It is already a third of the way through February, it’s already 2020! September was the last time we checked in down the annals of history! In the spirit of the new decade, I will be looking back at a shirt that was only matched in its peculiarity by the season itself; the 2011-12 Barcelona home shirt!
THE STORY OF THE SEASON:
Barcelona were at the peak of their powers under Pep Guardiola, and although they narrowly missed out on another treble opportunity, following a narrow defeat against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final; they would win La Liga for a 3rd straight season, and would have a blockbuster Champions League Final to look forward to against Manchester United at the end of the season. The rematch of the 2009 finale would end even more comprehensively in the favour of Barcelona, as they returned to the site of their inaugural European Cup win in 1992: Wembley Stadium.
Without a doubt ‘The Blaugrana’ were the finest exponent of the game as we knew it following their 4th European Cup triumph. While Victor Valdes was still somewhat suspect between the sticks, he was still one of the best ‘keepers on the planet, and although Carles Puyol’s injury problems were also becoming all the more present, this team boasted: Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Lionel Messi and David Villa amongst its starting eleven, while Javier Mascherano, Eric Abidal, Seydou Keita, Ibrahim Afellay were amongst the talent who couldn’t even get a guaranteed place in the team, while banging on the door of the first time were the likes of: Nolito, Sergi Roberto, Thiago, Marc Bartra, Oriol Romeu, Martin Montoya and Gerard Deulofeu! No sooner did that season end, did the transfer mill gather steam and that summer Barca were linked with a myriad of players; off the top of my head, names like: Giuseppe Rossi (he had scored 18 goals to help Villarreal to a 4th place finish), Alexis Sanchez and even a young Antoine Griezmann’s name was in the reckoning, while the coup de gras for the club was the conclusion of the long running saga; the romance of romances: Cesc Fabregas’ return to the club! A 2 year pursuit of their former youth product culminated with his €34 million transfer from Arsenal. Joining him would be the electrifying young Chilean, Sanchez, who arrived for €26 million from Udinese; these two transfers would make Pep Guardiola’s side, without a doubt, the most feared side on the planet on paper.
After 5 intense meetings in 2010-11; the latest chapter of the Barcelona vs Real Madrid feud would be the Spanish football curtain raiser in the 2-legged Supercopa de Espana; the 1st Leg taking place on 14/08/11 at the Camp Nou ending in a 2-2 draw, before the 2nd Leg took place 3 days later at the Bernabeu. This game in the Spanish capital would end 3-2 in favour of Barcelona and feature no less than 3 red cards as Barcelona drew first blood in what was going to be a brutal rivalry against Jose Mourinho and his charges. 9 days later, Barcelona would win their 4th UEFA Super Cup as they defeated 9-man FC Porto 2-0 in Monaco; more memorable than the fact that Leo Messi had already netted his 4th goal of the season, it was Cesc Fabregas’ first goal on his return to the club. 3 days later, they began their defence of their La Liga crown with an incredible 5-0 win at home against Villarreal! Fabregas would score his first La Liga goal for the club, while Alexis also got on the scoresheet with his first goal for the club, homegrown talent Thiago would open the scoring, and of course, Lionel Messi would register a brace to start the new domestic campaign!
A 12 day break for International Duty would see Barca visit the San Sebastian to meet Real Sociedad, and goals from Xavi and Cesc within a minute of each other would have the visitors 2 to the good, however, the pendulum swung the other way quite remarkably on the hour mark, with Sociedad scoring twice in the space of a minute; Antoine Griezmann adding the equaliser no less, saw the game end 2-2 in the Basque Country, in what was a damming indictment of things to come in the season…
3 days later, they would share the spoils in a clash between themselves, the La Liga champions and the Serie A champions: AC Milan; in a thrilling 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou. The sum of those draws would be see poor Osasuna destroyed 8-0 in the next La Liga outing. Another 2-2 draw would come next when they made the trip to the Mastella against Valencia 21/09/11. Back to back 5-0 demolitions over BATE Borisov and Atletico Madrid would see Lionel Messi move onto 13 goals before October! The club’s early season defensive issues seemed to be in the rear view mirror, with 9 successive clean sheets in La Liga and the Champions League, however, another unhappy trip to the Basque Country, this time against Athletic Bilbao, saw the team fall to a 2-2 draw at San Mames on 06/11/11. A war of attrition at the San Siro on 23/11/11 would see the European Champions prevail 3-2, however their exertions in Milan would be capitalised on 3 days later by Getafe, who inflicted Barcelona’s first defeat of the season. The bigger implications would see Real Madrid move 6 points clear at the top of La Liga after 14 games.
