Humanity. A beautiful thing in a sterile world

Two completely unrelated things that happened on the same day reminded us of the essential, human quality of the millionaires in short pants that we follow so avidly.

Gerard Pique gave a press conference on Thursday, a glorious thing even if the cynic in you notes the timing as it relates to the player’s latest venture. Culers found it almost universally wonderful because he said all of the things the proper culers feel, how he always wants Real Madrid to lose, and watched the Juventus Champions League match wearing a Buffon shirt. He added that if people don’t like him and what he is, too bad. What he said, essentially, is “I gotta be me.”

Meanwhile, a very talented writer, Thore Haugstad, wrote a piece on Dimitar Berbatov, a gent whom I have humorously nicknamed “The Continental.” It’s an absolute delight of a read that is worth every second of your time. In it, Berbatov talks about the things that motivate him, his approaches to playing the game. When a teammate was screaming for a pass, Berbatov played a perfect ball to him and later said, “I know where you are. You don’t have to shout.” He talks of wanting to score beautiful goals, to make the art that he also makes when he puts brush to canvas. And as with Pique, what Berbatov said, is, “I gotta be me.”

We demand much from our players … talent, the ability to handle pressure, selflessness, everything except for humanity. And when they do evince that essential quality, we seem almost stunned. The game isn’t what it used to be, not from a cranky old man, black boots worldview but rather from a feeling of sameness that can, at times, be distressing. Pitches are lovely and manicured, the boots are brightly colored, space-age fabrications. Sweating players seem odd, and only a certain kind of individuality is approved. Score a flamboyant goal and do a cool dance, okay, but don’t perform a flick on the pitch that shows up an opponent. As the game gets increasingly sterile and homogeneous, so do the players as a very natural consequence. We crave the pretext of honesty more than actual honesty, as players are almost that last sliver of royalty for so many.

Think about the last truly interesting player presser. Most of them are a man with slicked-back hair, saying the right things about the right people at the right times, sitting in front of a background festooned with the right sponsors in the exact right proportions. He sips from the bottle of approved libation, that is set down in the right spot, so that it is always in the video frame. It’s all so … right.

Humanity intrudes into that realm like a bear at a formal dinner party, demanding our attention even as we don’t quite know what to do with it. When Dani Alves had the presser that laid his beating heart bare, we discussed his motives, his spot on the team and his future, we did almost everything except celebrate the wonderful humanity of a player sitting down in front of a microphone and, in effect, being a human being. You want a better wage, and more respect from your boss? So does Alves. Supporters feel rivalries. If you are a Barça supporter, you want Real Madrid to lose all the time, every match. You want them to get caught by every light in traffic, to have the hot water heater break in their locker room, to have gophers invade the Bernabeu pitch. Everything bad that can happen, culers want it to happen. And their supporters feel the same way about Barça. Bring on your worst, fate, and let’s do this.

But players are professionals, plying their trade in a game that increasingly seems to want to winnow out humanity. The true characters are dwindling, the seemingly larger-than-life people who make you cheer and shake your head at the same time. Witness this press conference exchange, excerpted from the Berbatov piece:

“That is what I want to score; beautiful goals, and create beautiful chances for my team-mates. The things that every player will tell you if they ask you that question.”
Reporter: “But not every player does say that. Not every player says they want to do beautiful things.”
Berbatov: “Every player is different, probably. You are not going to see me puffing around the pitch.”
Reporter: “That is not your way?”
Berbatov: “No.”

The honesty is complete, so complete it’s almost stunning. The game measures meters that a player runs. The people in the stands want to see a sweat-soaked shirt as a tangible sign of effort. When Thierry Henry was at Barça, his detractors always said that he didn’t sweat for the shirt. So for Berbatov to admit that, well, he wasn’t really interested in those tangible manifestations of effort is in many ways as beautiful as a goal or a painting. Because like Pique copping to being culer to the core, to being one of us in that most sublime way that makes us wish ill for our rivals, The Continental is human in an inhuman world.

OK! Magazine
OK! Magazine

Lionel Messi is in a lot of ways the most perfect example of the modern footballer. He goes about his task with a deadpan expression. He rarely speaks, for what is there to say? On the pitch he scores PlayStation goals in a game that waits with bated breath the latest iteration of Football Manager. He is, at times, like a goal-scoring robot. When the child rumors began, it was almost like, “Messi has … sex?” When he headbutted, then grabbed the throat of that Roma defender, I almost cheered at that very real sign of humanity. Messi loses his shit just like the rest of us. Yes!

Pique hates his rivals. Berbatov doesn’t really want to work any harder than he has to as he strives to create beauty. Humanity is wonderful, even more so when it shoves its way into the game we all adore. Even more than Pique saying what culers everywhere feel, it’s pretty safe to speculate that so much of the post-presser gushing was in many ways, relief and empathy, unfettered joy that in a sanitized world that has almost beaten us down psychologically, this dude is one of us. And that’s beautiful.

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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.

32 Comments

  1. Jim
    September 10, 2015

    Just read Pique’s interview. What a belter ! I kinda guessed this was what he would be like and I’m glad I was right. Exactly the right attitude. Looking forward to his next reception at the Berbebeu because that’s just the thing to ensure he plays a stormer.

    Berbatov I’ve not really any time for, I’m afraid, although I do agree with Kxevin’s point about how refreshing honesty is in a presser.

