Barça 2, Depor 2, aka “What have we learned?”

xavi

It has been about Xavi all along. This whole season, the twists and turns, everything we have learned and experienced, from Enrique convincing him to stay to his coming to terms with his new role and executing it flawlessly has been about the Maestro teaching all of us, from the newest culer to the most wizened denizen of the entorno, something wonderful.

Patience.

So many things make so much sense when we try to reason them out.

At the beginning of this season, my reasons that Barça wasn’t going to win any silver this season, but would be ready to rock and roll next season made perfect sense. New coach, new system, new things to learn, a big batch of new players to integrate into an unforgiving system as well as having a key part of that system essentially unavailable for the first half of the season. It just didn’t make sense to believe that team would win silver.

Couple that with major rivals who had improved in the summer, who were loaded and ready for bear and there was just no rational way to believe that the team, as it sat before the start of the season, was going to win stuff.

Lesson learned.

That team, the one that a great many supporters believed was not up to it, poorly run and had lost its way, took part in a glorious celebration of the Liga championship today, at home, on a day that made everyone happy. Xavi got to ride off into the figurative sunset having hoisted the trophy. Depor never stopped fighting, and earned the draw that allowed them to avoid the drop, fans got a party. It was a day on which everybody won, even tissue manufacturers as culers needed piles of them to soak up the tears.

In a sport where change is necessary and turnover almost guaranteed, it boggles the mind to think of a player battling for the same club for his entire career, essentially. Yes, Xavi is headed for Qatar to perform his duties there, but it isn’t the same. It isn’t putting on the Blaugrana and striding into battle, or clashing for his national team. And there was Xavi, more than 700 matches and more than a decade in the colors, shedding tears as he waved goodbye (for now).

To cap the lessons of the day and season, how fitting was it that a player who was struggling in the face of more fashionable midfielders back in the day, overcame all of that to become the reference. It was the value of patience, of not rushing to judgment, of keeping the view on the long picture. The game came to Xavi, and Xavi owned it.

toss

Patience is something that was in very short supply this season, one that has turned out pretty wonderful by any standard. And it isn’t a news flash to state that this was an exceptionally difficult season to be a supporter of FC Barcelona. It was nasty, divisive and angry, savage and impatient as a group chafed when something magical somehow came to be considered some sort of birthright.

The team wasn’t playing right, nor with the right players. Formations were wrong, what it was doing was wrong, the results were a sham, an empty triumph as they weren’t achieved in the right way. A fanbase spent the season at each others throats in an odd sort of Crusades.

The Guardiola Treble season was this thing that rushed past before anyone really had the chance to figure out what was happening. The team kept winning, kept doing wonderful things on a football pitch and suddenly, soci cards with 6 cups on it were being mailed out. “Huh? What?”

This season, when the team has the chance to make history again by performing a feat that few teams have ever achieved, never mind achieving twice, we’ve all been too busy fighting each other to fully enjoy it. And it’s a shame. Winning is the most wonderful thing that an athlete can do, and the most wonderful thing that a group of supporters can have the opportunity to witness. And at the risk of being branded a fool who only cares about results, winning is wonderful however it happens.

That is so easy to forget as a once-in-a-lifetime group of players led by a wee Argentine genius makes us forget just how hard winning is. Last year, even with a temp coach, a pile of injuries and enough psychological trauma to have any normal human sitting in a corner blubbering, this amazing team came with 5 goals of being in for a shout at a treble. Again. Five goals.

The coach who got them so close is all but forgotten. He came up short, had stupid BBQs when he should have been running the players hard, etc, his achievements washed away in a blizzard of misunderstanding. With so much talk about how the board is wasting the careers and time of great players by not giving the team all of the tools that it needs to succeed, it sometimes feels like we, as supporters, are wasting time fighting and staking out space.

“If you want to win like that, go ahead … ”

I want to win, and I don’t give two shits how. It’s hard to explain how happy winning the Liga made me. It’s silly when you consider how the exploits of a group of athletes brings so much joy and despair in equal measures, but that’s sport. It was a triumph that came in the face of a world being against the team that I love. Not just rivals, but many of its own supporters.

No, this isn’t telling anyone how to support a club, or calling anyone out for being insufficiently culer, or any of the other stuff that warring factions have hurled at each other this season of staring into a nonexistent abyss. It’s more an observation, and a plea that has roots in a personal observation.

My wife and I don’t fight. It isn’t that we don’t have conflict, or don’t believe in fighting. We just don’t believe in wasting even a second of time doing anything other than loving each other as much as we can, of recognizing that the time you waste is gone forever. We have always been that way, even when younger. We don’t, as humans, have time to waste. The ticking of seconds brings all of us inevitably closer to the end of our lives.

