Just had an interesting discussion on Twitter that made me think of a sad story from my past.
A friend of mine was bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t find love in a successful relationship. He told me that he always held something of himself back because he’d been hurt before and didn’t want to go all in and risk getting hurt again.
I replied with the obvious: By holding back you are dooming your efforts, and you will never find happiness.
So it is with life, as it is with sport.
They say you don’t truly love a team until it makes you weep with disappointment, the dashed expectations that become the bitter, bitter aftermath of believing in a group of people you will probably never, ever meet in your life, and their capacity to bring you joy.
As many of you know, I believe we will be going through on Tuesday. I have even predicted the score: 4-1.
Some said that Milan won’t start to worry until they ship three goals, but I don’t believe that. I think that if the first goal comes early, they will start to doubt, to think that THE Barça is back, the one that the world was expecting to show up at their house.
Then someone else chimed in with doubt, and then: “Keep your expectations low, my man. That is the best remedy.”
We discussed that, and I explained the flaws in such a theory to this long-time watcher of the club. If you hold something back, how can anything truly wonderful happen? Everything is tempered: triumph and failure. Players and coaches don’t cry because they won. They cry because of all the effort, all the belief, all the striving and failure that culminates in that one, amazing moment. SUCCESS!
Guardiola wasn’t weeping uncontrollably because his amazing team won the World Clubs Championship. He was weeping because of the sheer joy of it all, the amazing, amazing thing that essentially the same group of players that just one year previous had tasted comprehensive failure, had now won everything. The doubt, the fear, the effort …. everything. And it all came out.
Failure is part of sport. It always has been, and it always will be. Every triumph is built on the back of failure. Laporta and the Rijkaard successes came along to exorcise the ghosts of Gaspart, and mean-spirited failure. The Dream Team never truly lived up to its wondrous potential. Guardiola came along to kill the demons of two silver-less seasons, to bring the indescribable joy of winning everything. Smiles, parades and cups.
There were some cules watching, or marching in those parades who have a lifetime with the club, a lifetime of success and failure intertwined. There were some who just came to the club that season, whose expectations are conditioned by unprecedented success. Many more are in the middle, having come to the club during lean times, who were kind of stunned by the meteoric success. All of them felt joy. This amazing thing that comes from a surprise gift that is the exact, perfect thing that you wanted.
But I confess that I don’t understand people who don’t believe fully in this club, who hold something in abeyance for fear of being too disappointed. It strikes me, frankly, as fearful, like my friend who couldn’t find love because he wouldn’t commit to giving everything up to the search because he had been hurt before. “Well, I don’t want to get too disappointed.” Why not? Why take a chance on anything in life? Risk is part of the deal.
When our athletes go out onto that pitch on Tuesday, they will give their all. It might be enough, it might not be. I fervently believe that it will be, and will continue to believe that until I can’t. They will believe, and do exactly the same, so how can I let them down by doing anything else?
Fervent supporters of a team always say “We.” Many people don’t understand that, they say that it isn’t “we,” but “they,” as in those people you follow. But no. “We” is the collective belief, the sometimes almost tangible, usually nebulous something that guides in a shot from distance, or propels a keeper that last millimeter that enables him to get fingernails to a shot that the everyone except Believers knew was going in. “We” is them, us, and everything else.
No, it doesn’t make a damned bit of sense. Nobody has ever in their right mind claimed that it does.
I don’t know how far back a lot of you go, but those of you who were around during The Offside days, will recall that I didn’t believe we were going to not win the Liga during that last Rijkaard season, until it was mathematically impossible. Only then did I accept it. Up until that time, people were saying “Be realistic,” or “It’s so unlikely, why won’t you accept reality?”
For the same reasons that so many RM supporters look at the way that their team is playing, the way that ours is playing, our tricky remaining away matches, and believe that a comeback is possible. They believe that 13 points is only a few losses, and something else magical. Belief is rooted in faith, the assurance that something Is. In this case, our respective teams are those things. Cules say the Liga is done and dusted, that a team that hasn’t dropped 13 points all season isn’t going to drop that many in 11 matches. Their supporters say it isn’t over, and we will fight until it is over.
Because that’s how it’s supposed to be. You’re all in. You’re all in because if you aren’t all in, you’re cheating yourself. How transforming can the joy be? If the players succeed, it’s “Well, that was a pleasant surprise.” If they fail, it’s “See? I knew it.” You can’t defend against disappointment and failure. Those two things are part of life, and we have all experienced both. But it seems to me that without being all in, you can’t experience failure OR joy to their fullest.