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Barcelona on Wednesday night secured a third consecutive Liga title following a largely uninspiring 1-1 tie at Levante's Ciutat de Valencia stadium. A point, though, was all that was required by Pep Guardiola's team, and Seydou Keita's first-half header proved sufficient to secure it. A point won, and a point made. Guardiola's tenure at Barca has now produced nine trophies in three seasons, with the possibility of a 10th later this month in the Champions League final. Johan Cruyff won 11 titles with his famous Dream Team in the early 1990s, including four consecutive Ligas and the club's first-ever European Cup at Wembley in 1992.
Cruyff is too self-obsessed to hold forth on the subject, and Guardiola -- one of the fulcrums of the Dream Team -- is too diplomatic to remove his toe from the well-trodden party line at Camp Nou, but comparisons are inevitable. Perhaps one of the most pertinent is that it took Cruyff seven seasons to achieve what Guardiola is on the cusp of doing in four.
"We cannot match the Dream Team, because that was a pioneering generation," Guardiola said recently. "For all the titles that we win, they will always be at the top, and that's the most important thing."
As Spain awoke Thursday morning to news of Barcelona's latest triumph, few observers concurred with Guardiola.
"A title that rewards soccer in capital letters, practiced by a generation of players that continue to extend their legend with a voracious appetite," gushed pro-Barca daily Sport. "A squad based on the youth system and that wagers on an attacking brand of soccer against any opponent and in any stadium."
"The league does not lie, conquered as always by the best team, a brilliant Barca that has become the norm in recent times," said ABC -- a paper that leans so far to the right its ear is usually scraping the floor -- under the headline "Barcelona, brilliant champion." "We are witnessing the dominant force of the 21st century, champion in six of the last ten seasons, with a non-negotiable style as a path to success. There is no bigger secret to Pep Guardiola's team than hard work and good taste, and the desire to play a different kind of soccer that nobody else can get close to."
Even the rabid anti-Barcelona, unabashedly pro-Madrid Marca -- which is so desperate to see Cristiano Ronaldo win the Pichichi, or become the league's top scorer, that it has added a goal attributed to Pepe to the Portuguese's tally -- could muster little bile. "Barca still feels like the king," the banner headline begrudgingly read. "Barcelona is crowned champion for the third successive season after a 1-1 tie in the Ciutat de Valencia." Hardly a glowing report, but quite effusive by Marca's standard.
"A step away from the Dream Team," it magnanimously notes elsewhere in its pages.
Also wearing the color white proudly on its sleeve, AS attempted to bury the evidence under a large picture of Real new boy Nuri Sahin, dryly noting that Barcelona did what was expected and won the league at the first opportunity. "Barcelona continues to make history," sniffed the daily. "In a drab match against Levante it seals its third title under the direction of Pep Guardiola."
"The beauty of routine," is the rather more poetic headline in the Socialists' favored El Pais. "There are times when time flies, above all when you are playing against the clock and it is impossible to score; in this manner the cup slipped from Barca's hands after Cristiano Ronaldo's header in Mestalla. There are other times when life is suspended through the art of magic, as when Iniesta waited for the ball to drop at Stamford Bridge or in Johannesburg while the held breath of the fans lent ammunition to his leg. And there are moments when hours seem eternal because victory is taken for granted and matches become a chore; more or less what has happened to Barcelona after it visited the Bernabeu and won the league."
Curiously, El Periodico de Catalunya clearly felt that the dismissal of wiretap evidence in the Operation Greyhound doping scandal against Spanish track and field star Marta Dominguez and the NBA playoff series match between Oklahoma City and Memphis were of more interest than Catalonia's star attraction winning another Liga. Perhaps it did not wish to upset its star columnist, one Johan Cruyff, who uses this platform to rail against Real Madrid, the world, and everything in it on a weekly basis.
It will be interesting to see what he chooses for his topic on Monday.