Together, Barcelona are stronger

Posted by Francesc Tomas

Anyone who has followed Barcelona lately will be fully aware that the team has been far from perfect, but the coaching staff and the players themselves are also mindful of the issue. Since the painful 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, the club's representatives repeatedly have gone on record to accept the dip in form but also reassure doubters of their total commitment to turn the situation around.

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Lionel Messi explained: "When you win, you see things and work differently. The team is feeling down and we know we haven't been perfect, but this is the moment to stand back up and be ourselves, do what we have done together for so many years. We know many are waiting for us to lose to start talking about 'the end of an era,' but we must remain strong. We trust we can beat Milan and qualify."

I must admit, I am quite surprised about the way many have reacted after Barcelona recently lost three matches against the two most successful teams in European competition history: AC Milan and Real Madrid.

While perhaps the comments from rival supporters were somewhat expected, the fact that so many so-called Cules have almost instantly given up hope on the best group of players the club has ever had after just a couple of below-par performances is disappointing, to say the least.

Short-term memory is to blame. Fortunately, I have a few grey hairs to prove that I have experienced the highs and lows of Barcelona throughout the years.

I still remember how the club lingered around the 1980s, only managing to win La Liga once in the whole decade while desperately searching for its own identity. The splendid Dream Team under Johan Cruyff brought the first ever Champions League to Catalunya in 1992 and, perhaps more importantly, established the ground rules for the pass-and-move approach. The hurtful Dark Ages under Louis Van Gaal and Serra Ferrer could have stabbed the club's soul forever but luckily, Frank Rijkaard (first) and Pep Guardiola (then) managed to build on Cruyff's legacy to reach new heights in terms of silverware and performance.

So, where are Barcelona now? Still on the way up, if you ask me. Sure, the latest results aren't necessarily impressive but it would be a total lack of respect to doubt the players who have given the club so much in recent years. Considering the undeniable skills of young players such as Messi, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas, there is no reason to believe Barcelona can't be a force to be reckoned around Europe for many seasons to come.

The fact that Tito Vilanova, the man who was carefully selected to build on previous success, has spent the past two months battling cancer while trying to keep his squad motivated from thousands of miles away has obviously had an impact in terms of motivation and at an organizational level, but that can't be used as an excuse: The show must and will go on.

On a side note: Full credit must be given to interim manager Jordi Roura, a true Blaugrana who didn't hesitate to step up to the job despite knowing he would be the first to be blamed if the situation turned ugly. Sure, the former scout is far from perfect, but sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta and the board must make sure he is sufficiently supported to carry out his job in the best possible manner.

The fact the Catalans are enjoying a whole, uninterrupted week of intense training ahead of the Deportivo match will certainly help in their mission to repair those small details that made the team special in the first place: meaningful passing triangulations, width that eventually creates spaces, dribbling markers to create numeric advantage, relentless pressing when dispossessed and above all, a burning desire to succeed as a whole rather than individually.

Personally, I feel the match against Deportivo simply can't come quickly enough. With all due respect to the Gallegos, the match against the lowest-placed team in La Liga must show a major improvement on recent performances in front of a potentially unsettled home crowd. A convincing win and a return to a more usual, commanding level would certainly prepare the Blaugrana community for the biggest game of the season a mere three days later in the Champions League.

This is not the time to work out who is to blame, or waste time talking about hypothetical signings who may join or leave the team next summer. At this moment in time, all that matters is winning the next match.

Contrary to what many believe, I don't necessarily see the current league championship as being over. While you can't argue that the 13-point lead over Real Madrid and 11-point lead over Atletico is a fairly comfortable cushion, the Camp Nou faithful would be right to be weary at this stage and focus on carrying the players through to victory with their unconditional support, however difficult the situation may be and whoever the rival.

In football, as in life, anything can happen but one thing is certain: However difficult the challenge may be, it will definitely be easier to overcome if all involved work together. Jose Mari Bakero wasn't meant to score that glorious header at Kaiserslautern in the 92nd minute, but the team fought until their last breath and succeeded. That is the spirit Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Carles Puyol and the rest of the current squad must bring back to Camp Nou.

The decisive match against AC Milan begins against Deportivo on Saturday. Time to step back up.

As the Barcelona anthem clearly explains: Tots Units Fem Forca!

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