Football: Great, greater, greatest

Football: Great, greater, greatest


(Ivan Rakitic 4, Luis Suarez 68, Neymar 90+7)


(Alvaro Morata 55)

Barcelona's last great side had Pep Guardiola. The team before that had Ronaldinho. But this one have the lot.

Picking out flaws in Luis Enrique's squad is eating soup with a fork, an exercise in futility.

They went to Berlin in search of what Gerard Pique called "perfection", but found immortality instead.

A treble told part of the story, a fifth Champions League crown added the colour but Barcelona painted a much bigger picture in their 3-1 victory over Juventus yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Early in the first half and for much of the second, Lionel Messi and his esteemed colleagues took football, as an art form, to another level, one beyond all their competitors and even their Catalan predecessors.

They are the best of their generation, the men of the Millennium.

In the Olympic Stadium, they established a gold standard, running away from not only their rivals but also the shadows of seasons past.

Frank Rijkaard, then Guardiola put together something really special, but nothing quite as sublime.

Enrique's upgraded model is practically without weakness. It is a 4-3-3 with few flaws.

Javier Mascherano didn't have his finest hour against Juventus' lone scorer Alvaro Morata, but recovered well as Barcelona pressed their advantage.

And that was it, their solitary, minor hiccup.

Messi grew into the game, Luis Suarez and Neymar came up with the goals and their defence left a resurgent Carlos Tevez subdued and largely isolated.

But the Barcelona midfield put on the real masterclass.

Sergio Busquets is often called an unsung hero, but entire Spanish choirs should now be devoted to recounting the day he dominated Arturo Vidal.

The Juve midfielder was lucky to stay on the pitch, following one reckless tackle after another.

Vidal lost his head because he lost his face. Busquets tore it off.

Ivan Rakitic ran Paul Pogba ragged, severing the link to Andrea Pirlo, and Andres Iniesta rolled back the years whenever he rolled the ball between his feet.

The 31-year-old controlled both midfields. He stopped one and liberated another with every telepathic intervention and beautifully weighted pass.

Ahead of him was Neymar. Beyond Busquets was Suarez. Right above Rakitic was Messi. Weaknesses and Barcelona are needles and haystacks.

Watching their moving parts make something so magical has become a sporting privilege beyond compare, a genuine blessing to witness such artistry so effortlessly executed.

To steal a movie analogy, no poor football match can be too short and no exciting fixture can be too long.

The final whistle was the ugly intrusion in Berlin. Barca's games should never end.

Certainly, the final moments of the Champions League final were representative of their mastery of the ball and their addiction to pleasing others.

Messi and Neymar attacked in waves, their artistic computers unable to recognise the defensive, run-the-ball-to-the-corner-flag programme.

They take possession. They run. They spin past defenders. They are utterly captivating.

Barcelona's three goals could have been comfortably doubled. Their Italian opponents were comfortably numbed by the time the medals were handed out.

It's worth remembering that Massimiliano Allegri's men were chasing their own treble. They boasted one of Europe's meanest defences, having accumulated 27 clean sheets.

They were not there to make up the numbers, not when theirs were so impressive.

But they looked ordinary. They went beyond humiliation. They touched despair.

This defeat was a confirmation. It was Muhammad Ali facing Sonny Liston, Don Bradman against any bowler and Rafael Nadal on clay in his prime.

In this form, Barcelona cannot be beaten, by anyone. They are both unbeatable and beautiful.

Left, right, sideways or through the middle, it's always a three-on-three contest they know they can win.

Go vertically with Jordi Alba, Iniesta and Neymar; or Pique, Busquets, Suarez or Dani Alves, Rakitic, Messi.

Then try horizontally with Neymar, Suarez, Messi or Iniesta, Busquets and Rakitic. It's checkmate in every direction.

With their resolute defence, Juventus offered the most obdurate opponents in Europe, but Gianluigi Buffon was the busiest Italian on the pitch.

Age cannot whither the 37-year-old. But Barcelona can and did.

A fifth Champions League title still leaves them with only half of Real Madrid's historic haul, but they are currently twice the team.

The biggest threat to their supremacy remains their birth certificates. Xavi bid an emotional farewell and Iniesta and Alves are both the wrong side of 30, but the rest are closing in on their prime.

Perhaps a centre-back and a left-sided midfielder are on the shopping list, but that's a concern for another day.

Now is the time to acknowledge the successful pursuit of greatness.

Barcelona's brilliance must never be taken for granted. We will not see their like again.

The Champions League is theirs. But the pleasure is all ours.

This article was first published on June 8, 2015.
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