Formation Renovation: Barcelona 2008-2012

Welcome to Formation Renovation, where we figure out which modern players would best fit into some time-honored styles.  The idea behind Formation Renovation is simple: It’s an attempt to figure out who today could do what they did back then. It’s not a suggestion that these formations and tactics, some of them 30, 50, or 70 years old, could thrive or even work in the modern era, but a thought experiment meant to help us look at differences between teams and players then and now.

All-everything-ever winners Barcelona

In this edition: Barcelona 2008-2012.

Well, normally all that in italics above is what Formation Renovation is. This time we’re swapping things around a little bit.

The current Barcelona side are already set to go down in history not only as one of the most dominating sides of theirs or any era, but also as one of the most tactically interesting. In other words, they’re exactly the kind of team we would normally profile in this column.

Thing is, there’s not much point in trying to replace the current squad with current players from this era. Barcelona has a habit of buying up the best people for their system to play for them, and since nearly everyone wants to play for Barcelona, they don’t have much trouble doing it. Any side we put together simply wouldn’t be as good as them, we could improve at most three positions, and even then our team would likely read like a list of Barcelona transfer targets.

So instead, we’re going to flip things around from the way we normally do them, and try to rebuild Barcelona using classic players. (We have Rob Smyth to thank for the idea; he asked during the minute-by-minute for Barcelona-Leverkusen “If you could pick one player in the history of the game to improve this Barcelona team, who would it be and why?”).

Technically, we’re not doing quite that. This year’s Barcelona model — more fluid than ever, with something like eight central midfielders combined with Dani Alves and Alexis Sanchez, would be rather difficult to recreate (and would probably best be done by finding a list of the game’s greatest passers and including all of the ones who aren’t current members of this Barcelona squad.) Instead, our model is closer to last year’s side, something of a hybrid between the original Henry-Eto’o-Messi side and this year’s uber-fluid team. Besides, they’re the last Barcelona team to win the Champions League, after all. It looks something like this:

Far better minds than I have written extensively about this Barcelona’s style, and frankly I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this, you’re already at least roughly familiar how they play. (If not, just go to and type “Barcelona” into the search bar. Enjoy the rest of your morning and/or afternoon.) Because of that, we’re going to move straight into the selections.

For this one, however, we did have a couple of rules. First, no one who’s still active is in the side, though one of the members only very recently retired. Second, we didn’t include any former Barcelona players in the side. Frankly, that made just made it too easy. We could probably put together a team made up exclusively of former Barcelona players that could roughly approximate this one.

With those rules in mind, here’s the team:

"The Black Spider" is a badass nickname. The current state of the art of the nickname is deplorable.

GK – Lev Yashin

The Black Spider is credited with inventing the sweeper-keeper role that Valdes has perfected in his time at Barcelona. Since Yashin’s still a prime candidate for the greatest keeper of all-time, we’ll assume he’s capable of stepping in ably for Valdes, his penchant for  acrobatic saves adding an extra dimension to the role that Victor doesn’t provide.

LB – Giancinto Facchetti

Abidal is an interesting case, because he’s arguably the least essential Barcelona player.  N.B.: He’s still an incredible player. Actually, I feel bad saying anything negative about him considering the medical battle he’s been/is still going through. But the number of games he has missed while battling those issues only serves to reinforce the point that he is someone they can play without. For his replacement, we’re bringing in the first great attacking left back. Faccheti’s experience playing in Herrera’s catenaccio Inter sides shows he has some defensive chops, but he can also offer a little more going forward than Abidal usually does.

LCB – Elias Figueroa  

Yes, it’s something of a “not-Beckenbauer” pick, since we’ve already made that comparison before. Actually, even Beckenbauer’s not the best possible replacement. Since Pique’s contribution (that one goal against Inter aside) is more about his passing than, as was the case with Beckenbauer, his constant bringing the ball forward into the attack, I’d argue Ronald Koeman and his spectacular passing range would be the best possible replacement. Alas, he played at Barcelona, and so instead we go with another option in Figueroa who comes with some pretty impressive references.

