Belief and belonging, without fear: Bayern thoughts

This is a guest post by Isaiah, BFB founding father and one damn fine writer. He is @rockofthune on Twitter.

With the speed of a hand pulling a plastic ball out of a hopper, the world seemed to flip upside down. A growing sense of bravado, a feeling of skill and power cultivated over the course of months, was all blown to smithereens in an instant, turned into sweaty-palmed quaking. It was Bayern Munich and we are all going to die. There was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. They say dogs can smell fear, that they become more aggressive at its scent; if dogs could smell #fcblive they would have gone mad with blood lust.

When I received the texts saying we had drawn Bayern, I realized that I’m no longer afraid.

I’ve worn Barça hats throughout the last decade or so (interchanged randomly with Kansas Jayhawks hats and once a surprisingly long-lasting Nike Total 90 hat that I got for free somewhere and found comfortable) and on game days I often don a home or away jersey, depending on where the team is playing. Today I even wore a Barça jacket because of the slight chill in the air. I also babble endlessly about formations, tactics, and individual matchups while my wife zones out or simply leaves the room. I get shout outs for my team affiliations from random strangers and I get to smugly sneer at the backs of those who wear Real Madrid shirts. I refer to the club as “we” and my wife knows to walk with a lighter tread when they lose (especially when it’s Kansas in the tournament).

There was a time, not all that long ago, in fact, that I would have been terrified. It would have been a secret fearfulness, hidden behind anger and chest-pounding; fear would have driven me to write a preview focusing on minutiae and using war-imagery instead of, you know, having talent. But the “we” I often use for my favorite sports teams is just a default setting in my brain for wanting to belong and belonging is something that I do thanks to the part about watching and enjoying, not the part about crowing to others foolish enough to fail to join my cool crowd of winners. The flip side of that is, of course, the tears and anguish when I am shown, by dint of my team losing, that I am no longer part of the cool crowd of winners. Now I am the own who should be ashamed to wear my Barça gear in public until the next season. Or some such. There is spillover into the pre-match hype, the corporate-sponsored Champions League draws; fear grows ever greater.

Going in to the Barça-Espanyol match there was the knowledge that a loss would in all likelihood see Real Madrid take the top spot in La Liga and probably the title at the end of the season. A draw could result in that doomsday scenario where the top 2 were tied on points and Real Madrid’s extra goal at home would mean Barça lost—again!—thanks to a worse head-to-head record. A visit to Sport produced a headline to the effect of “Holy Monkeys, Batman, Win or Go Home!” A visit to EMD provided “adlfuweofiuasdlfjadfs”. Marca had something about celebrities disrobing on social media. This, after a day of fraught Barça Twitter chatter about how we’re all going to die when Pep Guardiola strides into the Camp Nou in his open-sided trousers, was enough to crush any knowledgeable fan.

But I am not afraid. I shouted with joy and consternation throughout the Espanyol match, depending on the particular details of the moment. But I also read a series of Sandra Boynton books to my daughter—Hippos Go Beserk really is the best—and it was actually really fun. I paused during Oh My, Oh My, Oh Dinosaurs right at my favorite line (“Dinosaurs crammed in an elevator”–you parents know what I’m talking about) to pass judgment on Mateu Lahoz’s farcical decision to send off Jordi Alba. And I walked out with 10 minutes to go because my wife had finished preparing dinner. Sure, I raced back to check as soon as the meal was over, but I wasn’t afraid.

That’s the difference between me now and me during the Rijkaard years: I’m not afraid of losing. If we lose, I’ll be sad because I’m a competitive so-and-so, but I’m not afraid. Losing happens. Sometimes a lot if you stick around long enough. When I first began watching this team play, they were hardly the world beaters they are today. They lost and they kind of lost often. Then they won sometimes and that was great too. And when they kept winning and winning and stopped losing basically ever, fear that they could lose started to creep in. It was around every corner, every match was do-or-die. What if Madrid could claim to be better than us because we didn’t crush, say, Hercules or Celta Vigo? What if the guy who sits down the hall behind his Real Madrid-adorned cubicle wall gets to stop by and annoyingly click his wedding ring on his coffee cup while asking how the weekend went? I want to do that to him.