That realization tends to make me seem rather silly to some folks, as I leap up from my office chair in the mid-afternoon and shout, “Shake break!” It’s an occasional ritual where I go to get a chocolate milkshake. Why? Because it makes me happy. I rearrange my days so that I can ride the train home with my wife. Why? Because it makes me happy. Life should be filled with as much joy as it can possibly be, and sport is part of that joy.

enrique

Hell, in many ways a goal that is scrabbled out in the 93rd minute from a broken play against a parked opponent brings even more joy than a 7-0 destruction. That sense of having overcome adversity is magical, and unifying. You hug a complete stranger and dance around the room for no other reason other than your joy needs to have a bulwark of humanity to splash against. It’s more fun watching matches with the Chicago Penya because of that, because of the shared experience of loving Barça.

At the end of a Liga season during which so, so much has been found wanting, I learned a lot, and not just how happy being wrong can make me. Most of what I learned was patience. New signings arrived, and were deemed inadequate before they had even had the Camp Nou presentation. Rakitic wasn’t Kroos. Bravo wasn’t Keylor Navas. Mathieu was a year too late and overpriced, as we could have gotten him for less last season. Rafinha isn’t Thiago, and why did they have to sell him. Vermaelen is a waste of money, Douglas a corrupt payoff to Traffic. Ter Stegen might be fine later, but he’s young and error-prone, just you wait. Suarez was the only signing that anyone liked.

Patience lets things unfold, patience waits before making a judgment. What if Xavi had thrown up his hands, and skulked away from Barça in failure? What of the joys we would have missed? The career of Xavi is one long, glorious paean to patience, and not just in persevering at the club that he loved. The way he plays is patient, from the constant looks around even when he doesn’t have the ball so that when he does have it, he can extend time and be patient, because he already knows how the world is around him. It’s the first touch that caresses the ball with absolute certainty, extending time because of all the things he has to worry about, knowing where the ball is isn’t one of them.

Patience, always patience. Pep Guardiola didn’t receive much notice or belief when he said that Enrique would do great, would do better than he did, even. And why should he, really? People who don’t know, know better and I was one of those people. You wonder if Guardiola looked at what the team had and what it acquired, understood how Rakitic was going to develop, what Bravo had, the look in Messi’s eye and what Enrique did at Celta, and knew in that way that people with vision understand. Was the wonder of this season’s Messi forged in that painful, longing look he gave the World Cup trophy? Dunno.

Guardiola was patient as the Barça coach, as he is now as the Bayern coach. It takes time to build a system, to create the automatic acts being performed by the right people. Many believe the 2011 Barça squad was better than the Treble-winning side because that team was the epitome of this, an organism functioning at its highest level. Treble Barça was a lightning strike, but that double-winning Barça was a rollercoaster ride of constant beauty as momentum swept a delirious fanbase along.

But it took time to build that juggernaut. And patience.

In two weeks’ time this season will, for better or worse, be over. And I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every second of it, every goal, every win. It has been a season not stalked by tragedy and heartache. But more than all of that, I have learned a lot from people who are smarter that me, people who are even more patient than me, not only because that’s what we’re supposed to do. We are supposed to cling to joy even as we understand that joy, by its very nature, is fleeting.

But if there was one thing I could change about this season that has been joyful almost from the first clean sheet to the title celebration today, it would be the anger, the joyless quality that permeated so much of this year. The team triumphed because at some point in time the players realized that the entire team, from coaching staff and equipment manager to players, were all in it together. They might agree or disagree, but if the boat was going to reach its destination, everybody was going to have to pull on the same oars, just as hard. Xavi helped forge that bond, even as your mind says “Of COURSE he did.”

Xavi is leaving because he feels that it is the right time, and not athletically. He has been, in every way, Capita this season, in preparing the team for his absence. They are together. That unity has been the most exquisite thing about this club, even when it leads to things that make us scream, like players foregoing shots to pass to a teammate. I don’t know if this team will win the treble this season. But I know that great players united can’t be defeated. They might lose a match, but they will never be defeated. You get the feeling Thomas Vermaelen is going to get a lot of hugs and SMS messages after his almost heartbreaking quote, “I won the Liga title but I don’t feel like it’s mine. These players aren’t just the best in the world but excellent people.”

And as culers, we should strive to reach the same heights as the players we so enjoy, and in many cases, revere. Because that makes the beautiful game even more so, and who doesn’t love beauty.

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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.

15 Comments

  1. luisthebeast
    May 23, 2015

    Great post!!I watched Xavi speech,what an emotional day!!After all we all are happy cules now and this team is a family!!But i believe Kxevin after CL final u must write a post about Rakitic Bravo.I remember the summer when fans wanted Kroos or Navas and Zubi then was an idiot.Zubi deserved to be in celebrations today.I critisized him but he did a good job.

  2. IamXavi6
    May 23, 2015

    A superb piece.

