October 31st, 2012
03:38 PM ET

Is loyalty Barcelona's greatest strength?

Lionel Messi celebrates with his Barcelona teammates after scoring his 300th career goal on Saturday. (Getty Images)
Lionel Messi celebrates with his Barcelona teammates after scoring his 300th career goal on Saturday. (Getty Images)

When Lionel Messi declared this week, at the relatively young age of 25, that he wants to spend the rest of his career at Barcelona, it provided an insight  as to why the Spanish club has dominated world football in recent years.

A hot favorite to be named the world's best player for an unprecedented fourth time in January, Messi has already won every title that Barca have competed for - surely at some stage you'd think he'd like a new challenge?

Compare his stance to that of his biggest rival Cristiano Ronaldo, whose future at Real Madrid seems constantly under speculation - not least because of the Portugal star's comments earlier this season that he felt "sad" at the Bernabeu. The latest rumor is that he and his manager Jose Mourinho will join big-spending French club Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi has the football world at his feet, but he is happy to remain at a club where he moved from Argentina as a boy blessed with undoubted talent - but held back by a slight body that required growth hormone treatment if he was to make the grade.

He is not the only player so committed to the Nou Camp. The club's famed La Masia academy has produced a conveyor belt of talent that has helped win three Champions League crowns in the last six years, plus four Spanish titles.

Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Xavi and Andres Iniesta were either in the starting XI or among the substitutes on each occasion for the European triumphs of 2006, 2009 and 2011, while Messi, Gerard Pique, Pedro and Bojan Krkic (now of AC Milan) featured in the latter two.

Add to that octet the 24-year-old Sergio Busquets - who like Xavi, Iniesta, Pique and Valdes was in Spain's victorious 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship squads - plus a new generation of La Masia graduates and you have a core of homegrown talent throughout the squad.

With such conviction from their star player Messi and such continuity in personnel, it begs the question - is loyalty the most potent weapon in Barca’s considerable arsenal?

The list of nominations for the 2012 Ballon d’Or suggests the answer is yes. Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Piquet and Busquets are all in the 23-man shortlist. 

Consistency has even been maintained in the dugout, with former assistant Tito Vilanova taking over when all-conquering coach Josep Guardiola ended his trophy-laden four-year reign at the end of last season.

Its a club where loyalty swings both ways - many coaching and administrative appointments are made from within the Barca family. Guardiola joined as a 12-year-old and spent more than a decade there as a senior player before finally moving overseas.

The familiarity which exists between the squad could also go some way to explaining why some big-name recruits have struggled to settle at Barca.

Samuel Eto’o may have scored for Barca in the 2006 and 2009 Champions League finals but, despite his undoubted talent, Guardiola was eager to ship out the reputedly disruptive Cameroonian, which he did in a swap deal with Inter Milan in 2009.

In exchange for Eto’o and a reported €46 million, Barca received the equally mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede is another undisputedly world-class goalscorer who was jettisoned from the Camp Nou after just one year in the famous scarlet and blue shirt.

Recent arrivals in the Barca dressing room who have succeeded include Pique, Cesc Fabregas, David Villa and Jordi Alba. It is not hard to see why.

Pique and Fabregas both rejoined their childhood club after attending finishing school in England with Manchester United and Arsenal respectively, while Villa has played alongside many of the Barca team in Spain's national team and Alba recovered from being released from the youth ranks in 2005 to make his name at Valencia.

Barca’s stability is at odds with archrivals Real Madrid, whose policy has been to buy up the world's biggest names and create a stable of "Galacticos" - and their coaches don't have much time to bring success.

Since missing out on the title in 2005, Real have been through seven coaches compared to Barca’s three, collecting just four trophies in that time: three league crowns and one Copa del Rey.

Last season Mourinho delivered Real's first La Liga title in four years, but now finds his team eight points behind Barca after only nine matches amid reports of dressing-room discontent.

The prize Real crave above all others is a record-extending 10th European crown, and first since 2002. In Mourinho, they have a coach with proven pedigree - he is seeking to become the first to win the Champions League with three different clubs - but his task has not been helped by constant reports of a split between the Portuguese and Spanish players in his camp.

If Real are to achieve their ultimate goal, they could do worse than than following the Barca blueprint.

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soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. Yourmoms

    None of those accolades for Messi will matter a single bit 50 years from now unless he wins the trophy formerly known as Jules Rimet.

