Dani Alves and the perfect gesture, aka “Your stupidity is soooo tasty!”

Image courtesy of Mundo Deportivo
Image courtesy of Mundo Deportivo

How often do we get to say the exact right thing, make the exact right gesture?

Many years ago, when my wife and I were urban pioneers, we lived in a neighborhood festooned with um … indigenous businessladies. One night while she was out walking the dog, a car rolled up alongside the curb and a man inside the vehicle asked my wife “How much,” presuming that the dog was a brilliant ruse, perhaps. Her response: “Just me, or me AND the dog?”

The would-be Lothario figured things out pretty quickly, and sped off. Perfect response to a ridiculous situation.

When Dani Alves strolled over to take a dead-ball situation during the Villarreal match on Sunday, it’s a safe bet that he had absolutely no aspirations to perfection, aside from a player’s usual striving for excellence. But when the banana came flying at him and he casually picked it up and ate it, attention and focus fully on the pitch and beating Villarreal, it was the perfect response to a ridiculous situation.

Neymar, not missing a beat, Instagrammed a photo of he and his son eating bananas, starting a “we are all monkeys” campaign that spread like wildfire. A Spanish TV newscaster ate a banana on the air. Players such as Kun Aguero have photographed themselves eating a banana, in the selfie as social revolt vein.

neymar

Villarreal issued a strong statement condemning the offending “supporter,” and FC Barcelona came out with a statement of its own, expressing full solidarity with Alves and condemning racism.

Once my jaw finished bouncing off the floor as a result of that last incident, something else remarkable happened. The match official, David Fernandez Borbalan, put the banana incident in his official match report so that it is there, for the record. It was as if to say “Your move, RFEF.”

After the match, Dani Alves handled everything with class and style, saying that such things have been part of the Spanish game, and you just can’t dignify them by freaking out. He added a backhanded thank you to the fruit hurler, saying that his father always told him to eat bananas to avoid cramps, so thanks to the person for providing the energy boost that helped him keep running, keep crossing the ball.

Awesome.

And this is how a football club properly deals with racism:

Villarreal CF wants to communicate that the club deeply regrets and condemns the incident that happened yesterday during the match against FC Barcelona in which a fan threw an object onto the field of El Madrigal. Thanks to the security forces and the invaluable assistance of the Yellow crowd, the club has already identified the (perpetrator) and has decided to withdraw his season tickets, permanently banning his access to El Madrigal stadium.

Once again our club would like to express its firm commitment to promoting respect, equality, sportsmanship and fair play both on and off the field and our absolute rejection of any act that is contrary to these principles, such as violence, discrimination, racism and xenophobia.

Racism is an unfortunate part of the modern game, and I really don’t foresee a point in my lifetime where it won’t be. Xenophobia is one of those irresistibly human things that takes us deeper than racism into those vile nether regions of all discrimination. Some might not be a racist, but a sexist. Might not be either, loving all races, creeds and colors, but is bothered by gay people. The omnipresence of the “other” is what makes discrimination so malleable and inescapable.

We hear of incident after incident. In the U.S., the news is filled with the alleged comments and views of NBA owner Donald Sterling. There as everywhere, strong words have come out. What makes that incident noteworthy is that “safe” players such as LeBron James and Michael Jordan, who usually shy away from unequivocal statements because of the potential image/sponsor damage, both came out forcefully against the alleged remarks, saying that there is no place in the NBA for that kind of an individual.

Boateng walked off the pitch during one match. Los Angeles Clippers players dumped their warm-ups in a pile, and loosened up with their warmup shirts turned inside out, as a form of protest. Two of the biggest sports in the world have had incidents that have drawn global attention to racism.

To what end?

Football has racism. Football will have racism. It isn’t cynical to say that, as much as it is reality. Because racism or any other form of discrimination (football has ‘em all) is the belief that your group is better, based on something that is (usually) unalterable. The object of discrimination can’t fix the thing that offends the assailant. They can’t not be black, not be female, not be gay. It’s easy, and it’s obvious to make someone the Other. And as long as humans have the trait that makes them want to be better than someone else, there will be the attendant xenophobia and its byproduct, discrimination.

