Barça 7, Osasuna 0, aka “It’s the little things”


I won’t begin, for an instant, to pretend that I didn’t expect Barça to win this match.

–They were at home against Osasuna, a team that doesn’t travel well.
–I think that those who want to write this team and its coach off are nuts.
–The group appears to be coming out of a collective trough.
–It’s what professionals are supposed to do.

Nonetheless the match brought me great joy, not because it was a victory, but because for the first time in a long time, our sprites looked like they enjoyed playing football. I won’t presume that I would be able to chronicle the human side of today’s win as eloquently as Eric Coffin-Gould did over at TotalBarça.

All I can point to is the Messi smile.

This has, quite frankly, been a long, long season. From board squabbles and stadium referendums, legal actions and NeymarGate, players leaving, personal tragedies and heartbreak, this has been ridiculous. That, through all that crap have come moments of searing beauty makes you wonder how the people who do them, actually manage to accomplish such feats.

And then, Messi smiled. A genuine, “Gosh, this is fun” smile that made you realize how much of this season we have watched him trudging around the pitch, head down and grim-faced, visage set not in determination but in something else foreign. He broke another record today, but I don’t think he was smiling because of that.

Every week we watch, marvel, carp, piss and moan. I have said that it is multimillionaires capering about, playing a game. But it’s also a job. Just like you get up on Monday morning, sigh and get dressed for work, so do they. It strikes me that just because fools like me think that it would be fun to play football for a living, to be able to do tricks and make people cheer, doesn’t mean that it’s so. It’s a job, a job that isn’t always whistle while you work.

And I got to thinking about why Messi smiled, and came to my own conclusion, as writers are wont to do. For me, he smiled because for the first time in a very long time, the game was fun. It wasn’t fun because of the lopsided scoreline. It was fun because of the glee of possibility. When a conductor and an orchestra bask in the rumble of a well-earned standing ovation, they are thinking, every last one of them, “Holy crap, we did it! We didn’t just play the piece. We played that piece of music in a way that changed lives, just for a moment.”

One lovely summer night, at the end of a spectacular reading of the Mahler Symphony No. 2, people were applauding like crazy for the Grant Park Symphony as I cursed my critical reserve that doesn’t really allow me to clap at performances. But I rose to my feet and, with one hand, gave the devil horns salute, that metal tribute that says to the band, “You killed that shit. You, my friend, are metal as hell.”

A young violinist saw me, pointed me out to a friend and, from behind huge grins, gave me a nod. If I was at the Camp Nou today, it would have been devil horns for everyone, because that performance was metal. It was “this is what we do.”

Messi smiled because he was part of that collective wonder that is created by in-form performers. He scored three goals, but my delight was in seeing the thrill he got from celebrating the goals that teammates scored. Was it a monkey being lifted from the team’s back? Was it the realization that yes, they still have the capability to obliterate an opponent? All of the above? Dunno, but yell at me all you like for reading so much into a smile, but that grin made the match for me.

Does anyone who has a dream job realize how lucky that they are to have that job? Good question. I love what I do. I would do it for free. Every now and again, I get paid and say to myself, “Wow. AND money?” Football players must do that, as well, even if it isn’t always 7-0 scorelines and goals for everyone, even as they also have those “Oh, crap … work!” days.

Ray Hudson, during his match commentary, focused on a simple word in describing how the team played against Manchester City, and again against Osasuna: hunger.


People bristle when our team’s hunger is questioned, as they should. Saying that players don’t want something is a complex allegation. It also isn’t true. There is never a time that players don’t want to win, even as there are times when they aren’t physically or mentally capable of doing everything necessary to ensure a positive result.

So La Real, mad and seeking vengeance, play out of their collective minds and beat us. Then Valladolid come in and take advantage of a still-down team, and grab a one-goal win. And the world comes to an end. Players should be sold, #Tata out trends on Twitter and it is, simply put, bedlam.