    October 31, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  2. me@hotmail.com

    Barca sucks. Arriba Madrid!

    October 31, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  3. cropcirclechallenge

    Well, Messi has what a lot of players nowadays don't have: innocence of the heart. It is the main driving force behind his and Barcelona success. He may or may not win World Cup, it doesn't only depend on him, but he will always be unique, one and only...

    October 31, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  4. Jordi

    We have a name that is known worldwide..... barça, barça, baaaaaarça.

    October 31, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  5. Kürşad

    No one names Maradona as the best player of all times because Argentina have won world cup titles with him.

    October 31, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Reply
  6. Ubirajara

    So sei de uma coisa o Cruzeiro esporte Clube é o grande clube brasileiro

    October 31, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Reply
  7. Blueblux

    If "Barca" is a mid to low table team, there won't be such loyalty at all. Wats with CNN being Barca fanboys all the time, its getting annoying.

    October 31, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Reply
  8. Mithat

    Messi is the greatest soccer player ever.

    October 31, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Reply
  9. richi

    Barca is the best club in the world now and messi is the best player of all time and if he wants to stay in the club for the rest of his career he knows why. BARCA FOR LIFE

    October 31, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Reply
  10. Jeff

    Ronaldo plays for the public in order to prove sthing but Messi,well, just enjoys soccer. That tells you ALL.

    November 1, 2012 at 3:47 am | Reply
  11. Kingsley

    Behind those mesmerising football foot is a man at peace with self! Grateful for moments and second chances life has afforded. This is why Messi will still defy all analysis even with all of it being a part of the whole. Barca for Life, Messi best among equals.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:39 am | Reply
  12. resvublica

    Yeah right, loyalty. What about the uninhibited financial support from already bankrupt Spanish banks? Spanish clubs win so much because they cheat. They can offer 7 figure contracts while having huge depts. Guess who's paying Messi at the end: Northern Europe.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:05 am | Reply
  13. pardes5

    Lionel Messi is the name of perfect footballer. He is already among the greatest footballers ever right there with Pele, Maradona and Zidane.
    but personally I prefer messi at the top than all of them because Messi has skills, best footballer of the world achievments, no dirty tricks on and off the pitch. he plays for best team in the world too but he never showed any sign of arrogance which is totally opposing Ronaldo.
    Ronaldo will never touch Messi's height on and off the pitch and I love to see Messi win everything because everyone love to see best player win the title.

    November 1, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Reply
  14. Diego

    Messi is/was the best player all time. Who's Pele? Who's Maradona?

    November 1, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Reply
  15. Douglas

    The reason barca keep their players is they have monster wages to keep them happy when they aren't playing and thean play them every so often so they don't get too upset. Money is the reason.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  16. IR

    Completely agree. A prized youth academy is zillion times better than a big-spending management.

    November 2, 2012 at 7:36 am | Reply
  17. Jose

    Messi is a vry good player but still far away from Pele the best ever, just check the world and international tittles......

    November 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Reply
  18. Michael

    There are likely to be a number of reason that Messi wants to remain at Barcelona for the rest of his career. I would imagine that he is being paid a massive salary, his family are probably well settled and like it in Spain, he is well respected at the club, the club are very successful in Spain and in European competitions, he probably has many friends at the club and in the area that he lives and, dare I say it, he probably LIKES it there.
    A phenomenal player and, from what I have seen and heard, a decent professional sportsman who is not a diving cheat like so many others. He has my respect and admiration. If he were ever to leave Barcelona for whatever reasons, I'd love to see him at a Premiership club so that we can appreciate his talent on a regular weekly basis.

    November 2, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  19. Bob

    Barcelona's greatest strength is in managing to ensure that the Spanish FA don't make the league more competitive.

    Why would anyone want to leave a team where you're winning most of your league games by at least 3 goals, have a chance of scoring over 50 goals a season, virtually guaranteed to finish in the top 2 every seasion and virtually guaranteed a place in the Champions League every seasion.

    The gap between the top 3 or 4 and the rest of the league is huge and yet there's very little desire to make it more competitive. The Barca players don't have to work as hard in league matches which gives them a massive fitness advantage when playing in European competitions against teams who play hard matches every week.

    Make the Spanish league more competitive and we'll see if the loyalty lasts.

    November 2, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  20. agu

    am not a barca fan but in all honesty messi is the best and cannot be compared to anyone. He is in a class of his own. Up messi up barca.

