If I were to retype the exact words said between my teammates in my last pickup game, I would probably be banned from the Internet. Suffice to say that they were of the aggressive sort. And that was during a pickup game. The clean version: get there, get the ball it’s that round thing the other guy just put between your legs, why didn’t you shoot, you’re so lazy, it’s called passing maybe you’ve heard of it, he’s obviously never heard of it, if you’re not going to play defense at least play some offense, you were just beaten by a 10 year old!
Here we are, looking at highly-paid athletes and wondering if the world is going to crumble in upon itself because Lionel Messi yelled at David Villa during a tense match. Messi was unhappy with a lot of things on Saturday, but he very pointedly called Villa out for having, it would appear thanks to hand gestures, failed to deliver a picture-perfect pass at the right moment. Villa retorted something and they jawed up the field, gesturing and pointing like they were doing Guardiola reenactments.
And the cule world freaked. They’re fighting! They hate each other! Terrible leadership skills! Villa is just returning from injury, poor him, how can Messi be so cruel? Villa should always pass to Messi!
But on the field, where there had been vociferous discussion, there was now silence as the two players in question closed down a ball together on defense, harried their opponent, got to work. The very next time Messi got the ball, only a few seconds later, he looked directly for Villa. The pass was errant (and not the best of ideas, actually), but it didn’t matter. While Twitter reacted with its typical grace, the players were suddenly working together better, were slightly more energized.
It’s a thin line between love and hate and as teammates you must tread that line every day. It’s not about how happy so-and-so is when they have the ball, it’s about winning. It’s about playing the way you should be playing. The way your teammates know you can, the way you know your teammates can. I used to play in a corporate league at my old job and one of the players was an extremely gifted dribbler. He could squirt between any number of players and suddenly be 1v1 with the goalie. More often than not he scored on those runs, but once he cut the ball back unnecessarily and failed to find me, wide open on the back post for a tap in, and instead lost the ball for a goal kick as the defenders recovered.
“Pass!” I screamed. He glared at me. I glared at him, pointed to the ground beneath me to show him where I was. The next time he had the ball, I made the same run and the ball was at my feet.
A good friend of mine was on that team and he definitely screamed at me constantly. Get back, defend, where are you running to, what are you even aiming at? That sort of thing. I returned fire, of course, and it kept us communicating, kept us from going into a lull where we lost track of each other on the field. Most importantly, though, it took care of the aggression you feel whenever you play a competitive match. It doesn’t happen when you’re up 5-0 and it doesn’t usually happen when you’re down 0-5. In those moments you’re either clicking and there’s nothing to say or you’re internalizing how much you want to stab the opposing striker in the eye for that hat trick. But when it’s 0-0 and it’s been a physical match, you can direct your ire towards a teammate and that will get both of you working harder. “I just yelled at him, I better make sure I don’t screw up again” “Why is he yelling at me? I’ll show him who doesn’t know how to pass.”
It would be a weird night in the Camp Nou if someone didn’t yell at someone. Maybe Messi was just making up for Puyol’s absence? Whatever it was, it worked. That or Xavi subbing on worked.