From upholders of democracy to the ultimate footballing purists.
The stand opposite the dugout at Barcelona’s Camp Nou reads ‘Més que un club’. The emanating profound motto ‘more than a club’ conveys the football club’s standing as an identity of the region, a paragon of what Cataluña stands for and implicates a greater social issue at the core of a historic football club.
Barcelona’s official language remains Catalan, rather than the widespread Castilian, and since its foundation it has opposed political tensions stemming from Madrid: El Clásico has been as much a socio-political conflict as it has been a football rivalry. Not only has Barcelona subscribed to Catalan identity, away from a national Spanish representation, the club was regarded as the advocates of human rights and freedom, social democrats in the face of Franco’s regime. Several players of Barcelona enlisted in opposing ranks against Franco’s uprising in the Spanish Civil War and a deemed prevalence of unruliness throughout the city, underlined by the club, saw club offices targeted and destroyed. The culmination of the Civil War saw the Catalan flag banned and the club were forced to remove it from their crest.
Barcelona continued to win trophies even in the Franco years and became the oppositional symbol to his rule for Catalans. The club even dared to beat the Franco-favoured Real Madrid side in 1968 in front of Franco himself in the Copa de Generalismo (now Copa del Rey) restoring Catalan pride after a semi-final match loss in 1943 where the General’s pre-match dressing room threats to Barcelona players led to a 3-0 lead overturned to a 11-1 loss in the second leg.
What the world regards as FC Barcelona now can be traced back to the end of Franco’s regime upon his death in 1974. The club immediately reinstalled the Catalan flag in its crest and the club mirrored Spain’s transition to a democracy by electing its club president through member votes. Josep Lluis Nunez was the first to be elected in 1978 and heeding advice from Johan Cruyff - who had signed for the club in 1973 – established La Masia, the club’s youth academy. The total football that Cruyff had brought to the club was appropriated into a Catalan tiki-taka style that would be taught at La Masia.
When La Masia graduate Pep Guardiola stepped into the managerial role and implemented the tiki-taka style in a team full of Barcelona youth products, Barcelona were able to fully realise a footballing Catalan identity. Xavi, Iniesta and Messi – three La Masia products – became crucial to the club’s football; this was football developed in Barcelona being played by players developed in Barcelona.
A visit to Barcelona’s recent La Liga game against Valencia embodied the club as singularly Catalan with its own desires and ideals. Pre-match saw Andres Iniesta given a standing ovation for his decoration as Europe’s best player of last season, and this was a small indicator of Barcelona fans’ demands for football purity. They applauded every moment of sleek ball retention and roared for every instance of individual skill. Contrastingly, they would jeer every misplaced pass, any ill-judged tackle and would whistle excessively for what they unreasonably deemed as time-wasting or incompetent refereeing.
The disappointing match against Valencia saw Barca win 1-0 thanks to a thunderous shot from Adriano but the mood around the Camp Nou following the game was subdued. A win was not enough nor was the dominance of possession. Seemingly, Barcelona are now the utmost upholders of the purity of the game. ‘More than a club’ should read ‘more than winning’.