Some incredibly disorganised thoughts about the past season:
I think Guardiola is absolutely correct when he says that Barca would not have reached the highs they hit this season without being pushed so hard by Real. In fact, Perez's spending spree was probably the most effective form of motivation money could buy for the Barca players, who'd won every single trophy they competed for by the end of 2009.
Winning the league this season was particularly satisfying for this Cule because I was so fearful at the beginning of the season that Real's spending (and hitting upon a good coach, seemingly by accident) would take them past Barca, who could never live up to the glories of the season just gone and would falter under the strain of trying. Once again, I'm eating my words and loving every bite. It certainly wasn't easy, and in patches I thought Real were the more likely champions, but in the end Barca's consistency (both collective and individual) and defensive solidarity won out.
I've never hidden my dislike for Joan Laporta. As far as I'm concerned, the sooner the man stops speaking for the club, the better. However, to give the guy his due, he definitely left Barca in much better shape than he found it in, institutionally, financially, and on the sporting front. (Not difficult, given how the Gaspart era ended, but Barca have had very good years under Laporta.)
For now, the trend of me disliking the president looks set to continue, as Sandro Rosell is currently the presumed front-runner. My dislike of Rosell began long before this election season and has its roots in some of the proposals he put forward as vice president during Laporta's first term. It was cemented by his recent comments on the question of membership. On this issue, I highly recommend Ramzi's post, which lays it out better than I could. I'll just say that to limit membership goes against everything I believe Barca should stand for.
How you can recognise a geeky Barca fanatic: when they're more excited by the kids graduating from the youth system than they are by big name signings. This has been me for the past 3 or 4 seasons. I'll just quickly mention a few names I'm looking forward to seeing more of next season: midfielders Jonathan Dos Santos and Thiago Alcantara (both born of Brazilian parents, but Jono plays for Mexico and Thiago plays for Spain at youth level), as well as defenders Marc Muniesa and Martin Montoya (both Spanish).
Moving on to signings, of course Villa is a fantastic striker who will score tons of goals, but he's 28. I can't help feeling Barca brought him a season later than they should have. Still, more than glad to have such a reliable goalscorer who will fit easily into the Barca system.
As for the midfield, if Yaya Toure leaves it will be a very sad day indeed, but I do understand his desire for more playing time. He'll need to be replaced, and my preference is for someone versatile like Keita who can play as a central or defensive midfielder. Lord knows who that will end up being at this point.
Ideally, I would also like one more defender. Alves, Puyol, Pique, Milito, Abidal and Maxwell are all fine, but from there things get a little dicey, and that's not good enough.
Leo Messi: 47 goals and 14 assists in 53 appearances. The (ridiculous) stats say it all. Except they don't. He makes everybody else play better, not only because of the passes and runs he makes, but because he attracts defenders like few other players on the planet. Rightly so, because - and it's been this way since 06-07, really - when nobody else has anything, and the game looks like petering out, he's the one who makes it happen.
Xavi: As Guardiola said, best midfielder in the history of Barca. Insanely consistent, absolutely tireless, and the best passer of the ball in Europe.
Puyol: At the beginning of the season, people thought his career was over. Please. A tremendous competitor with the work ethic of a true pro and the physical conditioning of a man ten years younger. He'll be around for a while yet.
Pique: Has good enough feet to play striker, can pass like a midfield general, and somehow keeps up with CRon in full flight when in defence. I don't get him. Whip-smart, too, underneath the bluster.
Pedro: I had no idea he could play like that. Fortunately, I'm in some pretty good company there, as nobody but Guardiola seemed to have any clue. Pedro Rodriguez was about to be shipped out when Guardiola came on the scene at what was then Barca B 3 years ago. And now he's scored 23 goals for Barca in his first full season. Could maybe use a little more composure at times when being harried, but that's just a nitpick. Good with both feet, tactically disciplined, tracks back like his life depends on it, no ego to speak of. What else can you ask for?
Guardiola's pro-La Masia agenda is obvious. I think he might even admit it if you bought it up. As much as I approve of the idea of a team mostly made up of youth team grads, I was initially very skeptical of the practicalities involved. Well, surprise surprise, I was wrong and he was right. Players like Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez made the step up seamlessly, and of course Guardiola was lucky enough to inherit the likes of Xavi, Puyol and Messi. Would a team with 8 home-grown starters be possible without the tremendous luck of inheriting such a golden generation of players? Probably not. But equally, the explosive development of Pedro and Busquets would not have been possible without Guardiola's championing.
(Hey, look at that, all the standouts I named above are La Masia grads. Hm.)
a longer view
I hadn't actually thought about this until El Pais reminded me - Barca have won 10 league titles in the past two decades (1990-94, 97-99, 04-06, 08-10) to Real's 6 (94/95, 96/97, 00/01, 02/03, 06-08). Barca only have 20 league titles in total. I think if any statistic illustrates the way Johan Cruyff the coach (and the 'Godfather'/mentor) changed Barca for the better, it's probably that one. Cruyff's an infuriating man at times, but he deserves every accolade for his vision and achievements.