And whether it was a collective mirror check, or the realization that “Hey, this is going to be it for many of us,” or all of the above, the hunger returned. They didn’t just trot against City … they ran. Watching that match and looking at the 50/50 balls that were ceded against La Real and Valladolid with almost a “Sure, go ahead,” were attacked with fire against City. Can fear and worry make a team focus? Certainly.

Tata Martino said in his presser last week, that the best way to fire up his team is to doubt it, so people who don’t want Barça to play well should stop saying bad things about it. Who hasn’t done something to spite someone, right? “I’ll show YOU.”

But a lack of hunger doesn’t imply a lack of wanting to win. A friend and cycling mentor said to me that some riders walk up to the pain door, look and shrink away. Others open it, then decide it’s too much. The winners don’t even think about kicking the door down and striding through it. You don’t win because you are better or more talented than your opponent. That is just part of it. You win because at that moment in the competition when it’s on the line you say to yourself, “I want this enough to do anything for it.” Then you do. If you couple that desire with effort, that defines hunger.

And to hell with tactics. It wasn’t tika taka, it wasn’t counterattacking, it was everything all at once. Long balls for Pedro to run onto; a long pass launched by Valdes that Pedro tracked down; Messi being a bull; Iniesta unleashing a piledriver that had something extra on it from outside the box … goals scored in all kinds of ways, from team goals to individual brilliance by a team who was saying, with its collective play, “It doesn’t matter what you say, it doesn’t matter how you play. We are better than you, and here’s why.”


You watch that from the bench if you are on that team, and you marvel. So Song comes on and kicks ass, because he has the hunger. He doesn’t want to let down the side. Tello comes on and scores a marvel of a goal, because he doesn’t want to let down the side. The cliche “all for one and one for all” in the context of a football team seeking to be its absolute best, isn’t a cliche at all, but rather the way things are.

People will say “The team still needs a CB,” “This result doesn’t hide the team’s problems,” etc, etc, and they will be right. I also don’t care. We have the players that we have, players who on their day, are fully capable of beating any club in the world.

Even as faith-filled culers know that, we are also clueless as to the ultimate fate of this team. It could win a Treble, it could win nothing at all. But I do know this: those who come to bury this team, should, as blitzen said on Twitter, put away their shovels. Because the hunger is back, and it’s a lovely thing.


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. Kxevin – Thanks. Great read (even if I’m a bruckner man rather than a mahler man).
    Fascinating team selection dilemma for the classico. Surely Tata is going to start iniesta on the “wing” again. That means he can only start with one of Neymar, Alexis and Pedro. Surely, Alexis or Pedro (probably Alexis because he prefers the right wing) until the game opens up in the second half. But I’ll probably be proved wrong.

    1. “even if I’m a bruckner man”

      And this wagner man is also grateful for meastro Kxev and his prose which easily doubles the pleasure of a win like that one!

  2. It is better we don’t rejoice too much with this victory. This match showed what is bad and good with Barca this season. The first fifteen minutes for me was a re-enactment of the Valladoid match. But after that we were on a different level. I do believe that change in fortunes happened because our defense started to push higher up around the fifteen minutes mark. You could see the difference how suddenly we were looking so compact in the middle in contrast to the first fifteen minutes. Hope that was something Martino picked up and changed.

    The selection head-aches just mount for Martino! After tonight’s display by Pedro I wouldn start him on the left for Clasico. The toss up for the right wing should be between Neymar and Sanchez; with Sanchez work rate pipping him ahead especially at the Bernebeu. Neymar could be an impact sub for us. Whatever Pedro needs to start. He may not beat his marker, may not dribble, may have a one dimensional play; but he has a bloody habit of being in the right place at the right time. Iniesta, Pedro, Alba on the left could work well.

    Messi should be pumped up for the Clasico; after all he won’t find a more appropriate place to equal Sanchez’s record.

    1. I’d rather rejoice that we have the vintage Barcelona back for a couple of days and then get all pessimistic if that’s okay. 🙂

      I am worried about Xavi though. I thought he pulled up with an ankle ( achilles ? ) problem just before he was taken off. It’ll be fascinating for me to see what Ancellotti tries to do to hamper our midfield. Levantes never got near them and that’s a sure way to die painfully.

