In this new documentary on Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team, Brazilian right-back Daniel Alves said that Guardiola’s coaching was “better than sex.” A big statement, but for diehard football fans, watching Barcelona between 2008 and 2012 was a joy. The team represented the type of football that everybody aspires to play. They possessed the technique, finesse, and won major trophies with ease. For football lovers, Guardiola’s Barcelona may have indeed been “better than sex.”
Even to this very day, people admire Barcelona Football Club for the way they play ‘the beautiful game’, but during Guardiola’s time, that admiration was on another level. They revolutionised the game and were a source of inspiration for even the most experienced of managers such as Arsène Wenger, who coincidentally switched Arsenal’s formation to something that looked a lot like the Catalan clubs. The highlight of this new documentary is not just the fact that it dissects how and why Barcelona played the way they did, but players like Xavi, Iniesta, and Lionel Messi are also explaining to the audience how they dispatched of teams like Manchester United and Real Madrid in such an impressive manner.
The film expertly uses split screen for Xavi, their former midfield maestro, as he explains their tactics for certain games. So while Xavi demonstrates with cups, their 2011 Champions League final is playing on the other side of the screen to show how it happened in the game. There were moments prior to the explanations where you prepare yourself for an intricate breakdown of tactics. Instead, what happens is Xavi tells you that instead of passing forward, they would pass across the pitch to create space for Messi. So simple. However, hearing it from the actual players is thrilling and something most fans have never been able to experience before.
Also, another highlight is how they differentiated that particular Barcelona team to others. The discipline required to play for the club, and for Guardiola, was unique. The great Thierry Henry described how he had to unlearn so many things, and instead of expecting passes every minute like he was accustomed to at Arsenal, he had to learn how to make runs, knowing he would not get the ball. No matter how good you were, there was such a thing as “the Barca way,” and unlike other teams, hard work and commitment was not enough, you had to immerse yourself in the philosophy.
Take The Ball, Pass The Ball highlights Dmytro Chygrynskiy’s time at the club to show the difficulties of adjusting to that team. In one game, Dmytro was told to pass the ball forward and play out from the back. But unfortunately for him, old habits crept in and he played long balls to Zlatan Ibrahimović. Long balls are perfectly acceptable for most teams, but for this great side, it was a big fat no. Long story short, Dmytro did not complete the whole ninety minutes of that game.
The list of players, coaches, and boardroom members that are a part of this documentary is quite spectacular. Samuel Eto’o, who has had a love/hate relationship with Guardiola, makes an appearance as well. At one point in time, the interviewees were all a part of this team during that special four-year spell, so the information we receive is reliable because it’s coming from people who witnessed it from the inside. There are no theories or opinions; most of what you hear is fact, which certainly helps when making a documentary.
Also, since the book Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World by football journalist Graham Hunter is the inspiration for this, it is a very long and in-depth documentary. It does not leave out stories from previous seasons to shorten the runtime. They embrace everything from Johan Cruyff to Frank Rijkaard, to give audiences an unprecedented look at the greatest team in football history.
Where the film does fall short, however, is in the editing department. At times during the film, a particular game is the main focus, and instead of showing the goals from that game in real time to help the story sink in, the director has chosen to fast-forward. It’s an incredibly frustrating trait, which unfortunately carries on throughout the film. There is also a lack of cutaways, leaving too many moments where all we see is someone sitting down and talking.
Take The Ball, Pass The Ball also lacks variety. While those that are in the film offer a lot of insight, we do not get many interviews from opposing coaches like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger to agree or perhaps disagree with the other interviewees. Some more outside perspectives would have given the film more range, and still not taken away from what key figures like Carlos Puyol and former president Joan Laporta were saying.
But for Football fans young and old, this is a treat, and it gives you interviews and information you will not see elsewhere. For those that have read Graham Hunter’s book, you can compare and share whether you feel the book is superior to the film. However, it’s one thing reading about football. It’s another thing to actually hear and see the magic of football unfolding before your very eyes.
Dir: Duncan McMath
Prd: Marc Guillén, Graham Hunter, and Duncan McMath
DOP: Victor M. Gros
Editor: Victor M. Gros
Runtime: 1h 49min
Take The Ball, Pass The Ball is now available on DVD.