The dimmer switch of opinion

“He’s the greatest!”
“He’s NOT the greatest!”

Being a football fan is being exposed to reactions like an on/off switch in a world that often requires a volume knob. Maybe the player, coach or technical director is neither the best nor the worst. Maybe he just is.

No, your manager, your star player, your icon sucks because he is human. He sucks because he is subject to the frailties that humans suffer: mental errors, a failing body, aging, crafty opponents, teams who want nothing more than to get something, anything against him.

But most of all, he sucks because we as supporters understand so little about what really happens on and (more importantly) off the pitch. We think we understand what we think we know, and rush to judgment often based on little more than ignorance and a hunch. “He can’t be like that, I know him too well.” Sorry, but for all we know Xavi dresses like Genghis Khan in his private life, and worships Satan. It isn’t possible for anyone to be as good as their devoted supporters believe.

So much that we see about a team we support, the players we slavishly follow is artifice. Laurence Fishburne can’t fly off a building. That’s Morpheus, a character he played in a movie. The players, the coaches aren’t pretending to be what they appear to be. But they are controlling, crafting and creating something for us. What is so beautiful about a player like Messi is that he just wants to play, just wants the ball. But if you think that some of the negative stuff that is ascribed to him can’t have happened because “He would never do that,” if you rush to his defense based on nothing more than a sheepish grin and a love of the game, reconsider.

We don’t know. We can’t know. But that very simple statement will cause someone to think, “He hates Messi.”

Something strange has happened to our game. Before there was Twitter and a world that moved at the speed of a voice with thousands of followers, things seemed more measured. There was a volume knob rather than an on/off switch. “Greatest ever!” “Sucks!” In between those two poles is a chasm of thoughtful discourse that gets plowed over like a tank rolling through a daisy patch.

It’s now, it’s immediate, it’s a need for a right now reaction. When the Bayern physio resigned Thursday, nobody knew why. That didn’t stop people from knowing exactly why. Some asked questions, and were called haters. Others seemed to criticize Guardiola and were excoriated for being blasphemers rather than for people who committed the simple error of a rush to judgment based on incomplete data. Reasons are essential. Barça drew because Enrique made the wrong subs. It isn’t the goal conceded through an error but the goal not scored that is the culprit. And here are tactical diagrams to prove it!

Like Barça, Bayern is a roiling cauldron of a fanbase, a team that comes with an expectation set that is even more oppressive than that of the Liga big two because there is only the big one in the Bundesliga. Sport, MD, AS and Marca all combined to go wacky on a single team. The most money, the biggest stars, the brightest transfers and two seasons ago, the most desirable coach in the game. Put all that stuff in a pot and you have the makings of a stew called crazytown.

When something happens, when anything that isn’t supposed to happen happens, it all begins. Culers understand this because we live and perpetrate it. In November, Enrique was a dead duck. It was criminal that the board didn’t fire him. He was arrogant, hated the press and treated them like crap. Probably treated his players the same way. Lucho out, with vehemence, aggression and extreme prejudice. Woe betide the person who said that we didn’t know yet, that we should give it time.

But football is old, wise and patient. It knows even when we don’t, and there are so many things that we are never, ever going to know. Enrique and Messi were on the outs. Lucho out! Just a training match row over a call? No! Never! How real was the crisis that the team faced after the inevitability of dropping points after an international break away to La Real? It depends on who you ask, but the simple thing is that we have absolutely no idea.

In many ways what the 24-hour news cycle, fueled by social media has done is create unmeetable expectations, a hunger that fuels extremism. A fanbase hears that a respected physio has resigned, a Vine of a manager reacting to something gets out and before you know it, lines are drawn and villains created.

What made Sir Alex Ferguson so extraordinary is that for decades, in a tempest of a league, he remained at or near the top. If you look at the Premiership champions list over the last two decades plus, United won 13 of 22 times. That is stupefying. What makes it even more incredible is that money and talent came to the Prem. Chelsea had a turn, then United resumed. Arsenal had a glorious year, then United returned. City got a couple, then United returned. And when Ferguson left, United stopped winning titles.

