“It all unfolded naturally,” explains Pep Guardiola when discussing the reasons for his and Barcelona’s period of footballing dominance between 2008 and 2012 in the club’s recent Take the Ball, Pass the Ball documentary. “That’s how we built something special and kept it going for so long,” the planet’s most innovative football manager added.
Guardiola and his Catalan-based superstars introduced a brand of football never before seen during their illustrious and unforgettable period of eye-candy producing football a decade ago. The 49-year-old embedded and built upon the roots of the club’s founding father, Johan Cruyff, and provided the world with a new and poetic style of football that transformed the playing of the beautiful game.
With nearly two hours of footage explaining the achievements of this dynasty’s success, it is only fitting this documentary tells the story from those responsible of how a team that, before Guardiola’s appointment, were suffering something of an identity crisis. Besieged by an ageing squad derailed of confidence and more importantly trophies, Take the Ball, Pass the Ball shows the journey of a footballing side that blossomed to such an extent that they will live forever in both millennials and everyone else’s mind for the way they beautifully reached the top.
This narrative takes the viewer on a deep and historic tour of various stages of monumental moments in the Spanish outfit’s history that contributed to the team’s golden generation, with six very different emotion-ridden chapters all containing elements of the club’s past, present and future. This is because the documentary begins with the team’s pinnacle fixture that took place during the era – the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final. The match demonstrated the complete capabilities of Guardiola and his team, and was therefore a very impressive way of starting the film, because the remainder of it told the long and deep story of how they reached that point.
However, this was of course not without its challenges. All masters reach the summit by making one of many steps, and nowhere can this be best seen by one of the next scenes which details the story of defender Eric Abidal’s battle with illness. It is, of course, deep, but it more significantly demonstrates the spirit of a club that is wrapped in family-esque values, and one that never gives up on its members, despite the emotional trauma that plagued the team during these years. So whilst the film is seemingly based solely upon this awe-inspiring team, it goes way beyond just looking at on the field moments.
It does this best by not having a voiceover narrator; instead, it interviews those closest to the club’s success such as the majority of the squad’s personnel, as well as having input from journalists like Graham Hunter. This is really effective because it creates a neutral and unbiased perspective of certain periods, most notably the intense Mourinho v Guardiola rivalry at the start of the decade. Without these reporters, the documentary wouldn’t have portrayed the players and their achievements in the same light because they would effectively have just been listing the team’s success in numerous monologues.
On the other hand, the fact that the film is virtually all in Spanish with subtitles at the bottom of the screen, made the documentary feel like more of a book that you were reading rather than a film you were expecting to be watching. Likewise, many of the interviews are undertaken in uninspiring rooms with no real colour or atmosphere, making the film reliant on highlights to bring you this.
Of course, the film is, rightly, more about explaining than informing, and this is done superbly by the interviewees. For example, Xavi cleverly describes the tactics of the ‘El Rondo’ triangle by using cutlery rather than typical circular magnets like those on a manager’s whiteboard. These innovative ideas are not only fantastic from a cinematic perspective, but they also mirror the small details that are explained to us in showcasing how Barcelona assembled the greatest footballing side ever.
Indeed, Guardiola’s own personality is delved into, and once more illustrates to an even higher degree the demands he put on his players, so much so that we got some negative opinions of him from the likes of Samuel Eto’o, which was actually quite refreshing considering everyone involved with this team was biblically revered.
What’s more, with the likes of Cruyff’s son, Jordi, as well as chief architects behind-the-scenes such as Joan Vila both important figures in conveying the club’s historic principles throughout, the chapter on these foundations is extremely effective in evoking the club’s passing and pressing tradition and philosophy. The work of the Dutchman in years before was critical in producing stars like Andres Iniesta and Xavi through the club’s La Masia academy, and it showed how his effect on the club is so deep-rooted. This was perhaps even more important in relaying the club’s values given the current climate of instability and change that surrounds football teams today.
As a result, the chronological details that were shown all culminate in looking ahead to the club’s future. Xavi himself is portrayed as the next Guardiola and Cruyff by many former players, once more highlighting the ‘Mes que un club’ ethos that the film circulates around. The fact though that the great Lionel Messi was spoken about in great detail earlier on though, shows he is viewed as effectively Barcelona’s past, and it serves as a crucial reminder as to how reliant he was on the class of 2008-2012, even though he still plays for the team now.
Subsequently, this documentary shows that whilst such beautiful football could very well be on the horizon again for Barcelona with their historic number six, it actually serves as an important reminder as to how quickly success can stop, but also how dazzling and powerful that Barcelona team and its memories have become now that unique period of success is over. This documentary does this in abundance with its cast and the nostalgia it creates, leaving us all reflectively privileged about what we had the joy of witnessing.