    2. “It is better we don’t rejoice too much with this victory.”

      Utter twaddle. I’m glad you weren’t sitting by Kxevin at that Mahler performance.

    3. If you can’t enjoy a match like this, then what’s the point of watching football? Why wouldn’t I rejoice when my team plays like this? I don’t care who they do it against, it still brings a grin so big to my face that it almost hurts.
      Now, I’m going to go watch this match for the 3rd time, and I’m going to forget about everything else and just enjoy it. You should try it too. It’s fun.

    4. Nonsense. It’s like culers are still trying to make up for something. During the Treble season, nobody knew what we had because there was still the aftershock of two trophyless seasons. Now everyone is pumping up the Treble to be something far more than it was, a season of zero doubt in which the team crushed everyone that it encountered.

      But that team only had 87 points to win the Liga.

      If we can’t take delight in our team playing up to some of its potential, what CAN we take delight in? Beat RM, and “It’s early days, watch out!” Beat City, and “They can still kill us in the second leg if they …” Beat City AGAIN, and “Well, the Prem is down this season, and Valdes still had to make a save.”

      And now this match. If every bit of potential joy is tempered with “But if onlys,” the result is a joyless life. Almost EVERY match shows what is good and bad about Barça, because no match is perfect. People act like Valdes isn’t ever supposed to make a save, like opponents are never supposed to have a shot on goal as our perfect juggernaut has 100% possession and all the goals/shots on goal.

      That isn’t reality, and if people continue to let some sort of unattainable need for doubt-free perfection cloud every good thing that happens, they will sit and quibble right through one of the greatest generations of footballers anybody has ever seen, irrespective of what kinds of trophies they win.

      For me, I can’t ever say “It is better we don’t rejoice too much with this victory.” Victories are wonderful things, despite culers being besotted with so many of them. I never, EVER take a match for granted, even as I have confidence that our team can win every last one of them. I rejoice with EVERY victory, just as I rejoiced in the Liga last year, while people were still pouting about the Bayern tie.

      Good things should make us happy. Because if good things canNOT make us happy, then nothing can.

    5. true that. i love barca and its style of football the most. the thing is that you cant live with the expectation that our team will never lose a game, will not have bad periods and so on. for good or worse with the team we have and the financial position, we will qualify for ucl for sure… and that is wonderful, that some seasons we are better and win the league, win the cl, and have some amazing games even better. we were not born to be invincible… i am old enough to remember the days when we weren’t making it out of the cl groups, when we were so poor we were not even contenders for la liga.

      anyway, this is the long strategic view, and i believe the point the previous comment was making was that in this league now, this victory may not mean too much.

    6. Haha.
      Quite an Entertaining comment.

      Let us know how that ‘not rejoicing’ part works for you.

      Sounds fascinating !

  3. Right oh Kevin, hunger is back.
    All around ‘performance’ from the team.
    I am ready to die, after making one of those one-twos Messi and Iniesta do in the in phone booth of spaces.

    If I could, I would pick Pedro as the man of the match. He is the most improved player in our squad. There were times when fans, including myself, would say Pedro is a hard worker and understands our tactics better than anybody and a decent striker. But, look at how he runs with the ball now. He is not just a one trick pony or a hard pressing player. He seems to have worked very hard on his skills on the ball. I am so happy that he scored too. He deserves to start at Bernabeu. Bring on Neymar as a super sub only, please.

    Friends, remember our Manita match. We did a 7 or 8-0 just before that match making CR7 to comment – lets see how many they score against us.. How I wish, we have a repeat, even if this RM is a different team. I just feel very calm. The team seem to have got back the hunger and confidence and above all the momentum too.

