Citizens, to the ramparts!

I did a recent Barça roundtable discussion and one of the participants, Nando Vilar, likened Barça’s fundamentally self-inflicted turmoil to citizens taking a very active role in their government. Following that, a commenter here, AllasFCB, Tweeted this:

How funny is that a fan/club member of Barca (Jordi Cases) took down Rosell and a player (Messi) took down Bartomeu. Only at Barca…

I would suggest that at Barça, and it’s a suggestion that is fundamental to the way the club positions itself and is believed in by its supporters, Messi is just as much a citizen as Cases. In many ways in both cases, the situations present interested parties with a quandary.

Cases was, many suggest, backed by anti-Rosell factions, enabling him to have a greater effect than if a mere soci were to have taken such an interest in proceedings.

Messi had what has been characterized by many as a “tantrum,” a child flinging his toys out of the pram. In fact it was a player reacting to a difficult situation at the club in a way that was presumed would have a real effect on proceedings. The complexity, obviously, is whether a player should have that much power at a club and just what is acceptable as a player takes a stand for what he believes to be a good reason. Completely aside, obviously, of what that reason might be.

Barça is a club that is “owned” and run by its members, who are socis. Mr. Vilar, who is an RM soci, spoke with admiration of our “citizens uprising,” and how he wished that RM socis would be as vigilant and if necessary, virulent. Aside from the admonition “be careful what you wish for,” it is something that fills my soci heart with pride. Great pride.

I don’t like what Messi did. The challenge for me is reconciling what he did with the effects of what he did. I can’t understand the motivation, because that is his. But the club will be having elections in the summer, the best possible result.

Likewise with Jordi Cases, forcing the club to lift the veil of secrecy on a complex transfer negotiation is unsettling because as players such as Xavi said, you like to keep those things private for very good reasons. Yet the net result was to be the last straw in a collapsing pile of dominoes that resulted in the resign of Sandro Rosell.

Citizens should care about their nation. Citizens should take part in the governing of their nation in whatever ways they possibly can, wielding as big a hammer as they legally can. Cases and Messi did that very, very effectively. No matter the motivation and the personal quibbles with the form the protest took, I’m very proud to be a soci today. The club works exactly as it is supposed to. The members have a voice.

No, Bartomeu

I don’t care why he said it, and I am plumb out of craps to give about his motivations about saying such a thing. But when Josep Bartomeu said that Barça is an “underdog” going into Sunday’s match vs Atleti, it appalls me.

Going into every, any and all matches, I believe that Barça is going to win. I don’t expect victory, I don’t pout and stomp my feet when victory doesn’t come, but I always believe that with the talent this club has, it will win its matches. I will never expect the worst from this group, or poor-mouth them, and I’m just a supporter. The president, the man whose visage embodies the leadership of the club, is not supposed to say such a thing.

Does acknowledging that Barça is an underdog means that he thinks the club is going to lose? Nope. But it acknowledges doubt, and there is no room for doubt. Not from him. Recall when Bernd Schuster, then RM coach, said that “winning at the Camp Nou is impossible.” Many say that when he was fired, this was in part the reason. Should it have been? Good question, but figureheads are thus for a very good reason. The people, even in as flawed a regime as Bartomeu’s, look to leadership for examples, for actual leadership. Just as Messi and Cases are citizens but more than that, Bartomeu is a supporter, a culer, but more than that. Culers who poor-mouth the club, who talk up opponents in the way that expecting the worst makes the joy when that doesn’t happen so much better, build something of a hedge.

A president is supposed to be all in. Bartomeu wasn’t elected, but he is part of the board that was selected by the man who was. He is also the president according the bylaws of the club that he runs. But it’s the unspoken laws here that matter more to me, and that rule is that, simply put, You never say your club is an underdog. Ever. If you’re running a mid-table club and Barça rolls into town, you say “They are Barça, but we are going to fight with everything that we have.” Support isn’t logical. Yes, Atleti is playing brilliant football, scoring goals in new ways while continuing to be the indomitable, distressingly admirable fist of a team that they have been of late. Yes, they are defending league champions. So what.

