The general reaction in Brazil and to some extent abroad to Barcelona’s easy win against Santos in the Club World Cup final has been that Barcelona play what is supposed to be Brazil’s style while Santos’ defeat is deemed a sign that Brazilian football has changed for the worse, distancing itself from its traditional roots.
Better teams usually win
Reality is far more complex though, as the match was not a battle between two styles or philosophies, it was instead a battle between Barcelona’s fantastic team and a far weaker team such as Santos.
Barcelona, regardless of their style, feature a number of top players such as Xavi, Iniesta, Piqué, Daniel Alves, Cesc Fàbregas and they have in Messi the best player in the world.
Santos, on the other hand, have only two top class players – Ganso and Neymar – and a few other players such as Elano, Borges, Danilo and goalkeeper Rafael that are good but nowhere near the quality of Barcelona’s players. Also unlike Barcelona, Santos have a poor defense that showed signs of weakness throughout the season.
Barcelona do not play like Brazil used to
Another mistake is the belief that Barcelona crushed Santos due to playing a style resembling how Brazil used to play, as Barcelona’s tiki-taka style is beautiful and efficient, and thus deemed comparable to the beautiful football traditionally attributed to Brazilian football.
There are though differences between Barcelona’s style and Brazi’s style in the 1970 or 1982, as Barcelona try to keep possession for as long as possible, preventing the other team to threaten them, furthermore, Barcelona’s pressing game force their opponents to make mistakes and lose possession.
Brazil had a completely different approach back then, trying to play their own game, but not preventing the other team to play as well. That’s the style known as joga e deixa jogar (play and let the other team play), leading to more open games. But even in those times Brazil and Brazilian teams would employ ugly football if needed, as showed by Brazil in the 1974 World Cup and by São Paulo in the 1977 edition of the Brasileirão
The style played in Brazil and by Brazil evolved since then though, as more emphasis is given nowadays on physical players and the style is more defensive-minded, focusing often on counter-attacks. Thanks in part to that new mentality, Brazil won the World Cup in 1994, and Brazilian teams managed to beat European teams several times in the old Intercontinental Cup and the Club World Cup. Thus, those changes benefited Brazil, bringing more success than what was achieved in the 1970s and 1980s.
Barcelona are a unique club
Barcelona’s unique circumstances are also often ignored, not taking into account the fact Barcelona’s current style was developed over several years, shaping players since they were playing for the youth teams and introducing them slowly to senior football. This way, they are used to playing with each other employing the same style at both youth level and senior level.
That kind of scenario is impossible to reproduce in Brazil unless the exporting of players stop, as the squads change often, not allowing the players to play together long enough and preventing the clubs from establishing a standardized style.
It is often suggested that the Brazilian national FA should try get the clubs to introduce a standardized style all over the country, but that would lead the clubs to have even less independence, which is not desirable given Brazil’s FA historical policy of “divide and rule”, getting the clubs to fight against each other rather than working together to strengthen domestic football.
The defeat of Santos thus did not prove much since Barcelona were already believed to be the best team in the world and they proved so on the pitch, like they have done numerous times in recent years, having beaten all sort of teams, including teams that tried to attack them, and teams that adopted a defensive approach similar to that of Santos.
It was not Brazilian football that lost the game, but rather Barcelona that won it. Barcelona’s success do deserve to be praised and admired, but Santos’ defeat do not change the fact Brazilian domestic football have been improving in recent years, allowing Santos to feature two of the best Brazilian players.