Sunday, 27 October 2013

LOOK BACK: Analysis of 2012-13 Camp Nou El Clásico Post-Match Reaction

Blue and Red Accusations

Some segments of the non-Madrid fan base are expressing their dismay and contempt for Real's alleged aggressiveness (fouling) in the recent spectacularly calm and even tempered contest between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, that finished with a goal apiece for each side, in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final El Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu. These allegations confound the general sporting expectation for a passionate and rigorous effort-intensive display. Quite simply, professional football should ensure the sport does not turn into an elaborate improvised ballet show – give us physicality; grit and toughness are critical elements of football at its most exciting state.

Also, many are highlighting the prevalent trend concerning any FC Barcelona match for the better part of the past half-decade. The Catalonian team always (yet to be formally confirmed but fairly certain) have more possession than their opponents [1]. This trend together with their numerous and unprecedented successes during that time period inspired a media-fuelled promotion of the beauty of the game: a constant and almost propaganda-like campaign to establish a proper brand of football. A profound perpetuation - with football luminaries, past and present, seizing any and every opportunity to exclaim their marvel and admiration for the 'correctness' and 'heavenly qualities' of Barcelona's football team[2].

Killing it Softly: Timewasting

The integral point of attraction for any competitive art is the facet of interaction. The exchange between participants provides substance and definition to the fight. The entertainment value is derived from the modularized contrast of multiple parties tied in a refined engagement; accentuated by the thrust and drive towards the absolute end of adopted principles.

Competition is a war and despite semblances of honor and respect in combat, the battleground is devoid of scruples and evaded by rules. 

Football is a debate, a negotiation, an argument, a trade – what all these have in common is the necessity of concession for the activity to be meaningful. The practice revolves around the concept of give-and-take. To fulfill a desire or need requires the involvement of external properties – the attainment of an objective relies heavily on the clear establishment of a concrete prize; a ‘contested tangible.’

Competition is the natural exploration of strength within specified contexts: the simpler the specifications, the more telling the findings.

Imagine a possession-oriented football team as a boxer and what their fighting style (symbolized by evasion of contact) would resemble. The analogical mirror would display a thinking implying that the opponent wouldn't be able to inflict damage if they couldn't reach the fighter. Now imagine that team as a tennis player or Olympic track and field athlete: immediately, it is apparent that the comparison doesn't hold much weight. It is impossible in these sports to forego the 'competitive' factor. In a sprinting event - one cannot stall the deliberation, a matter of full force from the onset. In a high jump contest, there is no opportunity to delay or suppress battle; one bar and three jumps for each - make or break.

The spirit of football is not isolated to our cherished pass time but to all sports and competitions – the very idea is embedded in a foundation, a constitution of interfacing units. There must be a level of balance in opportunity – a yin to every yang. See the introduction of the back pass rule in 1992 implemented to prevent defenders from passing the ball back to their keepers who would then pick it up in an attempt to steal some minutes from the clock. Possession football, in its extreme form, undermines this policy, it is a workaround the rule. Consider this, what if after scoring a goal to take a lead, a group of players from the leading side  – once they regain possession  – form a pile over the ball: what current law of the game would call such action into question? None. However, the spirit of the game would be intensely diminished.

Inferiority Complex 

A predominant human resource management arbitration theory suggests that low assertiveness closely correlates to low confidence. The supposition lies in observations of business interactions, the shy and insecure tend to favor conflict avoidance: evidenced by actions punctuated by a distinctive knack for passive aggressiveness.

FC Barcelona play to minimize the direct involvement of opposition teams. To do this requires a degree of patience as the tactic’s value lies in the adopter’s ability to capitalize on momentary opposition concentration lapses. Although it is true that all goals are a result of defensive mistakes, possession football awaits the mistake as opposed to precipitate its occurrence as with real attacking football. In essence, consider possession football victory by submission and attacking football victory by knockout to the extent that the former is a slow suffocation process and the latter a quick dismissal.

Constant retreat is never a sign of weakness or self-doubt but carefully measured steps of a well thought-out strategy rooted in defensive ideals.

FC Barcelona are a side at the pinnacle of the footballing world having amassed trophies, fans and the adulation of the globe over the last five years. There is every indication that they are definitely winning. However, an argument about the systematic bias favoring their affairs, which precedes all other things as cause for their most prestigious awards, can be made.

Purpose of these words

This is not an attack on the ideologies of FC Barcelona but a rather disguised defense of the grace and serenity of the beautiful game which encompasses much more. Real Madrid are a great team and possibly the deadliest offensive squadron in Europe and have played some of their greatest games under our current coach against the ‘almighty’ Blaugrana. However, that is neither here nor there. The whole point is that ethical attributes shouldn’t be cast over styles and choices.


[1] The measurement of possession is a complex subject that requires more thorough discussion. The possession statistic varies depending on the method of calculation that is utilized (see the following WAGNH article: When Possession Isn't). However, the conclusion made above assumes the same for any statistical analytics measurement tool currently in use. Barcelona have had the edge in that regard.

[2] While it remains quite true that the majority of the world is not obsessed or entirely accepting of this philosophy – many still see possession as a masterful (almost ideal) take on this great game as evidenced by the condescending and demeaning coverage of Chelsea FC’s 2011/12 victorious run, by media and fans alike. See the following ATW Football article for more on the topic: Coliseum Decay.

Key Events in the Aftermath:

  • Real Madrid C.F. would go undefeated against FC Barcelona for the remainder of the season in three more contests between both teams using an optimized tactical blueprint (a template of sorts) with early traces in Inter Milan and Chelsea's recent Champions League clashes with Barcelona.
  • FC Barcelona's record loss (7 - 0) to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals led to questions over the sustainability and long-term viability of the 'one-dimensional' possession game.
  • Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid parted ways at the end of the season with Italian Carlo Ancelotti selected as his replacement.
  • Ancelotti's arrival still showed media bias for possession football equating the tactic to beautiful football and creating a false contrast against a skewed view of the departing manager's counterattacking style.
  • Barcelona recruited Gerardo Martino in the summer of 2013 due to Tito Vilanova's illness.
  • The new Blaugrana coach acknowledged that the team had become predictable due to its adherence to possession and said they would look to mix up its play.
  • On September 21, 2013, FC Barcelona for the first time in over five years had less possession in a match. Rayo Vallecano had the ball for 53.4% of the time at home in La Liga in a game that ended 4 - 0 in FC Barcelona's favor.

This article was originally composed in the days following the October 7th, 2012 La Liga encounter between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F. at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain.