By John Cartwright

 I hope all of those who regularly watch the game here and think the standard is good, happened to watch the Barcelona v Real Madrid match on Monday evening. Perhaps, after seeing the standard of play served up by the Barcelona team, you might begin to realize just how ordinary the standard of play at the top level is here. The so-called ‘greats and legends’ we put on pedestals in our own game in fact come nowhere near the standards set by those who wore the red and blue colours of Barcelona on Monday night.


For over forty years I have denounced what has been regularly called by many in the game and in the media as good or great — just weren’t! I have been ignored as a ‘rebel’ for criticising the development and playing standards here, but Barcelona has proved me correct—–their high, professional  standards bear no resemblance to the amateur, mediocrity lauded and accepted here.

Our rubbish displays in the last World Cup were just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in terms of paucity of performance we have tolerated over many years. Hype and ignorance have camouflaged the full extent of our football feebleness. Barcelona showed the true standards of this beautiful game instead of the hyped simplicity we are confronted with each week.

High individual skill is visible from every player in every position in the Barcelona team. This individual ability was nurtured into a combined team effort when attacking or defending.  The players have been encouraged to be individualistic but have also been taught how to combine with others on the practice areas at the club throughout the whole of their development years. Each player, from GK to front strikers, is a master of the game, thus they were capable of providing a ‘master class’ for all of us to see. Whilst we continue to deceive ourselves about the standard of play here in order to protect TV sponsorship, we will fall further and further behind at international levels and rely more and more on foreign ‘imported skills’ to support our domestic leagues.

There must be radical changes to the way we develop our players and get them to play the game. Of utmost importance must be the recognition of who and what we are as a nation. We are British, not Spanish, Brazilian, French or Dutch etc. Each nation has its own national characteristics and each must combine their national strengths to the game whilst recognizing and improving on any weaknesses. Barcelona, displayed a combination of Spanish skill with British physicality in the game against Real Madrid.  Skill is learned ability and trainable, but being physically resolute is more often a national trait and is neither easy to acquire or display. We are renowned for our dogged, never-say-die spirit; it’s part of our national make-up; the trainable and easier part of the game, the skills etc. that we lack, should be acquirable with the correct thought and direction applied to the teaching of them. We should be at the very forefront of world football with players and teams capable of playing attractive and effective football —— like Barcelona, like Spain.  But, we don’t and we won’t because we continue with a coach and player development model that has historically failed despite numerous attempts to breathe life into it.

Barcelona, I love your football qualities and I admire the guts you have shown to play the way you do. Come on England, wake up. The same spirit and skills that once made this nation a leader in World affairs needs to be rekindled to produce a football culture that can rule and dominate at World level.

If a country like Spain and a club like Barcelona can do it, …. so can we!



  1. Thank God for You once again. Where have you been hiding all this time John?! It is a wonder that other coaches have been unable to stick their necks out over the last decade. I’ve been mesmerised by Spanish football since about 1998 when Madrid began their resurgence. N.B. Remember though, Spain would have fairly beaten England 2-0 at Euro 96 but for TWO goals wrongly ruled out for offside… Their passing was too slick and quick even for the linesmen back then! What was your impression of the late 90s early 00s Champions League Matches when Manchester Utd were totally humiliated by Barcelona (3-3 draw) and demolished by Madrid (circa galacticos)? I am not a Man Utd fan but my feeling was that too much emphasis was placed on the presence of Ronaldo, Figo, Raul etc but the real key players were actually – Hierro, Redondo, Makelele, McManaman and Guti. It was their technical and tactical ability which released the hyper skilled players on the offensive. I have always felt that McManaman was an exceptional player who combined dribbling skills with balletic poise & an aesthetic appreciation of the finer soccer arts. Is it a surprise that he struggled in a pedestrian and one dimensional England team!
    How did Venables manage to get those players in ’96 playing fluid, intelligent effective football (albeit for only 3 matches) with pretty much the same substrate as every other manager before and since? How impressive was Jamie Redknapp against Scotland after coming on for Pearce?! Why were Redknapp and Steve McManaman NOT central to the national team playing style for 5 or more years?
    Spanish teams have gradually added steel to their historical artistic flair. If only English teams and English players could do it the other way round then we would have some hope…..

    • hi john,the weather in ireland means we didnt have you over for seminars,see you next time..regarding the classico game,what a great game,madrid were made to look very ordinary and barca were fantastic,i couldnt take my eyes off them..flair,great tempo,skil,grit and determination,playing that way they will be not utd,chelsea couldnt control these guys,they were not of this world.Ireland and england are so far behind its not funny,when iam coaching teams here i am forever asking them to study messi,xavi etc,look at movement,skill levels,passing and positional sense of these guys,its an education right there!!all you coaches out there,keep it up lads..


  2. Here I totally agree with you, yes Barcelona slaughtered Madrid on monday night, but the thing is Barcelona play football at the highest quality and if England do not chnage fast they will soon be forgotten in the world of football, Barcelona truly showed the world how to play football against madrid, mixing, technique, pace, flair and above all common sense of the game! Keep this blog going!

  3. Here I totally agree with you, yes Barcelona slaughtered Madrid on monday night, but the thing is Barcelona play football at the highest quality and if England do not change the way they play football they will soon be forgotten. Barcelona truly showed the world how to play football on monday night, mixing technique, pace, flair and above all, common sense of the game. This blog made me change the way i think about football.

  4. Good blog John – I totally agree.

    However there is one thing this bugs me and is just outrageous and an utter disgrace – The Messi Ronaldo comparison.

    When are people – especially here in the Uk going to realise that Messi is in a league of his own and that Ronaldo can only entertain and beat defenders when there is space or when the opposition defence is not set.

    The high billing and praise Ronaldo gets is from his days in England – where he was a bigh fish in a small pond.

    He Cannot:
    – create space or beat defenders in REALLY TIGHT TIGHT AREAS
    – see the things Messi sees

    – he cannot score the individual goals and produce the moments Messi can.
    – he cannot stay on his feet while being hacked
    – this list could go on and on and on

    Ronaldo is a good player – but only when there is space. The praise he receives though is typical of the EPL. Gareath Bale also all of a sudden is as good as or in better form than Messi. Bale too can only beat defenders when there is space.

    Like you say John, the term “Great” is used so loosely and regularly here in the UK – which is why I think Ronaldo is put on the pedastal he is on. However he is not in the same bracket as Iniesta and Xavi, let alone Messi.

    Other players such as Gerrard, Lampard and even foreign players that play in the EPL are just so overated and labelled great week in week out.

  5. Barcelona v. Real Madrid was a great performance by Barcelona but i do not think it was a great match because for a truly great match you need two great teams both playing at the height of their powers.Madrid were utterly out-classed and out-thought and the result was never in doubt from the moment Barcelona took the lead.Even Real Madrid’s usually posturing,arrogant coach was reduced to helpless onlooker and not the pro-active figure he normally is with the midas touch to change the course of matches.
    Last season Arsene Wenger was quoted in the press as having said to Fabrigas when the Spanish midfield player was rumoured to be on his way back to Barcelona – “do you want to play in a league where the 3rd placed team is 27 points behind the top two?” – indicating to his most valuable player the weakness of a league where the championship is the sole preserve of the two Spanish giants.
    In England we have a league where only 3 or 4 teams have a realistic chance of winning the championship.This is the legacy of 18 years of Sky-TV sponsored Premiership with some of the world’s best players confined to a select group of mega-rich clubs.But this season suddenly the landscape has changed.Chelsea looked as though they were going to walk it but now they are struggling badly.Manchester United are still up there and unbeaten in the league but with probably their poorest team for 20 years.Liverpool are grateful to get into the top half,Manchester City spend money as if there is no tomorrow but still don’t look like true title contenders.Arsenal play the best football by far and this could be their year but still lack consistency.
    So i believe that what there has been is a levelling DOWN and the trouble is that the media moguls are happy to see this because mediocrity can often bring excitement with close,tight games bringing victory to the struggling teams which all goes to crank up the media hype.
    The one shaft of light is that a few clubs,and Chelsea is one,are starting to give a chance on their subs’ bench to promising young talent and some of it is English.Years ago when the season reached early spring of March many clubs were confined to a mid-table position with no danger of relegation and no chance of championship or promotion.It was commonplace then for clubs to start introducing the best of their young talent into the 1st team to gain vital experience,playing with and against some of the best players around at that level and this experience offset the pain of any defeats which the team may have suffered.
    But now everything is about money and the difference between finishing 12th and 13th in the league can be millions of pounds because of the end of season prize money handed out for every club’s final league position.
    So we had better make the most of Barcelona’s master-class because it will be a long time before we see this from an English team – or at least one with English players.

  6. It’s really terrific to read peoples’ comments on the Barcelona performance the other night. It goes to show that there are still educated football followers around who refuse to look at our ‘monstrosity’ of a game wearing rose-coloured glasses. It’s time we started seeing the truth and speaking the truth about the poor quality set out before us week after week. If we don’t have the guts to do so, our standing in the world’s greatest game will slip beyond anyone’s ability to save it.

  7. I agree with the comments about the Barca game.From a coaches point of view the most important aspect is to realise the philosophy is all down to a genius called Cruyff and is the fruit of many years of implementation and practice.

    Im just in the process of trying to break down what is unique about the system and work out how I can implement it in my coaching.Barcelona regularly attain 70-80 percent possession in games-possibly due to what Pedro describes as the “PIGGY IN THE MIDDLE” exercises which form a significant proportion of training at la massia.The Barca players are taught to deal with a ball playes at pace which gives their play a tempo.Barca players are always told and coached to see the play one step ahead.

    When Barca lose the ball they are told to get the ball back in 7 seconds-if they fail they abandon the swarm/pressa and revert to team shape waiting for another opportunity for a 7 second swarm/press.

    ps The 7 second press is another of C

  8. Re Dl’s interesting post concerning Barcelona’s training methods, I am not sure if they are really the result of Cruyff’s genius but actually we should be saluting the brilliance of the late Rinus Michels who coached a great Holland team to the 1974 World Cup Final and of course Cruyff was a member of that team.Michels had only a few weeks to prepare the Dutch team which was in a state of very low morale.True,he had the benefit of the Ajax players who he had coached for several years at club level to success in the European Cup but there were players in the Dutch team from Feyenoord and elsewhere who were not familiar with his methods.But in those few weeks prior to the Finals in West Germany Michels moulded a team which took all opposition apart with its brand of ‘pressing’ football on its way to the Final where they were so unlucky to lose.
    I am interested to read Dl that you are researching Barcelona’s methods.Might I refer you to a book – “Soccer Coaching The European Way”
    edited by Eric Batty,published by Faber& Faber in 1980 – in which there is a long chapter by Michels in which he explains his methods.

  9. honestly barcelona and spain are one of those teams that stand out from the rest , u can say there perfect is avery aspect of the game , and until other teams step up there game barcelona and spain are gonna keep dominating the same way spain won euro and world cup consecutively

  10. barcelona and spain are just one of those teams hu stand out from the rest, you can call them perfect in every aspect of the game. real madrid vs barcelona proved the standard barcelona are at, and unless other teams step up there game spain barcelona and spain will continue to dominate the same way spain won euro and world cup CONSECUTIVELY

