Today is the day. The first day that our new coach, Gerardo Martino, will be in charge of our first team. It is also the first day of many, that I have to wrestle with not being in any way, shape or form mature enough to deal with a coach nicknamed Tata.
A lot has gone on this summer, and a lot will go on this year. We will discuss, harangue, vex and turn inside out many things that are going to happen in this season, things that didn’t, things that “if only.” We already have, right? Cules are seeing doom, and a defense that is certainly going to concede 47 goals per match, while its new coach is staring at the roster, staring at it again, smacking himself upside the head, staring at the roster again, and wondering what magic has placed him where he is.
“(PINCH!) Wow. Still here …. ”
And were I a genie who could grant wishes, my fondest wish for many cules would be contextual freedom.
Buddhist types have a saying, which is “be here now.” What does that mean, exactly? It’s more than a notion of being in the moment. It’s an aspiration that encompasses a view of life, an ability to say, for example, “This is the most wonderful hot fudge sundae that I have ever had.” Because it is. Might you have had better ones in the past? Maybe. But how can you be sure? In full mindfulness, you have what you have.
And so it is with our club. I think that we often consider players who are among the best of all time, or the best at their position, consider replacements and find them wanting. Duh. We look at an incredible lightning bolt of a season, and compare subsequent seasons to it, only to find them wanting. I struggle with this, which almost certainly explains my incessant, annoying “But looka what we just did,” like a child tugging at dad’s jacket hem and pointing.
We wonder why supporters of other teams consider cules to be a big ol’ passel of buttheads as we carp and moan about ONLY winning a Liga. But they’re kinda right. They would kill for something that we take for granted. A friend, who is a lifelong Chicago Blackhawks supporter, said to me the night that the Hawks won the Stanley Cup, “So this is how you feel all the time?” And it really, really made me think of how amazing our team is.
There is no Puyol replacement. There is no Abidal replacement. There is no Xavi replacement. So as we evaluate players and compare someone to say, the greatest controlling midfielder in a generation, anyone is going to come up short. We look at a defender prospect, then consider that unfathomable ball of hair, heart and desire that is our Capita, and say “Nope.” Yes, that is what supporters do, particularly when blessed with a collection of legends such as we have in our first team.
But this is even true of unproven legends, as Sergi Roberto is tossed into the smith’s forge named Thiago and deemed to be only worthy of pot metal rather than the finest sword. Neymar, for some cules, already isn’t good enough and he hasn’t played a minute with the first team yet, by a standard that is impossible to live up to.
I was watching that Confederations Cup final and highlights of Neymar’s tournament, and thinking about when the last time was that this club was able to sign a player like that, and I couldn’t. Those players usually go to other clubs. A cule who works in the cafeteria at my office, said that to him, Neymar was more like an RM player. And I knew what he meant. It’s a lightning bolt kind of player that usually goes for tons of money, who explodes onto the scene and doesn’t often consider our collection of PlayStation loving, mushroom farming, goat tending, grounded lot to be very much fun at parties. And I think “Wow, we got one.” I can’t really compare him to anything that we have or had, in part because of ignorance — we don’t know how he will be — but in part because he is what he is.
When Messi exploded onto the scene, he was just … Messi. Imagine if people had compared him to Ronaldinho, saying “Well, he’s a little fella and does pretty well, but look at what …”
We don’t get players such as we have but once in a lifetime, if we’re lucky. This moment, this crazy, unfathomable moment, has somehow been extended into years. This is remarkable, verging on absurd. In looking back at the Treble season, the year of a bazillion copes, the luck, timing, good fortune and all sorts of remarkable things that came together in the exact right way at the exact right time makes that year an unrepeatable wonder, instead of the template for which all successive seasons should be measured, and found wanting.
Bayern is experiencing that right now. They came across one of the best teams in history in the Champions League, at a perfect time, when it was hobbled and emotionally spent. Then its rival in the Final had a key injury, and another player whose head was turned by the thought of greener pastures. Remarkable.
Think back to those early chances that Ronaldo had in that first United CL final, ones that he usually converts, and how different that match, that season might have been had he converted those chances, had Eto’o not found that sliver of space to poke a ball past Edwin Van der Sar in a remarkable, match-turning sequence. That is easy to forget.
Last year’s team won a record-setting Liga, “but that stupid 100 points cost us Thiago, and Bayern beat us in CL. Compared to the Treble year ….”
For me, that doesn’t wash. It’s like a 50 year-old wishing he was 22 again, and comparing how he feels to that time. That comparison is always going to suffer. There is no Xavi replacement. There can’t be. What an absolutely astounding player. When Xavi leaves, the team will have to adapt to the skill set of the person who is playing that position. Likewise with Messi, Iniesta, etc.
There will not be another Messi. Not Neymar, not some kid toiling away in the Masia playground, not nobody. There can’t be. You get one of those a generation. Magic is magic because of the difficult to define state of wonder that it spawns.
So Neymar is Neymar. Sergi Roberto is Sergi Roberto. Cesc Fabregas is Cesc Fabregas. The real question becomes not what a player can do in the context of a colossus of the game, but what a player can do in his own context and how that ability and context fits the team’s requirements.
We have a remarkable battery of talent not only at the B level right now, but from what I can tell, at every level of the club, right down to those adorable little cutthroat Benjamins. Some of that talent won’t be deemed first team quality, some will leave because at a player’s given position, there is just too much talent standing between him and the brass ring.
As we continue on our journey as cules, it’s worth remembering that this collection of (somewhat, in some cases) home-grown talent is remarkable. At no other time in the club’s history has it been able to boast so many first team players, players among the best in the world, that have “Handcrafted with pride in La Masia” on their backs. We should be shooting off streamers and letting our chests puff out with pride.
Not every player that comes from La Masia is good enough to make it, despite the sparkling current production. Let them be what they are going to be, rather than looking at them for what we would like them to be, enjoy them if and when we get them, and have fun with this football club.
Success is a rare, glorious state of being. I think that is worth remembering as we embark upon another new season of joy, heartache, success and inevitable failure.