Now I don’t worry about that, though I still wonder who would marry a madridista. Now I read up on the team in my spare time and I don’t wake up before big games with my heart in my throat. I still shout obscenities at TVs during games (some habits never die) and I would probably never visit Mateu Lahoz’s optometrist, but for now I’m a happier fan and I don’t even have the vitriol I had during that one insane run of Clasicos that basically killed everyone in the world, even if they’d never heard of Jose Mourinho’s stupid face.

I belong because this is my team. I belong whether we win or lose. I belong because this is a team that matters to me, personally. But now I am not afraid. And it is wonderful.

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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.

36 Comments

  1. luisthebeast
    April 29, 2015

    Great post.People must understand that we are maybe the only team in the world the last 25 years that we never try to play negative football to win trophies.Even madrid hired 2 times Capello to win the Liga.We could had more trophies if we coulb be more realistic sometimes.But thats the reason i have so much respect for our attacking nature as a club home or away.The last 25 years we gave to the world so much beautiful football.That is for me the most important trophy:-)

  2. April 29, 2015

    Every fan can wear their crest-and-colors paraphernalia after a win, but only supporters don theirs after a loss. Just like you enjoy the bragging rights, you must be prepared for the jeers. It is actually even more important. If you don’t believe me, check the fine print of the contract you signed the day you sold your soul to the club. 😛

    They say there is no bravery without fear, and being a culer, usually requires you to adopt a pessimistic approach. This attitude is much-ridiculed, but for me the healthy pessimism is the knowledge that everything can turn upside down in the matter of seconds. This is why people say “Clasicos are not to be enjoyed, but to be endured.” It’s a vital, essential and indivisible part of being a supporter – not to expect the bad stuff, but be prepared for adversity. It shouldn’t rob us of the excitement and pure joy of goals and victories, but rather remind us that losses are to be expected and that every victory is a jewel to be treasured. It’s all one, the agony and the ecstasy, and one cannot go without the other

    So yes, I continue to view the upcoming clash with uncertainty. I wouldn’t say fear, because it’s not exactly fear, but the knowledge that a single shot that is more lucky or just deflects the wrong way could turn the game on its head, a single bad landing can rob a team of a player. And yes, this goes for the other team as well, I know.

    Anyway, no fear. Just support. Support whatever comes. We are culers, we can do no other.

    • Kd
      April 30, 2015

      Oh, how I agree with you Peter!!
      Only supporters, true supporters don their club jerseys after a loss. I remember the lasdt time we lost to Bayern after the 2nd leg, I went about town to one of the suburbs of Bombay called Bandra, to this restaurant called Olive and there these two guys sneered at me and I could overhear them saying “Didn’t Barca loose (sneering, giggling)?” And I just kept quiet thinking “We’ll have our revenge, surely!!”
      That day is almost upon us now. Can’t wait.

    • Kd
      April 30, 2015

      Of course I was wearing my Barca jersey!!

  3. georgjorge
    April 29, 2015

    Wonderful!

    Sadly enough, my contacts with fellow culers almost exclusively take place in the virtual world. I know hardly any of them in person, and I don’t know any Madridistas to exchange insults with either. I really have to move to Barcelona someday…

    • April 29, 2015

      I would say you are lucky if you dont have to exchange insults with Madridistas in real life :).
      For me, I meet culers or other fans mostly in Gym, and these people are not very close to me. So there are only some simple exchange of thoughts or points and it is ok.

      Am just hoping that our team wont become over confident and will approach the match as if its Bayern at their best.

  4. ooga aga
    April 29, 2015

    Welcome back Isaiah, always good to hear from you.

  5. Jim
    April 29, 2015

    Yeah, good to see you back, even if briefly. For me, ‘though the fear is an inextricable part of the joy of winning. If you want to win desperately, and I’m kinda competitive too, then defeat is a terrible thing and therefore something I’d have to admit I fear, not least because it colours my attitude to other areas of my life for a short while.