  11. The details about the book with Rinus Michels’s article which I recommended for Dl were off the top of my head and unfortunately were incorrect.The book is “Soccer Coaching The European Way” edited by Eric Batty and the publishers in fact were Souvenir Press Ltd. 43 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3PA. It was published in 1980 and the cost then was £5.95.
    Taking another look at the DVD of the Barcelona-Real Madrid match from the other night it struck me how Barcelona’s arrangement on the pitch mirrors the lay-out of the coaching area which John Cartwright has devised for Levels 1 and 2 of the Premier Skills coaching programme.When Barcelona are unable to make progress towards the Madrid goal because of congestion etc. they come back to centre backs Puyol and Pique or keeper Valdes who have dropped off into free space to take a pass and probe down a different route.This is similar to the home-base areas of the Premier Skills coaching set-up where you have an area at each end of the pitch where a defender can drop in unchallenged to receive a pass back from a pressurised team mate.Similarly Barcelona utilise the wide areas with wingers and/or full backs where the ball can come when Xavi,Iniesta,Messi and co cannot weave their magic through the congested,tight central areas.This corresponds to the safety-zones on the Premier Skills coaching lay-out which are down the sides and where a player in difficulty can go where he cannot be challenged and can perform a trick or technique unopposed.
    Watching a brilliant team like Barcelona shows how all the Premier Skills coaching methodology links in with this visionary approach to football and is fascinating.

  12. Steve, all i can say is, THANKS, for your comments. You have understood perfectly what i have tried to introduce to our youngsters from day one of their develpoment.
    I find it frustrating and inexplicable that we go on, year after year, producing players in the same mould as players of the past. These old methods, although continuously ‘tinkered’ with by those on high, produces both players and playing style that fails to change the problems we have in our game.
    From start to final phase, i have followed a designated route towards a playing style that would produce effective and attractive football, with coaches capable of teaching it; players excited to play it; and fans happy to pay to watch it.
    Unfortunately, it seems my honest appraisals over the years on the way we have taught and played the game AT ALL LEVELS, has not made me welcome amongst those who make (tinker) with coaching here.
    Perhaps when i’m no longer here, someone might have the guts to say, “yes, John C was right”

  13. Steve-yes your right about cruyffs mentor.At the very least he was a major influence on the system of play that the dutchman introduced at Barca.The style of play using Busquets as a safe option to channel play can also be developed in a 4 x 4 game using a safe area where a nominated sweeper can retreat to a safe zone where he can initiate play without fear of being tackled.Hopefully the game teaches kids to play from the back.

    Developing the Barca/arsenal style of transferring play from a crowded flank to an area of space-Im thinking of setting up a game where a nominated player on each flank is the target one point awarded for every time the nominated player receives the ball.Sometimes you watch Barca and see the team shape with Alves waiting in space knowing sooner or later he will receive the ball.

  14. Hi Dav,
    Regarding your comment above –
    “When are people – especially here in the Uk going to realise that Messi is in a league of his own and that Ronaldo can only entertain and beat defenders when there is space or when the opposition defence is not set”

    There really is no point in trying to compare players – they are all different and are asked to perform different roles in the team. I watched George Best and Bobby Charlton play in the same United team way back when. Both excellent players in my view but completely different in their approach to the game. It would be a less interesting game if all players were exactly the same.

    I DO agree with John’s comments about the UK tending to overblow players credentials,(everyone’s a “Legend” it seems these days) but I have to say I still believe Ronaldo to be above average !!

    • Hi Steve

      Thanks for your comments in reply to mine about the obsurd Messi v Ronaldo comparison.

      I do agree with your point about all players are different to each other and do have different roles also.

      I was making the point that Ronaldo is not at the same level as Messi and that he is on the high pedastal and compared to Messi because of the idiotic over praise the UK give to players.

      Despite my anti-ronaldo comments I too also beleive he is above average, i never said he was a poor player or below average. I was making the point that Ronlado is at his most effective on the counter attack or against teams who are not so well drilled in defensive areas.

  15. By: Sid Lowe ‘La Masía nurtures Barcelona’s philosophy for technical excellence’

    Date: December 9, 2010

    In the end, it was Photoshop that did them justice. All of them. It was Photoshop that made the picture complete and the message unequivocal.

    On Monday afternoon, Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández walked out to the pitch at FC Barcelona’s Sant Joan Despí training ground and posed for a photo. The three stood together and in the middle was a blue and red football, Messi reaching to lay a hand on it from the right, Xavi doing likewise from the left. Iniesta stood with an arm around his teammates.

    It would have been a good picture anyway, but it was about to get better. The three men had just been confirmed as the final candidates for this year’s Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball), awarded by ‘France Football’ (and now FIFA) to the world’s best player. So it was natural enough that on the cover of the Catalan sports newspapers the following day, red and blue leather had been turned into precious metal, gleaming and golden, ‘France Football’ embossed on it.

