Barcelona FC: the apex of football aesthetic

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It’s over, isn’t it?

Okay, there might be 15 weeks left – but come on. Ever since Atlético blew their last chance, who are going to dethrone Barcelona in La Liga? They’re three points clear with a game in hand.

Well, Real Madrid is the obvious answer, of course. 66 goals in 23 games. But only if you forget that Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t scored against a team ranked higher than Celta Vigo all season and that it took a strike from Luka Modrić in the 85th minute just to make it past Granada.

If you forget that watching Barcelona, you just sort of feel like the way they’re playing, they have to win. There is something almost inevitable about the treble-winners march to reclaim at the very least a domestic double (sorry Sevilla fans, but the Copa is Barca’s).

Not because of Barcelona’s magic front three or the strength of their squad. After all, Real Madrid’s squad is also excellent, probably even better in terms of depth. Chelsea’s is pretty good too – and what are they, 13th in the Premier League? 27th?

Chelsea digs aside, what I’m trying to get at is that squad strength does not a good team make. Which is a very clichéd point. But there’s more to it than that: there’s the fact that football clubs, and football itself, represent something greater – or at least, I think that we feel they should.

It’s why supporters care about Florentino Perez’s outrageous spending on players, but not Barcelona’s on Neymar and Suárez. Of course, on one level Barcelona fans don’t mind because the latter pair have brought results and trophies, while Perez’s galáticos haven’t.

But my suspicion is that there is more to it than that. Even if Barcelona didn’t win, they would still be admired. Pep Guardiola didn’t win much in his final season at the club, but that hasn’t impacted his legacy. The Spanish national team was great this last decade not just because they won every tournament, but because their tiki taka style of play was beautiful to watch.

And I would further that in some ways, the aesthetics of a team’s play go so far as to outweigh other aspects of a club’s identity. Simply put, the clubs that most successfully not just attract but retain supporters outside of their regional and cultural base are the ones whose football doesn’t just earn victories, but entrances the audience.

It could be said that because beautiful football is always winning football, I am making a fallacious distinction. And while that might be true, I think it is an argument that misses the point. It skips over the fact that we don’t give importance to the teams we support in sports just because we are interested in vicariously achieving victory in competition. We do so also because a game’s aesthetic can be taken to be one’s own aesthetic. Poor playing is not repugnant because it results in losses – it repulses because it is ugly.

Hence with Barcelona, we have a team that seems to have mastered football’s symbolism. And to return to the idea that beautiful football wins, we realize that the flaw in its expression is in its emphasis. Winning is not the end, as seemingly implied; it is rather a byproduct, with the football itself the goal.

When we see, then, a team playing the way Barcelona has been, we have learnt by now to recognize that it will end up with a long column of Ws in its match results. But that’s not why we watch the matches. Instead we watch because the team is improving the form of the game – redefining its acme. Barcelona’s football is football qua art.

So in the end, all I really want to say is: ¡Visca Barça!

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