Book review - Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World
The question of whether the current FC Barcelona team is the best the world has ever seen is one of the most keenly discussed by football enthusiasts today.
As such, it is bold of Graham Hunter to attempt to deliver an authoritative explanation of the subject matter while this Barca team is arguably in its prime.
His analysis of the current FC Barcelona side comes at a time when their legacy is still in the making but is no less compelling as a result.
The book appears confusingly organised at first, with a chaotic three-pronged layout that blends the main narrative with short, punchy player biographies and match reports citing key games in their ascendancy to global acclaim. The uncomplicated writing style and compelling subject matter however, quickly put the reader at ease.
Using more than a decade of experience living and working in the Catalan city, Scottish journalist Hunter (who is well known to British audiences for his work on Spanish football for Sky Sports) impresses a supreme command of the inner workings of the FC Barcelona machine.
Political and cultural aspects
He explains the unique political and cultural aspects of Spanish football and FC Barcelona in a clear and concise manner, guiding you through the corridors of power at the Camp Nou effortlessly.
His introspective analysis of key backroom figures such as Txiki Begiristain and Marc Ingla and the evolution of the Blue Elephant movement is a particular highlight which will provide more depth for anyone interested in how this special club functions behind the scenes.
In apportioning credit for the team’s success, Hunter rightly lauds the central role of Johan Cruyff, both as a player and a manager.
He was influential in changing the ethos in the 1970’s as the team struggled to compete regularly for honours and instrumental in the 1990’s in creating the conditions which have allowed the current team to develop into the world’s best.
The Dutchman transformed not only the playing style but the organisation of the club at youth level - aligning the same basic formation and tactical approach throughout the ranks of the now famous Cantera.
Part of the DNA
Cruyff delivered Barca’s most successful period before current boss Pep Guardiola - winning four consecutive league titles and their first European Cup in eight years at the helm. His vision of Total Football is part of the DNA of FC Barcelona, a legacy that remained after he was sacked in 1996.
Hunter charts the club’s descent after this point, assessing the underlying factors for five trophy-less years between 1999 and 2004. Revived to a degree under Frank Rijkaard, he chronicles their return to winning ways before the landmark appointment of former Cruyff disciple Guardiola as Rijkaard’s replacement in 2008.
The roles of Guardiola and former club president Joan Laporta (2003-2010) are unsurprisingly central themes in Hunter’s assessment of the Barcelona success story and he even devotes an entire chapter to addressing the impact of the chief villain in the recent El Clasico rivalry, Jose Mourinho.
Naturally, much of the attention on the team itself is devoted to Lionel Messi, how they acquired him and his phenomenal development into the awesome player we see today.
For anyone not already familiar with it, the story of how former Barcelona player, assistant manager, coach and scout Carles Rexach, signed the Argentine on a restaurant napkin is fascinating.
Hunter also charts the rise of a clutch of central figures through the Barcelona ranks, from promising youth players to first team fixtures. The personal stories of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, and their route to success vary greatly and make for interesting reading.
And for the other players, his short, punchy biographies mentioned earlier fill the void nicely.
Owing to the fact that Barca seem destined to extend their incredible legacy in the near future, it is a curiously timed analysis that Graham Hunter brings us.
The fear that his account may be incomplete means it may not gain the acclaim it deserves until much later but this book is a very worthy read.
Ultimately, it is an enjoyable, flowing read that succeeds in providing great detail and insight without ever allowing the narrative to become too over-cooked.
You can get yourself a copy of Graham Hunter’s Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World from a host of major retailers, including Amazon, where it is an absolute steal at less than a tenner.
By Matt Youngs