    Just as it was natural that while the pro-Real Madrid daily ‘Marca’ declared “And the Ballon d’Or goes to … Spanish football,” ‘Sport’ led on “Historic Barça.” After all, this is only the third time that the top three have all come from the same club — the last two times were both Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan.

    But that was not the only reason they were feeling so satisfied in Barcelona. And the ball was not the only thing to get the Photoshop treatment. By the time the picture appeared the following morning, the concrete, metal and plastic of the stands behind the three players had, by sleight of technological hand, turned into an old, traditional-style Catalan farmhouse, built in rough, slightly yellow stone.

    The farmhouse’s name is La Masía. It was constructed in 1702 and is 6,500 square feet. In the 1950s, it was used as an office for architects and builders as they toiled on the huge building site right next door. That building site became the Camp Nou, and La Masía, looking incongruous alongside, dwarfed by the city that has grown up around it, became Barcelona’s “spiritual” home. Bought in 1979, La Masía became a residency for hopeful children looking to carve out a career at the club. More than that, it became a kind of indoctrination center in all things Barcelona.

    Now, it has won the Ballon d’Or. Even those who never actually lived there are always said to be graduates of La Masía; it is a symbol of the club’s youth academy, which included Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. No wonder ‘El Mundo Deportivo’ splashed on “Masía Mundial.” Smug though it may have been, and opportunistic too, never before has former president Joan Laporta’s insistence that “some clubs buy Ballon d’Ors; we create them” rung truer than it does now.

    The announcement on Monday was greeted by many as the success not just of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi or even of Barcelona, but an entire philosophy. It was a victory not just for those three players but the 500 children who have lived at La Masía and the rest who have come through Barcelona’s youth system; a victory for the coaches and scouts, for the system — and Xavi once described he and Iniesta as “sons of the system.” It is a victory for an idea, an ideology. And when it comes to footballing religions, few are as puritanical as Barcelona.

    The Ballon d’Or, wrote former Barcelona player Eusebio, is “everyone’s success, recognition for a philosophy, for our values.” It is seen as the confirmation of a trend and the vindication of a commitment to a very specific way of playing that, initially brought in by Johan Cruyff, is imposed at all levels at Barcelona. When players make the leap to the first team, the transition is smoothed by the approach being essentially the same. All the more so under Pep Guardiola, the Masía graduate who became club captain, coached the B team and now coaches the first team.

    Guardiola was more than just a Barcelona player; he was a disciple of Cruyff and, with his technical, pass-pass-pass approach, the embodiment of that self-consciously expressed Barcelona style as a player. It is a way of playing that is obsessed by technique and passing, by possession. All of it underpinned by the simplest of drills: the rondo, or piggy in the middle. Iniesta recalls the obsession being simple: It was “receive, pass, offer” over and over again. To see him on the training pitch in Barcelona this week going through the moves, explaining them, is to be struck by the technical excellence and its simplicity.

    As one director put it: “Almost 20 years ago, Cruyff arrived and said we were going to play in a certain way and [his] vision [was] always about the technique of the children, the speed of the pass, the speed of the mind.”

    “Barcelona,” Fernando Hierro said, “has worked for some time according to a certain philosophy and personality and built projects according to that image.”

    Hierro is a former Real Madrid captain. Now, he is the sporting director at the Spanish Football Federation; now, he can smile rather more at Barcelona’s success. After all, when Spain won the World Cup last summer, seven of the starting XI were Barcelona players. Better still, six had played for Barcelona at the youth level — Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Pedro Rodríguez and Iniesta — and Spain’s style was very much Barcelona’s style. Likewise, when Barcelona beat Real Madrid 5-0 recently, in what many have called the greatest performance ever, eight of the players were Masía graduates. When it won the European Cup in 2009, seven were.

