FC Barcelona has been under a lot of public attention (and criticism) this season. In this special article, let me welcome a staunch Los Merengues’ fan, Vikas Shashidhar. It’ll be great to know how our bitter rivals think of us as a club and as a team.
I am delighted that you could squeeze out some time for this interview. Let’s get started…
Q 1. How would you classify the teams of FCB in the 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 campaign?
Ans: It’s really difficult to differentiate or classify these three teams separately, since there haven’t been too many changes in the last couple of years. The 2008-2009 team created history and won every trophy there was possible for a team to win in a single season. The 2009-2010 one was a team full of confidence. Not since the Galacticos in their early years, had a team displayed so much confidence on the pitch. Last year’s team did that, played sensational football, one for the ages and won over a lot of fans. And I think La Liga was the least that the team deserved. They deserved more, maybe at least another UCL final appearance or a Copa. This term, it’ll be more to do with living up to the expectations they have created so far. I think it’s going to be an exciting season for FC Barcelona.
Q 2. Apart from the superstars, who do you think will be an impact player for us this season?
Ans: Is there anyone who is not called a superstar at FCB? Last year, Victor Valdes surprised everyone by pulling out some outstanding performances and consistently as well. This year, it might be Sergio Busquets. I was really impressed by Sergi’s WC performances. He proved he has talent. His reading of the game and his positioning was exceptional on the grandest stage. If Mascherano joins him at FCB, they can form a great partnership much like what we saw at the WC with Xabi Alonso and Busquets. But him being the single anchorman in midfield currently, I think a great amount of responsibility will fall on his shoulders to shield his defence when the team’s attackers goes on an adventure trip upfront. I think he might surprise a lot of people like Valdes did last season.
Q 3. Pep Guardiola has been exceptional for us. What, according to you, makes him such an exceptional figure?
Ans: He truly has been exceptional as a coach for a 39-year old. His tactics are sometimes brilliant. But above all, he knows how to get the best out of his players, and which position suits his players the most and allows them to give their best. For example, in the Rijkaard era, Xavi was more of an anchorman and had very little freedom in the centre of the park. But Guardiola gave Xavi more freedom and played him further upfront. Xavi was able to weave his magic and we saw some of the best football ever displayed along with the success they earned. The other thing I like about him is he doesn’t try to invent new ways or for that matter a new system. He just follows the legacy created by Joann Cryuff which allows for stability. And also, he’s a very good motivator, which is an important aspect for a coach.
Q 4. But don’t you think that Pep’s lack of adventure (not trying to invent a new system or as they say PLAN B) will prove decisive against opponents who play in a way to counter all our existing strategies?
Ans: So far, we haven’t seen Barca play a different tactical system because they are the best at what they do, so Pep doesn’t have to change it. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be working on using a different approach in some games. More than anyone he will be the one most concerned about that. Last year, he tried a system that emphasized more on wing play in some games and Dani Alves would spray crosses into the box for Ibra to finish it. It did work in a few games, like the Classico first leg. But he was not able to consistently use that system due to Ibra’s failure. This year too, he will have a Plan B and we might see it work well.
Q 5. We have had a metamorphosis at the administrative level. We now have a new president and a new director of football. How do you think this will affect us?
Ans: To be honest, it shouldn’t affect the players or the coach much. Not until the new president starts poking his nose in the coach’s business. In a financial and administrative point of view, I think it will affect Barca. A new president will always have his own various plans and he’ll try to implement them in his own ways which might affect the club. Thankfully for the Catalan fans we haven’t seen much of that from the new president so far. I liked Laporta’s management if not him as a person. And he got the club tremendous success, not only on the pitch, but off it too. Sandro Rosell will have a lot of pressure to replicate that. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue from where Laporta left.
Q 6. David Villa, undoubtedly one of the biggest signings of 2010-11. What are your views about him? Do you see David Villa and Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing together?
Ans: Villa is one of my favourite strikers in world football. He’s a complete player. We saw him prove that at the WC when he played in an advanced wing position than in his natural striker position. And he had so much impact from that position for Spain. He’s no doubt going to be a success at Barcelona. And I loathe that fact because he could’ve been successful at Real Madrid by now, if Perez had decided to complete his signing a year back.
