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Has the Barcelona bubble burst?

In the aftermath of Afcon 2013 the world has returned to a diet of EPL, La Liga and the European Club championships.

Although I like Arsenal for their consistent struggle to play attractive, attacking football, it is Barcelona that have completely stolen my heart. Who would not fall in love with a team that brings delight to its fans week after week in all competitions with consistent, regular displays of the best form of football available to the world in this past decade?

My relationship with Barca has lasted almost 10 years.

I do not even recall how it started but I just know that I have always felt a thing about the Spanish city. The moment I observed that there was something unique, refreshing, exciting and entertaining about the team, I became hooked for life. Except for the occasional hiccup, the fans of Barcelona, unlike the more numerous fans of the Gunners, have not been let down. We are in an almost perpetual mode of celebration.

Changes in how the game of football is played hardly ever happen. There have only been a few changes throughout the history of the game, with the ‘total football’ introduced by the Dutch being the most significant.

Otherwise, changes have been limited to fitter players, increases in the speed of play, slight modifications in beating the off-side trap, attacking full-backs, goal-line technology and other changes to how players organise themselves on the field of play during a match.

It is only in Spain and in the team called Barcelona that the most radical development in playing style has taken place.

I don’t know how it was done but from the Barcelona Youth Academy the world saw the birth of a generation of football players that held it spellbound for almost a decade.

This has also given rise to an army of researchers all over the world, attempting to understand what produced the two greatest teams in the world of the past decade and the best player in history – the national team of Spain, the club called Barcelona and the man named Lionel Messi. They are all from the same source, conceived in the same womb.

Coaches of other teams (ask Ferguson and Mourinho for their nightmarish experiences) have had sleepless nights trying to concoct counter-strategies. In the last two seasons, only Chelsea and Real Madrid have, with some luck, managed to cage the rampaging ball players of Barcelona. Even those efforts took so much from the two teams that this season they have become a shadow of themselves.

All of that may be about to change. There is a new force on the horizon.

Last Wednesday night, notice was served in the manner that the Italian giants, AC Milan, rendered Tiki Taka impotent. In their first-leg match of the Champions League, the Italians masterfully defeated Barcelona with ease and with such a simple and effective strategy that, perhaps, a turning point may finally have been reached in the struggle to stop Barcelona and, by extension, Spain.

The playing style of Barcelona, even in the match last Wednesday, did not change. They still dominated AC Milan with their ball possession and endless running but they never looked likely to break down the well–organised defence of AC Milan. The Italians turned almost every breakdown of Barca’s long and ineffective spell on the ball into a threat at the other end, making the Spaniards unsure of themselves, less creative and even reluctant sometimes to go forward in their usual ferocious manner.

Last Wednesday night I was humbled by the manner of Barcelona’s defeat. This was a team that had all its best players present, including the world’s best two – Messi and Iniesta.

The world is waiting to see what will happen when the two teams meet again at Camp Nou for the return leg. Has the lion been finally caged? Has an antidote for Tiki Taka been found?

How will Barcelona respond to this real threat?

That match will provide the first indication of what will happen in Rio De Janeiro in the summer of 2014. Spain will attempt to continue their dominance of world football by creating history and becoming the first European national team to win a World Cup played in South America.

Lionel Messi will attempt to erase all doubts about who the greatest football player in the history of the game is. With a World Cup medal added to his chest, there will be no doubt anymore, even among his worst critics, that he is the greatest football player the world has ever seen.

Oh, how I hate AC Milan now for the ‘damage’ they have done!

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