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So there I was the other evening, watching “The Way We Were” (again), never suspecting that there would be any parallel whatsoever between a cheesy-but-effective love story and the football club that I love. But if you think about stuff …
The characters portrayed by Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford are having an argument, and he asks her why she keeps making waves, why she keeps pushing so hard, and she says:
“I’ll keep making them until you’re everything you should be and will be. You’ll never find anyone as good for you as I am, to believe in you as much as I do or to love you as much.”
Which, in a nutshell, is loving a football club. And not just Barça. Roma, Milan, RM, Liverpool, Arsenal, United, Galatasaray …. any football club that is truly loved by its supporters must wrestle with the challenge of being every great, wonderful, shining thing that its supporters believe that it can, and must be.
That so few of them ever do is the tragedy of being a football supporter.
With Barça, however, it is even more tragic, because for a glorious season, our club did exactly that: it was absolutely everything that we wanted it to be, that we expected it to be. It won all the trophies, it beat all the opponents, it was beautiful, and fun. And atop all of that, it was human. From its coach to its flawed superstars who wouldn’t get picked by the big kids for a game of kickabout at the park, it was innately, wonderfully human.
But in life as in football, time and reality change things, and complexities arise.
I can’t count the number of times that this club has made me cry in the time that I have been a supporter, tears of joy, rage, frustration and sadness. And if you really look at emotion, it usually has its roots in expectation. Something didn’t happen that we wanted/needed it to, and it sparks an emotion. People who are supposed to be brilliant, wonderful and live happily ever after get cancer, and a person who we don’t know at all and will never meet breaks our heart. Why?
Because that person has become part of the fabric of a club that we love.
When we love people, we expect so much from them, clubs included. I think that this gets at the core of our summer of discontent, and the intense reaction to recent events. After that spectacular year in which the club was everything that every supporter of any football club anywhere could ever dare hope that their club could be, reality set in.
Dirty dishes, leaving the cap off the toothpaste, put your damned dirty clothes IN the hamper …. all that stuff that crops up as relationships wear in, and we get to see what the REST of the deal is. And then we set about the task of loving someone for exactly what it is, and struggling with not having reality diminish that feeling.
This season, love has been challenged. The Relationship Face is off. It’s almost certainly worse for newer supporters, who haven’t had to wrestle with the Gaspart era, but it hurts everyone, because everyone wants good times to go on forever, and is saddened when they don’t.
When the club had the presser to say goodbye to an unwilling warrior, I ranted about it. Time went on, and I began to wonder if something was lurking in his medical report, a time bomb that made the club decide that it wasn’t worth the risk. I looked for reasons to justify the behavior of my beloved. More thinking, a sigh, and the realization hit me that it kinda doesn’t matter. It does in the sense that it gives us something to discuss and get inflamed about, but the club is going to do what it is going to do with its employees. It can hire, fire, shift and use them as it sees fit, and it doesn’t care what we think.
Should it? Good question. As we talk about public relations gaffes, and how it should have handled the Abidal situation better, etc., I wonder if the way that Eric Abidal, who is as much of an icon as any Barça player in recent memory, was shoved out of the door has cost the club a single supporter — a single potential shirt buyer or match attendee. I would wager not.
And yet, because of those expectations of our beloved, we ask questions because we want so much from that thing we love, we want it to be great, to not do stuff like this. We don’t want to see the recriminations that we saw yesterday from Abidal, in the form of damning quotes in which he said he was angry at the club:
“I do not understand. I’ve fought for them. I’m in great shape. I feel better than two years ago.”
“They gave me no reason. Told me it was a professional decision.”
“Inevitably, it calls into question my ability to continue playing football. I am the first person to judge my form.”
“First of all, I will not put my life at stake. That is why I’m a little upset with the club’s decision.”
“Either way, this is football.”
I discussed those quotes in private and in public, tried to get behind the meaning of them and what they meant in a broader sense as regards the way that the club is being governed, the seeming lack of humanity and other things that we have been seeing, and arrived at a very different conclusion than I expected.
Because we don’t know the whole story, and even if we did, what would it matter? The football club that we devote so much to, in all of its mes que-ness, is a business. Business is cold. Business doesn’t have a heart. Precious little differentiates FC Barcelona from Microsoft or Apple, and it’s doubtful anyone wept at pressers in which longtime employees were cut loose.
But sport is different. Sport is emotional. We love football clubs, not the companies they are part of and owned by. And that makes us question, wonder, rage and shake our fists as we wonder why that thing we love so, can’t be every wonderful thing that we want it to be.
The simple answer is because it can’t ever be. The absolute best that we can hope for are fleeting moments of sublime joy — an Iniesta babymaking golazo, Trebles, Year of Six Cups — that make it all worth it. We celebrate them for what they are, for everything that they are, and we move on.
Eric Abidal is angry. And he feels betrayed. The club has given him so much, from making him a multi-millionaire to allowing him to play a game that he loves at the absolute highest level, to funding and supporting his battle with a disease that takes lives. And yet, he is still angry with that entity. I can only sit in my chair here and speculate that he, like a fervent supporter, expected more. That maybe, he begins to come to grips with it by saying “that is football,” I think, because football is a business that is every bit as cold-hearted as any boardroom.
We are angry with the club for not being everything that we expect it to be, forever. We rail against transfers, and rotations or lack thereof, star players being played too much and promising youngsters being played not enough. Because we want so much.
Things that we love disappoint us. Constantly. Part of life is learning to deal with those moments, and understanding that people/clubs are going to do what they are going to do. That is their right. “If you love me, you would ….”
No. Not then, not now, not ever. In many ways, that our club seems to be a mess makes my affection for it even stronger, because who doesn’t love a challenge, right? And if a treble comes next season, people will forget all the doubt, all the anger, all the recriminations. And even if some of us don’t it won’t really matter, because that’s love, and that’s football.