by Adam Bate
“In my time as manager, it is the best team we have faced,” said Sir Alex Ferguson after Manchester United were comprehensively dismantled by Barcelona in last year’s Champions League final. Three-time European Cup winner Graeme Souness went further, saying: “I think they are the best team ever and, in Lionel Messi, they have the best player ever.”
Ten months on, and Barca’s football continues to bewitch. Like the Dutch exponents of Total Football in 1974, and the brilliant Brazilians of 1982, this Barcelona side provides a visceral joy that goes beyond scorelines. Unlike those illustrious predecessors, Pep Guardiola’s team have not only sustained it for longer but also have the trophies to back up their claim to greatness.
And it’s quite a collection of trinkets. The statistics can only hint at the style but they do convey their relentless dominance of world football. Since Guardiola’s ascent in the summer of 2008, Barcelona have won three La Liga titles, three Supercopas, two Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups, two FIFA Club World Cups and a Copa del Rey.
But there’s a problem with crowning Barcelona as the finest team the world has ever known. It’s the pesky inconvenience of the current La Liga table. Arch-rivals Real Madrid boast an eight-point lead over Guardiola’s men that will surely prove insurmountable. Can a team justifiably be labelled the greatest of all time while simultaneously being second best in their own league? It may appear incongruous, but history suggests it is surprisingly common.