    1. Which is why as of late last night lots of culers were pleading for Ronaldo to quip “We aren’t Osasuna, we are Real Madrid. Let’s see if they can score seven against us!” 😀

      In all honesty, it will be a very hard game. And I am not calm at all. I just can’t be. Real are a scary team to play against, especially when they do have the bone in their jaws. It will be a hard game.

    2. I would feel a lot better about things if Neymar was in the form he was for the first Classic. First one in a while to see a full-strength Messi, in-form Barça. Should be interesting as they are also in form.

    3. It’s a real shame that Messi and Neymar just can’t seem to be able to both be fit and in-form at the same time. Fingers crossed that changes soon.

    4. Coming on as a super sub, Neymar could still make impact, also he will try hard to get back his starting place.
      Having said that, there is every chance both Neymar and Cesc will start, either of Alexis and Pedro to watch. If only Tata spring a surprise by going for a 3 in the back line…?
      I am sure, we will play as if we have nothing to lose.

  4. Tata seems to have empowered both pedro and Alexis. Maybe he just said to them: go out there and make a few mistakes

  5. It also struck me that this was the first TEAM match sine Messi’s return in that everyone played without worrying about or focusing on Messi. If the ball came to him it was part of the natural flow, dictated by his movement.

  6. Typical victory by the lions of barca!!!! Expected a lot out of the lions, but they have done their role very well!!! Barca forever….!!!!

  7. 1. Just listened to Ray Hudson commentary on this match. A delight. Wish ‘star sports in India’ has his commentary instead of some EPL converts. They come with preconceptions about the “degraded barca” and can’t even realize that they are witnessing magic right there. They go on about how the opposition can’t help it but not on how Iniesta and co make the opposition helpless. It was puzzling to see that Gary Neville and his partner – the so called experts – just do not acknowledge what was obvious to me. That Man City was being easily outplayed out of the Champions League by an ‘easy’ Barca. Next time around, I’ll settle down for the match with BeIn channel online stream where Ray talks, for audio, and my TV for video, and hope that they sync 🙂

    2. Realized how much is the Peps’ Barca overrated! I was reading a 2010 UCL review from this blog (First leg of Arsenal tie) and realized that as many people who are skeptics now, were skeptics then too! On the hindsight, it is labelled the perfect team- which it wasn’t- to judge the same masters who ‘were’ the perfect team. I reckon that if in the Peps first year, we just went to the UCL finals and lost, and lost the League in the last month, people would have understood. That was the kind of mood, people were liking what they were seeing because they saw it the first time. The skeptics just wanted more as they saw what was possible. So overall, they were more willing. Not the case now.

    I mean, Peps’ may have been the best team in the history, but this current team is equal to task except that these guys bear a burden of expectations combined with pessimism by which they are measured. And every small bump on the road being called the end of an era really takes toll on the minds. And aging doesn’t help. Still, Fitness is there. All that is needed is the ‘hunger’. That spark in motivation which helps a marathon runner make that final decisive push after so many miles. Watching yesterday, wondered if Martino just ignited that hunger at the right moment.

    If that is the case, we are really good enough to beat Bayern at their home, I daresay with a two goal margin. And there is no way we are losing to Real even at Santiago Bernabeu. I for one am looking forward to winning both the UCL AND the League. We will win at least the league if we get unlucky and face a ‘Double decked Chelsea Bus’ in the semis or something. Make no mistake about it, Valladolid and other games were just one-offs in the long run (maybe one too many, but still). But even if we lose everything, we will be contenders for everything come next season if we are patient with Martino. Because just by his looks, Martino is not at all a one night stand kind of a guy. He a long-race horse and he will more than deliver with time.

    Most certain of all, even if everything goes wrong, there will still be a Ballon Dor to cheer for come December (Fitness permitting)!

    And I am known as a skeptic in my circles!

    1. For Star Sports India, La liga is an inferior league far away from the best league that is EPL. Do you realise how we do not even get the chance to see all the liga matches, ever since this terrible group has grabbed the rights for liga from Ten Sports.