This is so astonishing not because of what United is and what it accomplished, but because that just doesn’t happen in this day and age. Strong squads, weak squads, injuries and clunky transfer decisions and United kept winning, defying the odds of everything that makes a manager suddenly suck. A couple of key injuries can reduce a contending squad to a Europa league aspirant. Through it all, Ferguson kept on winning. Guardiola amassed a crazy pile of titles during his Barcelona tenure, but time caught up to him, and he moved on to Bayern. Mourinho strikes sparks in the places he goes, but never stays long enough to establish a record, a tenure that makes a colossus. Wenger has stayed, but hasn’t won in a matter attendant to his status.

This all happens as men in short pants scurry about in a sea of expectations. Bayern lost 3-1 to a Porto team that played out of its mind, and capitalized on a couple of defensive errors. Sound familiar, culers, in that world where a draw is a loss?

The simple reality is that sustained excellence of the type that sees off challenger after challenger, that allows a single coach to keep winning and winning at the same club, is as impossible as supporters having a clue what is going on. The whole game has become like the transfer rumor business. “X player is coming for Y million. Talks are ongoing.” X player’s representative says that “Nothing is happening.” Supporters who are against the transfer say, “See? There?” Supporters who are for the transfer say, “But what else would they say?” Nobody knows and everybody knows.

In this space we have seen posts that there is no real right, no real knowledge until something actually happens. Suarez to Barça popped up and many including me called it crazy, based on what? Nothing at all, not even anything purporting to be logic. Wild-eyed supposition? Sure, why not? A doctor resigns, and sides are drawn. “Pep is right, Bayern’s injury record is ridiculous.” “Bayern started having a lot of injuries when Pep took over. His fault!”

The arguments fly, based on nothing more than like or dislike, because we don’t know and nobody will ever say for sure. So we chase logic and answers like the powder-faced fiends in Mack Sennett silent shorts. “It’s over there!” “No! Wait! Over there!” And the people who know don’t say, and don’t show.

Step back, sit tight. Because if this Bayern medicos business hasn’t taught the game something, it’s doubtful we will ever learn – not only about the value of knowledge, but about moderating a worldview. It isn’t what we like, it’s what we know. Not knowing should give us pause, rather than making us charge into a battle armored in little more than supporter-forged confirmation bias.

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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.

33 Comments

  1. MSN
    April 17, 2015

    I’m a fan of yours. think you guys should open a mini-forum of sorts here, so we could post more too.

    I think not only twitter, but the internet as a whole, have made opinions to become more volatile.

    For instance, I saw some of the hate Neymar got before the psg not only on twitter, but also in other medias. It’s insane. One week Suarez is the greatest than he misses a sitter and he’s garbage. same with Neymar, even Messi. Rinse, repeat.

    It’s freaking boring and honestly, tiring. Also hard to keep one’s sanity

  2. 42
    April 17, 2015

    Both Pep and Wohlfahrt are the stubborn type of person. I heard they have differential opinions about how players should train and how medics should be conducted in Bayern, and neither were willing to bent. This plus Thiago’s drama made things worse over the years and finally led to this outburst.

    I’d say both parties have responsibility in this, and no one can say the other is totally at fault to today’s situation. Bayern fans had this extreme outburst today because they combined their frustration towards Pep after losing to Porto. I guess it’s expected but the size of this outburst surprises me.

    I think the culprit for all this is expectations. Bayern fans have an extremely high expectation towards Pep because they won all three titles in 12/13 before Pep took over, and that became the “normal” expectations towards Pep. It’s like how Barca fans have unreal expectations towards every coach because of what Pep had achieved. And for Pep, winning everything at the start of your coaching career is not a good thing, now he can never get over the expectations he had created for himself.

    Also, the fact that Pep gets almost deified and glorified by many people doesn’t help much. Made him into a “perfect” human being that he isn’t. Then every small detail that he did wrong gets examined under the public microscope. When he fails, people love to jump onto the slash train because they love to see scenes like this.

