FOR the last couple of years it’s been impossible to move for people hurling praise in the direction of Barcelona.
And not without good reason. They’ve won every trophy going in swashbuckling style and boast the best player in the world, Lionel Messi.
But more than that, they’ve been labelled the model club. Their famed academy is a production line of stars, they have a much-envied member-controlled ownership model and long eschewed vulgar, money-making shirt sponsors in favour of promoting charity Unicef on their kit.
Lately, however, the endless stream of goodwill seems to have slowed just a little, and a few dissenters weary of holier-than-thou Barca have begun to make their voices heard.
Critics point out the club is far from perfectly run, with vast sums spent on stars such as David Villa to augment home-grown talent.
That policy has contributed to huge debts that would have forced the sale of Messi, had they not decided to ditch cuddly Unicef in favour of eye-wateringly rich Qatar.
Their tiki-taka style may be cute, but has been tarnished by the gamesmanship of Dani Alves and Sergio Busquets, to name just two.
And for all Messi’s undisputed genius, sceptics might argue the rank cheating of his handball goal against Espanyol in 2007 has been somewhat glossed over, compared with Maradona’s infamous 1986 crime.
Perhaps football fans have been spoilt, and hence grown tired of omnipresent, relentlessly successful, predictably beautiful Barcelona. Or maybe the faults were always there and are only being noticed as the novelty of their brilliance wears off.
Key Moments |
26 mins: Any doubts about whether United would conspire to throw away their first leg advantage were allayed when Antonio Valencia latched onto Darron Gibson’s fine through ball and comfortably beat Manuel Neuer.
31 mins: Neuer enhanced his already glowing reputation in the first leg with a string of outstanding stops but he showed he was human when he allowed Gibson’s shot, admitedly a fierce one, through his hands.
76 mins: Jose Manuel Jurado’s goal against the run of play 10 minutes before the break gave Schalke a glimmer, but a late brace from Anderson, who struck twice in four minutes, put the icing on top of United’s cake.