Lost Ballons and departures, aka “Ain’t the vicarious life grand?”


Football is us. It explains so much, really … the passion, the way we defend our teams and players, our views of those teams and players. It’s a game that we carry in our hearts and minds. It’s pure.

And because it is us, it makes us feel things that are in many ways, irrational. We take a player to heart so that when things happen, it feels like they happen to us, in a strange way. “How DARE they not give Messi the Ballon d’Or?! He is the best!”

It also makes us feel it more acutely when players we lionize are suddenly not those players any longer and sometimes stuff starts to make sense, even as you don’t really believe that it does, as you grasp for tenuous links to make seeming crazy talk make just a shard of sense.

What is the job of a football club? It depends on who you ask. To win? Okay. To make money? Sure. To provide a gentle place for its iconic players to be put out to pasture?

Hang on there, ace. Surely even the most devoted supporter of a player can see how that last isn’t even remotely compatible with that whole winning business.

On yet another level, a football club and the team that represents us, exists to meet a need that so many of us have — to feel something. We don the replica kit, find our way to a gathering place, or hunch over a laptop and a fuzzy stream that gets Whack-A-Moled by those pesky rights managers, and we are united in that one thing … Barça.

Because of that thing, that nebulous thing that unites us all as fans, be it Barça, United, Bayern, RM, Galatasaray, whatever side, the team becomes us, it is us. So we feel things. It isn’t logical. The millionaires capering about don’t care that you are laying on the floor, trying to will a shot just inside the far post. They don’t. They lose, shrug their shoulders and say “Tomorrow is another day.”

No it isn’t! The world has ended today!!”

We sometimes don’t understand, because the vicarious thrill, the living of life via sport, 90 minutes at a time, is a need. And it’s pure.

This week, on three separate occasions, we have been slapped in the face by that vicarious life of a supporter, the pain of things beyond our control, outrage, denial and disbelief. It isn’t just FC Barcelona that is wrestling with notions of identity in the face of what some call foreign ownership, crazy coaches, etc, etc. It is wrestling with what will be a great many changes not only in this summer coming, but in subsequent years. As the club wrestles, so do we.

On Monday, Lionel Messi didn’t win the Ballon d’Or. On Saturday, Carles Puyol was left out of the squad against Atleti. Also on Saturday, some people dared to utter something about Xavi, something odd and unspeakable.

No Ballon for you

When the word came down that Cristiano Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or, many reactions happened. Strong-hearted culers congratulated a man who probably doesn’t care what they think. Many, many more scoffed and hurled spiteful barbs about tantrums, tainted Ballons and bought awards. Why? Because dammit, Messi is ours. The vicarious life that we live through his exploits demands that satisfaction, that affirmation that he is the best, and therefore our blind trust in a diminutive genius isn’t misplaced.

Messi went to the ceremony, probably already knowing that he wasn’t going to win. He spent much time injured, and despite the calculations people used to insist that he still deserved it, despite a club president saying what he had to say as he called into question the fairness of an award that wasn’t going to his brightest star, it went to the right player.

But vicarious life tells too many that this is immaterial. To hell with that. Ronaldo whined and pouted in the aftermath of an old man’s terrible impersonation. And the voting was reopened with one thing in mind … to steal the award from our Messi.

Mmmmm, no. Congratulate Ronaldo, and fear not for Messi, because he has plenty of baubles for his trophy case, and will acquire plenty more. And even as football is life, stuff happens, and life does what it does.

One operation too many


On Saturday, in the biggest match of the season to date, Carles Puyol didn’t make the squad. Let’s think about that for a second: Captain Caveman, Tarzan, Lionheart, whatever you want to call him, wasn’t picked by Tata Martino to be part of the available match squad. How, and when did that happen? It seems like just yesterday he was slamming headed goals home, running pell-mell as he kissed the badge, emitting a leonine roar of triumph.

Then an elbow, a knee, another knee, and suddenly he’s a Cup player. Does it really happen that quickly, and is Barça guilty of hanging on too long? Recall that Martino was talking about Puyol as a “signing,” one that he was excited about. I don’t know what it does to him to leave Puyol off the squad. He doesn’t have the deep Barça roots, but he has a heart, so he understands.