    Maybe failing at Bayern is not such a bad thing for Pep. Makes him less perfectionist and more realistic from now on. Football is realistic after all.

  3. luisthebeast
    April 17, 2015

    What i learn from CL this week:Juventus Bayern and madrid had great help from ref mistakes.But nobody talk in internet for Bayernlona madridlona.Haha it s funny that for one game back in 2009 we are the bad guys.Also we saw that there are not great CB anymore.Dante Boateng Luiz Silva are not the beasts that people think.Today a great CB must have skills to bring the ball from the back and to make no big mistakes.We have the best in PIQUE!About Bayern and Pep i dont know whats the truth but i believe Porto will cause them many problems in the return leg.Without Robben they are toothless;-)

    • April 17, 2015

      Every CB makes mistakes. Pique made a big one against Sevilla that helped cost the team points. It happens.

  4. luisthebeast
    April 17, 2015

    Yes Pique made a mistake but for me he is the best:-)By the way i love the fact that some fans believe that without Andres and Suarez we cant beat Valencia at home!But the same time they believe madrid will win all the games!Well i guess i will never understand our world fan base and how it works;-)

    • barca96
      April 18, 2015

      Try you make use of the reply button Luis. Easier for readers to follow the topic.

  5. Cyclops
    April 18, 2015

    um, here’s a little history on bayern penchant for getting trounced….Couple of seasons ago they lost 4:2 to dortmund, just last year they received a drubbing from madrid 4:0 (as much as i hate to allude to that, just no way round it) this season they were trounced 4:1 by wolfsburg..mmm, this team sure do like getting whooped now, dont they ??…And dont forget they are supposed to be the best in the world, a team of angels manifested in the flesh as mortal men, they were supposed to have won this season champoins league already- oh dont worry, you can forget..And i hear the loss is being blame on injuries, like what ?? when they gracefully beat barca couple of season ago, they conveniently forgot that the team best player was injured, that the injuries-plague defence line was miserably looking, that the coach was fighting for dear life…And this was a bayern team that was said to have the capacity of fielding a perfect replacement
    for every player, dosnt matter if 50 players get injured-say what, 50? heard it was only 14 outfield players that was out injured ? uh..um..looks like opta’s got their stats mixed up, lemme check again….
    And while i’m still cross-checking, added to this little recent mini-drama, news ‘just’ filtering in says couple of back room staffs has resign, actually resigned(now why does that seems familliar??)…oh boy, now i’m real pissed…What are the guys at the allianz arena smoking over there ??… (clears throat)Ladies and Gents, i officially present to you the grand entrance of bayern munich into #Crissis mode(familliar hashtag btw)- YAY!!!….can we start toasting already…Hold on a minute here, lemme get my chilled cabernet sauvigon….

    • georgjorge
      April 18, 2015

      For the life of me I cannot understand the hate towards Bayern/Guardiola from some commenters (and I’m Austrian, thus predisposed to not like German teams!). It’s as if some kind of villain is desperately needed to enjoy football. I’m not a fan of them, but I’m not ecstatic if they lose either. They played with key players injured (imagine Messi not being available for a game) against a strong opponent and lost…so what?

  6. TITO
    April 18, 2015

    What about Mustafi as a RB and CB choice? He can play at both positions and provide the same quality.

  7. Inamess
    April 18, 2015

    I just can’t get enough!

  8. Ryan
    April 18, 2015

    52 seconds in and bam!

  9. Cyclops
    April 18, 2015

    They didnt care about ‘remembering that when they beat you, remember now’
    Anyway, i’ve got a big beef for bayern, big deal..Remember when we were making our grand entrance into Crisis Mode? they were one of the guilty parties responsible for propounding the infamous theory of La Crisis…So i say we do same when we get the chance, nothing’s wrong with that, uh??..hehe just kidding tho’
    But the fact is i’ve got something against them…At the worst i think i repect the treble-winning bayern team, not these set…Just think they’re a bunch of wannabes(nice try to imitate our jersey- i rate them highly for that)

    • Inamess
      April 18, 2015

      The Cyclops with some truth bombs! Hey, if some are enamored with Bayern then that is their right but make no mistake Pep would like nothing moare than to get his squad healthy again and invite us to a “beautiful red football match of peace and love” at the Allianz where we would supposedly play beautiful nostalgic football together.