Stiffen your spine, and say “I think we’re going to get in that ass on Sunday.” Because that’s what a president is supposed to do.

Speaking of manitas

The first 30 minutes.

Barça laid waste to Elche yesterday in the first leg of the Copa round of 16 tie, dropping a manita on them. It featured luminescent passing from Messi, delightful runs of play and passing fluency, Neymar runs, a Suarez goal that demonstrated in a few seconds precisely why he was signed and everything else. But so, so many wanted to focus on the first 30 minutes, when the team was wrestling with an aggressive, fresh opponent. But that’s what happens. Some teams never overcome that hard-battling opponent. Barça figured it out, and began scoring goals before shifting into cruise control.

What’s wrong with that? Can a 5-0 win be concerning or distressing, not showing the signs that some culers expect to see? It would seem to demand the question, “What exactly are people expecting to see?” 100 percent possession, an opponent that doesn’t even cross mid-pitch, 8 goals and football that makes us all faint. That has never, even in the halcyon days of the Capering Sprites led by Captain Coldplay, EVER happened.

Enrique said that perhaps he is delusional, but he feels that supporters trust him. He is delusional. Nobody at all trusts him, and this is the core of the difficulty surrounding his tenure. He’s been perceived as distant, and arrogant. Rumors come out that players are saying such things. Meanwhile, he treats the Barça press corps as if it is dog crap that he has stepped in. Could that possibly affect the tone of some of the coverage that surrounds the club? Naaaaah! Lucho out!

Rumors fly, and nobody has any idea what they should believe, despite admonitions that we should believe nothing. “Enrique has the players show up with their bags to find out who is going to be in the squad.” Do we know how other coaches do it? Is there any point of comparison? Some of the things that Enrique allegedly does are firable offences, if true. They show complete, wanton disregard of his players and abuse of authority. So if they are happening, why has he NOT been fired? How much are we willing to believe, and what is or isn’t true? Should people deny things, even crazy things? How much, how far should it go?

You can’t defend Enrique because there is nothing to defend. The accusations of defending or bashing him are silly. He doesn’t need defending or bashing. All he has to do is his job, and let things transpire. Those occurrences within the team will defend or indict him. But this race to set him aside is almost like people wanting to get rid of him before he proves them wrong. It’s odd, and far, far worse than the Tata feelings, which were less rage — you can’t get mad at your bespectacled, rumpled schoolteacher — than Enrique.

“If I wanted mere results, I would follow RM,” one person Tweeted to me. Okay. But it’s also worth asking precisely what the standard is here, when a 5-0 win that also included sparkling football is still a problem to some supporters. This team plays football that makes your eyes hurt. It at times looks a rootless mess, devoid of any real system. Then sometimes it will seem to suddenly snap into focus, gorgeous football breaks out and glorious goals are scored. And you can’t help but wonder if something, anything is happening. Is it reasonable to want to sit back and wait? It all depends on who you ask.

At times, Barça looked a flat-out mess in that fateful first 30 minutes. And then they didn’t. So now what? What exactly are we asking of this football team? It pulled out a crazy win vs Valencia at a ground where the other top teams have lost this season, and it was insufficient. “We got lucky.” It’s more of the same today, after Elche.

“It’s only Elche.”
“He rolled out a strong lineup against the worst club in the league in the Copa.”
“There are still problems.”
“We didn’t play beautiful football.”

Had Enrique rolled out a Copa lineup full of kids with a few starters, would it have been “He did it again! What an idiot. At this time, you have to run out the big guns to get a result.” He had, by the by, that strong lineup at the Anoeta, and nothing happened. Still. Yes, there are still problems and we can all see them, which doesn’t negate the fact that the football club that we all support has extraordinary talent and is capable of beating any team in the world. Beautiful football comes and goes, just as it did under Guardiola, Vilanova, Martino and now Enrique. That much will always be true.

But of late, it feels as though Barça and Enrique are having to meet a moving standard, like the carnival game where you knock 3 targets down and the barker says “Excellent, just two more to go.”

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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.