    It’s funny you raise this just now. I mentioned in one of my posts in a previous article that I’m using my retirement to get back into reading. At the moment I’m working my way through the series of books on golf by Dr Bob Rotella. Losing your fear of losing is something he majors on and says all the best players have the same great ability to reduce every shot to the same low importance thereby enabling them to produce their best at crucial times. Judging by Saturday’s round it’s still a work in progress for me.

    • Jim
      April 29, 2015

      Btw, if anything is going to calm me it’s performances like that one last night. When we pass and move like that we are unstoppable. It’s why I’m surprised many thought it would take a long time for the team to gel. It did – the first half of the season – but you’re adding to a team I already considered one of the top four in the world and when you add an intelligent player like Suarez to the one position we have been crying out for, you get a renewed Messi thrown in for free. Could have had it earlier with Villa (maybe to a lesser level given his age). Still a waste for me but that plus a little tweaking of defence was all last season’s team needed.

      Btw, if anyone in the club has any sense, a certain mushroom lover will have been called into the President’s office today and asked politely to stay next year. I’m not sure I’ve seen a better midfield performance in the last few years. We can do without that ?

    • April 30, 2015

      I think the fans, coach and board have all been pretty vocal in that we want Xavi to stay, Jim. That Qatari money, though… Let’s see what happens.

  6. ooga aga
    April 29, 2015

    Go Nolito! Proud of the La Masia product. For all the talk of Deulofeu, Nolito is the B-teamer-done-good story of the year. Course, Nolito is no longer ours. Celta have a chance at Europe….its prob gonna be bilbao, malaga and vigo for the last europa league spot

    • ooga aga
      April 29, 2015

      only posted this cos nolito scored the only goal of the game today to get Vigo the 3 pts, drawing them with 2 pts of 7th place

  7. luisthebeast
    April 29, 2015

    Jim sometimes i cant understand ur thoughts.Suarez is a waste but Xavi is our future?We are not in 2009 anymore.

    • ooga aga
      April 29, 2015

      Luis, I dont think Jim didnt said anything like that. Jim has had nothing but praise for Suarez. Also he is not saying Xavi is the future, he just said he hopes he stays another year, because he still has lots to offer. Thats all.

      Also, it is better to reply to the person rather than at the end of the thread. Thanks!

    • Jim
      April 30, 2015

      Thanks, Ooga. Yeah, Luis, I think (thought?) I’d been pretty clear on those points but for the sake of clarity I’ve been calling for a 9 as you put it ( a player who can play back to goal, move the CBS around and finish well) since the demise of Ibra who I don’t think was ever going to play that position as we needed it played. I do think Villa could have played that position very well but was only really given the chance in the Milan return leg and we all saw the difference it made.

      From the moment we were linked with Suarez it was obvious to both me and I’m sure many others that he was the missing link. We had nobody to occupy the CBs who could afford to sit and read the game and wait for a Messi run to crunch him. The guy is lethal. He plays head up all the time, has an eye for a pass, can beat a man and has no fear. What I hadn’t anticipated is the way the front three seem to be getting on in a personal sense. They are obviously thriving on each others’ talents.

      Xavi won’t be here beyond next season. That is obvious so I’m not sure how he can be the future. However, I will argue that for the present he is the best midfielder we have by some considerable margin and this is where my views diverge from others on this site. I’ve seen it happen before both in football and in life where the age number beside your name dictates people’s attitudes towards you and this is what has happened with Xavi. Teams started to pack defences against us and the midfielders’ jobs became impossible. Not only was Xavi’s area more crowded, we had forwards who didn’t create chances or enough movement to break through often enough. That’s why I would argue that last season’s team failed at the last hurdles. We also suffered the Bayern debacle which has been gone over enough but we were coachless, Messi was a passenger but taking up a space, they felt they had to turn the pitch into a quagmire and we had a few other injuries if memory serves.