    Now, the three men who can be declared the planet’s best for 2010 are from Masía, too. And as if to prove the point, and to show that, although this is an extraordinary — and probably unrepeatable — generation of players, La Masía’s success continues. On Tuesday, just hours after the Ballon d’Or announcement, Barcelona faced Russian side Rubin Kazan in the Champions League. Barcelona won 2-0, with Andreu and Victor Vázquez scoring, and Thiago Alcántara, Marc Bartra and Jonathan dos Santos playing. All of them had been promoted from the side that sits fourth in Spain’s national Second Division: Barcelona B. The same Barcelona B that once housed Messi, Iniesta and Xavi

  16. Carles Folguera, Director, La Masia
    “The main thing the scouts look for is that the children make decisions differently from everybody else. By this I mean their speed of thought. All players have to be rapid, but it’s a quickness of mind we look for. They need to be able to decide what they are going to do in every moment. Already at 12 or 13 they understand, as part of this process, that football is played within a particular style, system, and way of doing things.”

    “I think the victory of Spain at the World Cup wasn’t so much the victory of a team, but the victory of an idea.”

    Fernando Hierro – Spanish FA Technical Director
    “La Masia is very important to us. There are 8 Barcelona players in the Spanish national team. And in the final phase of the last under 19 championship there was seven, so it’s a fact that it has been, and will continue to be of real importance.”

    “All of these players in the full national team who have achieved the results they have in the last few years – all of them have progressed through the federation’s various national youth sides. In terms of trophies won, Spain has the most successful national youth set up there has ever been in Europe, and quite possibly the world.”

    “Players sharing the same footballing philosophy. The work being done at youth level by the various clubs, by the football association, by the regional associations, over many years, has finally come together.”

    Vicente Del Bosque
    “I think that as well as La Masia, all of the clubs have contributed, many without recognition, and there are those that have risen to the top very recently like Villareal, where the youth academies have flourished, thanks to the professionalism and hard work of those involved. It’s all the result of many years of hard work invested in youth football in Spain.”

    “I do think that for our youngsters and spanish football in general, the emphasis must be on the example being set by the national team, focussing on central midfielders like Xavi Iniesta Cesc and Xabi Alonso, those who dictate the way the rest of the team plays. There’s a saying that goes “how the midfield plays is how the whole team plays”. And that has become very clear, both defensively and offensively.”

    On the World Cup Win?
    “Our advantage was that we had players who were technically gifted and tactically aware. We knew which players were the most important. We knew which system to play. And all it needed was a bit of fine tuning.”

    Pako Ayesteran
    “When we talk about having united a group of players who share similar characteristics, being nurtured in the same philosophy, then clearly there has to be an institutional reference point. That’s obvious.”

    “Every success story leaves clues behind, but as well as identifying them, you also have to be able to adapt them to your own philosophy and culture. So right now, English football needs to be faithful to its own culture, whilst being recognising htat there are different ways of playing football.”

    Andres Iniesta – La Masia graduate & FC Barcelona player
    “The fact that from a young age we’re all sharing the same ideology makes moving up to the next level that much easier.

    “To be from La Masia, I believe, means to be of a Barcelona philosophy, in the sense that from an early age, they try to instil everything, not least what they’re playing in the first team. The passing game. Quick thinking. Knowing where your players are, and your relationship with your team mates.”

    Pedro – La Masia graduate & FC Barcelona player
    “The basis above all is ‘piggy in the middle’. High ball possession, small, short games, with high intensity, and many games. There are many methods of playing that all help when coming into the first team, as it’s more or less similar.

    Above taken from guillem ballagues-blog-The highlighted quotes demonstrate some of the outstanding parts of Barcas la masia philosophy.

  17. REALLY INTERESTING but there is nothing in all the comments made here that i have not been saying for over half a century. The classic simplicity about the Spanish rise to the top is — they adopted a playing vision and then set out to achieve it!! What i have been saying for years. I was so sure that this was what we needed for our game to improve that i developed PRACTICE/PLAYING as a coaching methodology aimed at a achieving a playing vision.
    We could dominate European and World football if only we had people with more foresight and ‘guts’in positions of power to make the changes so necessary for our game to prosper.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s