      Sorry, I am not falling for that nonsense. This time there wouldn’t be swimming pools on the pitch but minefields and archers in the stands.

      I am going to have to recommend some necessary viewing for some well-intentions but misguided cules who are trapped by their romantic delusions and can’t recognize dysfunctional and toxic relationships for what they are:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3oF8Po4qWc

      It is time for cule the cule infighting must end. We must join together on this week brothers and sisters arm in arm and prey that the Football Gods take vengeance on our enemies in in Madrid and Bavaria and forgive us for our collective sin of doubting the historic destiny of this great team.

    • georgjorge
      April 18, 2015

      I’m not in a “dysfunctional and toxic relationship” with Pep, and neither do I care what some Bayern fans might have said about Barca two years back (or what they would say now), supposedly on Twitter as well. I’m just not concerned about Bayern at all. I like a good footballing villain as much as anyone (Mourinho’s M*drid did an admirable job at it) – after all, it is all a great show. But I don’t get as worked up as you guys (supposing this isn’t all irony) over it.

  10. Rami
    April 18, 2015

    Those three in the midfield aren’t clicking together at all, Their positioning on the pitch looks a bit erratic and random, It’s as if they don’t know exactly what to do, Not entirely their fault, This is only the second time this season they played together, The first time being at Mestalla, Fortunately, Enrique realized he made a mistake, Cause raki is coming to the rescue.

    Pique repeated mistakes aren’t helping either, What’s got into him lately, He was on a fantastic run, Adriano seems very much out of his depth.

    • barca96
      April 18, 2015

      Pique is still good with balls in the air but his positioning and passing has been really poor this match. Maybe it’s because of the mistake vs Sevilla.

  11. barca96
    April 18, 2015

    It’s at the end of the season and Matthieu’s clearances haven’t improved.

    Xavi out, Rakitic in.
    Adriana out, Alba in.

  12. ooga aga
    April 18, 2015

    Messi goal! what a pressure release! PSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHH woooo!

    Great game to Valencia. What a huge victory this is.

    • Ryan
      April 18, 2015

      Goal #400 for Messi! That was a tough game vs. an opponent that were close to a dozen games unbeaten.

  13. Bill
    April 18, 2015

    If you stopped watching this as a game at around minute 70 and started watching it as a comedy like I did, you would have enjoyed it very much. It was hilarious!

  14. Cyclops
    April 18, 2015

    Okay now, BREATHE!!!… Thats was one hell of a game, geez!!!.. Great game!!..Great Team play!!
    Meanwhile D10 for Fifa President!!!

  15. G6O
    April 18, 2015

    Last week we were unlucky not to win, today we were lucky to get out of that first half with a lead, so it evens out in the end. Much better second half – for those wondering why we almost never play a double pivot, today’s game should provide a partial answer, although even I don’t understand why it was such a chaos…

    • Inamess
      April 18, 2015

      Excellent points. I thought Lucho dismissed the idea with our last Valencia match where we were also extremely lucky to get out of there with 3 points. A double pivot takes Mascherano and Busquets out of their best positions with the team. Masch is a very capable CB with against most teams but not necessarily an asset in midfield. Pep, Tito, Tata all recognized this and now I think Lucho does too.

      Also, Rakitic with a good game. He brought some control and calmness back in the second half.

  16. TITO
    April 18, 2015

    Now those wondering what Rakitic brings to this team, maybe will stop now, at least for a while.

  17. lala10
    April 18, 2015

    The double pivot was a pain in the ass. Valencia benefited from a free midweek whilst we toiled against PSG. Does not truly account for the chaos though. Team has dipped physically a bit.

    Better second half showing. Mathieu a good suprising outlet.

