Barcelona’s record-breaking 2009 will be hard to repeat in 2010

For Real Madrid, the best thing about 2009 was that it did, eventually, draw to a close. For Barcelona, that could be their only complaint. Their task now is to dominate in another year too, to ensure that this is not a one-off, to build a lasting legacy.

The cliche says getting to the top is one thing, staying there is even harder; that the second season is even more difficult than the first.

For Barcelona, doing it all again is, coach Pep Guardiola warned, impossible. But that is what they must attempt.

When Liverpool won the league, manager Bob Paisley, shuffling along in his carpet slippers, used to hand out the medals from an old shoebox, unceremoniously and in private. Barcelona paraded theirs before a packed Camp Nou, fireworks exploding around them on the first weekend of 2010. Yet Guardiola has tried to adopt that same attitude. As the players celebrated winning the Club World Cup, their T-shirts declared: “Tot guanyat, tot per guanyar” (everything won, everything to win).

Tot guanyat was no exaggeration. Barcelona were officially champions of the world but the significance of victory against Estudiantes was not the Final in itself, nor the trophy, but that it completed the perfect circle. It maintained and prolonged their glory beyond the summer and made the whole of 2009 theirs, not just the 2008-09 season.

In July, Real Madrid’s directors had congratulated Florentino Perez on ensuring that Barcelona’s treble would be the shortest in history. By buying Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, attention had shifted immediately from Catalonia to Castilla, and the Catalans’ warm glow lasted barely a week. And yet, by finishing the year still top of the table, by winning in Monaco, Bilbao, Barcelona and Abu Dhabi, Barca had wrested it back; they had made their success last.

Before the Final of the Club World Cup, Guardiola had told his players: “Lose and you’ll still be the best team in the world; win and you’ll be eternal.” Victory against Estudiantes was an appropriate way to round off the year: another final, another trophy. Six in total. Out of six.

Best of all time
Some are suggesting that this Barca team might be the best of all time and, in terms of success, they may even be right as no side will ever better the achievements of Barcelona in 2009.

In 1972, Ajax won every competition they played, but there were only five of them: Dutch league, European Cup, Dutch Cup, European Supercup and Intercontinental Cup (the equivalent of today’s Club World Cup). No one else has ever managed
a clean sweep.

Barcelona won it all: Spanish league, Spanish Cup, Champions League, Spanish Supercup, European Supercup and Club World Cup. But there was even more to it than that – 2009 was a year as near to perfect as you can get. It opened with them on the top of the table and closed with them there too. They never left top spot, except on goal difference – and both times, they immediately reclaimed their position.

They had defeated their bitterest rivals Real Madrid 6-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu, they won their first Spanish Cup for over a decade and they also added Rome to European Cup/Champions League Final successes in Paris and London.

Guardiola’s first league game in charge was a 1-0 defeat in Soria against Numancia, the side with the smallest budget in the first division. The man who got the winning goal, Mario, earns less in a year than Thierry Henry does in a week, and the panic was palpable, while the recriminations at choosing a coach with no first division experience instead of Jose Mourinho were intense.

Since then, Barcelona have only lost seven times in all competitions. Guardiola has been in charge for 91 matches and not once have they been beaten by more than one goal. And rarely did defeat matter, even when reverses against Espanyol and Atletico Madrid threatened to open up the title race last season.

Defeats against Mallorca and Osasuna came with the league already won. A 1-0 defeat against Wisla Krakow followed a 4-0 first-leg win and a 3-2 loss against Shakhtar Donetsk came with first place in their Champions League group already assured and reserves on the pitch.

It wasn’t always easy. They perhaps should have gone out at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League semi-final. It took a missed Mallorca penalty to keep them in the Spanish Cup and an 88th-minute equaliser to win the Club World Cup – but that showed character as well as quality.

Under Guardiola, Barcelona have scored 220 goals, playing wonderful football. In the Champions League Final, seven of the starting XI were products of La Masia, the club’s youth system. So was the man on the bench, Pep Guardiola – Barcelona ballboy, youth-teamer, captain and now coach – and the man crowned FIFA World Player, Lionel Messi.

“Some clubs buy Ballon d’Or winners, we make them,” beamed president Joan Laporta.

It really was as good as it gets.

Part two tomorrow