Pep Guardiola doesn’t care about you.
Lionel Messi doesn’t care about you.
The people and players whom you revere, who consume so much of your waking moments and cause you to argue and take after complete strangers, don’t care about you.
If Bayern Munich score a goal against Barca tomorrow, Guardiola isn’t going to weep into a Barça binky. He is going to do what any opposition coach would do, which is exult and cheer with his players, then resume the task of trying to rip culer hearts out.
On Twitter, someone called me “stupid” because I said that I don’t care about Guardiola. That reaction made me think about the cult of personality, what it does and how often it impedes being able to see the game clearly. Last week, there was an excellent Miguel Delaney piece that had Mourinho praising Messi, and saying a number of things that verged on fanboying. He said in effect what culers and Messi fans say: “Messi changes everything.”
In some parts of the culerverse those statements were interpreted as a dig at Guardiola, that Mourinho was saying that any team with Messi can win, then blew his own horn by saying that he was able to stop Messi. What a vile, mean-spirited little man.
Queries about what someone’s reaction would be if Van Gaal or Wenger had made those same comments brought the response, that isn’t the point. What is the point? Maybe that there is a cult of personality, positive and negative, that springs up around things, a cult that can shape a worldview. Mourinho isn’t allowed to rave about Messi because he is a calculating weasel. There has to be something more behind it because everything that he does is smeared with avarice and ego. We all say that “Messi changes everything,” but when Mourinho says it … it’s different. You know it is, so stop it!
Guardiola is allowed to in effect say the same thing, that Messi is unstoppable, but there, it’s “Awwwww, Pep has the feels for Messi.” Nobody interpreted it as a dig against Luis Enrique, the man who is now coaching Messi, because why would they? It’s Guardiola. We love him!
When Neymar was bought from Santos, Johann Cruijff came out and said that it will never work because it’s two chiefs, a team needs balance, etc, etc. And because of the cult of personality surrounding Cruijff, people said “See? Just you wait.” Those who cited Neymar’s footlballing intelligence, associative play and willingness to blend into a team were called fools, and fanboys. Neymar’s cult of personality in the negative sense helped give the Cruijff statements weight. Later this season, the rumor popped up that Rosell wanted to elevate Neymar and sell Messi, and that rumor took hold for a very different reason that also had to do with a cult of personality.
What makes the perspective of someone worth more or less? Respect? I will go to the mat with anyone who doesn’t believe that Cruijff is a full-on Barca legend, a man responsible for so much in the storied history of this club. But he’s also a human being with his own prejudices, biases and blind spots. He can be wrong. How different would the reaction have been to the Messi/Neymar statement had Dunga, Neymar’s NT coach, made it. “Hmph! What does that dinosaur know?”
Players and coaches come and go. They are mercenaries in the truest sense of the word, soldiers hired to fight for a foreign army. Guardiola is a culer and a soci, just like I am. But when he agreed to take a paycheck for a fierce European rival, my interest in him ended, even as my respect for what he did for the club that I love endures. And Guardiola isn’t staying up any less late watching tape because he loves Barça. Because he is a professional.
This week, when Cesc Fabregas said that Chelsea felt more like a family than Barca, culers went nuts. Why? What does it matter what an ex says about you? Fabregas is kinda admirable in his Zelig-like emotional qualities, and there’s nothing wrong with being a ho. As the Tom Waits song lyric goes, “Baby I’ll stay with you / Til the money runs out.” Arsenal was his dream, Barca was his dream, Chelsea is his family. And I am sure that the next club he goes to will be something special, as well. That doesn’t make Fabregas wrong as much as it makes him a realist. It also means that it doesn’t matter what he says.
And what if he’s right? He would know, after all. But the cult of personality won’t allow that. He has to be wrong because he is tainted, when in fact we have absolutely no idea. But we do know that Fabregas didn’t work out at Barça, so there’s that. Ibrahimovic didn’t work out and ran afoul of Guardiola, so he is as stained as his worldview. A few faint voices said, when that was all going on, that Guardiola was as much to blame as Ibrahimovic but as we all know, that is impossible.
And still, players and coaches come and go.
If Messi is sold, he isn’t going to work any less hard for his new team than he did for Barça. And should Barça run across that team, Messi would try just as vigorously to kill Barça as he tried to kill for Barça. His mind and left foot would be clear. Because that is what professionals do. What do we, as supporters of a club, do? Always an interesting question, that balance of respect, reverence and moving on. Some didn’t understand how, on the weekend, the same Chelsea supporters who were winding up Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard while he was playing, rose to give him a standing ovation as he was coming off. It’s clear as day: you hate a rival and respect a storied competitor and player.
As a hard-hearted anomaly, I’m probably the wrong person to be prattling on about this. For me, respect and love for accomplishments is very different from reverence. If someone leaves the club I will always respect and love how they fought for the club, but my interest in them pretty much ends. What would sustain it? I don’t care about ex-girlfriends, so why would I care about ex-players or coaches? You can think someone is a club legend and not care about them when they leave because that too, is part of the game, which discards its personalities as it moves on. History is precisely that. When we allow it to color our world in the here and now, weird stuff starts to happen.
This isn’t really an advocacy of killing your idols as much as it is putting them into perspective. Just because Ronaldo comes off a whiny little prat doesn’t mean that he isn’t an excellent footballer and for all anyone knows, a fine human being. Mourinho will do anything to win, which doesn’t mean that he is always wrong, or that seeing him in a single important match won’t scare the crap out of me. I respect what he does, a feeling that is unaffected by my views of what he did while at Inter or RM. I can watch the Guardiola Barça matches, get all misty at the glory of it all and smile at watching the celebrations, all streaming confetti and weeping Pep. Just because I don’t care about him in the here and now doesn’t mean that I or anyone else disavows or doesn’t appreciate what he did for Barça. It’s only the cult of personality that doesn’t allow nuance.
Should people be fans of players and coaches? Of course. It’s unnatural not to be. I’m a weirdo, not an example. I just think that perspective also need be applied. As American basketball legend Charles Barkley said, “I am not a role model. I am not paid to be a role model.” Guardiola is a club legend. He is also a fierce, fearsome rival who has said that his job is to defeat Barça. You have to respect both realities. It’s the perspective that is important.