcelona Barca Vdig 2010 vertical Highlight premiumd Football.

All the ‘big’ teams have one thing in common. They love to keep the ball and move it forward. It is an anathema for them to pass the ball backwards; it is regarded as a sacrilege and an admission of inferiority. They don’t like to be deprived of the ball. They believe that the football is theirs, by divine right. They like to be in control of everything. Even when defending, they do it with a certain arrogance. When faced with something like Barca’s football and their players, their inculcated instincts of control and superiority clash with their instincts of self preservation.

More than anything else, Barca hurt the ego of the opposition players; this is where the other teams play into Barcelona’s hands, as they cannot accept their inability to create something instantly. Playing with 10 men behind the ball or on the backfoot is just not their forte.

Mid-table teams do not face this dilemma. They are happy to sit back and hit Barca on the counter; 10 men behind the ball is not an unacceptable tactic for them. Their players are good enough to cause damage and not bad enough to be run over. Even though the relegation fodder teams use the same tactics, their numbers are overwhelmed and their technical deficiencies exploited by the sheer quality on display. Mid-team tables can hold out against Barca, if they have a little bit of luck on their side.

Any player who is a good/great player will have a certain ego, a certain belief, that he is as good as anyone at his job or even better, and that he can outdo any player and is inferior to none. Up to a certain level this is a necessary quality, as it is this belief that actually propels him towards greater glory and makes him one of the best. But against Barca, the same belief that proves to be the downfall of the very best – their own hubris becomes their nemesis. Barca operates by restricting the lines where the opposition player with the ball can pass, or more specifically can complete a ground pass, ensuring that either he is alone and has no one in his direct line of sight to receive the pass, or he has to pass to his team-mates at the back, which is just not an option for him.

The following 2 statements of Rio Ferdinand are extremely illuminating:

  • “If someone is marked you are told to play it to space or someone else. People like Xavi, Paul Scholes and Iniesta can handle it, but generally we are not as comfortable playing or receiving the ball when someone is on you.”
  • “When you get to international level, if you give the ball away it is hard, particularly against the likes of Spain and Holland. You could go two or three minutes without touching the ball.”

These are the cornerstones of Barca’s challenge:

1) We will let you keep the ball, but will you keep it?

2) Do you have the patience to watch for 3-4 mins while we play around with the ball?

The core of Barca are Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Villa, Puyol, Busquets and Alves. Apart from Alves, all of the others are media shy, unassuming, understated and dedicated to the team cause and rarely, if ever make controversial statements.

The best example is Messi himself. Undeniably one of the best players to come on planet Earth, he has NEVER scored against Mourinho’s side in 11 meetings. For any player of even a half decent standard, this damning statistic would be galling, perhaps even humiliating, and more so for Messi. Yet on that night of the 5-0 demolition, he achieved something that very few great players can contemplate, let alone execute; he made himself secondary and the team primary. That night, Messi’s biggest achievement was not his passing, but letting go of his ego. He accepted his limitations and sought to overcome them by other means.

And here is the final piece of the jigsaw that makes Barcelona Barcelona:

Paradoxically, everyone in Barca is secondary and yet everyone is primary. The players always have to seek for the best option in the buildup of a play – whether it involves them or leaves them out of it completely.

BEIJING, Aug. 8, 2010 Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Barcelona F.C team celebrates scoring during a friendly match against Beijing Guo'an in the national stadium, also known as ''Birds' Nest'' in Beijing, capital of China, on Aug. 8, 2010. Barcelona won 3-0.

Ibra- not in sync!

This is where Ibra failed. He could not make himself secondary to anyone. His was not as much a failure to score as much as was the failure to let go of his ego. He could never accept the fact that he was not the centre of the universe, even if that universe contained Messi, Xavi and Iniesta.

Ibra couldn’t do it. CR7 can’t do it. Nor can Benzema , Drogba or Torres.

Yet it is not like the Barcelona players are ‘sugar and spice and everything nice’. Their hypocrisy was quite pronounced when Xavi claimed Fabregas as one of their ‘own’. Their ugly side was more than apparent in the‘sprinkler’ incident and Valdes’ lunge at Mourinho’s throat, after Inter had gone through at their expense. Make no mistake, this is a bunch that hates to lose; and when they do they can be condescending, vindictive and ugly – all the hallmarks of a sore loser.

