Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer alive. Perhaps Messi is the greatest footballer of all time. Neymar is on the same path to greatness, as he scores goals left in right like he’s drinking glasses of water. Luis Suárez destroys worlds as he works like a mad man to provide for his two ‘MSN’ partners while doing some great things himself. The superstars of Barcelona’s La Liga-winning campaign are easy to recognize, and they indeed deserve so much of the credit.
But here’s the great thing about the 2014-15 Barcelona season: it’s not just about ‘MSN’. Sure, they’re great and maybe the scariest trio in history, but they wouldn’t be at the top of the food chain without the help of so many supporting pieces that don’t mind being out of the spotlight as long as the trio (and the team) is happy and winning.
Here’s to the Unsung Heroes of Barcelona’s La Liga title.
How can you start a column about unsung heroes and not mention the Zamora Trophy winner Chilean goalkeeper? Bravo had one of the most memorable defensive campaigns in recent memory. The numbers speak for themselves, and we don’t need them here, really. You just need to watch him to see how fantastic he is. Bravo was controversially made the starting goalkeeper of the Spanish League when just about everybody wanted Marc-André ter Stegen to be the undisputed number one goalie. Bravo welcomed the challenge of proving he’s good enough to be more than a goalkeeper, and boy did he step up.
Even during Barça’s spectacular 2015 run, in which Bravo didn’t need to work in almost any match, he was always ready to make a save if need be. He absorbed the criticism of taking some other guy’s spot and ran with it, and used it as motivation to be the best he could be. And he is as important to the championship as anybody.
Clean Sheet Bravo. Bravo.
It’s almost funny: Busquets is so underrated and such an unsung hero that he has almost become overrated. But he’s not. Sergio once against was flawless and did a tremendous work all season long. The rock and foundation of Barça’s midfield, Busquets was the piece that made the machine work: defend, pass, control the game, support the offense, stop counter-attacks, cover planets of ground, be the extension of the coach on the pitch, score game-winning goals that people don’t consider to be important but are actually fundamental to the title win.
Busi did everything. And then some. He is amazing at what he does. Everything he does. And then some.
God, is this guy good at football. He was celebrated when he was signed, but no one really knew how he would fit in and how good he actually could be once he started to face the pressure of playing in the world’s biggest club. But he thrived. He changed the way Barça plays midfield, and he’s one of the reasons why this angry, in-your-face style works. How many times did we see Rakitic go out of position to pressure the defense, go back to position and then tackle someone on defense to get the ball back? His greatness was constant, and discrete, and based on work and effort. He also scored goals with his sweet and powerful stroke. He worked like a horse all campaign long, and he always looked exhausted at the end of every match. Because he was, and because he worked like crazy. But he was always ready for another one.
Culés loved Rakitic from the start. They were right.
Ah, Lucho… Lucho, Lucho, Lucho…
So much criticism. So much scrutiny. People wanted him out. People hated his tactics. People hated his self-confidence and arrogance. People thought he was a dick. People didn’t believe he was good enough to rebuild a team and make it come back to dominating the football world.
People were wrong.
Luis Enrique is a fantastic coach. He had the guts to change the scheme and put Messi back on the right flank, to accommodate Luis Suárez to the system and make the team better. He had the guts to promote rotations all season long, even if it made some guys (like Neymar) unhappy whenever they didn’t play or were substituted. He abandoned the Pep Guardiola era, said "screw you, nostalgia" and changed the way his team played. Because he believed this team would be better. Because he stuck to his way of coaching and managing personalities.
This is the healthiest Barcelona team in recent memory. Because Enrique rotated. ‘MSN’ is scary. Because Enrique put Messi on the right and made the three work together to achieve something bigger than individual accolades. Barça has the best defense in Europe. Because Enrique made this his priority when he came in. The offense would catch up later. It has now. And this is the most complete team in a while.
He never panicked. He survived the criticism, navigated the politics and knew how to work with the egos. He is now Lionel Messi’s friend, and the two just fought five months ago because of a foul in training.
Luis Enrique is awesome, and he deserves a lot of credit for the title. And if you’re not down with that…