I like to think of Barcelona as a car (a fancy one) and the season as a journey, like a road-trip. Or a really long race.
At the start of said race, twenty teams are situated on their individual roads. Their destinations at this point are all the same: reach the La Liga title at the end of the line.
And so, the hunt begins.
But soon enough some start to lag behind, their rusty old death traps unable to keep up with the sleek, powerful luxury cars. And so they swiftly change course to a different destination: avoid relegation, or disqualification from the race.
The other cars manage to keep up with the two leading the chase until they run into a gigantic mountain, a mountain I like to call Money Mountain. Realizing there is no viable tunnel to pass through the insurmountable landform, they too are forced to change direction to another objective: automatic CL qualification and/or European spots.
On the other side of Money Mountain are two cars: one painted blue and red, the other in white. These are the two that are competing for the title.
The red and blue car is a thing of beauty, one far ahead of its time. The car was almost entirely produced within the place it originated from. As flashy as it is efficient, it’s unmatched in distance covered over time. The engine is purring nicely, the tires study and durable, the paint job sleek and immaculate. The driver is a dreamer, a hairless risk taker with a sense of danger whose methods are as revolutionary as they are unconventional.
The white car is comparatively much more expensive, having cost almost a billion dollars. Each part, down to the paint, was imported from the finest regions. Second to none over short distances, the car is neigh indestructible. With a seemingly endless wealth of money, replacing ailing parts is no issue. The driver of this monster is no-nonsense, one who has no qualms taking off a sheet of paint if it means the car will drive faster.
Now if you all follow my analogy, let me continue.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
There are a lot of people who feel that way and do not like the changes that our driver is implementing. Why change something that was already working so well?
What these people don’t understand is that the other cars are starting to catch up, beginning to slowly close the gap in distance. They’re relentlessly studying the blueprint and are adapting themselves to fit into the design.
The structure of this car may be our philosophy, the model this current golden generation of players and the driver our incredible coach, but no matter how good or efficient it is, a 2010 model can only compete with a 2012 one for so long.
It has to be constantly push and reconfigured for it to stay on top. If you stand still, others will pass you eventually.
“The tires don’t fit as well as they could, the engine is stuttering a bit, and the car is lagging behind!” is all they see, not realizing that when the kinks come out and a groove is settled in, the car will tear down the road so fast, others will only see its after-image.
But it will be a bumpy ride.
The road we’re driving on won’t always be smooth. There will be slippery sections — even without being able to cross Money Mountain, the other teams are still able to put pressure on the front two, pushing them to the limit and sometimes even managing to derail them a bit. There will also be uneven pavement, with that rough patch of form, and times where we’ll be running low on gas.
However, the weather conditions depend on the fans. They can make it sunny, or a torrential downpour. A pleasant drive or heck on Earth. Seeing as the media already makes it a pressure cooker environment, I personally chose the former.
That’s not to say that no one is allowed to be critical. Some players need that criticism, those boos, to keep them competitive and on their toes. In the FourFourTwo issue I read recently, Cesc Fabregas had this to say:
“When everything is going well, [Barcelona] is the best team is the world, but when things go bad and they [the fans] get the white hankies out and whistle, what do you do? You go home and you don’t leave the house. You. Do. Not. Leave. In London, we lost and I’d still go out and eat, I had my life. You’re the idol, the captain, you play every game, you don’t win anything in seven years but no worries, the fans are singing…
[…] I wanted that step. I wanted to say, “B*****s, if I play badly I want them to whistle and boo me”. No one wants to be whistled, but I wanted that pressure, those demands. That helps you improve.”
The Burden of Expectation
The incredible performances by the blaugrana car means it is constantly under the pressure to succeed, under the (almost crushing) burden of expectation. They are expected to have maximum efficiency, they are expected to leave the others in the dust, they are expected to never slow down. They are never allowed to have a low fuel tank, nor are they allowed to make pit-stops.
They wouldn’t want it any other way, but we should remember that it wasn’t always like this.
This blueprint was one that took decades to design. The idea was introduced and the path was paved by Rinus Michels, the philosophy was implemented and the route was designed by Johan Cruyff, and the structure was perfected and the route was memorized by Pep Guardiola.
And now Pep is redesigning everything so that it’ll become even more efficient.
If there is rust, they will repaint it. If the engine is stuttering, they will lubricate it. If there is a flat tire, they will take a spare one from the trunk called La Masia.
But if there is doubt, there shouldn’t be.
A car that has put in so many great performances, ones that will be remembered forever, doesn’t deserve some of the accusations leveled against them. Criticism is fine, just don’t go over the top. For the last couple of seasons, we’ve been traveling unheard of distances using the least amount of fuel. That’s not normal. Right now a team in progress is still finding its feet with some trips and stuttering along the way. This is normal.
If the white car passes the finish line before the blaugrana car, it doesn’t mean the latter is decrepit. The white car may have just had more gas for the home stretch, was more energy efficient during the campaign, or cut the right corners. The blaugrana car will be back next year with even more upgrades to challenge once again.
As long as it strives to improve, there should be no be reservations.
The driver will never let this car veer off track.