But that is nothing to take away from an extraordinarily gifted bunch of players. They are supremely talented players, but at the same time they are amazingly grounded and humble when it comes to team play. They always treat each other with utmost respect, and nobody is inferior to anyone. This is how ‘La Masia’ has shaped their camaraderie. More than their tactics, their coach, the philosophy of La Masia and ‘Tiki-Taka’, it is the players themselves who have made this success possible, through their camaraderie and telepathic understanding of each other. In a world where egos are higher than Mt. Everest, they have done remarkably well to not to snipe at each other.

Xavi was there five years ago also. So were Valdes, Puyol and Iniesta. Yet, Barca were never this dominant in football despite their academy, despite their philosophy. They are dominant today because they have the ‘tools’ to do it, and those ‘tools’ are in perfect harmony with each other. Like the cogs of a Swiss watch, every part is perfect and necessary; no tick is wasted, and no extra part is used, resulting in perfect synchronisation and perfect motion. To put it in a way, they go “tiki-taka, tiki-taka, tiki-taka, tiki-taka” till the opponents go crazy.

To witness so many talented players in a single generation, all of them having tremendous respect for each other, is extremely rare. For 30 years ‘La Masia’ couldn’t do it. Real Madrid has not been able to do it after ‘Quienta Del Butre’.

Someday, this bunch will have an uphill climb that will seemingly never end. That’s the day when the masks will slip and the knives will be out. But until that day, let us enjoy this beautiful symphony they create in every match, and applaud them while we still can. Let’s just admire the beautiful choreography and the fantastic skills, which thugs like De-Jong, Van Bommel and other physical ‘EPLites’ can only watch with envy. Because, we might never get to see such talented individuals again for several decades.

Monday, July 26, 2010



Justice is sold nowadays. That is the sad truth.

Before I begin my views on “Justice”, let us see some telling moments and their timelines in world of justice (both India and worldwide).

January 23, 1996: Priyadarshini Mattoo raped and killed allegedly by Santosh Kumar Singh. Delhi Police registers FIR.

Oct 30, 2006: Santosh Singh given the death sentence by Delhi High Court.

August 12, 1990: S P S(A high Ranking police officer) Rathode then IG allegedly molests Ruchika in his office.

May 25, 2010: Rathore's sentence enhanced to 18-month jail term and fine of Rs.1000 (~$20).

2007: Goldman Sachs earns approx $3 billion from subprime crisis

Jul 2010 ... Goldman Sachs Pays $550M Civil Fraud Fine.

April 29-30 1999: Jessica Lal shot and killed in public at a party in Qutub Colonnade restaurant in south Delhi.

April 19, 2010: Supreme Court upholds conviction and life term of Manu (Son of a famous politician).

July 2010: Lindsay Lohan is awarded 14 days in jail for drug abuse and possession.

I chose these few moments, because these are some of the moments when high and mighty were supposedly punished for their misdemeanors and crimes. These were the moments when justice had supposedly prevailed and David had beaten Goliath…. Or had he? I used the world supposedly here.

Let me examine the notion of justice from a romantic’s point of view. The perpetrator of crime is punished: swiftly, appropriately, without bias and without regards to his/her economic or social status.

For me these are the 4 keystones that upon which the house of justice stands.

Yet what I find invariably is not justice. At best, I deem them to be grotesque imitations of justice. The romantic inside me wants to rejoice at these convictions and yet the cynic inside me remains unconvinced.

As the timelines show, the “justice” was served after 10 years or more in Indian cases. That too, because these cases had come in the limelight and had resulted in a trial by media. I am totally convinced that for every Jessica Lal who gets justice that there are 100s more who can only dream of the same. In the American cases, although the decisions were relatively swift, they were a rap on the hand at best; like one would do to a naughty child for his cute mischief.

This is the age of free market economy. Capitalism. Everything has a price. Everything is for sale. So why not justice? Let us sell it to the highest bidder.