Every coach has seen an athlete want it desperately, work hard to come back only to find that their performance is shaded by their desire. Someone once said that Barça needs to be “no team for old men,” and that is the struggle. In the constant turnover that happens at a club trying to stay at the top of world football, is there room for sentiment, for the kind of stuff that allowed the great defender Maldini to retire, massive ovation and all, from the Milan club to which he devoted the entirety of his playing life?

It’s painful to watch the players who we admired so, bought jerseys of, fiercely debated performance pluses and minuses of, become human. Even as someone who isn’t a fan of any particular player, I understand what Carles Puyol means to FC Barcelona. Everyone does. He is the fire at the team’s core, the thunder that always threatens to come down from the heavens at the slightest sign of things going awry.

And yet, Pique and Mascherano held down the fort and did so beautifully. Did anyone really ask about Puyol, or expect that he would be in a squad? Not much. A few of us noted it in various forms of social media, but there wasn’t much, probably for a number of reasons, all having to do with denial, and vicarious reality. If Puyol can’t do it any longer, then what? There was a curious silence about the absence of Puyol from the squad list. Nobody seemed to want to say it, or talk about it, but it was there — the end.

It SUCKS when our heroes can’t cut it any longer. Nostalgia is something that everyone, young and old, subscribes to. Puyol represents a period for Barça, a time for many culers that is so hard to let go of. Just as the sale of Ronaldinho closed the door on an era, when Puyol leaves this club, it will be even more momentous.

But make no mistake, leave the club he should. It’s time. I like to think that he understands this. He has been quoted as saying he will retire when he feels that he can no longer help the club that he loves, that he has fought so fiercely for. Unfortunately for our delicate psyches, that time has come. But how will it come? If there is any justice, Captain Caveman will make an announcement before the end of the season, and the last home match will find him at the microphone as ear-shattering waves of adulation rain down upon him, from culers who understand how absolutely titanic this man has been for this club.

Yes, there will be sadness, but that sadness shouldn’t be selfish in that we won’t get to see him charging up and back, matted locks trailing as if trying to keep up with a maniac. Spare a little for a lion whose heart has plenty left but is betrayed by his body and its accumulation of rips, tears, contusions, bruises and various knocks.

Which doesn’t mean it ain’t going to be weird.

Nonsense as a possible portent


This week, when Sandro Rosell said that Xavi basically helped to invent tika taka, many cringed. Lots of folks were making lots of invention claims this week as we rolled our eyes and said “Man, what a bunch of fools.”

And then, suddenly out of nowhere, came the wild rumor that Xavi would be leaving Barça this very summer for a team in the American professional football league, MLS. Suddenly, if you really looked at them in a way that is unacceptably crazy, maybe, just maybe, those Rosell natterings might seem, if you look at them just so, to take on the form of a valedictory for a great player.

None of us want to believe, even as time says “Go to hell” and takes things from us. Someone whose opinion I value said on Twitter during the Atleti clash that Xavi should no longer start the big matches. Wee, under-breath mutterings that maybe our metronome is past it have been going for a while. Then suddenly, one rumor came from one source, then another. Who picked what up from whom? Then a Catalan radio station with a good track record reported that a bid from the New York Red Bulls (yes, the same team Thierry Henry is aging gracefully at) had been tabled.

It’s hard to know what to think, even as a story quotes an MLS source with knowledge as saying that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to the rumors. Two years ago, even one year ago, something like that comes out and we laugh so hard we almost rupture something. Today, suddenly, even if just for a second, we pause.

Like Puyol, I can guarantee that Xavi does not want to stay at Barça for one second longer than he is useful. Their love for the club is too deep and complete. We have said that he needs more rest, that the forwards aren’t moving, that everything is fine and he just has to pick his spots. And he will pull out a performance that makes a liar out of the “he’s done” crowd, and people will stick out their chests and say “See? He still has it,” without analyzing what or how the performances happened. Vicarious life needs that, as we want our heroes to be as they were. Who wants to face an uncertain future? Hang on, Champ.

Yet as Barça face more and more teams that are physical, pressing and aggressive as they flood the midfield, the times that Xavi seems like a raft cast adrift become more frequent. The giveaways come more often, two within minutes vs Atleti, from a player who previously wouldn’t misplace two balls in an entire match. Past it? I can’t say. Past it against certain opponents?

