do not go gentle into that good night: decay, love and the winning habit

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!

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Written by:

20-something Chinese Kiwi Barrister. Enjoys short walks on the beach, Argentinian players and Pep Guardiola. @blackwhitengrey for hot takes on all three.


  1. Nav
    April 26, 2013

    Thank you for this. Much better than some snarky post about how our players are all millionaires and blah blah.

      • SoccerMom
        April 27, 2013

        Again misquoting Shaw:

        “Life does not cease to be funny when it is serious than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”

        War is a world problem. Hunger is a world problem. Poverty is a world problem.

        But to talk about experiencing “hunger” for victory in a “battle” over enemies between, yes, multimillionaires who drive to their gated mansions in their Maseratis after said battle … that is not even a first-world problem. I don’t even know what number-world that would be. #upperstratosphereproblem?

        It would be inhumane, obscene, to disrespect the seriousness of illness or diminish the inspiration of recovery. But to include them as part and parcel of a larger — sporting — whole, to me, is just as inappropriate.

        People can adopt sports as some kind of larger, more important metaphor for their lives, either in a cosmic, moral sense, or in a social, nationalistic sense, or in a personal, intimate sense. No one begrudges that. But there also exists the option to not do so, and that ought not be begrudged either.

        Coaching a sports team made Pep “old”. Poor beleaguered Pep! So how did he ever manage? He went to go live in a Manhattan flat overlooking Central Park for a year or so, and now … it’s off to Bayern de Munich! Phew! There are reasons to go to New York, and there are reasons.

        There’s snarky. I don’t mind a little snark. But there’s maudlin, too.

        And there’s also a certain arrogance in recent press too, that allow us to feel good about ourselves for liking to watch games of a team that happens to win a whole lot and travel a whole lot and sell a whole lot of jerseys a whole lot. They’ve (we’ve) changed the sport! They’ve (we’ve) opened up the world! Mes than a club, they’re (we’re) an “exemple” to the universe!

        There’s nothing to feel bad about oneself, in that. But there’s not much to feel good about oneself either.

        It’s game day. Lighten up, peoples!

        • mom4
          April 27, 2013

          Take your own advice and lighten up.

          You, with an attempt at humor, post a pretty scathing article dehumanizing our players. You allowed yourself that luxury seemingly because they were rich.

          Because they are rich they objectify their significant others. Because they are rich they couldn’t possibly be bothered to know the names or sexes of their children.

          They are people.

          Is it more easy now to belittle them since they lost something? One wonders would you have done the same had they won.

          If you are so concerned about war, poverty, etc.. then start yourself by respecting ALL people. Even those horrible rich ones.

          Only your opinions matter and we should lighten up? Personally I’ve had it with your self importance and the sycophancy that follows your posts.

          Lighten up yourself!

          I’m gonna regret this the minute I hit the submit button but to hell with it.

          • April 28, 2013

            I for onerous soccermom’s article hilarious. If you have such a visceral reaction to the players being “criticized” in a humorous way (when in fact they weren’t being criticized as far as I can tell – its just a take on what it must be like to live such a life) then you are proving SoccerMoms point.

            There is no reason to get so upset about a loss. There is no reason to get so upset about a humorous article about the players, even if it doesn’t fast them in the nicest, fuzziest light.

  2. C.H.
    April 27, 2013

    We must keep the faith indeed! If we never accept defeat we’ll never truly accept victory. It just becomes about something else. Thanks for your sharing something so personal with us.

    I offer you one of my favorite Barca memories. This awesome awesome game vs. Atletico Madrid, 1997:

    Check out a certain Pep Guardiola in the midfield stopping Figo from retaliating and possibly getting himself thrown out of the game. That’s Pep, always using his head.

  3. ooga aga
    April 27, 2013

    sometimes you can tell who wrote the post from the title. i had linda pegged on this one. good piece linda.

    busquets is not making the trip to bilbao due to problems with his pubis (groin?)…confirming pretty much that he was gimpy vs Bayern.

  4. ooga aga
    April 27, 2013

    off topic. clarence seedorf. former madridista, and yet i love him. and i know he likes our club, futbolisticamente. just saw he is still playing professsionally, in brazil! and he’s 37 and a bad ass! wow, inspiring. not abidal inspring, but still.


  5. Dani_el
    April 27, 2013

    I loved every bit of this article, especially the last part:
    …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!”

    We truly have been blessed. Ole le O la la…!

  6. Gogah
    April 27, 2013

    Loving this team is the easiest thing in the world. I think the difficult part is the ongoing struggle to keep all those memories fresh and vivid in our heads in times of adversity.

