Pep Guardiola is, for many culers, coming home today.
After all, the coach who led FC Barcelona is returning, to sonnets of praise and rose-strewn paths. Those times were wonderful – Coldplay, weeping, trophies and victory parades – and the memories will always remain. Silver!
The complexity with the incestuous world of football, where today’s star player is tomorrow’s bitter rival is what to do when something like this happens.
To my view, Pep Guardiola is an enemy scout, seeking the best way to destroy Barça, should it come to that. I would sit his ass behind a post somewhere in the 400 section. Whether this makes me a myopic, spiteful little git or culer to the bone depends on worldview. But I will vehemently resist anything that wants to hurt my club and its team, from ill-intentioned presidents to former coaches who now head Bayernsliga juggernauts. If Messi leaves Barça for a rival and I am at a match at which he plays, I will boo, and wish him the finest in complete and utter failure.
And that’s the complexity in a game that lauds loyalty while it necessitates migration. A player starts with a club, reaches the point where he has to consider moving to that next level. This might mean leaving the club he has grown up with, because not every club has a cradle-to-retirement structure such as Barça. And that is where the weird part comes in on so many levels, because football reveres its stars in a way that hardly any other sport does. But migration is the qualm-inducing reality of that reverence as it forces supporters to come to terms with feelings best left unvisited. Rivals must be vanquished, and our heroes must triumph.
On the pitch, supporters have different ways of managing that. Some support the club, viewing players as agents of that entity. Others are fans of players, and remain that way no matter where the player goes. Others still become supporters of a club because of a player, and switch clubs with the player. That rivalry expands to club allegiance. When Chelsea supporters were caught on video committing a racist act against a black man on a Paris Metro platform, it was easy for other club supporters to snuffle indignantly. Players misbehave, and supporters smugly assert that “our” players are better than that. When they aren’t, other complex moments rear their heads as players and coaches shuttle to and fro.
When Luis Suarez was being convicted of racist speak and having Chiellini for a mid-match snack, culers scoffed and jibed. “Oh, the excesses! What a maniac!” Then he transferred to Barça, and “Anyone deserves a second chance” became the phrase of the day. Luis Figo went from hero to pig’s head target. And now Pep Guardiola, the man who said something like “Sheeit! Hit me in the head with a hammer,” when asked if he would consider returning to FC Barcelona, is coming back to take notes on the best way to destroy my team.
I can’t get excited about that. Sorry.
It’s like when players score against their former team, and there is some sort of goofy protocol that dictates a player not celebrating. What the hell is THAT about? It’s one thing to be a Sultan of Sulk like Balotelli, who doesn’t celebrate goals because that’s his job. “The mailman doesn’t celebrate delivering the mail!” I can appreciate that logic a lot more than I can appreciate the “I won’t celebrate out of respect for the supporters.” You just scored a goal! Do you think that not celebrating is going to somehow salve the wound?
When Danny Welbeck scored against Manchester United, the team that jettisoned him because he, in effect, didn’t score enough, that United was correct in that decision is immaterial. He scored a goal, a goal that put paid to United’s FA Cup dreams, and he celebrated. He celebrated like a player who was giddy with the joy of scoring the potential game winner in a big match that could lead his team to silverware. As you placate one group of supporters, what about the ones for the team you now play for? Welbeck grinned, and strutted and enjoyed the moment, protocol be damned.
I like that.
Coaches and players come and go, as they should. When someone is with a club or team they are fully deserving of all the support that fans can give. But when that person decides to leave, especially to a direct rival who was, not that long ago, responsible for inflicting one the most grievous wounds to a club, a team and its supporters, what is the correct course of action? It is here that respect and support butt heads. You’re a crazy culer if you don’t respect and admire the hell out of Pep Guardiola for what he did for Barça. You’re probably even too crazy to form words, preferring to communicate by throwing spoons and grunting.
But in the here and now, he wants to hurt your team.
Football loves the gesture. A player is fouled, and writhes in agony until sacred water from a magic bottle is dribbled onto his grievous injury and like the miracles of Lourdes, praise be! He lives! Opposing players are given ovations for a match well played. Liga opponents cheer Andres Iniesta as he comes off, in respect for the World Cup-winning goal that he scored for Spain.
I’m a churl. When people go, they’re gone. But I also read things given to me such as birthday cards, say “Thank you” and then bin them. Moving on. When I was at the Champions League match that featured Samuel Eto’o in an Inter shirt, I booed the hell out of him. I booed until I felt short of breath, dealt with the dizziness and booed some more. Damn right. He’s the enemy. He kicked ass and took names while at Barça. When he now wants to do the same for a rival, scorn it is. I respect his accomplishments in the colors, but when he dons the tunic of the enemy my respect remains as my rancor builds. I think that makes me a supporter who is all in, rather than some fickle fiend who doth not respect his history.
It also fits my worldview of players and coaches as agents who are there to help the club that I love have success. I am no longer interested in them when they leave. Doesn’t mean Keita, for example, isn’t still Keiteeeee when I watch those moments when he stomped the terra while clad in blaugrana, or that he isn’t an all-around cool dude. But my heart is so full of Barça that I don’t have room for players and coaches, particularly ones who want to break my heart.
So when the camera pans to Guardiola at today’s match, sitting in the stands to make mental notes on how to make me and all culers sad, forgive my lack of swooniness and “Oh, Pep!” moments. He is an enemy combatant who my rock-hard little heart will view as such.