As Thomas Mueller hammered the final nail in Barcelona’s coffin last night, many among the viewers would have found themselves grinning amiably, if not really celebrating – unless you were a Bayern fan, obviously, in which case going completely berserk was the only plausible response – as the mighty Barcelona suffered their heaviest defeat in Europe since 1997.
In any other environment, from music to art, say, we would be thrilled to be treated to the opportunity of witnessing an artist at its peak. However, in football, and particularly in Barcelona’s case, the plaudits are becoming increasingly tarnished by a hint of dislike.
Having dominated European football for the last six years (yesterday’s was Barca’s sixth consecutive semifinal in the Champions League), Barcelona have beaten pretty much every record, dazzling the world with a revolutionary approach to football and producing arguably some of the finest players the world has seen.
Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi have so often looked as if they were playing on a complete different planet from the rest of the football pariah, that fans across the globe could only watch in amazement as they tiki-takaed their way to a flurry of trophies.
Being a great deal better than anybody else, and therefore winning regularly is always likely to ruffle a few feathers, as Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, New York Yankees and Boston Celtics could testify.
Furthermore, there’s also an element of novelty to be considered. Having dominated football for six years – minus the occasional hiccup – it almost seems refreshing to see the greatest side in the world being treated to a taste of their own medicine, something all the sporting greats have endured throughout their careers.
However, boredom and envy alone aren’t enough to explain why so many football fans would rather see the greatest player in the world not reaching another Champions League final.
After dazzling Europe with some superb football on their way to their Champions League triumph in Rome in 2009, Barcelona, perhaps inevitably, began to believe the hype surrounding them.
They were no longer content with playing their own brand of football, they wanted the world to recognise that theirs was the way the game was supposed to be played – “Pure football” as Adrian Chiles repeated relentlessly last night – and to bow before them respectfully.
The care-free attitude with which the Catalans had initially stormed to success became almost a political agenda when they faced Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan in 2010, with Barcelona portraying themselves as Luke Skywalker, to the Portuguese Darth Vader.
For the first time cracks began to appear in Barcelona’s armour. Glorious winners as they were, they were also insufferable losers. Parking the bus and tactics against football were to blame, according to some of Barca’s senior players, for their defeat. In their eyes, nobody could beat them at their game, hence any other tactic being described as a dark art.
While it is undoubtedly daunting to beat Barcelona at their own game, there are others, perfectly legitimate tactics that, if employed correctly, can have the Catalans rocking.
Whether it’s the strenuous defence perfected by Inter and Chelsea, or the razor-sharp counter attacks typical of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, Barcelona struggle when pushed out of their comfort zone, often resorting to some questionable behaviour.
Barcelona’s quest for football purity is quickly becoming their undoing in the eyes of many. While any other would be happy to win and be hated for their success, the Catalans want to win and being applauded at the same time.
They have no time for the football uneducated who might find their tiki-taka extremely boring. In all their smugness, they believe to be not just another club, as emblazoned in their Mes Que Un Club – more than a club – motto, and demand to be treated as such.
Winners are often despised, sanctimonious winners even more so. Hence why many found last night’s thrashing so satisfying to watch.