Take Paul Hayward's recent piece in the Guardian: Barcelona must attempt to create a dynasty not just a passing delight [read the Run of Play's excellent dissection of the broader ideas if you haven't already].
Leaving aside the shocking news that Guardiola's Barca apparently isn't already part of a dynasty that can be traced back to the Cruyff Dream Team, as I'd always assumed, let's talk about beauty versus efficiency in the Barcelona context. More specifically, in the context of Guardiola's vision.
Sure, Pep Guardiola believes in a certain way of playing, and he believes in the work of La Masia. That's why his team is constructed like it is.
Above all, though, he believes that his way is the most effective. Guardiola has long been an opponent of the Barca that 'cries and wins nothing', the lingering inferiority and persecution complex that did pre-Cruyff Barca such harm in the past. His focus is very much on success at every level, whether it be social or sporting.
It's an easy mistake to make, falling for the cliche that says a commitment to entertainment means neglecting everything else, but as Sid Lowe pointed out in one of the best Guardiola profiles I've read:
The mistake many made was concluding that a commitment to creative possession football inherently means turning your back on hard work and discipline, on pragmatism and competitiveness; that the aesthetic is by definition incompatible with the effective. Guardiola is every bit as meticulous as, say, Rafa Benítez; every bit as much of a control freak; every bit as pragmatic. And he is every bit as determined to win. As the eulogies poured forth for the way Barcelona were now playing, he kept repeating the same message: "It will be meaningless if we win nothing." He meant it.
Sure, he believes that Barca have an obligation to play football that's worth watching, because of the people who pay their hard-earned money to see it. But that's only partly why Barca are set up to play quick-passing, possession football. The other reason is that it works. Under Cruyff, Van Gaal, Rijkaard and now Guardiola, it has bought Barca the kind of success that is unprecedented in its history over the past twenty years. With the youth system set up to produce the players who thrive playing in this way (defenders like Gerard Pique, midfielders like Guardiola, forwards like Pedro Rodriguez) it all just makes sense.
What Guardiola has bought that his predecessors perhaps didn't is the kind of mentality a Jose Mourinho or Alex Ferguson would install into their teams, helped by his own intensity and drive. They were mostly lost in the shuffle of the pre-match press about Walcott, but I thought Guardiola's comments before the second leg of the quarterfinal were instructive:
"We have to be proud of what we did in the first leg but it's not enough. Now we have to win."
"All that matters is that we have to get to the semi-finals. If not, people in London will say 'Barcelona came here and played well, but we beat them and went through to the semi-finals and they went home'."
The mistake some make is to assume that this kind of mentality would be incompatible with a free-flowing, expressive playing style. It isn't.
(I could talk about Leo Messi, but what else is there to say? Even those of us who were privileged enough to watch him play Capello's Juventus off the park at the age of 18 can only marvel.)