      However, very quickly the narrative became that our midfield were only passing sideways ( we still do most of the time and it’s working – of course it’s working. One of the principles of attack is to keep changing the angle of attack). Another was that teams were running past our mids. I didn’t see that. What I saw was a defence which kept getting caught a man or two light in breakaways. We have cured that this season thanks to Pique whom nobody seemed to rate this time last year. So if they run past anyone this year, fine. The defence handles it. Finally, he was accused of not setting up chances anymore. Well, have a look at the number of chances created by him this year, not assists. If he sets up a chance does it only count if the forward doesn’t miss it ?
      What I see for the moment is a team which responds every time he steps onto the park. Messi becomes twice the player and is more likely to stay in his wider berth because he doesn’t see our control slipping and feel the need to come inside. He will still do that when he pleases but it should be when he feels it right so teams aren’t ready for it.

      Sorry, ended up a longer post than intended. I think Lev’s right that we will struggle to hold onto Xavi next year with Qatari money on the other side of the equation. If he does stay I will be even more proud of him and his feelings for the club but will understand given that he seems to have had a few financial issues around his family and his affairs. However, putting him on the bench and giving him fifteen minutes is the quickest way to ensure he gets on that plane. Then we are one Iniesta injury next year away from a Rakitic / Rafinha midfield.

    • georgjorge
      April 30, 2015

      Thank you for that great reply!

      I still rate Xavi, but I’m not sure his effect on the team on-pitch is as strong as you describe it. Not because Xavi has gotten worse but because this team likes/tries to play a lot through the wings, which isn’t really Xavi’s game. Even in the Getafe game a lot of the time passes were going by on either side of him to Adriano or Alves instead of directly to him, diminishing his ability to control a game via the middle of the pitch.

      I think both Rakitic and Iniesta might be more suited to the style of play of the current team. I agree, however, that Xavi staying another season would be a definite plus, as he’s good enough that he can add to a team even if it isn’t the perfect fit for him.

    • April 30, 2015

      Mundo Deportivo is saying this morning that Xavi has decided that he’s going no Qatar. Actually not just him, but his whole family (brothers and parents) are going, so all that’s left is to send him in the best possible way, and hope he will come back at some point. 😀

    • April 30, 2015

      Sorry, TO Qatar. They went to look at the houses they’ll be living in and get to know their future jobs.

  8. luisthebeast
    April 29, 2015

    I remember Ramzi from years,when we had Leo as a false 9,said that we need a real 9.We had Ibra but he never adapted to the team.Villa never was a top class 9.And now we finally have the best 9 in the world and i realize that he was so right.If we had bought Luis and no Sanchez in 2011 now we could had more trophies.But now we dont have that amazing midfield.So Lucho is trying to capitalize that he have the best forwards in the world.Next season i believe we will be much better.

  9. luisthebeast
    April 29, 2015

    And soru i am using my mobile and i try to reply but always i fail.Dont know why:(

  10. Inamess
    April 30, 2015

    Hey all. I’t gonna be some excellent football to watch the next two weeks Here are thoughts on some things that I will be looking for:

    1) The Sevilla-RM game is going to be massive because it could settle two La Liga rivalries and who will be finish 1st and 4th. Sevilla has a much tougher schedule than Valencia and must win this game in order to have the better shot at 4th place considering that they are also still in Europe. Haven’t really followed the new rules, but do Sevilla go to the CL if they win the Europa League at the expense of Valencia anyway? Wonder if D. Suarez will start and imagine that Deulofeu will see some action as well.

    2) Let’s face it. the Bayern-Dortmound game extracted a huge cost for Pep and his side. Don’t know how much criticism Pep and his medical team will get for maybe bringing Robben back too early but the fact that Lewondowski was still on the field in his condition at the end of the game was a disgrace. Concussions can be life altering events and his looked pretty serious. You can never predict the outcome but still a huge unnecessary risk.

