Little disclaimer, this article is a point of view kind of article. Everything that is written here is only an opinion and one could disagree. However, we ask ourselves, what is a culé, and what does it mean to be a Barça fan?
Every football fan has a story. Whether you support late Bury F.C. or some of the biggest clubs in the world, the passion of the game and the reasons for supporting teams are often subjective. Many football fans grow up as fans of the club their family supported while supporting their countries at tournaments such as World Cups or continental championships.
Personally, as a Lebanese fan of the game, I only got to see my team play once in a tournament. It was at the 2019 Asian Cup of Nations, and Lebanon had qualified with a golden generation but crashed out of their group to some shady refereeing decisions against Qatar, the hosts and future champions, especially. It was a proud moment to scream at a TV to see your country play for once in a tournament, even if they lost.
However, being a fan of a club is something else. While your passport seals your country allegiances, you choose your club. No matter what, you have the pick of the bunch. As mentioned, some choose Barça; others choose Sunderland, while newcomers might be inclined to pick Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain or Chelsea. Being a fan of the sport is the essence of football.
No footballer begins by hating the sport, at least no footballer that has big Champions League and World Cup dreams. Barcelona is one of the most beautiful clubs in the world, even with all the shady business that has gone on lately. Some claim Barça have been money laundering with deals such as the Paulinho transfer in 2017 and the excessive amounts of Brazilian brought in; others claim Barça are cheaters and they shouldn’t have won against PSG in 2017 or Chelsea in 2009.
To be a culé, and that is my honest opinion, you need to get over the relentless claims made about the club. To be a culé, there are many qualities. First, one has to like football. Football is a philosophy and to each their own. Blaugranas love the champagne football, the crème de la crème in terms of playing football. This is why Ernesto Valverde did not convince half the fanbase, even though his results were decent enough to warrant respect from the fanbase.
However, being a culé does not mean one has to be stubborn towards football. Every manager sees the game differently, and some often change their methods given the club that has appointed them. Quique Setién had a carte blanche at Real Betis to play some open and fluid football while not getting the best results. At Barça, the man who once called himself Johan Cruyff’s spiritual child, Setién is not popular, and something has changed from the bold manager that was on the Benito Villamarín dugout.
“When you see Cruyff and his Barcelona team, and you are on the field and see them start to play and touch the ball, that’s when you really say, ‘Wow, what have I been doing all this time?’ This is what I like. Because this is controlling the ball. That’s when you truly realise what you like and you start to get an idea in your head, and that’s the idea I have followed”
Also, liking football for a culé does not extend exclusively to their own club. Catalan fans often love managers that recognise Lionel Messi’s brilliance. Diego Simeone, while being a somewhat defensive manager, is sometimes liked by the fanbase because he bows to Leo every time he plays against him. Marcelo Bielsa receives the same treatment from the supporters because he’s one of Pep Guardiola’s best friends in football.
After football style, Barça fans have a unique quality, and that is diversity. To be a culé, you do not have to be from Spain or Catalunya, and this is a result of Barcelona being a super club but also because they try and make the club marketable enough for strangers. These same strangers would struggle to understand Athletic Club’s Basque-only philosophy as they are too used to the post-Bosman ruling world of football. A culé can be from India, Barcelona, Argentina or the United States and often the country of origin does not matter when you love the club.
The “support your local” brigade often is dismissed by Barça, as was the board member who did not approve the foreign fans’ opinions because they were strangers. This board member got a lot of negative responses because Barça is a club built on diversity. Even the founder of the club, Joan Gamper, was Swiss, not Catalan.
While local fans give politics a great importance, the culture, nationality or religion doesn’t matter when being a culé | Photo by Josep Lago / AFP via Getty Images
Being a blaugrana fan is the most beautiful feeling in the world, even when Barcelona are on the wrong side of a beating. It’s true; these past few years haven’t been the most successful for Barça. But the passion of the fans and the players have made them so angry to lose their fourth league title out of the last 12 that they went to the first half of the Napoli game with a more focused mentality than in the league. That’s what Barcelona is all about. When you fall down, you get straight back up and fight for your rights.
One of the main reasons why Bayern fans are so confident about the next tie this Friday is because some culés have lost their confidence in the club, but this is not what a culé does. Being a culé is having the confidence of breaking 1970 Brazil’s back with ease, even with frequently questioned players such as Nélson Semedo or Iván Rakitić in the starting eleven.