    “My wife and I don’t fight. It isn’t that we don’t have conflict, or don’t believe in fighting. We just don’t believe in wasting even a second of time doing anything other than loving each other as much as we can, of recognizing that the time you waste is gone forever.”

    – You have mentioned this in the past, and I find it absolutely beautiful. I wish I could do this with my fiance. I wonder, can I please delve more into your personal life and ask how that stance came about? and also, when you do have what you would consider ‘conflict’ how do you resolve it in a amicable what where you both are satisfied?

    • agar2515
      May 24, 2015

      Amen to this

    • barca96
      May 24, 2015

      But why is he leaving?

  3. agar2515
    May 24, 2015

    “The only explanation for Barcelona’s raw power at this stage of the year is that they have trained well throughout the season. For a while, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Under Gerardo Martino, there was a divide between what the footballers expected from their daily sessions and what their coaches expected from them.

    Around this time last year, El Pais journalist Lu Martin published an article that revealed much of where Barca broke down in 2013-14. Players complained that the methods of Martino’s physical coach Elvio Paolorosso were old-fashioned and significantly beneath the level of sophistication and tempo they were accustomed to.

    After a few particularly lax small-sided games, one veteran decided to speak up. “At this level of intensity we’re going nowhere. Can’t you see that this is embarrassing?” he asked.

    Perhaps the most damning claim from that expose was that the data provided by Barcelona’s physical coaches was often ignored, a stark contrast to Luis Enrique, who works extensively with Pol on information gathered from GPS-ready vests players wear in training.”

    *Says nothing. Nods head. BBQ’s*

  4. TITO
    May 24, 2015

    I dont want to spoil the party, but the new home kit for 2015/16 is….WTF?

  5. G6O
    May 24, 2015

    Disaster. We had a some time to prepare for that though, the design leaked months ago.

    With all the ads on it, it looks like the kit of some South American team. Which is never good thing given the state of club football there…

  6. G6O
    May 24, 2015

    Another party spoiler that I don’t see mentioned much these last few days – Barca B is almost certainly going down.

    • georgjorge
      May 24, 2015

      That sucks. The club goes to all these lengths to either train or recruit from elsewhere (Halilovic) great talent, do you think they are going to stay at the club even in the third division? I have no idea.

    • TITO
      May 24, 2015

      Yeah, i would rather loan some of them rather than let them play in the third division. Especially Halilovic

  7. Barcathegreatestever
    May 24, 2015

    Loved the article Kxevin! I am one fan who has always felt the treble is completely possible with Messi on the team. It hasn’t worked out nearly as often as I thought it should have. I try to be understanding of the players human side when things aren’t going well unless they’re displaying selfishness or arrogance but I have not been nearly so understanding of the management side. It took them a long time since 09 but they delivered us a complete team and coaching staff. Such a huge sigh of relief I actually thought it might never happen. This is a fantastic moment for the club. Let’s hope it continues first by retaining an Alves who has got to be the worlds best right back now at least in Barcas system.

  8. Doug
    May 24, 2015

    Very nice Kxevin – I really enjoyed that. Thanks.

  9. Inamess
    May 24, 2015

    Interesting article. A few points to add:

    1) Sports history is always defined in terms of winners, losers and inevitability but the realities are anything but. For the past decade, Barca has fielded one of the strongest teams in Europe so trophies are always possible especially in knockout tournaments such as the Copa and UCL where luck, form, and injuries play a huge role.

    2) Sports talk thrives and controversy and debate. Not everyone will have the same opinion or will be a fan in the same way–if they did it would also be super boring. Some like to criticize certain players, coaches, and management, others like to deify them, while still others may be somewhere in between. In the end, however, respect for these differences should always be encouraged as we all want to team to win and be successful. As fans all we can do is offer our opinions, some of which will end up being right and others less so. No one is the oracle of Delphi, least of all Pep who brought us Ibra, Chygrynskiy, and Hleb and let some key figures in Bayern leave just before an injury crisis.

    3) In many ways RM has had the season we had last year. They had a players’ manager, an incredible first half of the season but in the end were run down by key injuries and poor form in the decisive games of the season. This will be a important summer for them and all we can do is hope that they make some bad and impulsive decisions. The best thing our club can do is to go on a win the treble to expedite this process. Ultimately, this year will be about one all conquering team in Europe and one game will decide which team that is.

    4) Viva La Liga: La Liga is the best league in football but also the most dysfunctional. Next year offers a unique opportunity to go to the next level. Hopefully we can have an extremely competitive league next year with Sevilla, Valencia, Villarreal and Atleti getting even stronger. Most teams won’t be able to compete with EPL money but will have to improve their teams in other more creative ways. As much as Eibar is great story, I am glad that a historic club like Depor will stay in La Liga.

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