It’s difficult to adequately explain to someone without a sense of humor and embrace of the absurd about this La Liga season. On Saturday, at the end of a logic-defying series of twists and turns, first and second place will battle. At the end of 90 minutes, a Liga champion will be crowned.
And in yet another season, Barça is being consumed by other stuff that shoves the Liga to the psychic back burner. “One trophy? Phfft! We should be winning the Treble!” Last season, the Bayern beating rendered the Liga anticlimactic, a status that took on a bit of extra disdain when common wisdom became that Thiago Alcantara was sacrificed on the altar of a 100-point season. There was a parade, and the celebratory feel of past victory fetes was displaced by a drunken edge.
This season, however, has been sufficiently crazy to make people wish for the days when the biggest problem was a young player not getting his due.
Everything all at once happened this season. In addition, being eliminated from the Champions League by Atleti has caused culers to move on, as if the Liga is some sort of booby prize, or runner-up bauble. “Here’s your lovely parting gift.” People played fantasy football manager and squabbled about whether this player or that player was good enough, in the “Sign somebody … anybody … not him! He isn’t Barça quality!” debates. Why not, right? No Liga to worry about, even as people said “It ain’t over until it’s over.”
Then it seemed even hope was gone, until things went bonkers and then it wasn’t. And at the end of it all, our team is standing at the brink of repeating as Liga champions, if they can just do something they have not yet been able to this season: beat Atletico. The season to date has been four draws and a loss. Any of those results would see Atletico celebrating a championship on our pitch, an idea that disgusts me to my core.
I like what Simeone has done. I like the way they play, how they leave everything on the pitch. But there is this typically culer notion that somehow, Atleti is more deserving than we are of this season’s championship. But logically and spiritually, I would like to call B.S. on that notion.
Logic and objectivity
In La Liga, a team gets 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and no points for a loss. At the end of the season, the points are added up and a winner is determined, by simple math. If two teams end up tied, head-to-head is the first tiebreaker.
Over the season, week after week through match after match, three teams have battled for the Liga championship. At the end of it all, in a final match, the import of which has been predicted all season by so many, a champion will be crowned.
If we beat Atleti, we will have a superior head-to-head record against them. We will also have beaten the other two contenders. We have also led the Liga more than the other two (now one) contender. Again, it’s an objective argument.
“We dropped points against minnows.” So did RM and Atleti, which is why our two rivals from the capitol city are in this predicament, against a team that has to worry everyone.
Dropped points, wins turned into losses turned into draws. But in many ways it is very fitting that this match comes down to this.
The winner, having the most successful overall record, objectively deserves the title. It’s as simple as that. The three title contenders took 5 of the last 21 points on offer. So what happened? Is this a title that nobody wants, or are the days of people, in the aftermath of our 7-0 hammering of Levante way, way back in the day, ready to admit that the Liga is hyper-competitive and interesting as heck, from top to bottom. (Note the 5-team relegation scrap that will be decided on Sunday, as well.)
Romance and subjectivity
Everyone loves an underdog, right? So is THAT why Atleti deserve it? People point to their squad and say, “Look how little it cost compared to Barça and RM. So charming!” Is making a lot out of an inexpensive squad a prerequisite for being the lovable underdog? Or is it the years of futility? Whatever it is, I challenge anyone to find me a team in world football that has gone through more crap this season than Barça. Players who started the season as mental wrecks, blown apart by year after year of fighting to stay on top, have had being emotional wrecks piled atop that.
Spiritual leaders and captains are leaving, contracts are being fought about in court, presidents are resigning, rumors, ugliness, comforting a beloved player in the aftermath of a personal tragedy, the whole team grieving as one in the wake of a collective tragedy. My hat goes off to our players, as my heart goes out to them.
If our season off the pitch was one of those “Up Close and Personal” pieces they run during Olympic coverage, there wouldn’t be a dry eye in any home watching it.
Culers also like to snarl, “We don’t deserve it because we didn’t play up to standard,” or some such nonsense. It’s easy to scorn players for not living up to an inflated standard, but how that has any bearing whatsoever on whether a team deserves a championship is beyond me.
Loving a team is a weird thing, the strangest kind of unrequited emotion. The team can’t possibly pay us back for all the anguish, heartache, debate and outright arguing, no matter how many championships it wins. Failure and futility define sporting history more completely, from a simple numbers standpoint, than success. That reality makes success, however fleeting, something of a wonder. And yet supporters, and not just our supporters, believe. Week after week, we believe and hope and many even pray in the hopes that their resident deity has a spare moment to “Just help us get this one goal, please!”
I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen on Saturday, on the pitch. The only personal guarantee that I can make is that I will be sweat-soaked, hoarse mess at the end of those 90+ minutes.
Barça has an extraordinary record at home. It also has, on paper, the best team in the world. It is a team that any opponent in its right mind would find terrifying, and hard to bet against at home, for a single match to decide everything, because so many of those great players are also clutch. They have excelled for club and country, doing things that are the stuff of legend, all of which makes me incapable of understanding culers who say that we aren’t going to, that we can’t beat Atleti. We can beat any team in the world, because we have a collection of the best players in the world. If they play to form, they can lay a manita on any opponent in the game.
Cumulative form doesn’t matter in a single match. As a unit this season, they have not been their usual stardust selves. But think about it for a moment — in a season that many culers would define as poor, there is a chance there, waiting to be taken. It is going to be cruel to whomever fails to take that chance, but this much I know, and I know that I have said this before:
This isn’t the time for hedging your bets, for attempting to soften the blow by telling yourself and anyone who will listen that we can’t beat Atleti, that we will draw at best, lose at worst, in that way that people afraid of disappointment have of negatively reinforcing something. This isn’t the time for logic, or objectivity. It is the time for faith, belief and love, the time to be all in. Just as our players fly about the pitch with no fear, we should support them without fear, without reservation. Emotionally, we HAVE to be all in, because you’d better believe our players will be.
It is rare that you get a second chance at anything, much less a third our fourth chance. Whether it is crazy luck, destiny or just some crazy confluence doesn’t matter. I can’t do a damn thing to help my team on the pitch, but off the pitch I can support them with all my heart. It isn’t logical. They have drawn 4 times and lost 1 time to Atleti. I don’t care about logic. Belief and love aren’t logical things. They’re simple, and visceral and in many ways kinda stupid, but they’re all that we have.