Barcelona have become everything Florentino Pérez dreamed about

Juventus avoided humiliation but they couldn’t capitalise when Catalans wobbled

 Barcelona players celebrate with the Champions League trophy after their victory over Juventus in Berlin. Photograph: Ettore Ferrari/EPA

Barcelona players celebrate with the Champions League trophy after their victory over Juventus in Berlin. Photograph: Ettore Ferrari/EPA

 

In the last minute of the first half in Berlin, Lionel Messi got the ball on the right and bore down on the Juventus defence. He beat two men on an ambitious dribble into the box but the run took him too far wide and he ended up falling in a heap over the goal line.

As he got up, Messi was laughing. Here he was in the middle of a Champions League final against the hard men of Juventus, and it was obvious that he’d gone on that run for fun, just for the hell of it.

That was the story of the Champions League final, one of the teams working flat out to stay alive, and the other team, for the most part, showing off.

Even the warm-ups had hinted at the difference in attitude. Juventus were out first, solemn and intense. Barcelona jogged out 10 minutes later, jigged around a bit, kicked a few balls to each other, and jogged back in. Juventus’ workout lasted nearly half an hour, Barcelona’s barely 15 minutes.

Juventus looked the more concentrated side and they exploded into the match with furious energy, pressing high, forcing early errors from Marc-André ter Stegen and Javier Mascherano, then falling back into a tight defensive phalanx when Barcelona had the ball. Every Juventus man was at full throttle. They would not give an inch. They would fight to the last drop of blood. They . . . were 1-0 down inside four minutes.

Barcelona ripped apart Italy’s best defence with their first serious move of the match. It was a goal of almost anticlimactic brilliance. The quality of the 15-pass move announced to the crowd of 80,000 that the match they had all got so excited about was not really going to be a contest, after all. The best they could hope for now was an exhibition.

Barcelona knew it too, and for the rest of the half they trod the fine line between dazzling showmanship and complacent self-indulgence. Juventus, outclassed and outgunned, hung on for their lives. Gianluigi Buffon’s brilliant save from Dani Alves kept them in the game. Luis Suárez sent a low shot a foot wide of the far post. Neymar shot wide from 20 yards, then botched a simple opportunity to play Messi in one-on-one.

Second Captains

The half ended with Messi’s laughter, and the second half began in much the same vein, with Suárez wasting a good chance from a five-on-three break, and Messi shooting over after exchanging one-twos with both Neymar and Suárez. The swagger of the latter move sent a clear message: all due respect, Juventus, you cannot live with us. You do not belong on our level.

The match at this point was a no-contest and the thought occurred that maybe it was a pity Alvaro Morata had scored that equaliser in Madrid to take Juventus through to the final. Real Madrid couldn't have coped with Barcelona in this mood either, but it was difficult to imagine Barcelona would have dominated them with quite the same degree of swagger.

Maybe it was the dread of impending humiliation that jolted Juventus into the furious spell of pressing that suddenly and dramatically changed the game. Barcelona played themselves into trouble from a goal kick and Alves, hemmed in on the right side, booted an aimless diagonal into midfield, which fell to Claudio Marchisio. The midfielder produced an inspired back-heel that tore the hinges off Barcelona’s defence, the overlapping Lichtsteiner picked out Tevez, who hit a shot ter Stegen couldn’t hold, and there was Morata again to sweep in the rebound.

The roar from the Juventus end felt like it might have the power to change the game. Their fans outnumbered Barcelona’s in the stadium and now they felt destiny was on their side. There was no other explanation for them being back on level terms. Now it was Barcelona who were wobbling. Were they about to do a Holland 1974?

Afterwards, Gerard Piqué was blunt about how this spell felt for the Barcelona players. “When it went to 1-1, they attacked us a lot and we had to suffer. We had 10 or 15 minutes when we were f**ked.”

Then Rakitic found Messi, who ran again at the Juventus defence. He got around a challenge and shot hard and low from 20 yards.

Looking back at what happened next, you could say that the rebound fell kindly for Suárez. But it’s strange how often the ball falls kindly to forwards who know how to be in the right place at the right time. Suárez had been running alongside Messi, eyes locked on his team-mate’s movements, trying to read his intentions. When he saw Messi winding up the shot, he dodged right and sprinted towards the far post, anticipating a chance that didn’t exist yet. This is the goalscorer’s instinct Barcelona paid £75 million for and their faith was repaid with a fifth European Cup.

Afterwards, as his team-mates capered with the cup, Suárez stood by himself on the pitch, gazing up into the crowd where his family were sitting and talking on the phone to his wife.

“The first people I thought of were my wife and my two children,” he said later. “They have suffered with me. They know what I have suffered and sacrificed to get here. I’m grateful to Barcelona for trusting in me after everything that happened to me and to my team-mates who have been spectacular: they treated me like one of the team from the day I arrived and I will remember that for the rest of my life.”

Moments of triumph

The persecuted tone Suárez favours even at moments of triumph can be tiresome. Earning £200k a week at Liverpool isn’t exactly a hardship posting, and it’s clear to everyone else, if not to him, that all the reputational damage he has suffered was self-inflicted. But Barcelona won’t worry too much about the details of the mental contortions he puts himself through to get motivated. Whatever the mechanics of his method, it works for him, and it rubs off on his team-mates.

Barcelona have become the first club to win the treble of league, cup and Champions League twice. Now the challenge is to be the first to retain the Champions League. Piqué: “We were saying this is one of the best dressing rooms we’ve had in the history of this club, and that they have the most talent as well. I still have so much I want to achieve in my career with a generation that I think is unique, with brutal talent.”

With Qatar on their shirts and galáctico signings supplementing academy players in the side, Barcelona are metamorphosing into something more like the team Florentino Pérez wishes Real Madrid could be. But though the identity is changing, the trophy-winning dynasty looks as powerful as ever.

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