Barcelona & the Spanish Art of War: the Siege

Posted on March 17, 2010 by Elliott
So I realized that in my two years of blogging, I have made a huge mistake – I have somehow avoided the trite comparisons of sport/war and sport/chess. Well, I did touch on weapons in an ages old MLS power ranking, but this simile, like a virgin forest in Alaska, is ripe for a plundering. I also have seen some eery similarities between ancient military tactics and the current state of La Liga. I promise this is not just a rehash of my Argentina piece at Run of Play, but that is a nice intro.

Thus, I present Part I in a series that probably will only be one part. My topic? The Siege. My subject? The Dreaded Catalonian Legions.

Ah, the siege. For millenia, small towns with tall walls feared this most terrifying of tactics, the dread equal parts psychological and practical. The siege, like a strangulating hand, brings into sharp focus the degree to which our existence depends on external resources. Oxygen. Food. Water. As the time ticks, our need grows. And therein lies the secret to the successful siege: patience.

The Catalonian siege shares eery similarities to the devastating Roman sieges of lore. Barcelona usually targets smaller coastal communities such as Valencia and Coruna and deprives them of one simple resource: the ball. That is to say, the Cules whip circles on the pitch with first touch passes, playing the circular object to any plot of grass where the opposition is not.

The opponents have two choices – run themselves into oblivion, or retreat even further. The Catalonian clock is not your typical wristwatch. There is no minute hand or flashing numbers. If the Catalonian clock was a stopwatch, it would be frozen. That’s because for the bloodthirsty yet calculating Catalonians, there are but two times – the moment you capitulate, and the moments leading up to that event.

In last season’s Champions League semifinals, a motley crew of Anglo Saxons and Africans engaged the Cules in a staring contest. For 180 minutes, neither side blinked. Then, in a half second of uncertainty, Admiral Iniesta stuck a dagger deep into the Londoner’s hearts. The thrust was neither powerful nor clandestine – rather, it was unflinching. Iniesta acted with neither hesitation nor remorse.

Of course, the siege is not simply a question of pitching tints and waiting for sunset. The Romans deployed towers and armed stations within reach of the tiny town’s walls. Why, you ask, would they send their supplies and soldiers into harm’s way? From a military standpoint, that terrain’s location has incalculable value. From a psychological standpoint, the daily visual reminder of your waiting captor can provoke either anger or insanity, but never apathy. Barcelona’s looming and somewhat mobile Swedish outpost has found similar results.

The tower, the encampment, the catapults, all these tools play a part. But who holds in check the bloodthirsty mercenaries? Who can strike fear into the battle hungry Admiral Iniesta? None other than the cold and calculating General Xavi. If one watches Barcelona play, all forward and backward movement begins and ends with Xavi. Like Napoleon before him, his short stature only serves to contrast his dominating presence and sheer force of will.

Like all great generals, Xavi’s actions and decisions are orchestrated out well in advance. He also constantly snacks on an apple and is dismissive of his underlings’ suggestions. In the picture above, Admiral Iniesta absolutely begged Xavi to take this free kick quickly – “My lord, the townsfolk walk about like skeletons from the lack of nourishment, if we invade we will crush their bones under our heels.”

General Xavi, though, between bites of his delicious apple, rolls his eyes and coughs gently. “I too sense a nervousness in the air, Admiral, but it is your own. We shall wait until the locals turn to the flesh of their dead for nourishment, and then, and only then… will we take a shot on goal.”