On Wednesday night we welcome Barcelona to Celtic Park for the 6th time in 8 and a half years.
As always when the Catalan giants visit the east end of Glasgow, Celtic will be rank outsiders. Considering they defeated us 7-0 at the Nou Camp back in September and are pretty universally acknowledged as possessing the deadliest strike trio on the face of the planet and probably of all time it’s understandable.
Benjamin Disraeli allegedly once said “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But in the case of Barcelona the stats really can’t be ignored when it comes to the front three.
In total they have amassed 1165 first team goals between them.
1011 of them have come at club level.
655 of those with Barcelona.
Last season alone they combined to hit the onion bag 131 times in all competitions.
Hope does spring eternal though and just this past weekend they were held to a rare as hens teeth 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp by Malaga.
Barca had 81% of the ball and 28 shots on goal but still only managed a point.
Before you get too excited though temper that with the knowledge that Messi was absent through illness. There’s no doubting that Neymar is a phenomenal talent and Suarez is the very definition of a goal machine. But Messi is the man who makes them tick.
When teams shut up shop and more or less park the bus against them it’s usually Messi who provides the magic to unlock the door whether it be via a mazy run that leaves several opposition players floundering in the wind or through a defence splitting pass that only he can see.
For me, the ongoing debate over who the best player in the world is when it comes to Messi and Ronaldo was settled long ago. Ronaldo is a fantastic player but Messi, quite simply put, is a magician with the ball at his feet.
But in all of my pouring over to the point of fawning over the statistical prowess of Barcelona’s strike force and the genius of Messi lies the paradox to the point I was hoping to make.
You see some time ago the glamour and intensity of playing Barcelona got lost in both the regularity with which we seem to meet them in European and the way in which we as a support and Celtic as a club has shown an apparent willingness to roll out the red carpet for them when they do arrive.
Somewhere down the line, respect and mutual principles turned to adulation which in time morphed into veneration.
Whilst I have no problem with supporters buying merchandise that displays unity between the two clubs and for that matter any other club, save maybe a few, the night when we played their club anthem over our tannoy system prior to playing them to me pushed it a bit too far.
Barcelona are a great team. They don’t need us to tell them that.
That aside I’ve found it increasingly difficult to hold Barcelona the institution in high regards in recent years.
For a start there was a transfer embargo that was imposed for blatantly flouting the registration of youth players back in 2014. Barca got it reduced to two transfer windows and appeared to more or less flout it by going ahead and signing Atletico Madrid’s Arda Turan for 41 million Euros 2 months later.
They couldn’t play him until January the following year but surely a transfer ‘ban’ should have prevented him being signed in the first place?
Well I guess that one was on UEFA.
However what certainly wasn’t was the £50 million purchase of Brazilian international Neymar. Indeed it turned out that the June 2013 purchase had actually cost £71.5 million. Amid the minefield of financial loopholes stipulated in the deal the striker’s parents walked away with 40 million Euros.
Needless to say the taxman had been done over big time and wasn’t too happy.
Where have we heard that before?
Despite his protestations of innocence the Catalan club’s chairman Sandro Rosell resigned under a pretty murky cloud as investigations proceeded against himself and the club and he was replaced by the current head of the board Josep Maria Bartomeu.
In the end Barcelona more or less accepted culpability in the tax fraud case by making a “voluntary contribution” of more than £11m in back taxes.
The world of Barcelona and dodgy tax dealings doesn’t even end there.
Earlier this year Lionel Messi’s on-field genius was almost usurped by his off field ignorance.
Both Messi and his father were found guilty of tax fraud to the tune of £3.4 million and handed 21 month suspended sentences. The club’s role in this is negligible but what wasn’t was their absurd campaign to apparently excuse the Messi’s of any responsibility simply due to his talents as a footballer.
In the aftermath of the court’s decision they launched a social media campaign with the hashtag#WeAreAllLeoMessi. This wasn’t meant to offer support to an ailing footballer with health problems, suffering bereavement or fighting against slanderous accusations. No it was all in aid of absolving someone for millions of pounds of fraud even after a guilty verdict and conciliatory payment had been made.
I mean honestly. To paraphrase a famous war movie: “The bullshit piles up so fast in Barcelona you’d need wings to stay above it.”
As great as Barcelona are and have been on the field in recent years, off the field they reek of the kind of financial ‘mismanagement’ and to an extent ‘doping’ that Celtic fans and indeed Scottish football fans en masse have been ringing their fists over since 2012 after the collapse at Ibrox.
Cheating is cheating.
No matter how you slice it.
But it frustrates me how some people can be so impassioned about it when it comes to some cases, and yet so unperturbed when it comes to others.
I’ve also wondered how many of their representatives where batting for our corner and lamenting the ‘special atmosphere’ of a European night in Paradise, when they were locked away with the rest of Europe’s elite clubs trying to twist UEFA’s arm into effectively blocking off our and many similar placed club’s access to the game’s premier competition when the champions league qualification route was relayed in favour of the big guns back in August.
I’ll wager none. And expect them to be even more ruthless in their pursuit of a non-inclusive European super league when it’s back on the table again in 2021.
All of that aside there is a match to be played on Wednesday. Celtic remain untouchable domestically with an unbeaten mark of 14 wins from 15 and 1 draw.
Throw in 43 goals scored, only 8 conceded, 7 consecutive clean sheets, a 10 point gap at the top of the league with a game and hand as well as a cup final on Sunday then it’s all hunky dory on the domestic front.
But all of that counts for nothing in the European arena and even more so when you’re up against a team like Barcelona who can hammer anyone, home or away, on their day.
We simply must hope that their uncharacteristic form of drawing 2 and losing 2 in only 12 league games this season travels with them whilst somehow we are able conjure up the spirit of that incredible night 4 years ago. But either way nothing will be achieved by sitting back and admiring them either on or off the field.
A performance where reputations are not respected is required and in my opinion Barcelona deserve such treatment more than anyone.
Paul Cassidy is a Celtic fan and blogger who thinks we owe Barcelona nothing. Tomorrow night he’ll feel no conflict or guilt if we give them a right good doing!