What can Rangers take from Barcelona's European Triumph?
Barcelona's triumph last night was a godsend for the mid level clubs in Europe. Sure, Barcelona are the 3rd richest club in the DeLoitte richlist, and can afford to spend £20m on Dani Alves, a right back, but Barcelona's triumph last night had far more in common with the triumph of Ajax in 1995, or Porto in 2004, than might first be apparent.
In the second half of the ITV coverage, it was noted that four of the top ten players in the most recent World Player of the Year vote graced the Rome turf, three of whom were in the Barcelona side.
However, this was not like the Real Madrid side at the turn of the decade, which featured an expensively assembled all star cast of Zidane, Figo, Beckham and Ronaldo. Nor was it like the expensively assembled casts of Manchester United, or beaten semi-finalists Chelsea.
The 3 Barcelona players in the top 10 in the World Player of the Year poll were Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. How much would they be worth in today's market? A conservative estimate would put a price tag of at least £100m on the three players. How much did they cost Barcelona? £0. All are products of Barcelona's youth academy.
In fact, a close look at Barcelona's starting XI for the final reveals that no fewer than 7 of the starting 11 fielded by Barcelona came through the club's youth system (I am counting Gerard Pique, who was a Barcelona academy player before being stolen by Manchester United.) Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi have all progressed through the ranks at Barcelona (and in Piquet's case, via Manchester United) to the first team, and last night Champions League glory. You would have to go back to the Ajax side of 1995, that contained Rijkaard, Blind, the de Boers, Davids, Seedorf and Kluivert, to find a Champions League winning side with such a massive home grown influence.
Barcelona this season have been a shining light throughout Europe. Their football is a joy to watch. Their youth policy is exceptional.
So what does this mean for Rangers?
As a Rangers fan, Sunday was a fantastic day for me. The first league title in 4 long years was certainly something worth celebrating. While our medium to long term future is less clear, with all the rumours of possible takeovers and rumours as to the long term health of the club flying around, that shouldn't dampen celebrating what is a long overdue and very welcome championship success.
However, as a Rangers fan, I crave more. Experiences such as the one we experienced at the City of Manchester Stadium last May should not be a once in a generation experience. We may not be able to compete with the money on offer in the Premiership, but not many can. Manchester United's bench cost more than Barcelona's first XI last night.
Barcelona's success has, however, pointed the way forward. We must do better when it comes to developing our own talent. In my 16 years watching Rangers, we have produced two players who are of the quality to grace the Champions League - Barry Ferguson and Alan Hutton. Two players in those 16 years is pathetic for a club of Rangers' size and stature. Not one of the starting XI on Sunday had come through the ranks at Rangers.
This is an aspect of the club which is critical. I do not expect us to instantly produce world class players. However, with proper coaching and scouting at the club, from the bottom up, there is no reason why we cannot produce an Alan Hutton or Barry Ferguson every year. None whatsoever.
Wouldn't you drool at Rangers youngsters playing football the way Barcelona play it, having been taught that way from the age of 7 or 8? Wouldn't you love to see a Rangers side filled with young Scottish talent playing that way week in and week out, competing with the biggest sides in Europe?
Barcelona have proven that you don't need a massive chequebook in order to achieve the ultimate success in European club football. Those at Rangers would do well to study the model for sucess at Barcelona. Barcelona have pointed the way forward for every European club outwith the EPL. It is a course Rangers must follow.