      Lot of Barca and Madrid matches are only shown in HD channels with Star sports. And how many in India can watch HD channels? When I wrote to them, they replied with a lot of bla bla and one single point – ie they want India to watch football with the best effect and hence liga on HD channels (strange then, why they dont show EPL matches in HD and show liga on SD channels when there are matches happening on the same time, they wont do that). They also show many liga matches on Star Sports 2, which again is a pity as this channel is still out of reach for vast majority of Indian people.

      I am sincerely hoping Ten Sports would gain the rights from next season. I really cant enjoy football on live stream.

    2. What was funny was last week or so, the Barca was scheduled after some badminton final in Star Sports 2 and that match was delayed for no reason. Those guys let them finish the match, even the presentation and took time to advertise and eventually put the Barca match on, late by 30-35 mins. Ten Sports is committed to truly promoting soccer. Star only wants the money from the EPL glamor coz ManU is the only football club Indians know. I think Star has the Liga contract for the next 3 or four years. Stinks.

    3. Well, I wouldn’t say Guardiola’s Barça is “overrated” as much as misremembered. But that is human nature. Memories of the good times are always better than reality. Who wants to remember bad things and uncertainty?

      Back then, Guardiola didn’t rotate enough, used Messi/Xavi/Iniesta etc too much, didn’t have a Plan B, was stupid for selling Toure Yaya, got outcoached by Mourinho, was a dumbass for selling Eto’o and bringing in Ibrahimovic, wasn’t playing Krkic enough (??!!), too risky, attacked too much, etc, etc, ad infinitum.

      I don’t mind that people look back with fondness. I just think they should remember those times accurately.

      As for this team, I too think that if on current form we draw Bayern in CL I would be confident of advancing.

      As for people who want Martino out, they should reconsider. The man has done an exemplary job. If you want to damn him, make sure that he has the players that he wants, so that he can go down on his own terms. But again, players win and coaches lose. So the team was brilliant yesterday in the win, but Martino was a clueless, outcoached boob in over his head in the loss. I get why that has to be the case, even as it is illogical.

      Whether the City and Osasuna matches, coming back to back, are sparks of light or signs that the team has fully awakened we will know on Sunday.

    4. There’s that. This could just be another sparkle before they just go back to sleep and make us all look stupid for being too optimistic. Anyways, funny that I can be more confident of Barca being strong against Real than I would be if we were facing a small team away. Priorities..

  8. I hope Mascherano gets a card one day (hopefully not in the Clasico though) so that he’ll learn not to make those useless wild tackles from the back.

    We always talk about how dirty Madrid is with Marcelo, Arbeloa, Ramos, Pepe and Alonso. Mascherano belongs right in that group.

    While the Madrid guys accuse the victim of diving, Mascherano always pretends to be injured and always manages to get sympathy from the referee or he’s just lucky that he’s a Barça player so he gets more protection (don’t pretend that you didn’t know we get more protection from refs).

    1. I had to read this twice and I’m still not sure if you’re actually being serious…

      1.) Masche did get a card.
      2.) In case you didn’t notice, he had fingers bandaged yesterday and if I’m not mistaken, the player fell on his hand. I don’t think he was pretending to be hurt.
      3.) Pepe and Ramos? Really? He’s not even close. He might get a tackle wrong once in a while, but have you ever seen Masche deliberately trying to injure someone?
      4.) We get protection? I don’t even know what to say to this one…

    2. I would never ever mention Mascherano in the same breath as Pepe and Arbeloa. I agree that he needs to improve that part of his game though. Also in the last classico we got away with the shove he gave Ronaldo in the box, but I think he’s learnt from that. Yesterday when Osasuna scored their offside goal, I think Masch was chasing the player who initially ran into the box and I was almost anticipating him to go and clash with him but he resisted. But he would never ever willingly do what Arbeloa and Pepe do.

    3. “I would never ever mention Mascherano in the same breath as Pepe and Arbeloa”

      Me neither.