Clubs can make statements, football can have campaigns, players can be banned for x or y number of matches, stadiums can be empty. These gestures make some feel like “See? They are doing something,” even as we acknowledge that a big part of such gestures for many is palliative. It’s like an apology, which too frequently serves to make the person making the apology feel better. “There. Glad that’s over.”

Then the game returns to “normal.” Everyone wants things to be back to normal. When you fight with a friend or loved one you regret the fight, but what you most regret is the upset to normalcy. Strife is nasty. So is being confronted by the tangible evidence of man’s inhumanity toward man. It makes us uncomfortable. So let’s don t-shirts and armbands, make a statement and return to normal.

This doesn’t mean that the efforts, the campaigns, the gestures aren’t sincere. They often are. But all of them put together don’t change a single, solitary thing about racism. We know it sucks. We know that people don’t approve. We know it’s a black eye on the game that we all love. Duh. Sadly, the gestures and campaigns also serve to remind us of something we don’t really want to admit: that maybe, just maybe, racism isn’t solvable by any of those kinds of things. That like charity, the end of racism begins at home.

Longtime readers here will recall my Camp Nou incident, where during halftime of a match I was attending a young kid from the posh seats saw me and made a clearly racist, monkey-like gesture to his father. The dad smiled, “Oh, you little card,” not at all uncomfortably until they noticed that I was watching them. Then it got VERY uncomfortable. I shook my head, predominantly because that’s kinda all that you can do in a situation like that. Show clear disapproval and the belief that while someone might think they are superior for the simple biological marker of skin color, that ain’t always the case.

That kid learned what he knew from the parent who tacitly approved it by not kneeling down and sternly explaining to that kid why what he did was wrong, laying out how absurd it was to for the kid to return to his seat and cheer for a team that included Lillian Thuram, Toure Yaya, Eric Abidal and Samuel Eto’o with a clear conscience. That is the time to stop racism. What in the hell is a FIFA campaign going to do when the people who the kid looks up to says “It’s okay to discriminate.”

That kid probably continues to go to Barça matches. Maybe an incident happens in his life that makes him understand everyone can be lumped in asshats and non-asshats. And that ain’t color, gender or sexual orientation specific. But more often nothing happens because just as we segregate ourselves into groups of Barça supporters, we tend to gather among friends who share the same views. It’s uncomfortable not to. It’s a safe bet that the Villarreal banana thrower was at the match with like-minded souls. So where is the disapproval? To that group, racism is fine. It’s what you’re supposed to do.

We scoff and snark, call them silly or worse, but they don’t care, because beliefs supersede all. Racists have kids, and those kids have kids. Allegiance to a football club is deep and usually lifelong, so the racists potentially keep raising generations of racists. You fix that not with campaigns, but in homes and seats around the perpetrators. Today, word came down that the Villarreal member has been identified and expelled. The identification came with the help of those seated nearby. And that’s how you do it. If a racist speaks up, people around him say “Hey, that is enough of that crap. It isn’t right.” And the racists learn they aren’t wanted, even if they don’t change their views.

This doesn’t augur well for a football future in which black players won’t suffer monkey chants, hurled bananas and the like. English football fans feel better about themselves because their FA has cracked down on racism in a way that makes racists much less likely to act on their views, even as that reluctance to act doesn’t make them any less racist. It doesn’t remove racism from the game, it just removes the overt gesture from the game. Dependent upon how much discrimination you have had to deal with in your life, you might or might not prefer to know who dislikes you because of how you are. The devil you know, right?

But the absence of a gesture doesn’t mean you don’t have racism. It just means that you can’t see it. Whether that is any better is up to you. For most of us, it’s better. We can’t see it, so it isn’t there. Personally, I want racists out in the open. I want to have the hope that kids will see how ugly it is. I want to have the hope that the kid who has a shirt with Alves/22 on the back of it will ask his father why those people over there are being mean to his favorite player. I want to have the hope that the kid will resolve to not be like that, and then raise his children not to be like that.

That is when racism begins to be erased from our game, which is what has to happen for the game to be truly better, rather than beautiful and “normal” until yet another incident turns it ugly again.

