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Season Review: Barcelona

Barcelona
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 By Sid Lowe

Barcelona's latest record enhances the greatness of 'Quinta' era Real Madrid

Barca have cracked a record set by Madrid in the late 1980s. If anything, it proves how special that Real side was.

They called it the Movida Madrileña. It was a kind of cultural revolution, an expression of liberation and excess, an outpouring of creativity and imagination in the post-Franco era. A new era in music, literature, art, film -- and football.

"Looking back on it 25 years later, that generational change is very real," says the former Real Madrid midfielder Míchel, who was at the heart of it. "Maybe we didn't realise it at the time but one of the things we did was turn identities on their head; we were part of society changing." Jorge Valdano was there too, a teammate of Míchel's. He calls it "the sporting arm of the Spanish transición to democracy" in Spain. "Just as the Movida existed, so the Quinta existed," he says.

The "Quinta" in question is the "Quinta del Buitre," the Real Madrid team that, while it evolved and featured Mexican striker Hugo Sánchez (formerly of Atlético Madrid), was named after and forever associated with five youth players: Míchel, Miguel Pardeza, Martín Vázquez and Emilio Butragueño, nicknamed "el Buitre" ("the Vulture"). A team that won the league title five years in a row between 1985 and 1990 and did it their way. They seemed marked by an era and marked an era, too.

"Playing and winning, having the ball, feels better," Butragueño recalls. "You compete to win, that's the bottom line. But it is a game. You begin playing any game with the intention of enjoying yourself. If you win, you might feel satisfied but that doesn't necessarily mean you've enjoyed yourself. When you win and enjoy yourself, it's marvellous. I see football as a way of expressing yourself, of inventing something. It is all about creation. When that comes off it is wonderful."

At the time, Míchel described their football as the best anyone had seen for 25 years. "Another 25 will pass and no one will see that again," he said. They did things that no one had done before and many thought no one would do again, even though they were immediately followed by another era-defining side, Johan Cruyff's Barcelona Dream Team. Some of those things could not be quantified, of course -- how do you measure impact, a moment, an aesthetic? -- but others could.

It was hard not to be drawn to Míchel's remarks on Thursday night as Barcelona defeated Rayo Vallecano 5-1. As it turns out, 25 years was not such a bad prediction. Football never stops, competition is voracious, memories are short and evolution is continuous. The search for improvement and the need for success is constant, obliterating opposition and leaving the past in the past, but there was something in his words.

Most of the records set by the "Quinta" have been superseded now -- the latest being passed by Barca this week -- but it feels eloquent that it has taken this long, until this era of Super Clubs with their economic might, sporting dominance and enormous accumulation of talent in the most expensively assembled teams in history, for it to happen. It's telling that it has taken this Madrid and this Barcelona, the age of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, to do it. Rather than diminishing the "Quinta" and their achievements, perhaps it enhances them. Or maybe it underlines just how extraordinary this era is, one in which seemingly insurmountable barriers are broken almost daily.

The "Quinta" set their records in a different time, that's for sure; the question may be whether it was a more difficult one.

Real Madrid's 'Quinta' era proved historic for many reasons, not least their five straight Liga titles.

1989-90 turned out to be their last successful season, the beginning of the end. They bowed out with a record, scoring 107 goals. No team had ever scored more than 100 before. Their top scorer, Hugo Sánchez, managed 38, all of them with a single touch. No one had ever scored more. Telmo Zarra had been the only player to get as many, almost 40 years earlier in a time so distant as to be too easily dismissed: He got his in 1950-51.

Telmo Zarra was the all-time top scorer in the Spanish league until Messi overtook him, and Ronaldo will go past him soon.

Sánchez equalled his single-season total of 38 in that 1989-90 season. It took until 2011, 21 more years, for anyone to beat that total when Ronaldo got 41, but it was no one-off: The year after that, Messi got 50 and the year after, 45. The following season Ronaldo scored 48.

As for Madrid's 107-goal total, that record stood for 22 years, until Madrid scored 121 in 2011-12. That season, Barcelona went past 107 as well, finishing on 114. They also scored 115 in 2012-13 and 110 in 2014-15, when Madrid got 118. For 21 years, Hugo Sánchez's goal-scoring record stood; Madrid's held up for 22 years. Míchel wasn't far off after all.

On Thursday night, another of the "Quinta" records fell, 26 years on. By beating Rayo 5-1, Barcelona racked a 35th game unbeaten, the season after Madrid broke a record when they won 22 games in a row. Every team in Spain has tried to beat them and every team has failed: Barcelona have faced team once (and Rayo twice) in the league and not lost, going back to a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in October. Add in the Copa del Rey, the Champions League and the Club World Cup, and teams like River Plate, Roma and Arsenal, and it makes historic reading: played 35, won 29, drawn six, lost none. In doing so, Barcelona have scored 107 and conceded 20.

One more game unbeaten and Barcelona will overtake Milan; five more and they will go past Nottingham Forest. It will take another eight to break Juventus's record. Real Madrid's has already gone -- is the Quinta's legacy diluted? Or perhaps revisited?

This record been coming for a while, creeping ever closer, and so the question has been asked repeatedly. What does the run mean? What does it say? How important is it? Every time it has been asked, Luis Enrique has said the same thing: The run means nothing unless they win something. What matters is that the run takes them closer to success.

When it finally happened last night, it felt normal somehow. But it was another step. What matters, Luis Enrique said after the 5-1 win, secured with a Messi hat trick and a goal each for Ivan Rakitic and Arda Turan, was that the end is near. The good bit is nearly here, the "nice" part of the season when trophies are won or lost. Then this record will matter, as part of that.

107, 38, 35 -- they had to wait more than two decades, much as Míchel said, but one by one the records set by the "Quinta" have fallen. One more remains, though, and that's the only one that really matters. It's also the one that's hardest to break. Impossible, in fact? Just like the Madrid team between 1960 and 1965, the Quinta won five league titles in a row. No one else has done that, ever. Not yet, anyway.

Sid Lowe is a Spain-based columnist and journalist who writes for ESPN FC, the Guardian, FourFourTwo and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter at @sidlowe.

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