    3) Was there a strategic reason behind Messi’s Panenka? Maybe an advantage to give future goal keepers more things to think about on penalties. The odds are pretty good that we will see a Messi-Neuer penalty encounter and hopefully Leo has renewed confidence that he will be up to the task.

    3) Is the Pichichi race becoming a farce? There is an argument to be made that it motivates Messi and Ronaldo to be better players but also leads to much more injury risk and fatigue as both will play unnecessary games to beat up on weaker La Liga sides. Could very well influence the outcome of La Liga one way or another, but I am more convinced that Ronaldo will end up doing something more likely to hurt his team in his quest for goal scoring glory.

    • April 30, 2015

      If Sevilla wins EL, there could be 5 liga teams in CL, next season!, or will UEFA deny Valencia a place to limit it to 4 liga teams?

      But here, it is how the player see it, right? May be Lew might have told he was allright???

      Yes, I thought about this too. Now goalkeepers will have to think about this option as well.

      I really dont think Messi cares for Pichchi anymore. In all those amazing games in the last month – we saw that all he cared for was to keep the ball and pass out the time, rather than trying to attack whenever he had the ball in the final third.
      However, CR7 only seem to care about scoring. This is a big difference between these two players. I watch football from the 86WC. I have not seen a single player other than CR7 showing disappointment when a mate scores.

    • georgjorge
      April 30, 2015

      I also don’t think Messi is as obsessed with scoring as Cristiano. Only thing I noticed was that in games that are already pretty much over – like the Getafe game second half – he tries to score much more than anyone else, and often goes back to trying to combine through six men in the box instead of providing assists. That’s also where my main dissatisfaction with him staying on the pitch comes from, as these kind of dribbles and combinations leave him exposed to being hacked down by the opposition.

      Good points from Inamess all around. Maybe the Pichichi would indeed be taken more seriously/be less harmful if it simply divided goals by minutes played so no-one would have to stay on the pitch all season to have a shot at it (though Messi would still want to play all the time).

      I really hope Sevilla wins the Europa League, as I like Emery and a Champions League final from La Liga combined with a La Liga Europe League winner would look great.

    • April 30, 2015

      1. If Sevilla win Europa League, they will play in the Champions League, and if the winner of the Champions League is also the winner of its respective domestic league, Sevilla will play in the group stage directly. Valencia will be robbed of Champions League participation if and only if it finishes fifth or worse.

      This season there is one additional spot to be given to the EL winner, which means that potentially there can be Five La Liga teams in the Champions League.

      Furthermore, it will be very important to win La Liga this season, because the second-placed team, if it’s not winner of the Champions League, will be in the second Pot next season.

    • April 30, 2015

      Sigh. I miss the old days when only the champions + the cup holder participated in the European Cup…

    • G6O
      April 30, 2015

      There was never such a time.

      The champions played in the European Cup

      The cup holder played in the Cup Winners Cup.

      One, two or three other teams played in the UEFA Cup (which was actually the most difficult competition of all because of that)

      It was champions-only in the first three or four seasons on the Champions Leagues, then they changed it to 16 teams in the groups, with the first 2 teams from the top leagues, then a few year later they changed it to 32 teams, 4 teams from the top 3 leagues, 3 teams, 2 teams, etc. according to the rankings, and it has been mostly the same since then. But the Cup winner never played in the Champions league unless qualified through other means.

    • ciaran
      April 30, 2015

      You picked it up wrong g60, what he meant by cup holders was the holders of the European Cup as it used to be called. Only the champions of their respective leagues and the current European Cup holders participated.

