The burden of expectations, aka “We’re doomed … I think”

"Didn't I used to suck?"
“Didn’t I used to suck?”

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.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

151 Comments

  1. PrinceYuvi
    September 21, 2013

    Dani rested.
    Song, monty playing.
    Messi dishing assists by bucketload.
    Pedrito is pulling a 10.
    We’ve meaningfull possession.
    Lets hope everybody is happy today.
    Thank goodness we got Tata.

  2. Messiah10
    September 21, 2013

    Great win at a tough away ground. Man those Rayo supporters are fantastic. Less than 12k there and it sounded like 50k crazy maniacs supporting their team. Was really impressed with Song, Xavi, & Pedro today. Messi had a very good game and should’ve received the ball a few times, but didn’t. Tello needs to get his head up or he doesn’t deserve the minutes.

  3. Messiah10
    September 21, 2013

    My MOTM is VV. Huge today! The penalty save changed the momemtum of the game and gave us the chance to get the 2nd goal quickly after the break. That last save off our dreadful defending of the set piece where NO defender got his head on the ball was incredible. I thought it was in for sure. I like how he’s spreading the ball around in the air from the back. It’s allowing us to quickly move up to attack if we maintain possession from it, or quickly press and try to counter from it. Visca Barca!

  4. bhed
    September 21, 2013

    Very entertaining game! Valdes – wow! Song looked good; rested Xavi is the best Xavi; Cesc was good. Oh Pedro, every time I write you off, you pull me back in. What’s a critical Clué supposed to think?

    • bhed
      September 21, 2013

      In case you were wondering what a Clué is, it’s a Culé with clumsy thumbs.

  5. Rami
    September 21, 2013

    The team still hasn’t found the sweet spot for when to play vertically and when to try and keep the ball.

    In the first half we excessively used long balls to cope with the pressure rayo players were putting, And as result our possession drop significantly, And it had a negative impact on us, Yes vertical play is a great addition to our arsenal of tactics, But possession is perfectly suited to the type of players we have, It’s what we do best.

    • ooga aga
      September 22, 2013

      the pitch was a potato patch.

      the pitch was small.

      the rayo players were all over us.

      we played some long balls, apparently more than you liked.

      we won 4-0.

      visca barca.

  6. September 21, 2013

    A few quick things:

    — Song’s biggest sin is that he isn’t Busquets. Or Thiago Silva.
    — Before the “Pedro is back” stuff starts, the next opponent that shuts down space will bring back the normal of late Pedro. With space to run into, he will always bring you goals. Take away that space, and he’s an unproductive good worker.
    — Iniesta as defensive substitution? Awesome.
    — Xavi might be “over the hill,” but he’s going, kicking and screaming.
    — I very much like this New Barça, that takes what an opponent gives it. Hats off to Rayo for playing brave and open. Won the possession battle, lost the war. I’ll take it.
    — Valdes. If Rosell and this board are remembered for nothing else, it should be for creating the conditions that have angered the best keeper for this club enough to make him want to hurt them by leaving ON A FREE, and to make the renewal of Iniesta more difficult than it should be.
    — Pique’s biggest problem is mental. That first year, he read the matches so well. He isn’t doing that, which is why his slowness afoot is a liability.
    — Who else was praying Adriano, aka Our Last Healthy LB, wasn’t really injured in the aftermath of that collision.
    — Another 4-0 win. I could get used to this.

    • Huckleberry
      September 21, 2013

      Is there any proof that Valdes is leaving because he wants to hurt Rosell, the board and the Club?
      Goalkeepers are special people.

    • September 21, 2013

      None. That is my speculation, as well as that of others. If you want to draw a line between Valdes being unhappy enough to leave on a free, Valdes’ best friend Iniesta complaining in public, not liking the dumping of his favorite physio and now, being a bit difficult about his renewal, it’s an easy link to make.

      Could all of those things be coincidence? Sure.

    • September 21, 2013

      I don’t think it’s any one thing that the club did that is making Valdes leave. I think it a combination of things.

      –he is an adventurous person who has always said he wants to travel and experience other cultures.
      –over the years he has received way more than his fair share of abuse from the Catalan press and the “fans”, even as he is the best keeper Barça has had in years, possibly ever. He’s probably sick of it.
      –there have been rumours that Valdes asked for some changes in his training routine and was overruled by the club, and this is what has pissed him off. No real evidence for this except that he clearly doesn’t have much love for Rosell (but gets along very well with the sporting director, Zubi, whom one would think would be involved in those decisions).
      –some sources say his partner is the one pushing for a big move for a lot of money. No idea if this is true or not, but they have 2 and 3/4 kids to support…

    • Rami
      September 21, 2013

      I conquer.

      Sadly for me, Valdes has fell from my eyes, He’s one of the best keepers in FCB history, maybe even the best, But after deciding to leave the club, i can never give him the same status as xavi, iniesta or other iconic FCB players, What a shame.

    • ooga aga
      September 22, 2013

      man, i bet valdes is just crushed that your opinion of him is less than what it once was.

