By Guillem Balague
Renato Cesarini, an old South American coach, used to recommend that strikers got friendly with the goalposts. In pre-match warm-ups, his players spent time striking into an open goal so the ball started getting used to going in.
It sounds peculiar, but it was an obvious attempt to boost confidence, and the success of his strategy was proof that football is a state of mind. It is this approach that FC Barcelona's new Serbo-Montenegrin coach Radomir Antić has brought to the Camp Nou, and it has the look of a winning formula.
The story of Barcelona this season has been one of two clubs - one side flying UEFA Champions League and the other barely treading water in the Primera División. As coach Louis van Gaal was to learn to his cost, success in Europe was little consolation for abject failure at home.
Hired in the summer of 2002 for a second spell in charge at the club by president Joan Gaspart, the Dutch coach became something of a scapegoat at the Camp Nou as Barcelona's run of three seasons without a major trophy continues. Despite his run of eight successive wins in the group stages of this season's Champions League, domestic form cost him his job.
Van Gaal's coaching technique is notoriously complex. A very scientific form of management coupled with a strenuous training regime had proved successful in the past, but it failed to lift a side draining confidence in the Primera División this season.
In the first half of the Champions League season, Barcelona overcame Legia Warszawa, FC Lokomotiv Moskva, Galatasaray SK, Club Brugge KV and Bayer 04 Leverkusen, but back in Spain, hindered by key injuries in defence, form went from disappointing to poor to dreadful during the competition's winter break.
Anyone who watched Barcelona walk out to play a league game could spot the problem immediately in the sheepish looks etched upon players' faces. They looked tense, tired and ultimately terrified. What they so obviously needed was some cajoling and confidence to be delivered from the coach's dug-out.
However, the Van Gaal style is not so free and easy. Tactical questions, meticulous planning, order and discipline were the order of the day, and allowing players to relax and express themselves was very much a secondary consideration.
The contrast between the kind of management so beloved of Van Gaal and the free and easy manner of Antić is stark. Where once there were mystifying tactical decisions, now Barcelona are playing with a more common-sense approach with the new coach giving his players scope to rebuild their shattered confidence.
The style is more fluid, the defence looks steady, the ball is being passed for players to run on to rather than to feet and key players, especially in midfield, are being returned to their favoured roles, rather than being moved from week to week according to Van Gaal's esoteric plans.
But tactics are not the key here. What is obvious after just three games in charge is that Antić's side are enjoying their game. He has reassured his players that they have not suddenly become bad footballers and allowed them to play the kind of game that reminds them just how good they can be.
Van Gaal, for all of his tactical knowledge, could only offer scientific solutions to Barcelona's problems which arguably only made matters worse. Antić has the human touch. It could yet bring the European Champion Clubs' Cup to the Camp Nou.
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