    November 2, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Reply
  21. Sathi

    if it was only money matter to bring success,,,,,,,CITY, MADRID, PSG, Anzkhi of Russia ,, no body has to wait eagerly for trophies,,,,,it matters play from both "heart and mind" and loyalty to the club or country or fan,,,,,,,,not like arrogant style of celebration or want to be self proclaimed best like cirsty ronaldo.......what Messi Does is he need not do any thing, his action,attitude and respect for game and every one behind the game makes him "The Best"

    November 3, 2012 at 8:02 am | Reply
  22. Even

    Bob , your comment that the Spanish League is week has no basis .On a number of occasions when pitted against English teams they have played the more attractive soccer and come out on top .You only have to look at Athletic Bilbao against Man U .

    Not to mention Depo , Malaga and Villarreal

    I would say the English lower teams from 6 to 18 are in fact weaker than the lower Spanish teams and on any given day would lose .The Europa Cup has showed how the Spanish teams have done over the past years .The reason is on the type of football been played 1 is a smash and bash the other they try and move the ball out without the hulk mentality.

    November 5, 2012 at 8:43 am | Reply
  23. sanath

    im a sri lankan and soccer's big here. even though v dont play international matches. WE LOVE MESSI. best player ever.. Hope he wins a world cup for argentina next time.. someone like him wont appear for another 50 years.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:57 am | Reply
  24. Amos524

    Messi will always have my respect and admiration because of his positive attitude to the game of football. He just enjoys the game and strives to make both his fans and critics enjoy the game. He's the real phenomenon.

    November 5, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Reply
  25. degreat

    messi is d best player in d world but i have some problem with barca club,and d problem is there goalkeeper v v,he need 2 be replaced

    November 5, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Reply
  26. Hector

    @Jose: Messi will go down in History as the greatest ever. Look at his incredible stats, Pele played in Brazil his whole career against easy teams! he never attempted to succeed in Europe where the competition was far greater. Pele never scored over 1000 goals. he counts the goals he scored in friendly matches against 4th division teams. You don't believe me? Go look at his stats for the world cups that he won. He wasn't even the top scorer for Brazil in those competitions. Pele is the most over-rated futbol player of all time.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Reply
  27. juan

    who wud want to leave a team dats built to make u look good? barca is built around messi..to play to his strenghts......dats what makes him so good......so yeah.....i would be loyal too.....fabregas came back to replace xavi.....after xavi....there is none..fabregas is the player closest.....so yeah....

    November 6, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  28. Pauline mulhern

    Messi the greatest player in world football and a gentleman love Barca and Celtic.

    November 6, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Reply
  29. Pauline Mulhern

    Messi the best player of all time and a gentleman.

    November 6, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Reply
  30. KingKong

    Ronaldo is the real deal, where he plays he wins titles because he wants to write history. He is the perfect athlete...he plays with right and left foot, he's a good header, he can score free kicks and penaltys'. And he does all that not just because he's talented, he does all that because he practices a lot. Messi plays at Barcelona, and barcelona plays for Messi. Ronaldo will play anywhere and still be a great player.

    November 7, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  31. hiwa

    Messi is the best and the greatest on Earth, no one can be compared with him, Even Ronaldo.

    November 8, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Reply
  32. gilbert

    where did paolo maldini played before he won his 5 champions league title kingkong please give me an answer,ac milan so you think ronaldo has trophies more than messi or individual trophies more than him please check and come back,that is what you guys always say,if you were not loyal to your work or the the telecommunication network that you use you would have left them long a go,messi get everything from barca he is not greed he is even the richest player so what else do he wants and in the best team in the world so what else should he cry for and say he is not happy and the club prez knows

    November 9, 2012 at 8:19 am | Reply
  33. akinyeleniran

    Messi deserve the fifa world player award in January, 2013. The award is an individual award which, messi contribution to football both in club and country is great.
    The session in question is the player record breaking season. I.e. All time highest goal scorer in FCB, all time highest goal scorer in laliga in a season, all time highest no of goal score in a match 5 goals, all time highest goal scorer in uefa champion league in a season with 14 goals, all time european highest goal scorer in all competition with 73 goals.
    European golden booth,
    Trophies:- world club cup, uefa supercup, spanish supercup and copa del ray.
    With above and lot not mentioned, messi deserve the award.
    We have players who are better than ronaldo i.e. Ibra played for inter, ac milan, barca and more, he ensure he wins trophies with all the clubs, drogba with chelsea he won the uefa champion league for chelsea, pirlo he played unbeaten to win the league with juventus and runner up in euro, iniesta, xavi, casilas defend their european championship, neymar is the south america best at the moment. Just to mention but few.
    Any player can play like ronaldo but no player can play like messi that is why messi is the best in the session in question.
    Give it to Messi is the best.