Uncomfortable silences can sometimes be deafening.

Teams turn over personnel. They have to if they are to keep functioning at the highest level, as their supporters demand. AC Milan jettisoned Andrea Pirlo on a free. He then went on to play, define and star for Juventus. Was Milan stupid? Did they err? Nope. He just wasn’t, in light of the demands of that particular team, a player they were willing to keep. Football life is hard.

But MLS? Really? The rumor is almost certainly hogwash, as so many transfer rumors are. If there is any truth to it, I can see it because I just can’t see Xavi playing for another European side, even as I can see him wanting to keep playing for a bit longer. He isn’t ready to retire. Is he ready to dial things back a bit? Quite possibly, possibly not. But I do know this: the best way to honor our heroes is to look at them as they are, even as we remember how they were. It’s magic, it’s powerful. Just as we age, as friends come and go and life takes us through changes, there is one constant, and that is the team, whatever team that is.

By Kxevin

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.


  1. What the fudge!!

    How long do Culers have to wait to see Neymar and Messi combine and form a proper partnership? Let’s hope he comes back in 2 weeks or so.

    On the other hand, that second goal from Leo was..well.. we’ve missed him, haven’t we?

  2. Neymar get well soon. When can we really see both our talents together in good form.

    All those English media and fans, who are trying to find fault with Messi’s red suit, I hope, watched what he did yesterday. I am not talking about the second goal. But what he did immediately after he missed a third one because of a brilliant reaction by the goal keeper. I cant remember the last time I saw a world super star congratulating an opposition goalie, immediately after preventing him from scoring.
    He might be a shrewd man trying to play a good boy off the field, but on the field, Leo is the real model player.

    Where did all the confidence of Alexis go?
    I really hope we sell Tello. Even Cuenca is much better than him.

    1. When they write something like, ”who’d vote for a man dressed like this ?” ; Have they no shame ? Quite disgusting.

    2. Really? A friend of mine made the same joke and I laughed.

      And I’m possibly one of the select few people on this planet who actually likes the crazy suits Leo wears.

    3. I envy you. I take these potshots too seriously.
      At least Leo’s suits are memorable. Especially the Polka dot. Ha.

    4. Unless you designed the suit, you shouldn’t. Then again, it is very probably that Messi’s tailor has an excellent sense of humor!

    5. Perez must have planted the tailor there. He’s some sort of Evil Overlord. I blame him for the suits )
      Anyway, only Leo can rock those. Can’t imagine how thong boy would look in those….

  3. So. Apparently, 350m might be the price for Camp Nou naming rights. Negotiations continue, apparently.


    — Neymar looks to be back for the first leg of the City tie. Club says “approximately 3-4 weeks.” I bet sooner.

    — How are you feeling? Sick of it all? You can buy a spot for your eternal resting place at the Camp Nou. EUR 3k or 6k, depending on how long you want them to hang on to you.

    Note that these plans have been unveiled as part of a new Camp Nou, which, last time I checked, hadn’t been met about or voted on by the socis, and Transparency and the Trolls promised.

    Monday presser. Probably something to do with the special meeting of the board that should have happened by now, dealing with whether we will have a renovated, New Nou or Old Nou.

    And so it goes.

    1. How are you feeling? Sick of it all? You can buy a spot for your eternal resting place at the Camp Nou. EUR 3k or 6k, depending on how long you want them to hang on to you.

      I saw that yesterday. Was really shocked to see it – how low can a football club go in its attempts to generate revenue…

    2. Low? Seriously?

      Hell, if I’d lived my whole life in Barcelona and been a soci since the day I was born, I’d be more than willing, provided I could spare the money.

      We’re not so separated from the cavemen and the ancients, even if we’d like to think so. So yeah, I can see the idea. What makes a dedicated cemetery somewhere on the outskirts of the city more seemly than the wall of the stadium you went to on every second Sunday?

    3. Boca Juniors does a similar thing. If I recall correctly (read this in FHM almost a decade age) , they throw your remains (is it called ashes?) into the field. That’s creepy.

