After a season in which he personally suffered severe criticism, and in which Barcelona seemed set to return to the type of regular crises that plagued most of their history, Luis Enrique could finally point to something that left very little room for so many doubts.
“The numbers say much,” the Spanish title-winning manager had declared.
He was referring to the team’s supreme defensive stats, their magnificent goal return, and the points haul that leaves them too far clear of Real Madrid with one game still to play.
He might also, however, have been talking about title wins themselves over the past 25 years. There has actually been a huge historical shift in La Liga, one that doesn’t really synch up with the vast majority of the competition’s existence, and that has partially been disguised by the massive transfer fees that Real Madrid have repeatedly paid out to flex their power. It has not necessarily translated to power in the title race. Cristiano Ronaldo has only won one league title in six years at the Bernabeu. Luis Figo only claimed two in five, Zinedine Zidane one in five.
Those barely compare to Barca’s equivalent players over the same period, and are reflective of this grand shift.
Consider these numbers that say an awful lot.
Barca’s title win on Sunday made it 23 leagues for the Catalans in total, but also 13 in the last 25 years - a rate of one every 1.9 seasons. In the 30 years before 1990, they’d only won two.
That’s quite a contrast, but one only deepened by this next contrast. Between 1953 and 1990, Real claimed a sensational 23 titles, which was a rate of one every 1.6 years. Since then, they’ve just about managed one every four, with just seven in 25 years.
It is a remarkable drop-off and role reversal, especially for a club with a regal name so accustomed to singularly ruling their country. Real are no longer the team that most regularly win the title. They are no longer the benchmark. That is a huge shift, and one worth perhaps more consideration than has been given.
It is also a shift someway similar to that which took place around the same time in England between Manchester United and Liverpool, and with a few parallels. Much of it can be boiled down to the arrival of a key figure. For Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford in 1986, read Johan Cruyff at Camp Nou in 1988.
Much has already been said about the importance of the Dutch legend in finally implementing a proper identity at Barcelona, but much of what he did was itself only deepened by the arrival of another figure at the Bernabeu.
President Florentino Perez seemed to ensure that Real finally fully moved to an ideological space that was the polar opposite of Barcelona, with both he and Cruyff personifying the differences.
Whereas the Catalans still just use business principles to fortify a football philosophy, Real Madrid use football to further a business philosophy. That can be seen in everything from general director Jose Angel Sanchez comparing the Bernabeu club to Disney and talking about them as a “content producer”, to the trends of their transfer policy as well the attitude to managers.
Of course, Real’s vast wealth will always bring them very close to the top - and statistically means a cup competition like the Champions League will likely land on them every few years just by being there. It is fair to wonder, however, whether they now lack some of the football fundamentals that make that final difference when it comes right down to it in a title race; the fundamentals that usually ensure expensively assembled collectives are more than the sum of their parts.
Again, it goes back to the roots. One of the reasons that Barcelona’s famous youth system has been so much more productive than Real’s over this past 25 years has been because all of its graduates are trained towards a specific style. There is an overarching identity that elevates them, even if the offset is that many of those players are not as good when they play for sides that don’t have that identity.
What is the identity at Real Madrid right now? If there is one, most of the evidence suggests it is to do with something off the pitch, with business.
That is also why this title win, and this summer, could be so crucial for Barca.
Because, up until the spring, it did seem the club was starting to replicate Real in terms of business. It did look like it was starting to move away from its philosophy - and that’s not necessarily down of all the debate about Luis Enrique’s approach.
Primarily, there was their transfer business, which seemed to echo Perez’s fascination with stars rather than team structure. Instead of signing the defensive players they seemed to so badly need for so long, they went and indulged in Luis Suarez.
The Uruguayan obviously destroyed so many of those doubts along with so many defences, but that was at least aided because so many other pillars of the club were restored to their idealised best too.
Leo Messi somehow found an even higher level, but Luis Enrique deserves credit for getting the best form out of Gerard Pique and Dani Alves in years. Andres Iniesta also rediscovered his own 2010 verve, which was so wondrously illustrated with that run against Paris Saint-Germain, while his long-time midfield partner Xavi is known to have had a considerable influence in the team’s tactics.
Academy graduates like them made the club temporarily forget so many of the other off-pitch controversies that seemed such a reversion to the club troubles of the three decades between 1960 and 1990, not to mention the one barren spell of the past 25 years, between 1999 and 2005. Now, a figure from the latter period may potentially banish those controversies again.
It was Joan Laporta that navigated Barca back towards the Cruyff ideals with his arrival as president in 2003, and he may well do the same this summer.
It could be crucial to ensuring the Liga trophy keeps coming back to Barcelona too, in a way that has become such a habit, and represents such a shift.
Read more from Miguel Delaney