Rout of Santos reaffirms Barcelona’s reputation
Barcelona was officially crowned the best club team on the planet Sunday, but we already knew that. Securing the Club World Cup title with a 4-0 thrashing of Santos in Yokohama was mere confirmation of a widely accepted fact, and leaves Barca running out of trophies to claim.
Likewise, as further proof that this is not just a great team of this era but perhaps one of the best ever, the soccer world is running out of platitudes to anoint Barca with.
However much head coach Pep Guardiola insisted this trophy was the one he wanted to win more than any other, it was impossible to shake the sense that this achievement was little more than a formality.
In reality, Barca’s status as the world’s best was solidified when it won the Champions League in May and reinforced by the way it took apart Spanish rival Real Madrid a week ago.
But this journey to Japan, even coming as it did smack in the middle of the La Liga season, was not without merit and added something to Barca’s legacy that is perhaps even more significant than yet another piece of hardware: It was at International Stadium where Barcelona taught a lesson to the finest team from a nation that normally does the teaching. Santos, the South American champion from Brazil, simply had no answer to a crushing performance that put Barca on the board early thanks to Lionel Messi’s delicate chip for the opening goal.
Messi would add another, while Xavi and Cesc Fabregas rounded out the scoring in a one-sided final that was as pure a masterclass as you could wish to see.
The philosophy that skill trumps all, that speed matters more than size, that silky ball movement outwits brute strength is the message from a bygone Brazilian era – and one that Barca is now showing off to the world.
“Barcelona deserved to win,” Santos star Neymar said. “They are the best team in the world, and we learned an important lesson.”
Cynics should not be fooled into thinking that this result came against an under-strength foe. In recent years, teams from South America have had their talent stripped away by big-spending European sides, and the exodus of talent has been extraordinary.
Such an argument carries less weight now with a dramatic boom in Brazil’s economy meaning that its clubs now have far more fiscal firepower to keep hold of their stars.
Neymar, the golden boy of Brazilian soccer and the teenager tasked with helping the nation win the World Cup on home soil in 2014, is a prime example. Just a couple of years ago, the departure of a player like Neymar to Europe would have been a certainty. But Santos paid a fortune to keep hold of its prized asset and built an expensive supporting cast around him.
No, Barcelona’s victory was not a simple matter of finances but rather the implementation of a system that might be impossible to properly combat. Europe’s best teams have tried and failed, and Santos was the latest to be sliced open by Barca’s passing game, which resembles death by a thousand cuts.
“We played a complete game,” Barca captain Carlos Puyol said.
They did, and they do. The world’s best didn’t need this latest trophy to earn its seat atop that lofty throne.
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