  4. I do still hope that the fact that its just Messi who has scored ever since he’s come back is just an aberration. Of course things are different when Fabregas plays in his place since he is more often than not looking to play someone in whereas Messi is more of solo or one-two…

    Its going to be really interesting to see how Martino enables Messi to be himself as well as let other strikers be a part of the scoresheet (especially with Neymar gone).

    Dont want Messi to be the only scorer on our team. We know Alexis and Pedro can score goals, but that will happen only if they get the ball in the first place. Question is, will they ?

  5. Messi’s suit wasn’t red, it was claret. His girlfriend’s dress was blue. In Catalan that’s Blau and Grana. Blaugrana. So hell yeah it’s awesome.

    Besides, when everybody around you is dressed like the bodyguards and the headwaiter, such colorful attire is actually fitting.

    Now, as to the Camp Nou cemetery: clubs are already doing it – BOCA Juniors ultras famously sing “We will be with you even after we die!” and the club offers even official coffins. When you talk about a club in which season tickets are given as inheritance, people become socios the day after they’re taken out of the maternity hospital and on important match days people go to visit the graves of ex-players and family members to pray for victory, the club which Bobby Robson called “The army of Catalonia” there will be thousands practically begging to be allowed to be buried there, both fans and ex-players.

    About the rumored naming/trading rights negotiation. It’s lots of money, but it still hurts. It would be a great proposition if it’s just for the stadium, not the whole Barcelona complex or naming/trading rights and shirt sponsorship, and only if there’s a provision to return the money left after a number of years the way Bayern are doing now.

    It’s still a giant step, because you cannot keep from thinking “aren’t there any other ways to generate that money?” True, the sum would make it possible to start the reconstruction immediately after the ink has dried, without hurting the financial position of the club, but you’re talking about names that have become in a way iconic. Off the top of your head, what’s the name of Arsenal’s previous stadium? What was the name of Bayern’s? And while it’s true that this will mean a legacy not just for the football club, but for the Club Barcelona in general, it’s still a lot of hurt.

    Speaking from a strictly financial point of view, the deal would be tremendous, the most expensive naming rights deal in the history of sport for a single club. As of right now, the most expensive is MetLife Sports Complex in New York, paying 500 million USD for 25 years for the whole Metlife Sport Complex, not just the stadium but the whole complex – to two NFL teams, the NY Giants and the NY Jets. As of this moment the 350 million Euro deal would mean 473 million USD, and if it’s just for the stadium it would be huge. BTW, in case you were wondering, the reconstruction of Camp Nou is so expensive because it would include the construction of a new indoors arena, an auditorium and more. So yeah, it would be taking money from the football club to finance the other sections.

  6. All this negative talk about Messi’s red suit… Little did they know that it was for a good cause. He wore it to honor the RED foundation that supports kids with Aids.

  7. I understand that Messi needs match rhythm but we have plenty of matches coming up. 2 matches in a week for until Feb 9 with. That is 6 matches in a span of 3+ weeks. Look at the fixture list, plenty of easy to medium difficulty matches. Messi should be eased into first team action, not 90 mins in the 3rd match. Ridiculous!!

    Levante 10th spot – 3x!!
    Malaga 13th spot
    Valencia 8th spot
    Sevilla 7th spot

    Was there seriously a need to play a lot of the 1st teamers for the full match? Cesc, Alves, (I know he just came back but he will definitely play out the remaining season as Montoya doesn’t get to play RB when Alves is fit), Neymar (if he didn’t go off injured, he would’ve most likely played the whole match) and Alexis. We know it’s vital to keep the players fresh and fit for the business end of the season. QF or SF of CL is not supposed to be the target.

    Adama could’ve easily shared Alexis’ playing time and Suarez with Cesc. If not now, the tie is already won. 4-0 up. It’s only the round of 16. Perfect time to rest or not play the 1st team players for the whole match. And perfect time to give some youngsters some game time when there isn’t much pressure on them.

    We were really fortunate that the 1st leg was at home so we could’ve killed the tie which they did. So there is a great opportunity to not make the 1st team players work too hard unnecessarily in the meaningless 2nd leg. The next tie we play away first so it is much harder to finish off the tie there and then. So I really don’t expect to see any youngster in the next round, let alone in the following rounds as the opponents will definitely be tougher and tougher.

