Calm, calm, everywhere calm.
All over Barça social media is an eerie feeling on the day of an immense match: calm. People can wonder why such a thing is going on, but it’s easy for someone who has tracked the arc of this season to place a finger on it. This magnificent season is something of a surprise gift, a months-long party in which surprise guests and presents just keep showing up.
When the season started it was with a new coach and a new staff, plus eight new transfers into the team. Nobody knew how everything was going to go. Some idiots even predicted, notions with roots in logic, that this would be another silverless season, but just you wait until next year.
Things got off to a good start and the team was playing well, even if it wasn’t playing in the way many wanted it to. RM was playing out of this world football, and some pundits were declaring the season over even before it started. The season began with doubt, and wrapped doubt around it like a comfortable old blanket.
And then, something weird happened. Many trace the season turnaround to the mess at Anoeta. To my view, Anoeta was as expected as a tax bill. If you watched carefully, it was evident that the team was coming together in a way that was going to make for interesting football for the remainder of the season. The fitness was evident, the mental toughness was evident. This was a team getting ready for battle.
There has been talk of SMS messages exchanged, talks between Enrique and Messi, Xavi and Messi, the Dalai Lama and the team, who the hell knows. But when a training regimen begins to take shape and bear fruit, you see it. And it isn’t just fitness. It’s confidence. You look over and see your opponent bent over, breathing hard as you stand there, ready to go. You’re ready, you’re waiting.
When RM came back to earth due to injuries and fatigue (sound familiar, culers?), Barça was there to pounce. It seemed like this team took off like a rocket because people were too busy seeing what they wanted to see instead of what was actually there.
The team went 8-1-1 in its first 10 matches, with 9 clean sheets. Losses to PSG, RM and Celta at home got tongues wagging, because of impatience and lack of understanding. When you build a training plan, you put in the work. More often than not you will get the results, but as the plan takes shape and the program builds, there will be bumps that are expected. How an athlete deals with those bumps is what will define the success of his season.
The smart runner understands that a lost race, despite being fit and ready, doesn’t mean the season is lost and he should binge on gelato and donuts. He understands it’s a temporary glitch, and confidence in the plan is required.
In the 11 matches leading to Anoeta, Barça was 10-0-1 with 6 clean sheets, wins over Valencia at their ground and a 5-1 stonking of Sevilla. But so busy were the people extracting philosophical pounds of flesh (an irony given how vehemently the culerverse took after Ibrahimovic for labeling Guardiola “philosopher”) that many wound up missing what was going on.
Anoeta came after an extended international break, courtesy of a Jordi Alba own goal. “Why didn’t he start Messi, Suarez, etc.” ignores the fact that they entered the match in the second half against what should have been a more fatigued La Real, and couldn’t make anything happen.
But in the culerverse, it was Armageddon. The screams rang long and loud. There was insufficient patience with anything from too many supporters, no real effort to understand of what was going on. It’s understandable and inexplicable at the same time. The team was getting results, but not in the right way. More philosophy. Individual brilliance was terrible, except when Messi scored a brilliant solo goal.
It was a period that found the culerverse and the entorno at their absolute worst.
Some fools dared to say that something cool was coming, and folks should calm down. They were called idiots and defenders, and then … something cool started to happen. The gifts that had really been coming all season for those open to receiving them, started flowing and people started paying attention. Barça beat Atleti, then beat them again, eventually going 4-0 against a team that single-handedly ruined the silver rush last season. It beat RM via one of those goals that the philosophers found vile. It put on a clinic against Manchester City, playing precisely the kind of football the philosophers said it couldn’t play, and wasn’t playing. Beat Atleti to make the Copa final, beat the team of ubermen coached by the genius in Bayern Munich and suddenly, it was real.
The first treble season whooshed by in a “Wait, what just happened” rush. This potential treble season was so busy wallowing in a miasma of disbelief, squabbling and expectation that for things to have reached this point seems surprising. A different kind of “Wait, what just happened?”
So why wouldn’t some folks be calm about something so completely unexpected? Where did THAT come from? The easy answer is right over there, but you weren’t looking for it. The more difficult answer finds its notion in the traditional Buddhist saying, to “be here now.”
Football is fond of comparing, fond of ranking. Enrique Barça vs Guardiola’s. Messi vs Ronaldo. Messi vs Maradona. Barça vs Milan. This goal vs that goal. And suddenly, the world is awash in everything except the wonder of the moment. People scoff at those who say a win, ANY win, is pretty wonderful no matter how it comes. Theory is easy for the victor, but ask the vanquished about style points vs 3 points. Sport exists in the moment. It’s an athlete’s single-minded focus, it’s a supporter suddenly finding religion in the last minute of a scoreless final, it’s the reality of right here, right now.
Football will never stop comparing, even if it should. Because while we’re sitting there, wondering how the hot fudge sundae that we are having ranks against the all-time best hot fudge sundaes that we have ever had, we’re missing out on savoring one hell of a treat.
So many culers are calm because this wasn’t supposed to happen. For many, this season has been so wonderful that it doesn’t even matter much if Barça is able to beat Juventus today. I am one of those culers. This has been a magnificent roller coaster of a season that has ended in a series of magical moments, from Xavi hoisting the Liga trophy at his last Camp Nou appearance in the colors, to a record-setting front three and a diminutive genius cementing his status as best in the game. So much. So, so much that it’s easy to feel sated, besotted as joy splashes over a fanbase.
And now, here we are. Here we ALL are. No rivalries, no rancor, just a group united in its love for a team. In mere hours, it all begins. When you have doubt, when you worry, when you want to rage against the universe, remember this season and all that has come before this moment, breathe deep, and believe.