    4. If we’re going by narratives, it’s more common for people to blame Alves and Busi for doing Barcelona’s dirty work. Masch goes in with some hard tackles (ok, a lot of them), but otherwise seems to win the ball fairly.

    5. Opponents try to get the ball back.

      They charge toward our players and stick a foot out.

      But Barça players being monster passers,
      the ball is already lightyears away between someone else’s legs [Read xavi]

      Meanwhile the studs nip our players, which comes under, ‘kicks or attempts to kick an opponent.’

      Rulebook says that’s a foul.

      Our players do get kicked a Lot.

      That’s punishment enough.

      Please, Don’t tag them ‘Pepe’ or ‘Arbeloa’.

      Masch gets nipped, kicked around by opponent strikers too, usually he just winces & moves on.

    6. Wow. I can’t even begin to imagine Masch in the same league as Pepe. I 100% unequivocally disagree with that view. Period. This is a friendly sight so that is all I will say.

  9. I think Martino has done an amazing job and I don’t understand why he doesn’t get more credit for addressing every problem fans had about last season, e.g., rotation, alba/alves (or the defense in general), messidependcia, and Alexis, who has had an absolute transformation. Apart from the Sociedad loss he has been tactically better than two European juggernaut coaches (Ancelotti & Pellegrini). Not bad for someone without European experience. Furthermore, I like the juxtapotion between players who have won it all and a coach who hasn’t.

    Madrid will be a test, but if we come out on top then we can safely say that the fitness plan for this year has been much better than last year.

    One more note. After we won La Liga last year there was a sentiment among many fans that the league was not important in wake of the disaster in München. Notice how different that sentiment is now with Madrid in first. I think people play to many video games which seem to augment some nascent desire for absolute perfection and this desire is then remapped back in the real, wherein the perfection of one’s FIFA team is sought in the actual team. I mean, I am just joking, but really, each game is a singularity and can be enjoyed as such. Over the course of so many years-this specific era of barça-we will make our own narrative and game such as yesterday’s will most likely have a place.

  10. via @barcastuff:

    Mascherano: “We weren’t pessimistic before and there’s no euphoria now. We know we have no margin of error left, every game is a final.”

    Personally, I think Masch will make a very good captain.

    1. This rumor has been floating for the past couple of days – about him leaving to coach Arg. Also rumors about him not attending the next season’s planning meeting. Lots of rumors here and there. Hope none of it is true.

      It is indeed sad and crazy. I will be very disappointed if he leaves. Not a good thing for our club.

    2. If we keep on pushing out every coach whose name isn’t pep without giving them a chance then dark times are ahead. Whoever comes in will focus on short term success to save his job. This isn’t the right mentality for a club like barca.

      Tata has my 100% backing no matter what happens this season. What he managed to do with a damaged team that he didn’t build is simply amazing.

      If we sack Tata, then we’re going 2 steps backwards IMO.

  11. What we know right now is that the board member queried said that they checked with Zubi and Martino, and that he is NOT leaving.

    Too many good sources say otherwise, however. A shot to coach Argentina would be difficult to pass up, frankly. Also gets away from the nest of pit vipers.

    1. Indeed. Coaching Argentina would be every Argentine coaches dream. That & Boca Juniors for coaches who are Boca supporters. I know Pellegrini has been tipped recently to eventually take over the National team job. I don’t think he’d leave Citeh until he gets a few more trophies though. Hopefully, all this is naysayers trying to create problems. It’s been pretty bad this year. A lot of negativity surrounding the club. The way they handled the Neymar transfer certainly didn’t help the cause.

  12. In all, we are grateful to be afforded the luxury of bearing some of the institutional problems as though they were/are ours, it was turbulent and horrific but we are glad to be partakers of such as typical fanatism is beckoned upon balanced situations of success and failure, it has been a long year but we appreciate the loose bit of business and headeache the team brought for us, now we can sit back and enjoy barca based on merit rather than luxury. I will scream and be more passionate to our triumphs and weep and be self-critical during our failings because in the end,…we deserve to, based on our own personal merit via collective experience.

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