    Since I was young I love to watch teams promote youngsters. That’s just the way it is supposed to be. I used to watch the youth league matches every Sunday to see which Ajax youngsters are promising and that used to get me more excited than when the club buys new players. I feel the same way at Barca. I used to watch Barca TV but that wasn’t really helpful as they only show a very quick summary. It seems that it is so hard for the young players to get playing time here. Thankfully Frank de Boer is doing the right thing at Ajax.

    At the beginning of each season, one of the reasons I’m so excited about is to see youngsters getting playing time and hoping that one or two breaking through. And when Barca came to my country, I was really hoping that the players who were still on holiday, got their holidays extended as I wanted to see the youngsters play who were filling in in their absence.

    I haven’t watched any B matches this season but from what I read from the match reviews, Dennis Suarez is doing a good job so why not reward him with an appearance with the senior team? Adama hardly played so he might not deserve a call up but based on his appearances with the 1st team, he looks like he is already capable of playing at least 30mins in the 2nd leg. We already know Dongou but he too didn’t get much playing time in the B team like Adama. These 2 cases could be due to Eusebio’s foolishness though.

    Pep and Tito used to at least call up the youngsters to train with the club and Pep gave more than 20 youth players playing time during his time here.

    Unless we win the league with a couple of matches in hand, I doubt any of the B players getting playing time.

    1. I can see your point about Messi’s playing time (the merits of easing him in), but your feelings are so strong they can be seen to imply the coach has no idea of what he’s doing. Let’s give Tata the credit he’s due – he’s earned our respect. Getting all players happy and the forwards firing in all cylinders, easing Neymar into a prominent and important role etc. He gave players such as Adama and Dongou time, and Bagnack during the pre-season, when their own coach has no or less confidence in them. So, for a moment, a minute, let’s assume he actually knows what he’s doing. Dude has had balls to bench Messi, even both him and Neymar against Atleti (Remember Tito brought in an injured Messi against PSG and was lauded for winning a psychological battle against Ancelloti). So maybe, just maybe, Tata has a plan for his team and knows what he’s doing.

      Of course we would all love to see our narratives and believes being implemented/applied/re-lived by the team. Buy Mangala, T.Silva, Vertoghen, Klose, re-sign Thiago, sell song and Mascherano, have 80& possession all the time etc. But the reality is we have what we have and we’re kicking ass with it. Song is doing good, surprise surprise, so is Mascherano. But depends on who you ask. Tata is one hell of a coach, but odds are stacked against him because there’s a looming shadow of Pep and another one of heritage – the Argentine is not a Barca or Catalonia product – so he never gets the benefit of doubt.Fact is, he’s doing better with Tito’s squad, who was lauded for being a tactical genius, the man behind Pep. Granted, effing cancer robbed us and more importantly Tito of playing an important role in the team. But for the time he was healthy and on the bench, he did the same stuff Tata is doing, if not less.

      I am not saying Tata is perfect, but he deserves a lot of credit and support from us. Less second-guessing his decisions – for all the things Barca is/has gone through, the dude is doing great. Remember, he wants Argentina to win World Cup and Barca to win everything (or to keep his job) – so he probably has very good reasons for playing Messi against Getafe. Hey, he’s got the little fella smiling and looking super-lean again.

    2. It’s getting late here so I’ll reply properly tomorrow. But just last week before the Atletico match I was praising Tata like mad to the extent that I don’t mind if we draw or lose as I liked what he’s been doing so far and love that he had the balls to not start with Messi and Neymar.

      But just because he’s been doing good things and making the right decisions doesn’t mean that he’s perfect and immune to criticism? Nobody is perfect and I’ve pointed out the points that I think where Tata could’ve done better.

  8. Do you guys prefer a new stadium or a renovation? I prefer renovation. I don’t want a similar situation as Arsenal where they had no money to spend for a number of years in order to recoup the money spent on the stadium.

    If they do vote for a new stadium then I would like them to follow the CenturyLink Field’s concept of the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL.



  9. Do you guys prefer a new stadium or a
    renovation? I prefer renovation. I don’t want
    a similar situation as Arsenal where they had
    no money to spend for a number of years in
    order to recoup the money spent on the

    If they do vote for a new stadium then I
    would like them to follow the CenturyLink
    Field’s concept of the Seattle Seahawks of
    the NFL.



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