The atmosphere at the Camp Nou has changed as much over the years I've been in Catalonia as English football has changed since the advent of the Premier League.
Given the fact that from the beginning of November I started hosting a football chat show on Punt d'Avui TV, this may be an appropriate time to discuss how the beautiful game is seen here compared to other cultures. Football has changed so much over the past two decades that it is now almost unrecognisable from the sport I grew up worshipping as a boy. In my immediate social circles football was the closest thing to a religion I was going to experience. And there is plenty to compare religion and football: the stadium being the temple we visit each week- end to pay reverence to our Gods, not to mention the fact that there is usually plenty of praying, especially as we near the end of the ninety minutes.
That much is true of football the world over. What stands out as a difference when you go to see Barça at the Camp Nou and talk about the club with culés is the way Barça fans view the game. There is an expectancy and a demand, rather than merely hope and desire, to see perfect football, as it if it were more of an artistic performance than the blood and thunder sport I knew when I was growing up. And this expectancy of perfection was there long before Guardiola took the reigns at the club, so it cannot be attributable to his relatively recent unbridled success, but rather to something either deeper in the Catalan psyche or deriving from a more distant past.
Which makes me think of a certain Johann Cruyff. Could it be that the Cruyff dream team and his style of football created this demand for perfection? I suspect it may be, though I'm sure many informed opinions and historical facts will be given on the show which may call my underdeveloped theories into doubt. As ever, such debate is always welcome and is the founding stone of many people's unbounded love of the game.
One thing I know is true – the atmosphere at the Camp Nou has changed as much over the years I've been in Catalonia as English football has changed since the advent of the Premier League. White handkerchiefs and idle chatter while barely watching the game have been replaced by passionate support and even singing – unheard of when I witnessed my first Barça game way back in 1995. There is one thing that doesn't seem to have changed, however, and it does seem peculiarly true of Barça more than other clubs I've ever watched: the seeming need for a Messiah (I choose the word knowingly, if you read the first five letters), or one man (from outside Catalonia: Argentinian, Brazilian, Dutch, German…) who stands head and shoulders above the rest. It's something most clubs don't seem to aspire so much to, as, although they have their legends, their favourites, their ball players and heroes, they don't seem to have the same need for a saviour figure.
Or have I just taken the religion analogy a little too far?