Pictures can be doctored. Have you ever seen them in the same room together?

RCB – Paolo Maldini

Former fullback who adapted to dominate in the center, bedrock at the back throughout generational change, captain of the world’s best team, possessor of some truly fabulous hair. If Carles Puyol had been born in Italy, he would be Paolo Maldini.

RB – Carlos Alberto

We’ll take something of a “Go Big or Go Home” approach to Dani Alves’ right back spot, drafting in the best-known (sorry Cafu) attacking right back in the history of the game.

CDM – Frank Rijkaard

I know what you’re thinking: “But didn’t he?” And the answer, actually, is no. Though he managed Barcelona for four seasons, the Dutchman spent most of his career at Milan and Ajax, but never featured for the Catalan club. That’s fortunate for us, because finding someone with the right amount of passing ability and defensive steel to replace Busquets was proving to be tough. As a bonus, Rijkaard played in center defense later in his career too, which will allow him to mirror Busquets’ move of dropping between the centerbacks to create a three-man backline.

CM – Gerson

He may not be an ideal tiki-taka type – Gerson seems more a Pirlo-style regista than an all-over the field hub like Xavi is – but he can certainly pick a killer pass, and he does have plenty of experience quarterbacking a team that’s absolutely loaded with attacking talent from his stint as one of two center midfielders of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup team.

CAM – Zico

Iniesta’s a tough one. Michael Laudrup unfortunately played for Barcelona and is disqualified under our rules. The Brazilian Didi provides the playmaking and the timely goalscoring, but is less renowned for his dribbling ability. Zidane has many of the same abilities, but he dominated the game and the ball, a completely different style than Iniesta’s and one that doesn’t fit into the Barcelona mold. But Zico, like Gerson, operated with plenty of offensive talent around him. He did most of his damage centrally, but in Brazil’s 4-2-2-2 magic rectangle he had to stretch the field laterally too. He can play the killer ball and do so while on the run, drawing defenses out of position before finishing them off.

LW – George Best

Technically, Pedro and Villa were both right and left wingers, depending on the game. For the Pedro role, we need someone with the speed to stretch defenses, the dribbling ability to open up holes in them, and the finishing to make them pay. I think George Best will do.

CF – Ferenc Puskas

Pacewise, he has four gears to Messi’s seven or eight, but if we’re not allowed to take Cruyff, then Puskas can provide our proto-Messi with the best combination of intelligence, playmaking and raw goal scoring. Or maybe the scientists who invent time travel so we can put this team together will also figure out how to clone a Puskas with the speed and dribbling ability of Best, perhaps the best approximation for Barcelona’s current center forward.

RW – Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

Like Villa, he can play on the outside or in the center, or both at the same time. Rummenigge too is renowned for his touch and his dribbling, his positioning and his finishing.

So we finish with:

What do you think? Tell us what we got right in the comments, or suggest better possibilities for some of the positions there or on Twitter @O87Minutes.

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2 Responses to Formation Renovation: Barcelona 2008-2012

  1. James Foley says:

    Possibly John Barnes, or at least someone who was involved in the Liverpool pass-and-move era of the 70’s and 80’s. Good list. Maybe Scholes in CM aswell?

  2. hansh says:

    I see the point your making about Abidal – he isn’t an attacking fullback like Alves, doesn’t pass like Pique, and isn’t a complete rock like Puyol, so he personally doesn’t seem so essential to Barcelona. But I think it’s a bad idea to replace him with someone a lot more attacking minded than he is. Half the time Alves is pretending to be a forward, and even with Busquets covering it seems perilous to have both full-backs abandoning defensive duties for a while.

    Then again, really I have no idea how Facchetti played, so I might be misinterpreting the role you’re imagining for him.

    On an unrelated note, you know that tiny smiley-face at the very bottom of the page? I just spent a good two minutes trying to wipe if off my screen. It’s there just to bug us, isn’t it? :)

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