Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Haslam, Browns should look to Spain for inspiration

It was while reading Grant Wahl’s excellent article in Sports Illustrated, The World’s Team, that we had our ah-ha moment about the Cleveland Browns.

We want them to be the NFL’s version of FC Barcelona.

It’s not just the Barcelona wins a lot – 14 trophies in 20 competitions over the past five years (although that would be nice) – it is also how the team’s history, identity and style of play are as much a part of the city as the club.

Barcelona has built its team from within, as eight of the 11 starters in a recent Champions League game against Spartak Moscow came from the team’s youth academy, known as La Masia, which team president Sandro Rosell calls “the essence of the club.”

Barcelona also never waivers from its belief that its style of play – described by Wahl as “beautiful, intricate soccer” – can be winning soccer.

“I can’t imagine anybody going beyond this purest example of football,” Ray Hudson, an announcer with beIN Sport television, said in the article. “They have spoiled the game for me. When I try to watch other teams and other leagues, it’s like I’ve just read a wonderful novel and gone back to nursery-rhyme books.”

The last time anyone said anything like that about the Browns, Paul Brown was still working the sideline at Municipal Stadium.

The team is also linked closely to its home city.

The FC Barcelona museum attracts more visitors than those for Picasso, Miró and at La Sagrada Família. The club’s motto – Més que un club – highlights not only the team’s social mission (for years they were the only major soccer team not to have a jersey sponsor) but also is a reflection of Catalan identity.

“It’s the people’s club,” Rosell said. “It’s a club that understands what it means to be from Barcelona and Catalonia.”

When was the last time the Browns felt like a team that understood what it meant to be from Cleveland and Northeast Ohio?

We don’t know if Browns owner Jimmy Haslam reads this site or not*, but he has an opportunity here like no other.

We’ve already seen regimes try to do things the 49er way, the Patriot, the Raven way and just about everything in between and fail miserably. It’s time for that to stop.

Haslam needs to put people in place and lead this team until it becomes a franchise that the rest of the league admires and fears. He also needs to embrace the history and identity of Cleveland and make the Browns be a vital part of the community.

It’s time to do things the right way, the winning way, the Barcelona way.

If Haslam can do that, he has absolutely no idea how this fan base will embrace him.

“I believe in this philosophy of ours,” current Barcelona player Xavi told Sports Illustrated, “but years ago, because we weren’t winning, people had doubts. Italy had won the World Cup; Greece had won the Euro. The Champions League was won by physical teams. And I thought, No, it can’t be. Soccer is talent, you know. For the good of the fans, for the good of the game, talented players should always play the sport. But I’m a soccer romantic, and there are others who only want to win, win, compete, defend. Hell no. Soccer can be very beautiful.”

It’s time to make the Browns beautiful again.

Look to Spain, Mr. Haslam. You might just like what you see.

*Just kidding, we really do know.


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