Barcelona’s 2008-09 edition can add another trophy to its haul: our “Best Team Ever” as voted by fans, defeating fellow treble winner 1998-99 Manchester United in the final with 59 percent of the vote.
In soccer, revolution and results are very often misaligned. There have been lots of great teams that innovated or perfected some aspect of the sport but didn’t win.
The 1974 and 1978 Dutch World Cup squads completely remade the sport and how it could be played with their position-swapping Total Football, but lost both finals. Two decades earlier, Hungary’s Mighty Magyars played a symphonic brand of team football led by Ferenc Puskás, making up an entirely new style of passing. They beat West Germany 8-3 in the group stage of the 1954 World Cup, but after romping to the final, where they were the towering favorites, the Magyars were upset 3-2 by the Germans — who were quite possibly boosted by amphetamines — thanks to a dubious goal and a strangely disallowed one for Hungary. Brazil’s 1982 team was stocked with inventive soccer geniuses but didn’t even reach the quarterfinal.
More recently, Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing 2012-13 Borussia Dortmund side was one of the more influential teams in recent memory, but it lost the Champions League final to Bayern Munich and finished a distant second — by 25 points — to the Bavarians in the Bundesliga. Yet most big teams now deploy some form of the press Dortmund perfected then.
Likewise, the Atlético Madrid side that lost the Champions League finals of both 2014 and 2016 to Real Madrid developed a defensive scheme that cluttered up all the passing lines so sublimely that it altered the game as a whole. But it never resulted in the big prize.
The extraordinary thing about the 2008-09 FC Barcelona is that it combined its innovation with trophies. Its death-by-a-thousand-papercuts passing style — tiki-taka, combining a lot of short, square balls with a high press and a desperate obsession with possession — set the tone for the sport for a good decade. But Barca comfortably won the league, was never beaten on its way to the Copa del Rey trophy and completed the hardest job of all, winning the Champions League, albeit after a very close call with Chelsea in the semifinal.
It’s that combination of influence and success that made the 2008-09 FC Barcelona edition our Best Team Ever.
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