2011 would end with Pep Guardiola’s side winning all 8 of their remaining games of the year; including winning the FIFA Club World Cup on 18/12/11, courtesy of a 4-0 win over Copa Libertadores winners: Santos, and crucially, securing an emphatic 3-1 over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on 10/12/11 to reduce the gap at the top to just 3 points.
That end of year momentum would stifle as the team returned to La Liga on 08/01/12, where they could draw 1-1 with Espanyol at the Cornelia El Prat, they would quickly move on by reaching the quarter-final of the Copa Del Rey where they would meet Real Madrid for 2 more legs of action! The first leg on 18/01/12 at the Bernabeu would end 2-1 to Barcelona, before a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou 7 days later saw Barca prevail 4-3 on aggregate to the semi-final and avenge their Copa del Rey Final defeat to Jose Mourinho’s side 9 months prior. A terrible spell of just 2 win in their next 5 games in league and cup, would leave the La Liga champions 10 points behind Real Madrid, albeit with a Copa del Rey final date against Athletic Bilbao to look forward too on May 25th.
11 days after beating Valencia at the Camp Nou to seal their place in the Spanish Cup final; they would decimate ‘Los Che’ 5-1 on February 19th, with Leo Messi helping himself to 4 goals, before ending a fine month of February with a tremendous match winning free-kick away against Atletico Madrid. Messi-Mania would go into overdrive on March 7th when he became the first ever player to score 5 goals in a Champions League Knock-Out stage encounter! His 5 strikes were amongst a 7-1 rout of Bayer Leverkusen, which set up a mouth-watering quarter final against AC Milan. The run of 5 straight wins would galvanise the defiant champions into one last hurrah at unseating Real Madrid at the summit of La Liga…
There would now be less than 10 games before the 6th ‘El Clasico’ of the season on April 21st, however, the gap was still 10 points at the top; all Pep Guardiola and his side could do was win and keep the pressure on the seemingly irrepressible ‘Los Blancos’.4 games in 13 days would come Barca’s way from March 11th onwards, and Barca rose to the challenge magnificently; winning all 4 efforts to take their La Liga winning spree to 7 on the bounce, and reduce the arrears between themselves and Real Madrid to 6 points at the 30 game mark. Their 3rd meeting of the season with AC Milan would come next and the game would be left on a knife-edge heading into the 2nd at the Camp Nou on April 3rd, with a 0-0 draw unfolding at the San Siro. Barca’s first game without a win in all competitions since February 11th would do nothing to halt their momentum as they saw off Athletic Bilbao 2-0 to make it 6 wins from 6 in La Liga in a spectacular month of March.
April would begin with the aforementioned 2nd Leg against AC Milan, and although the score-line doesn’t suggest it; another war would ensue between the respective champions of Italy and Spain, with Barcelona winning 3-1 on the night and reaching a 5th straight Champions League semi-final! Lying in their wake would be another familiar foe: Chelsea, where the winner would take their place in the final against one of either Bayern Munich or Real Madrid at Bayern’s Allianz Arena. With 2 weeks to go until the 1st Leg at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea; Barcelona would rattle off a further 3 wins inside of 7 days; taking the scalps of: Real Zaragoza, Getafe and Levante. The additional 9 points that were collected would see Barcelona take their winning streak to 11 matches, and now just 5 points would separate Barcelona and Real Madrid ahead of an eagerly anticipated El Clasico. Moreover, Lionel Messi would score in 10 of those 11 wins; notching 18 goals in 10 games!
A season defining week for the defending Spanish and European champions would start with their Champions League semi-final 1st Leg away against Chelsea. The last time the 2 sides met would be at the same juncture some 3 years earlier at the same juncture, and it was a controversy strewn game that saw Andres Iniesta’s last ditch wondergoal send Barcelona to the Champions League final on away goals. It was the night that Didier Drogba infamously exploded at the camera’s after the game, and later it came to fruition that a young boy named Kylian Mbappe asked the legendary Ivorian striker for a picture that night, but in his rage, he declined the young fan’s request! On this April night, Barcelona would be considered the favourites against Roberto Di Matteo’s side, and despite a dominating possession, Drogba would score the deciding goal in 1st half stoppage time, to give ‘The Blue’s 1-0 lead to take back to the Camp Nou 6 days later. A first defeat since February would set the stage for the biggest clash of their season; the visit of Real Madrid to the Camp Nou. Anything less than a victory for the hosts would likely end their La Liga title defence; even victory would only reduce the arrears to 2 points with 4 games of the left to play, however with Real Madrid also losing in mid-week, 11 wins on the bounce in the league and an unbeaten streak in the league against their fierce rivals that extended as far back as 2008; there would be no time better than now to meet the marauding side from the capital.
