If the true measure of a team's greatness is the ability to answer to the famous cry of "Show us yer medals!", the Barcelona side of 2009 has a louder response than anyone before. Six trophies out of six, big, small and smaller still.
The completion of the sextuple came probably too late for The Times' quest for the greatest sporting feats of the decade, but the way I see it, it's hard to dispute this Barça's right to be remembered as one of the best club sides ever, if not 'the' greatest. And this not just because of the silverware.
They have done it with a style of football which is admired by everyone. However, curiously, it's a style that doesn't lend itself to imitation. How many clubs are looking for figures like Xavi and Iniesta to direct their play? How many would gamble on Samuel Eto'o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic? How many would promote so many players from within, after having made sure they will stand up to the test in the under-age ranks? How many will 'steal' players like Iniesta and Messi in their infancy and groom them all the way to leading trophies, rather than see them fall by the wayside? There has been a typical Barça way of playing modern football at least since Johan Cruyff's Dream Team of the 90s, but the heart of his team (in the pulse-dictating sense of the word), Josep Guardiola, has taken it to a new level.
It has to be said, though, that as many as four of those trophies have been won against inferior teams: the Copa del Rey and Spanish Supercup both against an Athletic de Bilbao side unable to even touch Barça, the European Supercup against Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk, who are second division in European terms, and the Club World Cup against Atlante from Mexico and Estudiantes from Argentina. You can call this lucky, or you can call it an additional reason for greatness that Barça looked so superior to them before the matches, and then went on to confirm the prognosis.
Until now, I had considered this 'title' to belong to the Manchester United of 1999 and their quadruple of League, FA Cup, Champions League and Intercontinental Cup. This in spite of having hardly any luck in the cup draws. In the FA Cup they had to beat Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Newcastle (then a proper team), and in the Champions League they got the hardest possible deal, escaping a group of death including Barcelona and Bayern, then eliminating Inter and Juventus before that famous Camp Nou final against Bayern again. However, Arsenal won the Community Shield and Lazio the European Super Cup.
Barça have achieved the clean sweep, and this side has now got a name for posterity (El Barça de las Seis Copas). Will there ever be anyone who can emulate that? Curiously, only teams with two domestic cup competitions, like England, can surpass that and make it a septuple. Will we ever see that?
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