Moreover, being a Barça fan means you have to respect others. The new wave of blaugrana fans have mocked some players, and what was once mockery became bullying. André Gomes once testified to the Spanish media that he was suffering from depression after some relentless comments from a portion of disrespectful culés who went all out on him for not being good enough.
“I don’t feel good on the pitch. I am not enjoying what I am doing. The first six months [at Barça] were pretty good but then things changed. Maybe it’s not the right word to use, but it has turned into a kind of hell, because I have started to feel more pressure. With pressure, I feel fine, but with the pressure [I put] on myself, I don’t. The feeling that I have during games is bad”
Look at the treatment Ousmane Dembélé is receiving for being injury-prone, something he can not fully control. It has gone to such levels that the Frenchman has limited the number of comments on his Instagram page. Football is a sport built on respect. Bullying, racism, discrimination and homophobia, while seen a lot, should not be allowed and true culés should know how to talk about their players with respect.
To answer the question what does it mean to be a culé?, I’d say that the pride of seeing your team play every time in their famous blue and red stripes no matter the opposition, the manager in place or the players is what makes one a true culé.
However, being proud should not mean being deluded. Sometimes, humans have to face reality and understand their team’s needs and limitations. Some culés can be too extreme. Some are always so positive while others hate everything the club does if it doesn’t lead to a Treble. Being proud of Barcelona means you have found a nuanced way to write your feelings about the club. When they mess up, you would have to hold your hands up. When they do something good, such as demolishing an opponent, signing a decent player or winning a trophy –– Copa del Rey included ––, you would also have to congratulate the squad.
Being unrealistic is what has made being a culé a bit unbearable at times. It feels like people are so entitled to their opinion and only care about winning the argument and not have a dialogue with someone. Never forget, culés, we are FC Barcelona, one of the clubs that represent the most values and ethics since the Resistance in 1936. Until then, don’t lose faith in your club, never, even if Bayern look unbeatable.
Analysis of the left-back problem at Barcelona
On the 22nd of June in the year 2012 Barcelona re-signed once one of their own, Valencia speedster, Jordi Alba, for 14 million Euros. Once part of the club after coming through the esteemed La Masia academy, he was to replace Eric Abidal, the French left-back who had given much to Barcelona over the years but his unfortunate health problems meant it was the need of the hour to move onwards. Fast forward 8 years and a massive 335 appearances for the Blaugranas, the man who was initially dismissed as ‘too short’ by the Catalan club stands as a gargantuan figure who made the left-hand side his own.
It is unpropitious for Barcelona that time cannot be rolled back, because if they could, they would definitely look no further than the little man they signed in 2012 to fix their current concerns at left-back. As things stand, however, Alba is 31 and clearly regressing as each season passes. While he still has an excellent command on his attacking skill, it’s the defensive issues faced by him and the other fullbacks that puts the team in hot water consistently. Moreover, one of the key aspects to his game is the pace and acceleration he brought near the touchline, and that is one area that is bound to regress with age. It is, therefore, the correct time to look for a replacement for the Spaniard; otherwise, the Blaugranas risk being set back a few years as happened with replacing Dani Alves.
This train of thought was what Barcelona had in mind when they signed Junior Firpo from Real Betis in August 2019. He was, at that point, a highly well-regarded prospect in La Liga, with several teams including Real Madrid and Manchester City posing interest in the Dominican. However, Firpo’s attacking threat was nowhere close to the Spaniard. In the 17 appearances he did make, Junior Firpo had a low xA (Expected Assists) of 0.06 per 90 last season as compared to Alba’s 0.14 per 90. Additionally, he had 3.71 passes into the final third per 90 as compared to Alba’s 4.75. Finally, Firpo was never able to recreate the kind of understanding Alba had with team captain Lionel Messi which made the duo lethal. The young left-back never makes the same runs into the box as Alba and the Argentinian is often left wanting more in that regard.
Junior Firpo, at the moment, simply does not match up to Jordi Alba at all.
Defensively speaking, Firpo did attempt more tackles than the Spanish veteran – 2.12 tackles per 90 as compared to Alba’s 1.03 per 90 in 19/20, but it is often due to necessity as he is caught out of position very often. This trickles down to the fouls, which stand at 3.1 fouls per 90 for 24-year-old, as compared to Alba’s 0.74. Consequently, Firpo picked up 5 yellow cards while Alba picked up 7 in a little more than double the starts, indicating a lack of discipline in Firpo’s case. The duo is similar with regards to successful pressures, as Alba had 2.8 successful pressures per 90 last season and Firpo had 2.65 for the same.
