Read as part of CBR13Bingo: Travel. I’d love to go to Barcelona some day.
My first real exposure to FC Barcelona was the 2009 Champions League Final. At the type, I wasn’t seriously following European soccer. The hype of this match reached my ears. Man U was on its last legs as the nonpareil of England, Cristiano Ronaldo was just entering his prime. Meanwhile, Barca was emerging as the sport’s dominant force with stars such as Girard Pique, Andres Iniesta and the rising Lionel Messi.
I settled in for what I thought would be a good match…and it wasn’t even close. Barca beat them 2-0 and since soccer scores are rarely indicative of how a match was played, this felt like a blow out. Barca dominated possession; it felt like they controlled the ball the whole game. Most of the squad played on the dominant 2010 Spanish World Cup team. They spent the next decade running through Europe, clashing in Spain with rival Real Madrid and vying constantly for the coveted Champions League Trophy.
Fast forward to 2021, just as this book went to press, Messi, near the end of his career, had to leave because the club had driven itself heavily in debt and faced an uncertain future.
I’ve read dozens of sports books like this, narrating the rise and fall of dynasties. But Simon Kuper, a brilliant soccer historian, really brings the story to life, beginning with an examination of the life and play of Barca’s Dutch legend Johann Cruyff and how his concept of Total Football revolutionized the sport. Cruyff brought it back in the 90s as a coach and its legacy continues today, even if Barca don’t pay its style so often.
Kuper does a great job too of talking about how the club is a big part of Barca’s anti-federalist Catalan culture. He dispels myths around its symbolism but does do a good job of examining how it is run by locals for locals, for better and for worse, and how it impacts the decisions that are made.
I could have done without the sections regarding player training and health. Those could have been sprinkled into the narrative. But as far as documenting the life and times of FC Barcelona and how the sport evolved along with the franchise (and vice versa), Kuper does a brilliant job. Check this out if you can.