James Lawton: Beyond Milan's city limits, the world is right to be rooting for Barcelona

The Barcelona regime is a rebuke to those leading English clubs who, we were assured by assorted cheerleaders, had taken a vice-like grip on the European game
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The Independent Football

This is the day when the barricades are taken down by all who love football. Love it, that is, not for the gratification of tribal passion it provides from time to time but an unending capacity to set free the highest and the most beautiful talent.

While they are doing the dismantling they might just consider dressing themselves in the blue and carmine of Barcelona. These, after all, are the colours that have come to illustrate so vividly the best of the modern game.

They are rich colours which would look inappropriate on a team capable of playing the football of the bland or the insipid or the brutish, football which wasn't vibrant with the most thrilling possibilities.

Yes, it is the day of the blue and the carmine, the kind of day that in the past was claimed by Pele and Garrincha, the Brazilian gods in yellow who when they scored a goal made a great stadium unfold like a giant sunflower, or the ghost-like white of Real Madrid and Alfredo di Stefano and Puskas.

It doesn't matter who you support routinely, surely this is an occasion when the call of partisanship is less demanding than the one which asks only for recognition that at least one club in a too frequently benighted world of sport has achieved a degree of working perfection. This is the day when the name and the meaning of Barça should thunder into every corner of the football planet.

No, this isn't to dismiss the fascination of seeing whether the egocentric pragmatism of Jose Mourinho, so brilliantly exhibited when Internazionale upset Chelsea last month, can disarm the exquisite football of Pep Guardiola.

It isn't to prostrate yourself before a team who, with the supreme help of Lionel Messi, just happen to be producing one of the most enchanting interludes in the history of the game. It is to say, and this is surely especially so if you happen to support Chelsea or Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool – so long the flag-bearers of the English game – that one night's support for Europe's most entertaining team is no mere jumping on a bandwagon but due acknowledgement of quite what has been achieved at the Nou Camp.

In almost every respect the Barcelona regime is a rebuke to those leading English clubs who, we were so assiduously assured by Premier League GHQ and assorted cheerleaders, had taken a vice-like grip on the European game.

Take your pick and you inevitably come up with wrenching illustrations of where Barça have got it right and the English Big Four have gone wrong.

The basic organisation of Barcelona is a stinging rebuke to the plutocracy of Chelsea and the debt-ridden regimes of United and Liverpool.

The Barça co-operative is not ruled by a rabble but it does entrench the contribution of member fans regularly electing, by club statute, a president who is required to produce a manifesto, and then keep faith with it at the pain of swift dismissal.

What would the Manchester United Supporters Trust or Spirit of Shankly give for such respectful treatment? And how aghast would be the average Barcelona supporter if he was presented with the working models of United or Liverpool with their carpetbagger owners, mounting deficits and shrinking transfer budgets?

Chelsea fans may reasonably believe that in Carlo Ancelotti they have an accomplished, perhaps, we will see, masterful field commander, but how many more times will they be at the mercy of the kind of executive suite whimsy which saw the parade of Mourinho, Avram Grant, Big Phil Scolari and Guus Hiddink in less than a handful of years?

Chelsea can hope that owner Roman Abramovich has learnt some harsh but vital lessons about the importance of installing a crack football man and then giving him the time, the space and, above all, the authority to go about his work with confidence. For the Barcelona co-operative, though, this wasn't a lesson to learn but an implicit football truth.

In the seven years of Abramovich, Chelsea have had six managers and failed to win Europe's greatest prize. In the same period Barça have had two managers, Frank Rijkaard and Guardiola, and now they bear down on their third Champions League success in five years and the likelihood of becoming the first team to defend the title successfully in its 17-year-old league and knockout format.

This isn't happenstance. It is the dynamic of intelligence and competitive intellect on the run.

Even Arsenal, for so long English football's closest approximation to a model club, have dwindled against the aura of Barça. Like Barcelona they have bred a stream of brilliantly gifted young footballers but the difference is that when the champions of La Liga and Europe have recognised a point of weakness, in their case represented by the disaffection of Samuel Eto'o and the decline of Thierry Henry, they have moved swiftly to strengthen their playing resources. It was thus cruelly ironic that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a £60m-plus newcomer, scored the two goals of quite basic proficiency that were Barça's only reward for an exquisite first-leg performance against an Arsenal deprived of Emmanuel Adebayor through transfer and Robin van Persie by injury.

Barcelona's feat has been to create and maintain a team not just out of superb idealism and respect for football and its followers but also with a hard nose for the realities of winning and losing. Who really, when you think about it, wouldn't wear their colours at least for a day?

Button's brilliance drives away some of Williams' doubt

Not only has Jenson Button made a brilliant start to the defence of his world title, he may have obliged one of the most knowing of old heads in his sport think again.

Sir Frank Williams once intervened in a driving controversy, one of those about who should get which drive and at what price, with the tart observation that choosing a new pilot was pretty much like fixing the tail on a stage donkey.

"So much is to do with the performance of the cars these days," said Frank. "You look at some performers and inevitably you have to ask, 'is it the car or is it the driver?' "

One appraisal of Button's win in Shanghai was that he was the Alain Prost to Lewis Hamilton's Ayrton Senna, he was the supreme thinker and Hamilton was the charger. At the very least Button is making one point clearly enough. Winning a world title has never looked further away from mere donkey work.

Barbarism taints dawn of new age in Manchester

In Colm Toibin's novel Brooklyn there is a beautifully etched passage of a young Irish immigrant girl experiencing her first baseball game, between the old Brooklyn Dodgers and their bitter rivals the New York Giants.

She is surrounded by noisy, obsessed fans, including the family of her boyfriend of Italian origins, and her confusion is at times quite profound. However, there is not one moment in which she feels any apprehension among the boisterous, beer-drinking horde, only wave upon wave of happiness.

For readers of a certain age it is a vivid journey back to another age of sport – one that made all the more jarring the news that, at the dawn of a new age of football in Manchester, a young man was beaten up not because he was black but because he was wearing the red shirt of his brother Mame Biram Diouf, a United player.

A new age, did we say? More like another descent into barbarism.

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