As a culer, I am struggling to get my mind around all of this. Truly.
This is a season that has rocketed past. It seems like only last week we were wondering about buying Luis Suarez, and him having to miss the first half of the season, would Neymar blossom like all second-year attackers at Barça, would Messi be fit, how will yet another new coach fare.
And now it’s almost over.
I always find that each season is like a weird romance. You don’t fall in love all over again, but you do renew your vows in a spiritual sense as things happen that make you rediscover the team that you love. Sometimes it’s failure. Other times it’s humanity. Still other times it’s a sort of magic, a close-but-no-cigar glory that resonates as vividly as the victory parades, ecstatic multitudes and confetti raining from the skies as if the Gods themselves are weeping Blaugrana tears of joy. Does any culer with tenure not remember the Rivaldo Chilena that got Barça into Europe? A Barça team finishing in fourth place and just making it into Europe today would be assassinated, not celebrated. But that magical day wasn’t all THAT long ago, in football time.
A football season is an improbable journey in a world that doesn’t suffer fools or failure. Games are low-scoring affairs, where a 4-4 scoreline would be considered bonkers. Chances come and go and goals are rare. There are wins and losses against hated rivals, inexplicable performances and moments that threaten to concuss us from clapping hands to heads.
We come here, or head for social media to discuss the team and how it is doing. There are favored and unfavored players, tactics and things galore to work out. We do this from armchairs, sofas, home offices and living rooms and even as none of it matters, it matters to us as we solve the team’s problems with a few hundred keystrokes.
What has happened this season so far is an absurd sort of extravagance that confounds even those who claim to have known better. Some idiots predicted that the team would go silverless this season, based on logic in a game that spits in the face of that pretender. It made sense at the time, with so many questions lingering from an ohsoclose season of fast starts, beauty, failure and heartbreak. Eight new faces and a new coaching staff ladles on uncertainty like syrup, and in the face of uncertainty our default setting tends to be reserve.
Then came clean sheets, moments and arguments, balls that fell exactly in the right places, moments that were engineered by strokes of genius most of all by a diminutive colossus who, when his former coach expressed joy that he was back, said, “I never left.” In many ways, the matter-of-fact delight of the season finds its encapsulation in a very simple comment. After a move so complete, delightful and unpredictable that it felled a giant defensive back and sparked dozens of Internet memes, media critters asked Messi how the move happened. “He expected me to go left, so I went right.” How easy it sounds, as easily as the goals seem to come during match after match, against team after team.
And now, with things almost at an end, four matches left in a potential history-making (again) season, there are many questions that people will ask, having to do with tactics, perceived deficiencies in the team and its approach, all kinds of things that don’t, and can’t really get at the reality of this year and how crazy it all is. Transfers, transfer bans, court cases, hearings and lawyer fees. A resigned president and jettisoned technical director and finally, elections were called. Anybody who says that they expected all of this is a liar. You can’t ever expect this. When this kind of sporting success happened with Guardiola, curiously enough, it began (once again) with calls for a coach’s head early in the season. Nothing was learned from that episode, just as nothing will be learned from the most current iteration of “Wait just a second, there.”
Even Fate has conspired to have things fall into place for this team, laying down a Sevilla/Valencia gantlet for its eternal rival that let some men wearing Senyera shirts put the ball firmly in a Catalan club’s court. As if that wasn’t enough, then a former academy player put the knife into his ex-homies, sparing the universe the gibbering, completely bonkers windup attendant to a Classic Champions League final. And in the Copa del Rey, Atleti dispatched its capitol city rivals then fell prey to the second and third of its losses this season against Barca. Crazy times, people … crazy times. Act like there was a plan all you like, but there can’t be. You just go through one match at a time, and hope. Even when you know your players are better, luck is still required. Is Malaga really capable of holding Barça scoreless in not one, but two matches? Apparently, yes.
But this is not the time for gloating, or inferiority complexes. Just take each match as its own moment, and enjoy the ride.
Winning doesn’t come all that often, despite the expectations of anticipatory fan bases. Just read a story about RM and the Perez presidencies guaranteeing not much more than failure on the big stage, and it’s interesting. Also interesting is that discomfiting as it is, the Barça and RM clubs and fan bases have never been more similar than right now, right down to Galactico signings. Impatience, nervous leaders who throw people under the bus, a demand for immediate success or out you go. Even now, rumors are building that Ancelotti will be gone in the summer, which will make a coach a year, just like us. Will Enrique stay? If he doesn’t win big silver, it will be hard for him to survive an election, particularly if a new president comes in. And that will be another coach, another year for us.
It’s why it’s all so difficult to get cranky about. Winning is wonderful. Some care a lot about how the results come. I’m not that picky, because winning is in and of itself, some magical stuff. Long ball, counter, last-minute ugly goal, a couple of headers, whatever. Just win, because there just aren’t that many opportunities to. So there will be fighting, and squabbling and “I told you sos,” whether Barça win the treble or log a pair of draws while RM win out, fall prey to the Juve bus and get kicked off the pitch by Athletic Club. But something wonderful has happened this season, and I intend to enjoy the hell out of it. Every second, every silly bit and goofball picture from training, all of it.
Because right now, this is what we have. This is all that we have.