    November 9, 2012 at 9:55 am | Reply
  34. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Long years in the same club has been the mantra for players and managers at many clubs. At Manchester United one sees SAF, Giggs, Scholes. In the good old days Clube Brugge in West Flanders had Jan Ceulemans, Franky van der Elst, Geert Verheyen. Legends in their own right and winners of much silverware.

    Here in India's tiny Goa, footballers at Dempo Sports Club have the tendency to play for one club till they hang their boots. And all of them have emerged winners of titles, trophies, shields, cups and love from fans and admiration from rivals and opponents.

    Over the decades we have been privileged to watching the likes of Armando Colaço, Camilo Gonçalves, Mauricio Afonso, Mahesh Lotlikar, Sam Naique, Babu Arolkar, Ramesh Redkar, Climax Lourenço, Clifford Miranda, Anthony Pereira and many others spent over a decade of their playing careers at Dempo Sports Club. Later some turned managers and mentors in the same club.

    Loyalty to fellow footballers in the team, club jerseys and die-hard supporters does count.

    November 11, 2012 at 7:21 am | Reply
  35. Bob

    Even: I didn't state that the Spanish league is weak. I stated that there's
    a huge gap between the top 3 or 4 and the rest. This is a fact based on the league results and the points gap in the league table.

    The Spanish team may have played an English team and won but so what? The English league (and plenty of others in Europe) is far tougher and more physical because the league is more competitive. When an English (or German or any other competitive league) club goes up against one of the top 4 Spanish sides then the Spanish side has the phycial advantage due to their league's lack of competitiveness.

    Trying to claim that the English league is based on 'smash and bash' is amusing. However I'm very impressed with how you're managing to post to this forum from 1995.

    November 12, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Reply
    • endee

      See the fact is that there is no great mark in approach among the epl teams, most of the epl teams are always tryna follow the same approach of kick an run and whipping long diagonal balls and crosses into the penalty area, only few teams are tryna do something different.... (Be more technical.. Like it's d phlosophy of d spanish and italian great teams). So d gap in quality btw d table toppers and d mid isn't mch.

      December 10, 2012 at 11:15 am | Reply
  36. aman

    with 8.6million avererage weekly wage ,,,highest by any sporting club,,,even,bald headed eagles will sing loyalty lores

    November 14, 2012 at 7:17 am | Reply
  37. milsy

    This is a great article, obviously the culture at the club from the youth academy to the senior team is a winning formulae, Barca is a credit to elite sporting professionism and the envy of the world. in recent years the record breaking Rioja owes it to the academy. The standard of Spanish club football is outstanding, regardless of the dominance of Barca & Real and from memory Man UTD got pump by a mid table Bilbao? Atheltico's run in Europa 2 years running? Malaga the new comers? I have read a lot of bone head comments in response to this article, if BOB really thinks the english league is more competitive, good luck to you Bob, but may want to look at the last 20 years EPL stats Vs la liga and also compare FA winners to Copa del Rey, you may want to consider Euro as it wasn't that long ago Sevilla and valencia made multiple Finals. To those who believe the only desire to play and live in Barca is the money, you obviously have never traveled there, I have and it beats any British or Northern Europe destination hands down, so much so it' was full of them! Has any of you nutbags considered that Spanish is Messi's families language. fair dinkum. I can see him packing up and relocating the family smoky gloomy Liverpool for a few more English pennies, Messi the money grabber, LOL.

    November 15, 2012 at 9:36 am | Reply
  38. Dave

    from memory Man UTD got pump by a mid table Bilbao? Atheltico’s run in Europa 2 years running? Malaga the new comers? if BOB really thinks the english league is more competitive, good luck to you Bob, but may want to look at the last 20 years EPL stats Vs la liga and also compare FA winners to Copa del Rey, you may want to consider Euro as it wasn’t that long ago Sevilla and valencia made multiple Finals. To those who believe the only desire to play and live in Barca is the money, you obviously have never traveled there, I have and it beats any British or Northern Europe destination hands down. A PERFECT RESPONSE TO THE EVER EGOSTICAL ENGLISH AND EPL FAN BOYS. EPL MAY HAVE BEEN THE BEST MARKETED LEAGUE IN THE WORLD, BUT FOOTBALL LEAVES IN SPAIN, THE BUNDESLIGA IS A BETTER MODEL THAN THE KICK AND RUSH EPL, NO STYLE, NO FLAIR (ARSENAL ASIDE).

