Asked what he would say to the young Barcelona fan crying for the first time last night, Guardiola replied: “Welcome to the club – there will be many more times, too.” – April 2012
It’s the end of an era! Pick up that shovel, we come not to praise Barca but to bury it. Gather around, we’re holding a bonfire of the accolades.
In the aftermath of such a traumatic defeat, that reaction is tempting. It would be easy to feel that way. I refuse.
Coaches are human beings. Footballers are human beings. They’re just as vulnerable to accident or depression or illness as you or I. If we ever needed a reminder of this, we need only glance at Barca’s manager on the sidelines. How many of us would be working in his state? Be honest. How many of us would be working if our job was as stressful as his and required the kind of hours we know his predecessor regularly put in?
His predecessor was a young, healthy man. The job made him sick. It made him old.
Tito Vilanova is in the second round of his battle against cancer.
Read that again. I’m not pointing this out to make excuses. I’m pointing it out because it’s what happened.
Then there’s entropy, which happens to every great team. At the simplest level, the aging process is slowly depriving some of the best players Barca have ever had of their powers. It’s hideous to watch someone that good be ordinary. But that’s what happens.
We can only thank them for the amazing memories they’ve given us; the sacrifices they’ve made, both visible and unsung, to make this team great.
To me, the best of Barca is this: Leo Messi bearing up under whatever burden we place on his shoulders, no matter how heavy; Xavi’s willingness to play through pain and injury (even though we should never ask that of our players); the extra effort Carles Puyol puts in to achieve full fitness faster; Gerard Pique sitting down at a press conference and telling the world this team wasn’t done; the commitment of the likes of Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano to Barca’s philosophy, in words and in deeds; the quiet labour of Sergio Busquets; the confidence and composure of kids like Marc Bartra and Martin Montoya when tossed onto the biggest of stages; the number of players who turn up on days off to work; Tito Vilanova’s heartbreaking dedication to his job in the face of a life-threatening illness; and the Herculean recovery of Eric Abidal.
I am proud of this team. I’m proud of what they have accomplished so far, and the potential they have to be greater still.
A few setbacks can’t and won’t change that.
’The most esteemed club side of the past decade, playing in their sixth successive semi-final of this competition, suffered their heaviest European defeat since going down by the same score to Dynamo Kyiv in 1997.’ – April 2013
Nothing reflects the esteem in which this team has been held quite as well as the media reactions to Barca’s defeat in Munich. Through seasons of consistent excellence, Barca earned its status as the perennial favourite. It became the gold standard.
From dysfunctional underachievers who occasionally got their act together Barca became a genuine force, one with a seemingly endless thirst for success and a winning formula. It also painted a target on its back. Eventually, a new challenger was going to arrive, starved for recognition and hungrier for it.
Whatever intimidating aura Barca had as the leading force is gone now, squashed down into a shape befitting a very good team. The challenge is now to build it back up, one win at a time.
One of the best parts of being a sports fan is the simple joy of one’s team winning a game. Depending on who we support, it can be a rare delight or a regular pleasure.
But winning should never become obligatory. It should never be something we as fans feel entitled to from our teams. Not least because that takes away the sweetness of it.
If Barca wins the league in the next two weeks, it will be a cause for celebration. A proper party, fireworks and open-top buses and speeches at Camp Nou. Don’t give me that crap about the job being done ages ago and lack of competition and Big Ears being the only important trophy. Remember how much it hurt to lose the title to Madrid last year? I don’t know about you, but to me it really fucking hurt.
Think of all this team has had to overcome to win it back.
The league is not a “clandestine tournament played between Champions League ties”, as Zubi sarcastically noted. It’s big and it’s important and it rewards consistent excellence.
Think of Abidal and Tito raising that trophy. Are you smiling now? I am.
The last 4-0 loss I remember was really, truly ugly. Barca were in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey, up against Getafe. In the first leg, a young Messi had scored that goal, and they’d won 5-2. Frank Rijkaard decided to leave the kid at home for the return. The team he put out was embarrassed.
Things got worse from there.
As bad as it was, and as awful as it felt at the time, those years in the wilderness passed. It took them a while, but Barca rededicated itself to its best ideas and ideals, and rose again.
This is a story you all know, so why am I telling it?
‘From Wembley to Wembley Barcelona has undergone an extraordinary process of maturing … There is no better defence of an idea than victories, but there is no better victory than the fact that the stability of a club does not depend exclusively on a final result, but on a route map. That is the greatness of this Barça, which, make no mistake, will also be the principles that will enable them to vaccinate themselves in defeat.’ – May 2011
I’m going to get uncomfortably personal for a bit. Bear with me.
Someone who was very close to me died in May 2009. But thanks to this team, whenever I think of that month, the suffocating grief isn’t the only thing I remember. I think of the only thing that managed to make me crack a smile that week – Andres Iniesta’s goal, Messi’s tears, Pep’s run the down Stamford Bridge touchline. Good memories, memories I treasure.
We cules are lucky bastards. We’ve been blessed with this brilliant team. Keep the faith.
Ser del Barça és el millor que hi ha!