Let us not kid ourselves. We are selling justice anyways. Maybe not explicitly, but underlying implication remains the same. Why do I say this? A police commissioner is sentenced for 1.5 years in jail and fined 20 dollars for molesting a girl of 14 years who kills herself as she cannot see the torture of her 10 year old brother and grief of her parents. Lindsay Lohan walks after 14 days. Goldman is given a puny fine (yes, considering what they had earned). Sanjay Dutt is given the benefit of doubt in TADA (Anti terrorist act) case.

I guess killing is no big deal then. I just have to pay a $20 fine and spend 1.5 years in jail with parole after 20 years. Great, I will take the deal.

If I had been in place of Sanjay Dutt or Lohan, could I have possibly ended up with a sentence as light as theirs? No. I don’t think so. Maybe Dutt did make a genuine error (of keeping AK56 rifles and grenades in house. Everyday occurrence don’t you think?). But if you or I had made the same mistake, we would have been rotting in jail for 20 years without the hope for a parole.

Invariably the people on the receiving end are like you and me. The common people: with no money, no power and scared of those in power. This is why their rights are encroached upon. The lawyers that we hire in the fond hope of getting justice are like us too. Underpaid and struggling to make ends meet. In today’s world the rich and the famous hire a battery of overpaid lawyers who earn more in a day than 98% of the people earn in single year. They intimidate the prosecution lawyers by various tactics. In the west, getting a light sentence is all about the quality of lawyers one hires. The better and more “connected” they are, the better are one’s chances of going scot free. In India, one is lucky if one even gets a decision.

Make no mistake. We are already selling justice. The poor more often than not cannot afford to hire a lawyer and give up their fight and accept their fates with resignation. They give in the face of bullying tactics and sheer intimidation by the very people who imposed this indignity upon them.

When I look at the above judgements, I am filled with a sense of despair and feel for the kins of the victims. I don’t think they should celebrate for they have not won. They only haven’t lost. For me “justice delayed is justice denied”.

I have read of a tradition in Sicily, Italy. Of Mafia. They used to pay the victim’s family an indemnity to placate them. An amount was negotiated and a settlement was reached. This was true for any crime; from murder to thievery.

I propose that we do the same in our current system of Justice. It is not an uncommon practice to reach out of court settlements for land dispute, libel or other sundry cases.

I think we should also fix the price for everything. From murder to pick pocketing. It should be a market determined price; somewhat like a modern stock market. With prices adjusted for inflation and limited “justice cards”. Anyone can bid for them. But the catch is that the victim/victim’s family should agree to the perpetrator paying the indemnity.

I believe that a regulatory body should look over the sales. Some portion should go to the victims and some to a central fund which can be used by others victims to hire lawyers to fight their cases. Previous offences should be taken into account. If the person is a previous offender, he should be forced pay an exponential rate of fine. Or if multiple offences are there on the chargesheet, multiply them. Like $300 for first murder and say $9000 for the second one. Also, the criminals should be forced to take care of their victims (wherever applicable).

I, for one don’t believe in the current justice system. The justice dispensed is neither swift nor appropriate. The rich get away with almost anything. If I am murdered tomorrow and even if the murderer is brought to the book, it would give my soul no peace. The form of justice that the current system dispenses is a retributive one. It serves no one. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. My parents would still be forced to fend for themselves in their old age. I would feel better, if they could at least spend their old age in comfort and security, rather than running from pillar to post, trying to secure justice for their now departed son; Even if it means “selling” their son.

Maybe, the new system makes no bones about favoring the rich and allows them to go scot-free if they can buy justice. Maybe it condemns poor to a fate out of which they cannot buy their way out. But then, I feel we already are doing this. The “justice” dispensed now would be no different than what we are already is. It will only be more open and fair. Atleast this way one can see how much a life is worth. Atleast we won’t be hiding behind a shroud of morality to conceal what we already doing: Selling justice.

The current system of selling justice is defunct. The rich and powerful rule. The poor can only suffer. They can only forgive and move on. Let us give the poor of today a chance of leading their lives with a modicum of dignity and comfort, after their self respect has taken away from them.

Everything has a price. Why not justice? Let’s fix the price of Justice.