Today was an extraordinary day at the Camp Nou, a day on which a truly remarkable thing happened as a 27-year-old player … no, phenom, broke the Liga goalscoring record with a remarkable 253 goals. He accomplished the feat at home, in front of Barça supporters, via hat trick, at the end of a truly absurd week in which people lined up to defy logic in discussing the possibility that Lionel Messi might leave FC Barcelona.
And as fools like me suggested that Messi didn’t give two rampaging shits about what people were saying, that all he wanted to do was take to the football pitch and do what he does better than anyone else alive, it seemed fitting today that Messi did precisely that. Exorcism? Maybe. Statement? Possibly. Extraordinary match by an extraordinary player? Hell yes.
And that last is the point, the point that screams to be made as from week to week players are done, then “Back, how dare anyone doubt” and all points in between, is that each week, each match is different and proves absolutely nothing. Just as some days you go charging out of bed, full of energy and ready to take on the day and other days you roll over and hit the snooze button, what the hell makes us think that footballers are any different?
THAT Messi, this player, today
When Messi ran like a bolt of lightning to dispossess a Sevilla player, then turn to lead the break on the other end, it was a Messi that we really haven’t seen since the beginning of the season, when he was fresh and ready to go after a European pre-season and a nice vacation. And it was as brilliant then as it is now. His finishing was exceptional today, which doesn’t mean that his finishing wasn’t off prior to today. Because something happened doesn’t disprove that previous things happened.
Instead it demonstrates that today is today, and yesterday was yesterday.
But in the meteoric pendulum swings attendant to being a supporter and a fan of a player, even the greatest one of all time, from week to weak the dead die then rise again. And their proponents or detractors scoff or exult, dependent upon the situation and the final result. Then both sides retreat to their corners to await the next opportunity to do battle.
Is Pique back, or was today’s match just a one-off display of excellence before our handsome, pop star-loving, wealthy, poker-playing playboy returns to be the crap player that will reassure some and vex others? Does anyone care that Luis Suarez is, right now, the most expensive assists provider in the history of football?
Individual greatness serving the whole
I absolutely love what Lionel Messi does, because it helps the club that I love have success. And I bet you that Messi feels the same way, that a better day would be Barça winning with him held scoreless than Barça losing and him with a hat trick.
So while the record is a remarkable thing, yet not even as remarkable as the player who put it to bed, I am more excited by the the fact that Barça kicked the crap out of a very good Sevilla side, a team on excellent form, 5-1. Further, their goal was a Jordi Alba own goal. They were allowed to put exactly zero shots on Claudio Bravo’s net.
In the blizzard of praise for a record-setting accomplishment, that fact shouldn’t get lost. This Sevilla team had so many worried. This match had so many worried, for reasons that none could adequately put a voice to, except for the pressing, soul-crushing doubt that stalks this team.
I came across an article headlined “The 7 Habits of Unhappy People,” read it and found that it described Barça supporters almost to a T. There is a singular joylessness right now, a malaise even in the face of good results. A goal is scored, but it wasn’t scored the right way. The team is playing well, but where Messi is positioned isn’t right. It was a 5-1 win, but the opponent played like crap.
Yet all I could do was smile as I was watching Barça, a team that is still coming together under a new coach/staff, 8 new players and a new system of attack, begin to show signs that were impressive. Its first two goals were from set pieces. It also scored off a counter, off open play and off the kind of passing naysayers insisted was absent, as The Way was long gone. It scored different ways, in order to take advantage of an opponent who tried different things to keep Barça from scoring. I like how that works, just as I did when Guardiola had the reins.
Beauty in many ways
But what’s funny is that this Barça has in recent seasons been capable of that adaptability, even as people have clamored for the One True Way even as such a thing is simply not possible, because opponents aren’t practice dummies but flesh-and-blood beings with talent, hell-bent on using that talent to thwart ambition. A team is pressing, so you release a runner behind the defense. It sits back, so you try to pass it around them. It fouls, and you make it pay with set piece goals. Today, Barça not only did what a football team is supposed to do, but what teams that many culers say they wish Barça played like are doing.
I love that, even as those who cheer results are scoffed at, as if somehow misguided, or incapable of seeing the whole picture. “If all you want to do is win, well okay …”
Yeah, that IS all I want to do. Ugly goals count as much as pretty ones. 1-0 wins are the same number of points in the standings as manitas or 4-3 comebacks. A win is a win. Focussing on and lauding results isn’t bad, just as there isn’t anything wrong with saying “We won, but …” Both are valid, but neither is to the exclusion of the other. “Yay! We won! But I wish we could solve the Alves problem,” or “An impressive win, but there were moments when pre-existing problems reemerged, such as …” Every coin has two sides, but the value of results is worth consideration, as base as such a notion might seem.
Instead, a team, an extraordinary team stocked with talent has its supporters ripping and tearing at each other like adversaries. If you don’t praise Messi enough you hate him. If you observe something, you are criticizing as people join hands to shield a player from the criticism that many claim he doesn’t even care about, alleged scoffing that if it was put on a teeter-totter opposite Messi’s praise, would be catapulted into Earth orbit. If people don’t believe he is like unto oxygen, they are stupid and somehow blind, and the most distressing part is that it all conspires to take away the beauty of something that should, really, be an almost continual delight to watch. We will never again have the chance to watch a collection of players like this, doing what they do.
Xavi, Messi, Iniesta, Suarez, Neymar …. It’s like some kid was given an unlimited budget in FIFA ’15 and used every penny of it.
It’s also why observers can be forgiven for thinking that the free kick that notched Barça and Messi’s first goal was struck with a wee bit more venom that usual, kicking out the crap of a week that began with honest statements to an interviewer, statements taken out of context by a cadre willing to believe anything about anyone, including that a player who has said time and again that he loves his club and would stay forever if he had his way, was ready to leave that very club.
Everyone is different, but for me it shouldn’t be like that. We have the rare occasion to witness a number of remarkable things happen, from a potentially great team stocked with talent coming together, to a legend going out in style, to competition forging a potential powerhouse of a back line to the man who is for many the greatest player in the history of the game, finding new ways to amaze and astonish us.
That team won 5-1 today, pretty much dismantling a team that last season, talent losses from then to now notwithstanding, won the Europa League. It’s a team that, coming into this match, many claimed was playing better than it was last season, when it had so much success. And the team that we love destroyed them, as the best player on that talent-stacked potential colossus slathered himself in glory, like so much stardust.
Call me silly, but I think that — ALL of it — is really, really cool.