“I don’t know if I will stay, but I am happy at the moment.”
— Luis Enrique
“I haven’t yet decided my future.”
— Dani Alves
Those two quotes seem an odd way to start a piece on a glorious, history-making day, but they are also the perfect way to conclude the uncertainty that came to define this season, one that has ended in glittering, celebratory fashion. Having just cleaned up the streamers and confetti from the last celebration at the Camp Nou, came another one. And now, another one.
People will line up to recreate history and flay a chunk off the carcass of this team, linking it to Barça now that it has had success. But for me, this is a team that deserves … that has earned the right to stand on its own.
Rijkaard had his own wonderful period, and so did Guardiola. But really, the era that each Barça trainer embodied ended when they left, when their team tasted failure. In hitting the reset button two times after Guardiola, only Vilanova could be said to be something of a continuation, but even he set about revolutionizing the way the team went about its tasks.
Enrique came in and did his own thing, even as you can point to the similarities to the first Treble season:
— First-year coach
— Exceptional success
— Attention paid to fitness and psychology
— A dynamic front three that stretched the pitch
You can even point to parallel goals between the two teams, the first a ping-ponging paragon of unselfish perfection that essentially walked the ball into the net (Rakitic/Iniesta); the second an aggressive, out-of-nothing scramble (Suarez/Eto’o); the third a bust-out and slot home by the left winger (Henry/Neymar).
The parallels are so easy, so seductive and yet, do Luis Enrique’s Barça team a disservice. This team came together, forged on the anvil of adversity real or imagined (same effect). It played its own way even as it followed many of the Barça tenets of attractive, attacking, possession football. But even if you don’t presume that the Guardiola era ended when that great coach left the club, surely it ended psychologically when Barça put Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side to the sword.
This has been a season of exorcism, from the unparalleled joy after a season of heartbreak last year, to paying back debts to teams owed them (Atleti, Bayern) to setting off on an astounding run that found this Barça a true champion of champions, adding the champion of Italy to the other notches on its gaudy belt buckle. It has also been a fairy tale, as Xavi, a selfless legend who completely devoted himself to the club that he loves, gets to go out with a treble, the shrieks of the Camp Nou crowd ringing in his ears and now, today, one more chance to hoist a piece of silver as the Capita of the FC Barcelona football team.
It is just one more aspect of a fairy-tale season.
In making history, this Barça team was like itself in that it wasn’t at its best, but found a way to win a match that it had to. Messi wasn’t anything approaching his dynamic, all-pitch best, even Luis Suarez seemed somewhat overawed by the moment. This was a day for the other guys: Iniesta, Rakitic, Neymar, Busquets, Alves, Pique, putting in work to ensure success. Today as with the rest of this season, Barça played and won as a team.
Culers were warned that Juventus wouldn’t be pushovers, and they weren’t. Its legendary keeper, Gigi Buffon, came up colossal on three separate occasions that would probably have found other keepers lacking, leading to a second half that would have been all over but the shouting and trophy presentation. But he kept them around, and when they scored a quality team goal, it was suddenly game on, and tucker and pucker time for culers.
But just like the match in which the only goals were set pieces, or a late, late goal was forged from an ugly scramble on the goal line, this team managed to find the back of the net as it almost always has. 60 matches, 50 wins, 4 draws and 6 losses. That is an amazing record that is not only the best by any coach in Barça history, but a gauntlet that the team has thrown down for itself. Nowhere to go but down, drowning in a miasma of expectations and resurrected #luchoout hashtags.
That time will come later. For now, let this team be on its own, let it dance, and sing and get drunk atop double decker buses, make speeches at the Camp Nou and do all the silly stuff that victors do to celebrate with their supporters. They have earned it, just as they have earned the right to be champions on their own. This is about Enrique and Barça football. Be proud.