I don’t know about you but perhaps for the first time in my thirty-four years on earth, this culé did not want M*drid to drop points on Saturday. It’s not that I hate our cross-town rivals more than the ones from the capital. To be honest, my feelings towards Espanyol are nowhere even close to hatred – to paraphrase my earlier-deceased-than-officially-admitted president, “An eagle is not bothered by a fly”.
No, I was simply looking forward to going to the Vicente Calderon with all to play for. Games against Atletico are supposed to crackle, not sizzle, and I wanted to win the league with a bang. Instead we sealed it with a sizzle.
Since today’s battle could prove decisive, all blaugrana soldiers had travelled to the front. Soon enough LTC Vilanova found a pasillo and sent out his tunnelrats: Privates Pinto, Alba, Adriano, Piqué, Dani Alves, Song, Fàbregas, Tello, Messi and Sanchez, dressed in Agent Orange and led forward by Capt. Iniesta. Away from home and on enemy turf, facing opponents who seemingly gave up ground, as they preferred to lay wait in ambush while we strolled across the field. A cunning strategy when up against superior forces.
Thrill seekers, adrenaline junkies and action addicts stood united in disappointment – the victory that was declared the night before had left both parties with nothing to fight for. The ensuing battle seemed destined for a stalemate, after forty-five minutes in which both sides let off only one shot. The first was a warning and caught by Pinto, who on some days is bullet proof. Sentinel Tello tried to hit them back seconds before the whistle but narrowly aimed wide.
Shortly after the break we got hit by that most dangerous adversary, one that strikes awe in the hearts of friend and foe, who call him “The Tiger”. Like a Rambo on steroids, he is capable of taking on a whole army by himself. Or make that a Rambo on more steroids. Whatever. The mere sight of Falcao going commando caused defenders to give way. Atlético 1 – Barcelona 0.
If up until then I had not been enjoying the game, the prospect of winning the league title by losing in Madrid seriously F-ed with my sunny disposition. “Football is War”, once claimed the Barcelona coach who had first brought Total Football to Catalonia and was aptly nicknamed The General.¹ This seemed more like a practice exercise acted out by a squadron of unwilling training cadets.
How ironic that our worst performers drew us level when Sanchez stabbed home Cesc’s set-up, revealing a bayonet on the muzzle of the waterpistol he had been firing with all day. Alexis celebrated by taking off his shirt and displaying a peacenik message, my personal highlight of the game. By then we had already been outmanned, with both Dani Alves and Lionel Messi having bowed out of battle, the latter after Tito had already relieved three starters.
Somewhat sadly for Atletico, Thibaut Courtois was a late casualty of friendly fire after no small dose of confusion and chaos caused by Cristian Tello. Game over for the matress makers, who are now licking their wounds before their true test of strength, the Copa del Rey final against Real M*drid. Of course in the last fourteen years of that particular civil war they have not won even a single battle. We will wish them luck.
The Liga is now official ours and I do not know how to feel. It has been a weird season, that’s for sure. In a way I feel just like I did after the first leg of the Supercopa almost nine months ago, the one in which we were up by two goals – before late in the game Valdes screwed the pooch and gifted M*drid a lifeline. We won that game, but the win was not accompanied with the elation I usually feel after beating our rivals.
We won this league, but I do not feel the elation I usually feel after winning the league. Apart from the above-mentioned Copa game, which was a glorified practice run to begin with, we did not beat Real M*drid in any of the other five encounters. Actually we lost three, and looked toothless in the last two. In the Champion’s League we struggled to reach the semi-finals after struggling to reach the quarter finals. We ended up getting humiliated both in Munich and in the Camp Nou. No, we have not felt like “winners” the last couple of months.
Then again, maybe we are victims of our own success. Maybe we are not “happy” with the league because we had already won it by the time it reached its halfway point. This is arguably our best league title ever. By the time Tito Vilonova went away with cancer, the most expensive squad ever assembled in world football had already given up on any chance of winning the league. That is unheard of, and worthy of an adjective so superlative a new word must be invented. We opened with 18 wins and 1 draw, two points removed from perfection, and we all know perfection doesn’t exist, right? It is difficult to celebrate something we have been happy about for quite some time, now.
We should honor our team. For the beautiful games played. For the beautiful goals scored. For number 22, both the league and the player. For how our football club fought to hang on to its lead as its leader faced a life-threatening decease. For the title added to our most important victories: Tito Vilanova’s and Eric Abidal’s health. For the fact that we won the league against one of the most talented rival teams to ever play the game, an adversary that obtained a record-breaking hundred points the previous year. A hundred points we can still equalize, by the way. Our club deserve all the respect in the world for this remarkable achievement.
We should be happier. Visca Barça!
¹Rinus Michels, Barça coach 71-74