Regarding playing Villa and Ibrahimovic together, it’ll depend more on Ibra adjusting to the system. Villa will fit right into Barca’s system since it is so similar to Spain’s. When Eto’o was there, Barca played a more fluid game with Henry, Eto’o and Leo free to swap positions in the final third. That dynamicity was lost when Barca lost Eto’o and brought in Ibra. This was especially evident in the UCL semis second leg when Ibra offered nothing. Ibra is more of a lone striker. So I think his struggles will continue. I don’t see him adjusting to the Barca’s system and I think Pep was right in voicing his plans of excluding Ibra from the system.
Q 7. We have lost a few players. Do you think we need to sign more players, apart from the ones we just did. If yes, then who?
Ans: Yeah, I think Barca have lost some key players. Henry, Chygrinskiy, Marquez, but most importantly Yaya Toure. In central defence, they now have only Pique, Puyol and Milito as world class central defenders. I am not aware of a youth player if there is any for that position. So, there’s a potential problem there and Barca need to address that soon if they are to repeat success like last year or the one before that. Adriano is a decent signing. He is versatile and can play in many positions. At the heart of the midfield, Busquets is the only player who can play the whole season consistently. So, Mascherano will be a welcome addition. Villa, of course, is a class player and a great signing. Apart from these, I don’t see anyone else adding anything extra to the team.
Q 8. What is that one thing about FCB, that scares you? Why?
Ans: Without a doubt, Lionel Messi. Which team isn’t scared to face him? You can stop Xavi, Iniesta, Ronaldo, Kaka or Rooney. But when Messi is on song, it’s nearly impossible to stop him. And that amplifies at Real Madrid because they won’t put more bodies in defence to stop him. That thing especially scares me, because I hate to see him dribble past the last 2 defenders and round off Saint Iker to finish the move.
Q 9. How far do you think can we go in the UCL?
Ans: Now, that’s a tricky question. With the current squad, Barca has the potential to lift the cup for the 4th time in their history and 3rd time in the last 5 years. But I think they might fail to go past the semi finals or quarter finals. Not to burst your bubble or something, but I think they’ll have problems in defence. Remember, this squad has been playing for the last three years continuously. Iniesta, Puyol, Xavi, Pique have been playing since Euro 2008. That’s full 2 years with very less break. As a result they might get injured. We saw that happening to Iniesta last season. In midfield there are players who can cover for Xavi or Iniesta, if they are injured. But I cannot say the same about their defence. Inexperience is written all over the central defenders apart from Pique, Puyol and Milito.
Q 10. La Masia has been phenomenal in Barcelona’s growth. Anyone special, whom you’d have loved to have had at Real Madrid?
Ans: The whole La Masia probably. But factually speaking, Real’s academy is as good as La Masia if not better. It’s just that the youth players aren’t promoted as regularly as they are from La Masia. We’ve had some fantastic players coming through from Castilla in recent times. Negredo, Mata, Soldado, even Eto’o for that matter, and then there was Parejo, Miguel Torres, Javi Martinez and of course De La Red. Not all had the potential to make it to the first 11, but the first 4 and De La Red definitely would’ve had success. So no, I don’t think I’ll be tempted to pick anyone from La Masia.
Q 11. What according to you is the reason behind FCB’s success?
Ans: Stability and La Masia. These are the key factors. The core of the team has remained the same over years and there has been only 1 coach change in 5 years. Compare that to 6 or 7 changes at Real Madrid. Also, the core of the team which is playing currently for Barca, played together at junior levels. So they have a natural understanding with each other which makes it easy for them to play together. Apart from that, I think they have worked extremely hard to get to where they are currently. And of course, credit to Txiki for shaping a fantastic squad. He was the lynchpin in administration.
Thanks a lot Vikas.
Well, that was a Real Madrid fan speaking about FC Barcelona. Quite rational, I must say.
Vikas has given us a picture of our beloved club from our bitter rival’s point of view. I must admit that I am really amazed & delighted at most of his answers. Cannot agree more.
Let us hope FCB does well this season and gives us a reason to celebrate.
Let the season begin…