While I may live or die with every Blackburn Rovers' win or loss (and there have been more of the latter than the former lately), I have to admit that Rovers are not my absolute favorite team to watch. That distinction rests with F.C. Barcelona.
Mes Que Un Club ("More than a Club") is the motto of Barcelona. It refers to the fact that the club is much more than simply a soccer club. And while the club also has basketball, handball, hockey, and futsal teams, it refers to much more than that as well.
Barcelona is the team of Catalonia, a region of Spain that has at various times in its history enjoyed cultural and political autonomy or oppression courtesy of its various rulers, most recently Spain. During Franco's rule, the Catalans in general and Barça in particular were singled out for punishment as a culture and institution that were anathema to The Generalissimo's idea of a unified Spain.
Catalans were prohibited from speaking their language and Franco installed a series of handpicked toadies as Barça's president after his militia executed its duly elected president in 1936. Real Madrid's status as Franco's club and Barça's as the club of the Republicans have always been reason enough for me to root for Barcelona and despise Real (and that was before Real bought Cristiano Ronaldo). Even today, the colors of the Catalan flag appear on Barça's badge, shirts, and its captain's armband.
While there are political and cultural reasons why I began supporting Barça, there is a simpler reason I prefer to watch them over any other team, even Rovers: they play the most dazzling soccer on the planet.
Barcelona plays the game the way I think it ought to be played. Pinging passes around the pitch, probing for openings, dominating possession, looking for that little window or slight angle that provides the killer through ball. With plenty of determination and grit, but no cynicism. They have two of the best center midfielders in the world (Xavi and Iniesta) to run the show, one of the best forwards, David (that's "Dah-veed") Villa to score goals, and the best player in the universe, Lionel Messi, to provide the magic.
And here's the kicker, at least for me: all four are under 5'10" tall. Villa, at a listed 5'9", is the "giant" of the bunch. Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi are all purported to be around 5'7", although I'm skeptical of even that measurement.
As a vertically challenged individual, and perhaps more importantly, the father of two vertically challenged (former) high school athletes, I've always been sensitive to coaches or organizations that are quick to dismiss someone just because of their height. That certainly didn't happen to these four -- instead, they comprise the most lethal soccer attack in the world. How cool is that?
I watched Barça dismantle Arsenal in the Champion's League Tuesday and came away with one thought: everyone who thinks soccer is boring needs to watch this match. While Arsenal are generally a team that like to possess the ball (before and after the first leg of this two-match contest they were often referred to as "Barça Lite") they saw virtually none of in the match, reduced to desperate defending and great goal keeping to keep the score close. 95,000 fans cheered every pass, and Messi scored a goal that only Messi could score.
So, for all of you out there who still think soccer is boring, here's a little (pun intended) Messi for you. And I'll be happy to loan you my dvd of the entire match if you'd like. Seriously. Just remember to give it back. They're more than just a club you know.