The evening of April 21st dawned and a near 100,000 people filled the Camp Nou to witness this most eagerly anticipated ‘El Clasico’. Sami Khedira would subdue the home support with a 17th minute strike, however, just as it unfolded in the reverse fixture; Alexis Sanchez would equalise for Barcelona, unlike that evening in Madrid, there would be no happy ending for ‘Los Cules’. Cristiano Ronaldo would restore Real Madrid’s advantage just 3 minutes later, and Real would hold out the final 17 minutes to collect their first La Liga win at the Camp Nou since the 2007/08 season, and more importantly, need to just win 3 of their remaining La Liga games to be crowned as La Liga champions.
The stakes would now be even higher from a Barcelona perspective as far as their meeting with Chelsea was concerned, and the European champions were in vintage form in the first half; Sergio Busquets would put Barca ahead after 35 minutes, before John Terry was dismissed for the visitors just 2 minutes later! Andres Iniesta would make it 2-0, however, Ramires wonderful finish just before half-time put the advantage back in Chelsea’s favour on away goals! An exhilarating first half only intensified as Barcelona were awarded a 49th minute penalty! Up stepped Lionel Messi, scorer of 62 goals for the season at that juncture and low-and-behold, the multi-time Ballon d’Or winner would miss from 12 yards out! Chelsea would hold out to the death, and then in stoppage time, a Barcelona attack would be repelled and Fernando Torres would lead a swift counter attack for the visitors and as Gary Neville nearly erupted into orgasm; Torres would round Victor Valdes and slot the ball into an empty net to secure a tremendous comeback for the 10-man visitors, and end Barcelona’s European title defence.
3 days later, the club and the football world would be rocked to its very core as Pep Guardiola announced that he would be stepping down as Barcelona coach at the end of the season! His assistant and right-hand: Tito Vilanova would take his place going into the 2012-13 season. Guardiola would now have just 5 more games in charge of the club, and his team responded to the news by beating Rayo Vallecano 7-0, however, the celebrations were sullied as Real Madrid were now the 2011-12 La Liga champions following their win over Sevilla earlier that day. The month of May began with Leo Messi scoring back to back hat-tricks against Malaga and Espanyol in respective 4 goal hammerings, before the final La Liga game that Pep Guardiola coached came at the Benito Villamarin against Real Betis where the 2 sides battled to a 2-2 draw. Despite racking up 91 points, scoring 114 goals (50 of which were scored by Lionel Messi) and conceding just 29; Barcelona would still only finish 2nd.
The day of May 25th 2012 dawned, the day that Pep Guardiola would manage his 247th and final game in charge of FC Barcelona. The opportunity to win an unprecedented 14th piece of silverware was at stake as Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao would battle it out at the Vicente Calderon for the right to be crowned as the 2012 Copa Del Rey champions. The 2012 Europa League finalists would be made quick work of as two men synonymous with the Guardiola era: Pedro and Leo Messi would have Barcelona 3-0 up within 25 minutes! The departing Barcelona coach would be hoisted in the air by his soldiers as they would end a bittersweet season on a high note with the capture of a 4th trophy. Such was the dominance and standard that this side set that a season that ended with 4 competitions from 6 won, a 91 point 2nd place league finish and a Champions League semi-final appearance would be considered in many circles a disappointing season. On an individual level, Lionel Messi would score an utterly incredulous 73 goals in all competitions!