  18. Shaco
    April 18, 2015

    Great win. RM will have to face sevilla and valencia in a few weeks, and those would be surrounded by cl semis should they make it. Hopefully they drop points in at least one of those matches.

  19. Cyclops
    April 18, 2015

    And oh, i remember somebody posting here after the sevillia draw, that, thats probably a badluck in exchange for our goodluck against valencia…i’d be darn, if this wasnt one hell of a Goodluck!!!!

  20. barca96
    April 18, 2015

    Matthieu was surprisingly good on the left. I knew he was a good LB I was really hoping he could be an Abidal type of player, LB/CB but then when he was so poor and was even surprised to play LB the last time we played at the Bernabeu made me think that he can’t play LB anymore. He looked good.

    Messi worked extremely hard. I hope we’ll have a 2 goal cushion in the 2nd half vs PSG so that he can come off. He desperately needs some rest. Other teams have misfortunes of having their key players injured, we have the luxury to rest our key player, our #1 difference maker, so make use of it.

    Was Suarez injured or was he taken off because Lucho doesnt dare to bring Neymar off anymore?

  21. Dar_vincy
    April 18, 2015

    I really beg to differ on the notion that the double pivot has been a failed experiment. Not for me. It might not have produced a great result but I won’t consider it a failure…just yet. Granted there was no synergy btw the midfield trio, that cannot be the alibi for the way the match panned out the way it did.
    1. We were playing a top team that was well rested.
    2. We looked really jaded…sth our coach admitted.
    3. We relinguished possession easily.

    As opposed to popular belief, Mascherano isn’t a liability in that midfield…he was really immense there today. On the flip side, things would have been worse for us if Busquests had been the only pivot. No way Iniesta or whoever plays in place of Masch copes with that ludicrous pressure from Valencia. Xavi who was my preferred choice to orchestrate play struggled to assert authority…again, no fault of Mascherano. During second half, Rakitic’s presence injected a bit of calm in the midfield; again, that wasn’t because the previous guy there (Masch) was poor. Observe closely and you’d notice Valencia were kinda spent in the second half from the heavy pressing they subjected us to in the first half.
    Over and above, credit should be accorded to Valencia for delivering one of the best performances against us.

    • April 18, 2015

      What was funny for me was on Barça Twitter people were discussing Mascherano’s deficiencies that they saw. Meanwhile he was just making play after play after play. He and Bravo neck and neck for MOTM for me. Rakitic also gets a shout for what he brought to the team second half. I know, I know … people don’t see what he brings to the side. Nonetheless …

      This match was for me an excellent illustration of the Barçaverse and how it functions in the world of social media. When Messi missed that gimme, I saw more “Neymar should have shot,” than “Messi filled his pants.” One person even called me a “Neymar fanboy,” which actually made me giggle.

      A number of things will be interesting today, and we will see if I am the only one to point them out. Match thoughts coming later.

    • Dar_vincy
      April 18, 2015

      I align well with your thoughts, Mr Kexvin.
      Must say I am quite gobsmacked that Masch’s pefomance today still drew opprobrium and intense scrutiny…esp deficiencies that must surely have been exaggerated. If we go by such approach, Bravo would be the only one fautless today. I could speak of Pique’s misplaced passes and lack of concentration that almost cost us points, again. Or Alves’ dithering with possession to our detriment; or such and such player not doing what was expected. Masch display reminded me of the thug style you mentioned a couple of posts back.
      The defence of Masch is not borne out of sentiment but an acknowledgement of the commitment and no-nonsense quality he offers that induces memories of El-capitan and Abidal.

  22. agar2515
    April 18, 2015

    People are STILL groaning about Masche Raka and Bravo? Smh, our fan base sometimes.

  23. Dar_vincy
    April 18, 2015

    Indeed.
    Though we all are entitled to our opinion.
    I envisaged this kind of game…we were certainly not going to walk over Valencia considering their devastating form of late.
    We all would be having a different conversation had the match been played at the Mestalla.
    Fatigue was our greatest adversary today.
    Same thing happened when vs Madrid.

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