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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.

165 Comments

  1. Peter
    April 30, 2014

    Who are Chelsea playing against?

    • PrinceYuvi
      April 30, 2014

      Titans from Greek mythology, I think

  2. Jim
    April 30, 2014

    Cracker from Geoff Stelling, brilliant anchorman on Sky.

    “It’s the old bus story isn’t it? You wait two hours and six minutes for one to come along then two arrive in the space of eight minutes”.

    • Ryan
      April 30, 2014

      That’s brilliant! 😀

  3. Inamess
    April 30, 2014

    Atleti score! See sometimes putting the ball in the air makes stuff happen.

  4. April 30, 2014

    1-1. Now all Atleti have to do is what they do so well.

  5. Jim
    April 30, 2014

    Watch them try to goad Diego Costa into a second yellow now.

    • Inamess
      April 30, 2014

      Maybe put Villa in soon to prevent just that.

  6. April 30, 2014

    Make that 1-2. Eto’o fouls Costa in the box, Costa converts the penalty.

  7. Jim
    April 30, 2014

    I’ve a fair amount of sympathy for him looking at that hole the ball kept falling into.

  8. Jim
    April 30, 2014

    Ten minutes then it’s the ariiel blitz.

  9. Jim
    April 30, 2014

    Yes!

  10. April 30, 2014

    Make that 1-3 Atleti. Wow. A derby CL final.

  11. Inamess
    April 30, 2014

    I think that Mou is going to have a backlash similar to Pep in London. Critics are going to ask why Chelsea sat back after Atleti went up on away goals at 1-1. Sweet.

    It’s ironic that fans are more harsh if their team loses badly in the Semi Finals than they would have been had they gone out in the Quarters.

    • Jim
      April 30, 2014

      I’m afraid that in London and with the English press Mourinho can do no wrong.

    • norden
      April 30, 2014

      Everytime Chelsea wins, it’s Mourinho’s genius, and every loss is players’ fault 🙂

    • Ryan
      April 30, 2014

      It’s the players’ fault, or the referee’s, the game schedule, UEFA, UNICEF…

  12. April 30, 2014

    So wait … is it the death of possession football, the death of defensive football … the death of something or other?

    • Inamess
      April 30, 2014

      It’s the death of whatever sells newspapers.

    • norden
      April 30, 2014

      It’s the beginning of the Spanish era! 🙂

      Next fashion change is scheduled for the World Cup final.

  13. Jim
    April 30, 2014

    I’m still struggling with Gary Neville’s assessment on Sky that Mou opened the game up too quickly. Maybe we’re looking at the death of 20/20 vision ?

  14. Peter
    April 30, 2014

    Damn, but I just can’t feel bad about that Atletico team. They can be real thugs and bastards, but tonight they were playing the second part like men possessed.

    Stamford Bridge roaring its opinion on Jose Mourinho(Jose Mourinho hijo de puta) was a nice bonus. 😀

  15. Jim
    April 30, 2014

    Mou can’t resist. Sly dig at Barca in his post match interview.

    • April 30, 2014

      Please explain.

    • ibbe
      April 30, 2014

      What did he say?

    • Jim
      April 30, 2014

      He said he was happy to see two very good teams in the final unlike in previous years when some things happened which were not normal.

    • ibbe
      April 30, 2014

      Lol, he can’t blame UNICEF this time..

    • PrinceYuvi
      April 30, 2014

      ‘We had more possession’ ?

  16. norden
    April 30, 2014

    I have to say, this is a great day for me footbal-wise. My team (Sparta Prague) won 4-0 and got to the cup final. And the team I hate the most just got punished.

    I will go to bed happy 🙂

  17. dl
    April 30, 2014

    Fine results all around, in my view. I enjoy the spectacle of a gentleman and fine coach (Ancellotti and Simeone) out-motivating and out-coaching a tough rival. Interesting to see two different versions of a gentleman, too — Ancellotti classy and dapper, Simeone a mafia don, but both with an absolute code of honor.