MY MEMORIES OF THE SHIRT:
Well that was clearly the longest ever season wrap up I’ve ever put together! Wow, what memories for me were conjured up as I went through this annal of history! It was the year of 2011, what a time in my life it was…. Barely a pot to piss in, trying to make ends meet, trying to hold out through college, chasing ‘love’, budding dreams of being an MMA fighter; if you hadn’t gathered by now, I was 20 years old lol, and I think it was around spring of that year that images surfaced of the rumoured 2011-12 Barcelona home shirt, and left field was probably the best way it could be described. At this point, the most daring Nike had ever been with the Barcelona home shirt had been implementing the half and half cut, which had already been done by Kappa, so the design was already in the consciousness somewhat. This shirt would utilise blue sleeves and a red collar; however, the distinctive feature would be the futuristic stripes actually somewhat combined stripes and the half and half design, such was the effect created by the use of barcode style stripes! This shirt would also complete the full transition of Barcelona using a conventional sponsorship, with Unicef who previously occupied the space on the front of the shirt, they would now see their wording on the back of the shirt, while Qatar Foundation now became the main shirt sponsor. A new font would also be used for the name and numbering print however, this font was shelved after just one season.
Around the start of the new decade of the 2010’s, Nike experimented with a series of interesting modifications for some of the teams they kit supplied whom bore stripes; Juventus, Porto, Inter and Barca immediately spring to mind, and this was the pinnacle of those experiments in my opinion. At the time I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the kit; at the time it was unseen, so it did take some time to grow on me. I appreciated the return of blue shorts, (I always believe Barca look much better in blue trunks, and I honestly hope they never use red shorts again), and this was also probably the lightest shade of blue used on a Barcelona strip by Nike since the early to mid 2000’s (the 2002-03 and 2004-05 home kits come to mind).
If you were a football fan from that era, you will remember that the second most prolonged transfer saga after Barcelona’s pursuit of Thierry Henry, was their pursuit of Cesc Fabregas, so to see him finally wearing the jersey put an end to what felt like the most convoluted transfer pursuits in the history of the sport! His arrival would send fans wild with the seemingly endless midfield combinations at the disposal of Guardiola. Alexis Sanchez was not quite the international superstar that he is now, however the electric Chilean was wanted by the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Juventus even as early as the summer of 2011. It was also notable that this would be the season that Guardiola really tried to integrate ‘Total Football’ into his team; utilising an unorthodox Barcelona formation in the form of the 3-4-3, and of course, the use of Cesc Fabregas as ‘The False 9’; a tactic that Vicente del Bosque would successfully implement at Euro 2012 as Spain successfully defended the European Championship. I always felt that Fabregas deserved more credit for his individual work that he carried out during his 3 seasons stint with Barca.
Regrettably, Carles Puyol’s all-action style of defending that served club and country so well was starting to get the better of his body, and an injury suffered in the Catalan-Derby would rule him out of Euro 2012 and ultimately, he would play just once more in his career for ‘La Roja, and 34 more times before retiring in 2014. The other big question would be what if David Villa never had his season cruelly ended at the FIFA Club World Cup? The Spaniard would break his tibia against Al-Sadd and his forced 6 months convalescence would also see him miss Euro 2012, and likely signal the beggininging of the end of his Barcelona tenure, which was entirely regrettable given that he had a 1 in 3 strike rate that season prior to his injury.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Leo Messi that year. Moved into the centre of Barcelona’s front 3; this would be the season he would become one of football’s greatest, if not the greatest ever, goal-scorer’s, and also lay the foundation of something that would become one his trademark’s; the free-kick mastery. Just go back and review the quite outrageous free-kick he scored to defy Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon. His 5 goal haul against Bayer Leverkusen remains the seminal single player performance in the competition’s history in my opinion, his miss from 12 yards against Chelsea must still haunt him to this day however…
Lastly, this season couldn’t be concluded without referencing Barcelona’s equivalent to Splinter: Pep Guardiola. A La Masia graduate who became club captain before dragging the club out of a tailspin and winning the treble in his first season as manager. His time in charge would change the face of the sport in terms of positional integration, successful ‘tiki-taka’, attacking-possession based football, pressing, and of course moving Messi into the centre of the attack. He would also be credited with turning Javier Mascherano into a world-class centre back and using Cesc Fabregas in the role of ‘False 9’. While his relationships with Yaya Toure, Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic would leave some fans with a taste of what if?; It was an absolute pleasure to be a fan at the time and bear witness to his work at FC Barcelona during his time managing the club.
We are fortunate to have 2 of these fine shirts for sale at FFS; one with Messi #10 on the back, and one with Fabregas #4, both in size small for £39.99 each. In what was the last season of the looser Nike Dri-Fit shirts; these shirts do provide a more relaxed fit than their latter contemporaries. You can view the shirts in the links below, and to get an idea of the fit, you can see me modelling my own ahead of a 5-a-side clash last year!
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