Graham Hunter will be well-known to most English-speaking football fans as one of an ever-growing number of English speaking journalists covering La Liga. I’ve long been a fan and his more recent venture into long-form interview podcasts (The Big Interview) has been a great success.
I first read Barça: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World not long after it was published in 2012 and thoroughly enjoyed it. Rereading it now, in light of how both the team and Guardiola have continued to progress provides an interesting new context. Both have remained very successful, but that extra spark that leads to Champions League success has been repeated only once by Barca but not yet by Guardiola. Despite Barca’s continued La Liga success, Real Madrid’s 3 Champions League successes in 4 years puts the Catalan team firmly in second place.
Hunter begins the book by focusing on the end of the 2010-2011 season when Clásico fever gripped us all as Barca squared off against Mourinho’s Real 4 times in a little over 2 weeks. At times those games felt like the battle for the soul of football – Guardiola’s possession game against Mourinho’s cynical counter attacking – as well as the latest battle in the war for ‘greatest player in the game’ between Messi & Ronaldo. Despite losing the Copa Del Rey final, Barca ultimately had the last laugh winning the La Liga and Champions League double. Hunter paints a picture of the ultimate team at its peak and gives a great insight into Guardiola’s approach and the team’s mentality.
The following chapters weave entertainingly between mini-biographies of the key figures in this great Barca side (Messi, Xavi, Puyol etc), detailed retelling of Guardiola’s first 3 seasons, the political machinations behind the scenes, the Cruyffian origins of this team and Frank Rijkaard’s role in laying the groundwork. Hunter includes his own experiences and interactions with the team and the players which adds an additional layer of insight.
Books about still active players and coaches always run the risk of being too sycophantic or shying away from controversy. Hunter’s admiration for Pep and the players is obvious. He is an unashamed supporter of Cruyff, Pep and Laporte (former Chairman). While the book could have been more objective, this subjectivity does not feel like a major weakness – particularly as Hunter’s passion and knowledge gives credibility to his views. Hunter does criticise the club hierarchy (both before and after Laporte) – the near failure to sign Messi, the war with Cruyff and more – but his discussion of the players is near universally positive. While I share Hunter’s admiration, I’m sure some Madrid fans would fine the praise over the top.
The book is full of interesting anecdotes and Hunter’s passion for his subject shines through. It is a detailed, well-written and entertaining account of the greatest team modern football has seen. Highly recommend for anyone who fondly remembers those 4 years when every Barca game was must see TV and you knew as it happened you were watching something very special.