    • bhed
      September 21, 2013

      Totally agree on Pique (and the other stuff too). It would seem ridiculous to say Shakira ruined him, but he’s never fully recovered that focus he had pre-Shakira (at least to my eyes). I still can’t bring myself to really put it down to that, but you’re right, he just doesn’t read the game as well as he used to, and we need him to now more than ever. Maybe he should use one of those brain training programs designed to improve concentration.

    • TITO
      September 21, 2013

      Well, i don’t blame, every sane man would be distracted by her!

    • September 21, 2013

      Some things in Pique’s defense:

      — With Abidal owning the left and center, all he had to worry about was a narrow corridor.

      — 95% of the play that first great year of his was in front of him. It’s easy to look like a boss when that happens.

      — A fit, healthy Puyol changes a lot. “Pique! Stand there!” Puyol knows. Without that marshaling, his life is undoubtedly different.

      — Shit, if I was married to Shakira, I wouldn’t leave the house. “Uh, coach, I’d come to practice, but my wife is coming home, and well … you know … ”

      — He is a very good Barça CB, who is adapting to his suddenly, greatly extended role. We will see how fully he does.

    • bhed
      September 21, 2013

      Good points. I’m not in the “sell Pique” camp (I get incensed when Stevie Nichols writes him off), but keeping your caveats in mind, especially the direction from Puyol, his progress at reading the game should have improved more than it has. I keep waiting and hoping. I really don’t doubt his commitment, but even with the increased responsibilities you alluded to, I still find it a bit of a head scratcher.

      I thought you didn’t rate him that highly – change of heart?

    • Jim
      September 21, 2013

      It’d be interesting to hear from these critics where exactly you think Pique is putting a foot wrong. I counted maybe two possible mistakes he made tonight. Can’t say the same about his partner.

  7. Messiah10
    September 21, 2013

    Here’s a neat YouTube clip of Iniesta being interviewed on what he does during his off days. I love the clip of him joining in with his friends playing music. He’s just a normal dude who likes to eat out and hang with his buddies. It does have English subtitles as well!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7o8dPzMvlE

  8. Huckleberry
    September 21, 2013

    Very entertaining game. The chaos in an open vertical game suits our gifted forwards. But the outcome seems less predictable.

    • September 21, 2013

      Actually, more predictable. We have too much talent not to win an open, flowing match. It might take a bit, but it will eventually always happen.

  9. September 21, 2013

    People worrying about possession need to look at heatmaps of today’s match. Rayo had possession, mostly in their half of the pitch. Sure. Keep the ball. Hope ya choke on it.

    — Oh, that interplay between Messi and Neymar deserved a goal. That one would have been playing on highlight reels for the rest of the season, instead of just being a moment that culers revel in on match replays.

    • Rami
      September 21, 2013

      Neymar won my heart again, His unselfishness is staggering.

  10. TITO
    September 21, 2013

    So, after 316 games we finally gave up the possession. The last time another team beat us to it was RM in 2007. Incredible.

  11. kosby
    September 21, 2013

    Super Duper amazing Valdes !! What reflexes… plus 2 penalty saves in 2 games…

    And Messi – this guy day after day match after match never ceases to find new ways to amaze us..brilliant…the way he hugged Pedro after the first goal, shows how much it meant to him to finally score..

    Special mention Neymar and Song. I wish Song plays more often.

    Also the scoreline does not tell us how hard this match was, it was not a cakewalk at all and we still won 4 – 0 ! This is why its so much fun watching us play..

    • kosby
      September 21, 2013

      *finally score as in – to finally get us on the scoreboard for this game..

  12. Jim
    September 21, 2013

    Decent win but this isn’t going to work against better sides. We shouldn’t be ceding possession to sides like this . Also not liking Iniesta being benched. Our keeper shouldn’t be forced into making five or six decent saves per game.

    • September 21, 2013

      Interestingly enough, Montoya said that the tactic was employed because of the bad state of the pitch…

    • September 21, 2013

      Iniesta wasn’t “benched”, he was rested, FFS.

    • Roberto Senyera
      September 22, 2013

      Benched? Don’t use such an obtuse word as that and Iniesta in the same sentence. That’s an absurdity and worthy of punishment of imprisonment for blasphemy.

      The word is rotation. The central midfield, in particular, needs to be rotated this year to keep players fresh and snappy at the business end of the season. It would be nice to have Puyol back asap so that the CBs can be rotated intelligently too.

      Word for the day: rotation 😉

    • barca96
      September 22, 2013

      Calm down. He was on the bench wasn’t he? And this isn’t the 1st time.

      On the other hand, I don’t mind him riding the bench at all. He’s clearly not in form. Maybe that’s what he needs, time on the bench.

  13. barca96
    September 22, 2013

    Calm down. He was on the bench wasn’t he? And this isn’t the 1st time.

    On the other hand, I don’t mind him riding the bench at all. He’s clearly not in form. Maybe that’s what he needs, time on the bench.

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