    In the case of Real-Bayern, it was way too early for pep to be anointed the God of All that is Right in Football, so to see his steamroller of a team completely steamrolled was great. This won’t be a popular opinion on this board, but I was also happy to see Madrid play great football. We saw some of it in the last clasico, which was simply superb. We came away winners in that one, but really if they had won it would have been just as earned. Anyhow, to see them not playing negative thuggish football is great for the game, and I’m happy to see them move to that kind of play so quickly after the exit of mou mou.

    And of course Athletico. Whew! What a TEAM!. It’d be great to see them win, but really if Real play like they did against Bayern then that would be no shame, either.

    • Inamess
      April 30, 2014

      I don’t begrudge Real fans for being happy about their team, but other than their successful tie against Bayern they have yet to earn the title as the world’s new football dynasty.

      Only after they beat Atletico in the final and dominate us next year am I ready to give them their due.

  18. 86ed
    April 30, 2014

    Moot question. Would we have come back and scored three?

  19. Inamess
    April 30, 2014

    As your losing team blog correspondent, I bring you the consensus from a Chelsea fan site:
    “The big whole main idea of jose’s philosophy is to be disciplined defending in numbers and just rely on counter and/or long ball to score, that’s not cool.”

    Hope Chelsea’s loss means they are more in a mood to sell and we can get Luiz on the cheap.

    • ciaran
      April 30, 2014

      I have to say I’m not a fan of all the David Luiz talk. Don’t get me wrong, he is a good footballer but world class… I don’t think so.
      He makes too many errors positionally and takes too many risks to be the last line of defense.

      If we are looking for a defender with his characteristics then Mehdi Benatia is the player we should be looking for. He is much better defensively and while he might not have the flair going forward, he is good on the ball and great in the opposition’s area too.

    • Inamess
      April 30, 2014

      I know Luiz comes with some baggage, but I thought he would be a nice fit because he plays hard, can also play DM, is very athletic, and still relatively young. He would also be buddies with Neymar if Alves leaves.

      I don’t know much about Benatia, but if he fits Barca better then I’d be for that too.

  20. PrinceYuvi
    April 30, 2014

    I was amazed to see that Atleti are pretty decent at Ball retention.
    Death of spanish football only a year ago.
    English media can write almost anything.
    Hope atleti go the distance.
    Hope we beat them, just for kicks. )

    • KEVINO17
      April 30, 2014

      Technically, Atleti are the second best in La Liga – much better than the sprinters at RM.

    • PrinceYuvi
      May 1, 2014

      That might be true.
      Hope EPL vultures don’t rip them apart in this transfer window.
      It’s good to have a top team in liga.

  21. simple_barcafan
    April 30, 2014

    Simeone, post match press conference:

    “I want to congratulate the mothers of these players because they gave them big balls, to play like they played today”…

    • May 1, 2014

      Like I said yesterday, shouldn’t he have congratulated their fathers instead?

    • Peter
      May 1, 2014

      Actually he said “I’d like to congratulate the mamas of the players for birthing them with such big balls.” 😀

      In Spanish culture the mother is considered very highly. There’s even a joke about Spanish men growing moustaches so that they can be more like their mothers. 😛

    • barca96
      May 1, 2014

      Yeah, I thought their dad’s should be congratulated too. Takes two to ehem 😆

  22. April 30, 2014

    Watching match. Chelsea spent most of first half in Atleti’s end, playing possession football. What manner of bus is this?

    • May 1, 2014

      I think, Atletico just let them keep the ball, rather than Chelsea trying to play the ball or dominate. Simeone, for me, is more intelligent than most people think. Even if his team is considered defensive, he clearly knows his players are technically much much superior to those of Chelsea.

      On the park the bus/counter attack discussion, I would say, counter attack is the only hope for a team who park the bus. Any team who park is sure that they will get a loose ball, which can be kicked away and one of their athletes will be able to run up to it.

      Look at Hazard’s comments after the game.
      Hazard: “Chelsea is not made to play football. We are good in playing on the counter attack”

  23. Inamess
    May 1, 2014

    Interesting dilemma for Barca fans this Sunday in the game that will probably decide La Liga: Atleti at Levante.