    • April 27, 2013

      Yes, it is! I somehow forgot about that one but it is possibly one of the most beautiful quotes in football.

  7. ooga aga
    April 27, 2013

    line up for today? my guess

    montoya adriano bartra/abidal alba
    thiago song fabs
    tello messi alexis

    • mom4
      April 27, 2013

      This is a difficult one to pick. Alba’s out for the CL return, so we should save Abi.

      Whether Messi plays or not will tell us a great deal about whether he was really fit or not.

      That Busi didn’t even travel with the team explains a lot about his play on Tuesday. I wish the Spanish internationals didn’t have a tournament this summer. The dudes haven’t had a proper rest in ages.

      Do we put out our best to secure the season as early as possible? Do we save our best for the CL? Are our best players right now our most talented regulars or our more fit fringe players? If I were Tito my head would be spinning.

      Mathematically it is possible to win the league today. Wow!

      But playing the Basques at home has never been a walk in the park.

  8. Chiu
    April 27, 2013

    Inspiring piece Linda. I love it. Thank you for sharing such a sweet thought

  9. April 27, 2013

    But winning should never become obligatory. It should never be something we as fans feel entitled to from our teams.

    Yes. This. Cules sometimes don’t seem to realize how spoiled we have been over the last few years.

    Perfect article, Linda. I wholeheartedly agree!

  10. ooga aga
    April 27, 2013

    ¡Alineación confirmada!

    El Barça sale con Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Abidal, Alba, Song, Xavi, Thiago, Cesc, Alexis y Pedro

  11. mom4
    April 27, 2013

    Things that make you say, “Hmmm?!”

    Barcelona line-up (official): Valdes – Alves Pique Abidal Alba – Xavi Song Thiago – Pedro Cesc Alexis #fcblive

  12. ooga aga
    April 27, 2013

    wow, i didnt expect us to put out alves, pique, xavi, or pedro.

    lets see how alexis and cesc link up in this match, again with no messi.

    Go Abidal!!!!

  13. psalmuel
    April 27, 2013

    There is a wrong notion, that is flying in the air here that I don’t like. The fact that we lost because we were terrible, shouldn’t be a reason to turn a blind eye to the ref’s short-comings. I agree that,Dante didnt(appear to) foul alves and gomez’ goal was a tight offside but, someone should please tell me alba wasn’t fouled on the robben goal. Pique’s handball was a penalty but sanchez’ was more of a ball to hand. These are the little ref’s short-comings (in our favour) that earned us the title, uefalona. Now imagine we beat bayern admidst those controversies,they would have been chants of uefalona every where. Thats why I like the fact that, Roura has the balls to always point out the ref’s short-comings. The other day here,there was a popular opinion that the ref did barca a favour by not calling ibrahimovic’s blatant offside. Does it mean that anytime barca plays badly,the ref has the go ahead to make ridiculous calls against barca?

  14. Wind170
    April 27, 2013

    The ref needs to be checked. But they have ~ mistakes as in the Milan 1st leg & in the derbies where the results are terrible. The approaches are not exactly the same, but if you look for ~, these Barca’s holes are obviously exposed. Bartra is a youth player, the senior player…
    Pique, did he step up? Did he practice enough his positioning, speed training & heading. If Bartra learned from Pique now,you can imagine[…]

    1.The defense/mental state again:
    Not every state goes to your favor[no matter it’s justified/not]
    Bad things can occur anytime/anywhere…
    Retaliation earns nothing more than cards/bad impression which may reflect in the future games/ref’s mind
    He is lucky not to be red carded
    losing does not mean to commit mad fouls(Remember Mourinho’s RM not so long ago?)

    2. crowding issue in midfield
    ~things in those badly played matches,
    i.where are the forwards?
    play with no forwards most of the time(like the old Italian(s)’ method)

    3. mental state/method
    i. They need a complete change…
    ii. If one could remember how Italy played decade(s) ago,
    esp after leading(sometimes by margin 1-0), pass,pass, (back,side pass) near their own half…Lots of possession during this time,
    but meaningless possession translate to nothing. Many people dislike their playing style…
    4. Away form(UCL)
    But in the UCL, they do ~ when most of the time they are trailing, when the team should score goals, 2 legs does not mean only the home game is important, check at this season’s UCL matches trend, it’s’
    ‘incredible in the other way’…
    5. Form is temp, class is permanent
    a cliche…. how temp is it, duration?
    Play off-form players the whole match expect them to perform great things out of a sudden? The PSG 2 leg, the most important is the morale boost factor, when the opponent starts to feel tired and when the team’s players morale is down. Play them 90 mins, you can imagine the effect.

