I just want to make sure that I understand this correctly:
FC Barcelona won its opening Champions League match 4-0 over Ajax. The team is still unbeaten this season, and perfect in two competitions.
Okay. Got it.
Like Victor Valdes, Barça is this thing that nobody will realize is as good as it is, until it is gone. And make no mistake, this glorious, winning, conquering team will, at some point in the not all that distant future, be gone.
I’m not sure how people will take it. Will buildings have to bolt windows shut to keep people from leaping from them? Will the FC Barcelona bandwagon blow a strut from all the people leaping off it at the same time? Lord knows. (Shudder!) Meanwhile …
The Legend of FC Barcelona
Once upon a time, there was this team of little people, and they won EVERYTHING. Then they switched leagues, because their own league was too easy, and they won everything there, too. They didn’t even have proper boots, just little, little people sandals. And still … everything. And it was easy. I never had any doubt. That team was awesome. I wish they could come back. The end.”
Here is in FACT what happened during the Treble season: The team was clunky during its first two matches under a new coach, then slowly, slowly began to find its legs. Week after week, it faced opponents who were still expecting the former, silverless for two seasons FC Barcelona, and played in a way that got their throats slit. Week after week. That other big Spanish club wasn’t ready for what hit it, and got spanked. Injuries came, the team muddled through, getting results in unexpected ways, but almost always winning. Then it made the Champions League final, where Ronaldo fluffed his lines, leaving two excellent chances that he customarily converts, begging. Then Eto’o nailed an absurd toe poke past Edwin Van der Sar, completely against the run of play, and things began to settle down. But that match was also in doubt, until Messi’s unlikely header.
Club World Cup went to extra time, and Estudiantes scored first, don’t forget, and we didn’t get it back for quite some time. And it was extra time. A LOT of extra time, before we were able to bundle in a goal that sealed the deal. In Liga, that Treble group had 5 losses and 6 draws. In the Copa, it wrestled with Benidorm, winning 2-0 on aggregate, and just got past Espanyol in the quarters, 3-2. In Champions League, it only got past Chelsea in the semis because of that remarkable Iniestazo (imagine if the same thing happened now).
The reason history is bunk and Legends are often misleading is because they can taint present and future worldviews. But over time the Legend of FC Barcelona has become this thing, this massive, unassailable thing that no team, even that Treble team were next season to transpire the exact same way, can ever again live up to. The Treble season, which became the Year of Six Cups, was a whoosh, an absurd blur like this amazing roller coaster ride that you have — you’re scared out of your mind, and screaming, and being thrown around this wee metal car and almost crying and how the hell didn’t we hit that beam and …
That was the best roller coaster ride EVER! Subsequent roller coasters, even the exact same roller coaster, aren’t quite the same, because of the legend.
What About Now?
Players have come, players have gone but the nucleus of the team remains, even as the Legend continues to grow. This year, after so much has transpired, it is unbeaten, perfect in the Liga, possessor of the first silver it has had a chance to acquire and opened the Champions League in grand style but still … “concerning,” “unimpressive,” “problems,” etc, etc.
I have to come back to the words of the late, great Al Davis, who said “Just win, baby.” History doesn’t have an asterisk beside victories or championships, to denote “Won, but won ugly.” It just says “Champion.” It’s a crazy world this club is living in, where legends stomp the halls.
Tito Vilanova, last season, took his club to the Champions League semi-finals, won the Liga with a record points total then had to step down because of complications related to cancer. Somehow, because of the Legend of Pep Guardiola, he wasn’t a success. “Well, the Liga sucks, look what happened when the club faced a REAL team in Champions League. It lost 7-0.” Ah, legends, nifty things that make people forget that the club won the Copa in Guardiola’s last season. No Liga, no Champions League, no Super-anything, no nothing. Legends make people forget that Vilanova actually improved upon the previous season, because legends are impossible to live up to.
If you cross the desert after two weeks of being stranded, and the first thing you run across is a dude with lukewarm water and stale crackers, how good is that meal going to be? Can a saltine ever as good, ever again? Will that stop you from measuring every subsequent saltine to that one, that magic one, despite all that?
Let’s not kid ourselves, here. Treble Barça brought almost inexpressible levels of joy to culers worldwide. It grabbed new supporters, made pundits gush in ecstasy, even sparked books, all about something that was only magical in retrospect.
That was then, this is now. Culers have to let go of that magic, to allow any subsequent magic to happen. Or everything will be tainted. This club could go undefeated, win Champions League, Copa, all those Super-somethings and still, somehow, “Well, the Treble team was better. And we should have bought a CB.” I have never seen a more singularly joyless bunch of supporters associated with this club.
Little People Running Hurdles
— Vilanova left amid season preparations.
— Tata Martino was hired.
— Crappy preseason tour that wasn’t really training at all, for anything.
— No coach yet … oh, wait … there he is.
— Season began, team not in shape, destroyed Levante 7-0.
— Yeah, but it’s Levante. The Liga is a joke. See?
— Team working to get in shape, understand a new coach.
— Kicks Valencia’s butt, loses interest, ships a couple of goals … oh, lawd!
— Handles Sevilla, loses interest, ships a couple of late goals, wins match …
— “WHAT A WIN?!!” Oh, no. We’re in trouble, need a CB, can’t defend set pieces, etc, etc, etc, etc ….
— On the heels of that hard-fought match, a few days later, a rested Ajax comes into the Camp Nou.
— We win 4-0, but it was a sucky 4-0 win, as if there was any such beast.
The Legend dictates that a club isn’t allowed to find its way under a new coach, that problems not be anything other than the obvious ones, that victories must always be tainted, because The Legend dominates all, and sucks the joy out of what is actually a remarkable, remarkable thing on the face of it, bereft of baggage and the weight of Legends.
People will mutter and moan, and say “Can’t we point out realistic flaws in this club, why are we joyless because we just want the best for our football club,” and that’s okay. Perspective is individual, and wildly subjective. For me, it was “Holy crap, what a win,” after the Sevilla match. For others, it was “We gave up two goals. I’m worried.” Chocolate and vanilla.
I have said it before, and I will say it again … celebrate your club. THIS club. Flaws and all, because NO club is flawless. Perfection only exists in Legends. Don’t burden this club with the millstone of history, of victories and memories past, don’t blink or you might miss it. Were people so busy saying “Man, those Sevilla goals … we should have bought a CB” that they missed the astounding wonder of the Messi run and Sanchez goal? “Valdes had to make some super saves to keep the clean sheet,” they scoff. You know what? He did during the Treble season, as well. Don’t forget him stopping Drenthe and Sneijder during the home Classic, and how late, how long in doubt the result was. Don’t forget, even as you should keep that in present-day context: It was a struggle then, and is even more of a struggle now.
And yet, your club, your amazing football club is triumphing. Simeone sent out a club to foul, kick, harry, vex and do anything except play the kind of flowing football that he knew would result in his team getting hammered. Still, we won the tie. Through everything so far, this club has triumphed. And it deserved to triumph on its own merits, rather than being shackled to a hitch and being asked to pull a sled burdened with Legends and History. History is past. What we have today is a wonderful footballing team, one that is being mentioned as a Champions League favorite, one that has pulled out wonderful wins. It might win everything, it might win nothing, but it will be fun, if we let it be.
Celebrate that and be happy, because trust me, nothing great is never, ever forever.