  11. Fabian4Barca
    April 30, 2015

    What a joy to read something from Isaiah again. I wish I could say “I’m not afraid” and mean it. Isn’t it a normal protective mechanism of a Culé’s heart to assume the worst? I prefer to be positively surprised instead of disappointed. 😉

    Seriously, though. We have never had less reasons to be afraid of Bayern.
    + We are definitely not a toothless passing machine anymore. We have multiple prolific goal scorers and even more chance creators.
    + Probably for the first time in 10 years I don’t get a heart attack from every set piece against us because we somehow learned how to defend them.
    + With Suarez we have a striker who can’t be bullied by physically strong defenders as much as it happened against Bayern last time.
    + We have a midfield which is able to pragmatically adapt to the needs of the match instead of knowing just one predictable way to play.
    + We are in a much better physical condition than last time. Everybody seems to be peaking right now. I think I have never witnessed a season with less injury problems.
    + The exact opposite of above point is true for Bayern…
    + Just look how much our players click on and off the pitch. Watch them smile on the pitch. Check out how they help each other out in the game and do what’s best for the team. This is the spirit of champions!

    Wooo, I just wrote myself into optimism!

  12. PPos
    April 30, 2015

    Hi everyone,

    I love this site. I have been following Kxevin and Isaih since the good ol’ Barca Offside days. I am absolutely stunned by this team. Suarez is the best 9 we have had since Ronaldo back in 97′. I think that Suarez is a better holder of the ball up front. Messi is great and all, but Suarez has the physicality to shrug off people like Pepe and Ramos, who are total beasts. I am not worried about Bayern, because we are gonna go out for blood. We are going to try and do what they did to us a couple of years ago, because Messi and the other guys don’t forget. I think we are going to succesfully get through our transfer ban with the current squad. And I definitely don’t see Xavi in the team after next season. The man is a genius, but he isn’t as fast as he used to be and the modern game requires speed. I wonder how Vermaleen is going to adapt to the team. I thought he was a solid player at Arsenal. I wish him the best at Barca. And I wonder what’s going to happen to Pedro. I really think he should go to another team. A player of that quality deserves a starting position, but sadly he is nowhere near as good as Neymar, Suarez or Messi. We should definitely try and buy a player that can come in as a super sub striker, someone that it is worth pulling Neymar or Suarez off for.

    • April 30, 2015

      Welcome back, old timer!

  13. Barcathegreatestever
    April 30, 2015

    Reasons I’m not afraid anymore:

    Valdes not screaming at the back line before during and after every defensive play. And a compact defensive formation the coaches priority.

    Restored faith in Alves now that he plays without responsibility to create goals. Actually
    in awe of the skill he is demonstrating and embarrassed for being on the hate bandwagon the past years

    Also an Iniesta not tasked with being the creative genius for goals which along with Alves started the multitude of heart stopping counters we’ve endured all these years. I can remember a Champions League, club world cup and many league games lost to inferior opposition because of it.

    The number 9 that I swore that if Real Madrid got him I would quit watching La Liga.

    A midfield with vigor not plagued by exhaustion and injury like Xavi when he played every game with Achilles tendonitis, again down to Enrique.

    Mostly a happy relaxed Messi. He looks like a kid again.

    I feel like I should be required to watch 10 games outside La Liga for every Barca game to truly appreciate what I’m witnessing.

    • Son
      April 30, 2015

      I like your comment @Barcathegreatestever

  14. 42
    April 30, 2015

    What we have achieved so far has exceeded my greatest expectations for a transitional season. Back in January, I sincerely thought we weren’t going to win a single title this season. So whatever happens next, I won’t have any regrets. But what makes me happier than winning is seeing how Messi, Suarez, Neymar etc are having fun playing with each other every game. Look at the goal celebrations in the Getafe match. It was genuine happiness, pure joy on their faces. They enjoy it, the fans enjoy it. It wasn’t about the result, but how Barca won: scoring 6 of the most beautiful goals I’ve seen in a single game. It reminded me of how I fell in love with Barca at first: watching Ronaldinho creating magic and the happiness and fun he brings with it. That feeling is back. I feel like MSN might be the best attacking trio we’ve ever had, each of them having top individual qualities but also understand each other in a telegraphic way, creating sparkling chemistry as they freely interchange positions in a game. We are witnessing history here, and many years later I could proudly tell my children that I have witnessed the rise of the best attacking trio in history.

    • 42
      April 30, 2015

      And apologies for getting maybe a bit too emotional after watching the highlights of the Getafe game yet again 🙂

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