11 Comments

  1. BA
    January 9, 2015

    we fielded a very expensive squad and won a game we were expected to win, against a team that is total crap, at home. it is not a double standard for cules to expect our team, this team, to win easily-winnable games.

    the game at Anoeta represented an opportunity to go top of the league and, though historically a difficult ground for us, it was felt that Lucho did not do enough to push for the 3 points by fielding a more talented squad.

    none of this is unreasonable or reactionary.

    • Jim
      January 9, 2015

      Agreed, but just a modicum of praise for the team for carrying out what we hoped they would might be reasonable. I’m as annoyed as you about that lineup and as worried as you about the longer term but we can get sucked into a permanent state of negativity if we don’t watch.

      • agar2515
        January 9, 2015

        I don’t think it’s that per se, it’s that we see AM on the horizon and recognize that the “positives” against Elche won’t be so easily replicated against AM. Maybe it’s a matter of taste, but I’ll take the cloae victory that shows “systemic growth” over the slaughter we got v. Elche.
        I only want to ” set Enrique aside” because of the countless rumors of him losing the players, I can’t stand that. He only hasn’t been fires because, well , a replacement needed to be found first…

      • cule4ever
        January 9, 2015

        We can only be victorius over the opponent facing us at the moment, not the opponent that will face us say 3 days from now or 10 weeks from now.
        Agreed that Enrique should have fielded a stronger line up at the Anoeta, and we lost a great chance to leap EE for the time being. Agreed that our midlfield play is not to traditional Barcelona standards, and LE is accountable for that, but that shouldn’t take away the positives we can glean from the Match.
        The front three are staring to gel, and the defense looks tighter compared to the previous two seasons. The team is pressing like hounds of Guardiola years and that can be achieved only through constant rotation of players. Nobody complained about rotation during 2011-2012 season when Guardiola did it. In fact he was lauded for it.

        Obviosuly there is no smoke without a fire, and Messi and team and LE might have their differences, but nobody knows to what extent. So, lets all be rational, and as Kevin said, lets question everything, and trust nothing till we hear from the players or the coach.
        All, said and done I understand that everyone wants the best for our team and come Sunday, we should have their backs including the coach come hell or highwater.

        Visca Barca

  2. January 9, 2015

    There are rumored developments:

    — TV3 has reported that Messi discussed his unhappiness with Bartomeu, and Barto is looking for a new coach.

    — Rumor, in that vein, is that Messi suggested Rijkaard.

    — RAC1 has jumped in, suggesting that something very serious is going on at the club.

    I should emphasize that these are all rumors, but wanted to bring them to the attention of the group here. There won’t be a new post unless something concrete happens.

    • mazimi
      January 10, 2015

      So now Messi is the one who is choosing the coach and President for the club?

  3. TITO
    January 9, 2015

    Well, LE hasnt really set the world on fire.
    Just that the negatives of his coaching manner overshadow almost anything positive that he is doing.
    Anyway, i dont want Rijkaard and i surely dont want someone who will only be Messi’s puppet.
    Yes, we all want to see Messi happy, but not at all costs.

    • January 9, 2015

      I don’t think much of Rijkaard as a coach, but Luis Enrique’s position seems to have become untenable and in a situation no top or promising manager would be stupid enough to sign up for, Rijkaard would be the perfect coach to at least calm things down and managed the squad for the rest of the season.

      Alas, Rijkaard is not stupid enough to sign up for this.

  4. mazimi
    January 10, 2015

    It’s all about the expectation for me.

    Let’s be honest, those Barca of 2009-2012 was something extraordinary and it’s very difficult to repeat. That was football from another world. So now that the standards drop a bit, people are going crazy, they expect Barca to play exactly the same thing.

    I used to go to EE’s blogs when Barca was at their prime and their fans were mad because they couldn’t play like Barca even by spending half a billion.

    So, I think we should accept the fact that those teams comes in cycles. If you go through history of the game, you will see those great teams of Ajaxes, Brazils, EE’s had their years and then they were beaten, or found out, whatever you call it. For me, it’s easier to just accept the fact that EE, and probably a couple of other clubs, are currently better than us – and that’s the way it is. Of course we can try to compete, but at the end of the day we should accept if we come up second best.

    And last but not least, nice article… thanks so much for all your hard work on putting these beautiful pieces for us to enjoy!!!

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