    IF you don’t shoot, you don’t score, sounds familiar?
    Possession in the final 3rd > Possession in other areas,
    But shooting is even> then those 2.
    And the goal : shooting ration > the previous
    The stats in certain websites show Barca is poor in the most important aspect.
    What does their practice consists of(are they pressured by certain mechanicals/other things?)
    Why didn’t they shoot more.
    When the forwards need to drop to midfield so often, what have the midfield done, enough pressing?
    Need more(specific)reading practice?
    Where are the defenders,~?
    When you’re better at attack, why don’t attack more but instead have ‘passing practice’ in the own half’.
    Where are the specific, var movements?
    Did the team forget they are a team?!!(Both attack & defense)

    Yes, certain teams play compactly, but spaces are everywhere
    any system will have its flaws…
    And they change with time/players/playing style, be more observant & flexible…
    They should think about themselves deeply what happened when 30 sthg possession yield 4> goals then a 60+ possession…
    Are they timid of collisions/tackles/pressing of larger players?
    /Afraid in away games/Afraid coz of the opponents better performance on average during this season?

    A height disadvantage doesn’t mean he/she must be weaker, Look at the awkward back headers that shock Italy several world cups ago.
    Have they done any special physique training,sthg really special in normal’s eyes but even the Heat has done it…many ~ things around
    (both long & short term legally& ok)…

    Look at the physique of certain ethnics, Germans, South Koreans/black athletes(no discrimination here, but applause…), their physical strength,speed is really good for sports that require endurance/that may involve collisions.
    So increase the pressing is essential, but it is not the ultimate key that prove crucial…

    Look at what they have, their strengths, what they have been practicing some far when they are teens? These are the differences to different playing styles seen on the pitch(mainly)…
    Do they have really good technical ability(not just passing, including to take on players and (combine) &more importantly score goals)…

    Did the WF forget to attack(not just defense)?The team help each other doesn’t mean they forget what they should do naturally.
    did the team forget to cooperate?

    The Mids is not only a passer, forget Scholes?
    get forward & try to shoot, the modern ‘formation’ should give a larger freedom rather than the opposite…

    Circumstances sometimes lead to sthg hard to imagine at one time…
    Risks may be scary, but challenges are challengable…
    If you don’t attack(otp), others will…
    The [‘Wgs/(W)F],[the mids] are for sbdy to see & act,
    the defenders are also important.
    The [‘WB’] may better also practice more to help the team in the most important sense…
    Mad goals are hard to score, But the goals against RM last pre-season should be applauded.
    Don’t just rely on Messi to score, other players have huge responsilibilty too, especially those who rarely scores(& also with pos often >= mid)..
    Mini cracks can be observed with a microscope within metals, the problem is can sbdy find the right type of lb…
    Perhaps, techical, fast, better attacking abilities are better in such case, vision and tactical sense sdn be thought & brought forward
    If the field is full of water, why don’t put THAT repurchased homegrown player on the pitch, matches are important, variant playing styles are[]

    Did Barca, Messi, other players remember the effort & commitment they put in a certain Clasico, those key values Guardiola & VDB taught them?Did the manager still dare to make decision promptly pre& during the match not wait until the 83rd min & use 1 sub while trailing.

    Only if they can up their level & with the mentality especially the 2 players show, the Cocu and Rivaldo goal(Consider the pitch size, time left.The Whole team has to awake from their ‘Alice wonderland’, don’t be the Sleeping Princess on the pitch…Can they relight the glowing match & solve the big game issue? ‘Where are Messi, other known to be great players and those named in the FIFA Pro Best XI’?
    Are these praises/allegations [mad] lies or ???

    • Jim
      April 28, 2013

      You ask where the defenders are and give Piqué a roasting but Bayern were fully aware that Piqué was our only defender with height and heading ability. He saved our skins quite a few times at the start of he game but if we keep giving away set pieces we will suffer.
      You also need a settled CB pairing if you hope to have a good defence. How many different CBs has Piqué played with? All of whom haves learn where to hold the line when to press, how to cover etc. Piqué with Puyol was an outstanding partnership, Piqué with Ramos in the NT is an outstanding partnership. Our problem is the desire to play a very sophisticated defensive system with a different partner every week.

  15. PrinceYuvi
    April 27, 2013

    A touching post. Thank you for this. These players, who have garnered astounding successes over the years, still are so humble, their feet firmly rooted to the ground. It’s a privilege to watch them at all times.

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