    November 16, 2012 at 6:21 am | Reply
  39. Abdullah719

    The reason why Messi won't leave Barca is quite simple, really. Messi owes his career, and possibly his life to Barca. They paid for his treatment when he had growth hormone deficiency and they persisted with him despite initially doubting whether he could make it. I highly doubt he will ever leave for another club. Before this year, there were questions over his performance for the national side, but he has responded well. He now just needs some major silverware for Argentina; he has nothing left to prove at club level. WC 2014 and 2018 will be his opportunities to elevate himself to the levels of true legends like Pele and Maradona.

    November 18, 2012 at 12:03 am | Reply
  40. Siddhesh

    a completely non-technical view of football...the writer just seems to be overwhelmed with the recent tiki-taka of Barca and is just finding reasons to call them good and 'loyal'

    Well..Henry, Hleb, Sanchez and even Maradonna, Cryuff were BOUGHT by Barca...

    November 18, 2012 at 4:03 am | Reply
  41. Native Son

    Why are we having a debate as to is the best player in the world- at least currently?

    Messi is a cut above. Ronaldo doesn't even come close.

    Messi does things with the ball that Ronaldo can't even dream. Messi will always have more than two markers at any one time. Usually three or four, sometimes five.

    Ronaldo only has one guy marking him and no more than two.

    If you mark Messi with two defenders, that is a suicide mission. He will score at every other turn.


    November 18, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Reply
  42. Dan

    Messi is the best player ever. Ronaldo cannot come close, as Messi can effortlessly pull a hattrick, and Ronaldo celebrates when he gets one, just one goal. However I also think It is not only Messi's skill, but Barcelonas training. Take a look, Iniesta and Xavi-both superstars a step below Messi. Pedro and Sanchez heading there. Pique is clearly the best defender in the world. Puyol was there once. Theirry Henry, Rolodanio, both were on Barcelona in their prime. So yes, I think half of it is Messi's skill... But I think the other half is that he has 4 star players playing along-side him

    November 19, 2012 at 1:14 am | Reply
  43. Chris

    WOW a lot of hatters here lol

    Barcelona + Messi= the beautiful game
    and thats that.

    November 19, 2012 at 10:54 am | Reply
  44. trilog

    Not many people know that messi supports a lot of children hospitals in spain and argentina, his foundation in his hometown rosario develops a lot of housings for poor poeople, and most of all, he simply loves football, i you take a look on last week, he played saturday marking 2 goals, than traveled to play with argentina, returned back to barcelona, made 2 goals again on saturday and today he made 2 again against spartak, and as one of spartak players said before the match, why mark messi individually, he escapes anyway if he likes, just for the fun of playing football

    November 20, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  45. Oscar

    JEALOUSY my friends, when there is an extraordinary team that is not theirs it is JEALOUSY that prevails in their minds, so let them moan all they want!! Barcelona has the Best team for the past 4 years! Enjoy it!
    a team such as this only comes along once in a generation!
    MESSI 4EVER~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    November 21, 2012 at 1:36 am | Reply
  46. wosen

    For ever Mesiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

    November 26, 2012 at 6:18 am | Reply
  47. tracylake2002

    Messi,Messi,Messi.Without any doubt it will agree with all people taht messi is the best and one and only great master of soccer world.He is the player of alien world.He is so much qualitative,talented, visionable and strong player.He have many records about football.Recently he owned the record of having more goals (86) in one season.That raised him top of the soccer world.

    December 13, 2012 at 6:38 am | Reply
  48. AjanleKoko

    You can't discount loyalty in the scheme of things, where Barca is concerned. Unlike other superstar teams, for some absurd reason, ego is a rarity rather than a norm. And disruptive figures always seem to get shown the door, a la Eto'o and Ibra. The team seems rather highly motivated to win, and that seems to set them apart from others, even squads that are similarly remunerated.

    December 17, 2012 at 9:05 am | Reply

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