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Explaining Barcelona DNA and why Arturo Vidal has it

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A look at how this popular term is defined and the types of players it applies to

FC Barcelona v Betis - Copa del Rey Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Barça DNA. A term we read a lot these days. An expression thrown around, particularly by some Cules, to conclude whether or not a football player fits the Barça mould.

With all the talk going on recently about this so-called Barça DNA, it’s important to determine its significance and when it started.

Already when we try to establish the meaning of this label we encounter that starting with the club itself, to journalists, ex-players, and aficionados everyone has a similar but slightly altered definition.

On FCBarcelona.com we find that Barça DNA is “all about having a taste for good football”. Other phrases such as “putting goal scoring ahead of any kind of defensive tactics” and “combining global superstars with home-bred footballers of La Masia”, are further used to describe the club’s definition of what Barça DNA is.

Yet, esteemed writer and journalist, Xavier Bosch, has a somewhat different view. In a recent detailed analysis for Mundo Deportivo on the amount of passes during possessions which end up in goals, the Catalan defines Barça DNA specifically as the capacity of Barça to both achieve great success in fast attacks, but where it marks a difference from other clubs is also the “rare ability to end up getting goals after long possessions”. Bosch argues that because this style of play is what is instilled upon Barça players from the lower categories upwards, that this is the real Barça DNA.

The writer even goes one step further than the club itself and attributes this success solely to Pep Guardiola. “Today, many teams want to have the ball and get longer possessions, but few know what to do with it. Pep’s Barça, did.”

FC Barcelona v RCD Espanyol - Liga BBVA Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

More recently, however, Joan Vilà, Barça’s director of methodology, accredited the increasingly popular appellation to Johan Cruyff. Joan states (via AS) that since the Dutch football legend took over the Catalan club, as manager Barça DNA became the, “idea to have the ball, to play and enjoy”. He expands on this by pointing out that the relationship between the player and the ball is the foundation of the entire Barça game. “The team that has the ball is the owner of the game. With the ball, we’re all able to enjoy. Without it, we’re simply just running”. Here, Culés will undoubtedly recognize that he is indeed echoing the learnings of Johan.

Finally, when looking at it from a player’s perspective, we see that the winner of FC Barcelona’s first ever Champions League title, Ronald Koeman, also recognizes that there is a clear BC (Before Cruyff) and AC (After Cruyff) period marked when the fellow Dutchman became the first team’s ‘Míster’.

According to Ronald, Johan changed the history and mentality of the club. “It went from being a team that was satisfied with very little to being a winning side. And that DNA, that style, has been maintain and even improved,” he told Sport. For Koeman, Cruyff laid the stone of what is now known as Barça DNA with that iconic group of players baptized as the Dream Team.

Johan Cruyff of Barcelona

When discussing where the success of the squad originated from the ex-Barça and PSV player says, “in believing blindly that with our brand of football we were going to make history.” A style of play was a system based on having “more space, players further separated, having the ball during longer periods of time, playing it fast with little touches and recuperating it as quickly as possible when loosing it”.

Particularly in the initial part of his statement, Koeman describes what a lot of the new wave of Barcelona fans view is the Barça DNA. The possession based touch football.

And despite that being the case, we simply cannot forget nor undermine is the important element of recuperating the ball. For this task, Cruyff counted on players with, what in Spanish is known as, ‘garra’. “Garra’ is Spanish for claw but is also used to describe courage.

In an interview for D Spot’s You Tube channel, renowned LaLiga journalist and expert, Graham Hunter highlighted exactly that, stating that the most cruijffista of players were not immune to height and power. “When Johan Cruyff came here [to Barcelona] the first thing he bought, was Basques to build the Dream Team. He wanted people with fighting spirit, with garra, with power, who win the jump in the air”.

Graham here is referring to the no less then seven Basque players (not counting the two or three that were already there) that arrived new at the club in the first two years since Johan Cruyff was in charge (88/89-90/91). Those two years saw Basque players like López Rekarte (D), Ramón Alexanko (D), José María Bakero (M), Julio Salinas (F), Jon Andoni Goikoetxea (F), Aitor Begiristáin (F), and not to be forgotten, another of Johan’s sons (who might sound familiar to some of you) Ernesto Valverde arrive under Cruyff’s ‘mandato’.

Jose Maria Bakero of Barcelona

These guys were tough football players not necessarily associated with the current misconception that all Barça ever was, is and will be, is a team of elegant little midfield players who glide and dance with the ball over the pitch blissfully and blindly passing it to one and other, walking the ball into the opponents’ goal while the opposition just stares belligerently and dumbfounded to what they have just witnessed.

Johan Cruyff’s team most certainly had a rough and rugged edge to them. And it is thanks to this overlooked and underestimated firm aspect of teams in the AC era that we forget that along with the offensive minding, possession based players (i.e. Laudrup, Pep, Xavi, Iniesta, Deco, Dinho, etc.) were most certainly also some less refined and rather hard hitting fellows (i.e. the previously mentioned Basque clan, Koeman, Van Bommel, Yaya, Keita, Paulinho, Vidal, etc.) who played a vital role to the team by adding the necessary muscle. Teams absolutely need this balance of players who will chase the ball in moments when it’s needed (remember Roma anyone?!).

So, before we all light up our torches and take out our pitch forks because we’re eager to fill the voids left by Xavi and Iniesta (in my opinion irreplaceable BUT Arthur and Puig look promising successors), let’s try to remember that players like Arturo Vidal also make up a fundamental part of what is now coined as Barça DNA. And for €18m the 31-year-old Chilean is a quality and complete midfielder who can be a great companion playing alongside Ivan Rakitic, Arthur, Busquets and co.

Of course, I include myself amongst those who have a softer spot for the creative, offensive, stylish football players, however, based on what I’ve seen over the years from him and given Cruyff’s model of assembling a balanced team, I also firmly believe that in Vidal’s case he’s worthy of receiving the certified ‘Barça DNA’ stamp of approval (especially before having played even a minute with his new crew)!