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
For what it is worth, Firpo does bring a touch of aerial dominance into the picture, but that is hardly a requirement for the left-back of a team like Barcelona. The youngster’s growth has stagnated over the season, and he showed no signs of adaptability when it came to moving from a 5 at the back system at Betis to a flat 4 at Barcelona. Maybe with time, Junior Firpo becomes an able replacement, but with multiple players past their peaks, including long time mainstays Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique who have been so crucial to the Blaugrana’s defensive system, Barcelona must bring in a fresh face. Someone who can fill the massive shoes of Alba quickly. We, at Barca Universal, therefore, look at 3 possible replacements for the Spaniard who can complete the Blaugrana’s search in that position.
Going the Jordi Alba route: Alex Grimaldo
A name Barca connoisseurs will be familiar with, Alex Grimaldo is also from the once-famed La Masia, and was one of the highly touted prospects before he chose to move to Benfica, eyeing the possibility of more playing time since Alba had a tight hold of that spot at Barcelona. Now that Alba is ageing, it might be time to dive in for another trusted La Masia prospect who will know the workings of the club from his academy days.
Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images
Grimaldo is a short and lean player, with a boosted acceleration – a profile very similar to that of Alba. Often used as a midfielder in his earlier days, he has the decision making and a great handle on what to do when he has possession of the ball, which is a massive bonus for a team like the possession hungry Catalans. He has a tremendous attacking output and is genuinely fearless, something Firpo is clearly lacking. The 24-year-old Spaniard has racked 22 assists in 88 games in the Primeira Liga and is one of the top fullbacks in the league. His xA per 90 stood at 0.21 as compared to Alba’s 0.14 last season, and he also led the numbers for tackles, making 2.34 successful tackles per 90 as compared to Alba’s 0.58. When it comes to passing, Grimaldo completed 83% of his passes last season, whereas Alba made his passes at a completion rate of 87.1%.
While Grimaldo is short in stature and teams often look to go over him, he still has the positioning to make up for the same and has the pace to make up ground if he falters. Something prime Alba can massive relate to.
The short-term, big success option: Nicolas Tagliafico
The red and blue of Barcelona owes a lot to the red and white of Amsterdam. From players like Johann Cruyff and Jari Litmanen to more recently, Luis Suarez and Frenkie de Jong, there have been a plethora of players who have represented both the clubs. Now that Barcelona have been looking to offload the regressing Suarez, Nicolas Tagliafico could turn out be an interesting option to entice Ajax for a swap deal.
Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images
The Argentine left-back moved from Independiente in 2018 and has since appeared 65 times for Ajax. While he is not as much of an attacking threat (8 assists in 2 seasons), the 28-year-old does give Barcelona something they desperately need in their current predicament – defensive solidity. Compared to Alba’s 25 tackles attempted in the 19/20 season, Tagliafico attempted almost four times that number (96) and successfully completing 61 of them, compared to Alba’s 14. He was also able to block 10 shots compared to Alba’s 5.
However, the defensive side of the game is not all he provides. He is solid while in possession as well, completing 86% of his passes, and playingi in one key pass every game. He also created seven big chances last season, of which only four were converted. Tagliafico stands at a modest 5’7”, but he does have the lung-bursting stamina in him, which will be a criterion to consider while replacing Alba. In buying Tagliafico, Barcelona could potentially look to employ something their Blanco rivals in Madrid successfully did after buying Ferland Mendy – plug the defensive errors from the wings and solidify the defence as a whole.
The left-of-centre option: Jose Gaya
Barcelona looked towards Valencia in 2012, and maybe the solution lies there in 2020 as well. Jose Gaya has been one of the most highly-rated left-backs in La Liga for years. Despite, that, he is only 25 years old, but has already racked up 144 appearances for the club. With Valencia having a fire sale, it would be the perfect time for the Blaugranas to target their academy graduate.
Gaya is a very attacking fullback who tends to occupy areas on the left-hand side byline a lot. He is an outstanding crosser and attempted 3.08 crosses per game in the 19/20 season. He had a total of 939 touches in the mid and final third combined, showing his tendency to push up in the opposition half and receive the ball high up the pitch. If he loses the ball, Gaya has the electric pace that can help him catch up with opponents quickly. He is not afraid to complete a challenge and is hard to take on, given his short, but robustly built. Gaya was one of the standout players in what was a rather disappointing season for Valencia, and Barcelona should grab the chance to buy him with both hands, especially after his excellent display against them in La Liga this season.