    If Atleti lose or tie, then we have a chance of winning La Liga if everything goes right including beating Getafe on Saturday and beating Atleti at home. Unfortunately, Real would also have to drop points in their last three games.

    An Atleti victory seals La Liga for them unless we decide not to field our B team and give La Liga to Real.

    I think I have this right, but it would be great if someone checks to make sure my reasoning is correct.

    • Inamess
      May 1, 2014

      Yikes! The scenerio above also assumes that all three sides win relatively easy matches in week 37, but I guess you never know.

    • May 1, 2014

      I would prefer to see Atletico win it. If we somehow just by fate wins this, then the board will simply hide behind the success. Also we will hear a lot of “we still won the league” argument when technically it’s necessary for us to correct the problems with this team.

    • Huckleberry
      May 1, 2014

      funny reasoning…

  24. May 1, 2014

    One has to amaze at this Atletico side. They don’t have much option to rest their players. They play more or less the same players unless one is injured. We all knew they would have struggled at some point. That was just after the winter break, where they struggled to get into their groove. But one has to admit this team plays not only with their legs, but also with their heart. Just watching Luiz who was deemed to be too fragile our Barca management some years back gives you so much pleasure. I think Arsene Wenger(I am not sure whether it was him or someone else) said it perfectly – Simeone has converted this eleven into eleven simeone’s. They bloody just don’t give up.

    • barca96
      May 1, 2014

      11 Simeone’s? Pleas. I’m trying to like this Atletico side even though they have a few dirty players but not if all 11 are like him 😆

  25. ian_percival
    May 1, 2014

    Guys i’v seen some news about Barca going for Bilbao’s CB Ayemeric Laporte,he is young,6ft’2.also spartak moscow’s Romulo borges.

    • barca96
      May 1, 2014

      I would go for Laporte or Benatia (young for future) and Mussachio (good and experienced and best of all FREE) and we’ll be done for the next 5 years.

  26. Jafri
    May 1, 2014

    I get the impression that Pep and Mourinho are both ironically starting to become parodies of themselves. One concentrates solely on attack without paying attention to defense, and vice versa.

    Maybe they should team up and coach together. Complement each others weaknesses :p

    • PrinceYuvi
      May 1, 2014

      Too true.

    • barca96
      May 1, 2014

      opposites attract 🙂

    • Inamess
      May 1, 2014

      Great idea and it could be a new Star Wars movie with Darth and the Philosopher teaming up. Remember Mou in a Darth Vadar move said that he and Pep are the same person. The only difference is that Mou admits that he is a SOB obsessed with winning but Pep won’t.

  27. psalmuel
    May 1, 2014

    Next season, with additions in defence and midfield, we should be once again bus busters. Thing is, we just have to learn to always keep one full back at home and compress the lines. Van bronkhorst pointed this out in the copa final. When EE attacked on the break, we always had a wide gap between our mids and defenders. EE (even with their current form) are beatable by a ‘healthy’ barca (no pun intended). They just park a bus of 2 banks of 4 then hit you on the counter (credit must be given to them for their precision with this tactic) and mind you, this is Simeone’s tactic too.

  28. psalmuel
    May 1, 2014

    On the parking a bus argument, to me, if for a whole 90mins, you spend a reasonable percentage of time defending(especially with numbers) in your own half, then you are parking a bus. Doesn’t matter whether there was intent to score or not. And like someone said earlier, bus parkers rely chiefly on counter attacks and set pieces to score. Compare that to a non bus parking team, they spend most of the 90mins in the opposition’s half and with the ball, they are not chiefly looking to score on the counter or set pieces. Am not in anyway condemning bus parking as there is more than one way of playing and I also wish barca will have more than one way of playing like at the beginning of the season. Plus, I love a counter-attack goal too, its always a joy to see the opposition defenders running back in disarray like head-less chickens Lol!

  29. PrinceYuvi
    May 1, 2014

    Sergio Busquets : ‘It was a very difficult game because of everything that had happened.
    We’re footballers,
    but we never stop being people first
    and there were many anecdotes we remembered about Tito.
    We had to play,
    it was tough,
    but we had to keep going.’

  30. psalmuel
    May 1, 2014

    News is that we are willing to sell Fabregas

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