  2. timtim
    September 10, 2015

    Beautiful… Really BEAUTIFUL Kevin. I mean you hit a lot of nails on their head.

    Pique told it as it was. Plain and simple. I dont like Madrid i wish dem d worst and i dont give a fuck wat anyone tinks about dat.

    I mean thats how we all feel about them. We wish dem every possible bad stuffs. We are fans of their opponents. We all supported Juve. We are all happy about Atletico owning them.

    It was nice to see that presser. It wasnt mechanized as it is with most things these days. The pundits in UK most especially describe robots when they analyse players.

    He doesnt run enough, he exchange jersey at half time he should have waited till full time, they shouldnt be hugging on their to the pitch. He only covered 5km 1 more than the gk.

    Everyone has to say the right stuff, wear the right stuff, smile the right way, dribble the right way, protest the right way.

    All the human aspects are being pushed out. Games feel human by these stuffs people suddenly dont want to see or hear.

    Berbatov is another example. They will say he doesnt run around like Milner he only covered 5kms. He is who he is. He sees the game in a diff way. No need to run. He s an artist. He is not as robotic as the likes of Ronaldo and sometimes Messi who just want to bang goals.

    Gone are the days of Ronaldinho.

    The part where you refrenced Messi… he had sex. Oh my God you spoke the mind of a billion people. We were all like wtf how did he do it. Now he is getting tattoos. The model football is now giving headbutts and holding throats. He is now active on social media. He became more appreciative of others without his genius ability.

    Honesty Humanity…. I pray they never get killed. Its even evident in the society. Everything is all routine and mechanical. Soon we will live in a virtual world.

    tunmisports.blogspot.com

  3. luisthebeast
    September 10, 2015

    Great post.For me,football is art and players like Berbatov are artists.I watch a lot of football and the problem is that Barca played the last decade such beautiful and artistic football so when i watch other teams i am boring many times.There are some good counter attacking teams but the way we played against parked buses was from another level.We created art in the field.About Pipue no much to say.He is a Boss.

  4. Fabian4Barca
    September 11, 2015

    Kxevin, I absolutely love the topics that you pick. This has been a great read.

  5. Davour
    September 11, 2015

    First: another great read! It is so refreshing when players are a bit personal in their comments, expressing actual personality. Messi was a dedicated kid, who became a robot, who eventually turned human again!

    Second: Atletico must celebrate the timing of the arrival of Messi’s second son (Mateo, apparently). Doubtful Leo will be sharp and focussed tomorrow. Best scenario is that he is high on endorphins and unleashes that energy with the right edge! hope Ney, Ini and LS have a good day.

  6. luisthebeast
    September 11, 2015

    So De Gea signed a new deal with United??I am waiting Barca96 to comment how good is this for madrid;-)

  7. luisthebeast
    September 11, 2015

    I cant wait the day that Barca will be official a Catalan team.And the day that the Catalan NT will destroy Spain.

  8. Davour
    September 12, 2015

    5 goal from CR… not much help from the other Catalans. Hope people don’t become confused by this! Hoping for a great game tonight!

  9. Jim
    September 12, 2015

    I keep looking at the team sheet to see Messi’s name and he’s never there ! Hmm, I can respect the attempt to give him a break after the travelling and his new child but I have a feeling he might be on at half time. Still, in the meantime a chance to see what our midfield is made of.

    • Jim
      September 12, 2015

      A thought has just struck me. Is this 4-4-2 ?

  10. Jim
    September 12, 2015

    Great result. Pretty good performance actually. Only real downside was TV’s injury (and maybe our defence on their goal.) I go back to the comment when TV headed off to the NT about him not being 100%. I’m not sure he wasn’t carrying something from the start. He was easily beaten to two or three headers. Pity as he was again playing well. Still, big plus for me was the performance of Mathieu. After not playing much this season he didn’t put a foot wrong. Still say our best CB partnership is he and Pique.

    Two good decisions by LE worth mentioning. First, he obviously learned from the past and talked to Messi about leaving him out first half as Messi was smiling from the start. Secondly, good to see Rafinha left on instead of Rakitic, who continues to underwhelm me. Rafinha added an energy and the ability to carry the ball in tight situations which helped a lot. Oh, and anyone who still reckons Suarez has a poor first touch, have a look at that cushioned pass for Messi.

    A real hurdle overcome. Also, just starting to see Iniesta grow into the role of running our passing game. Somewhere, Xavi is watching – and nodding. . .

    • Davour
      September 12, 2015

      Missed the game, and was screwed by a post-stream which claimed to offer first half, but jumped right into highlights… Wonderful victory, however! I guess the day after his son’s birth was a good day to leave Messi out of the eleven; he’s not going to sulk then… but nice touch that he got to score and make the thumb-gesture! CR nets 5? Well, beating Atletico away is far, far more important. On paper, this was the second hardest game of the liga.

      Nice to hear Ini is preserving his form from the NT; him returning to good old form is key (and a treat to all who love elegant football).

      And I hope Leo allows Neymar to take a few more free kicks from the position; god, that was a definition of precision!

  11. ciaran
    September 12, 2015

    Very complete performance from the team.
    Poor Vermaelen, he just can’t get a break. I wonder what will be the result for Bartra, he’s what 5th choice now?

    Sergi Roberto is proving his worth time and time again. Another solid outing from him. He barely puts a for wrong and his last ditch tackle on Carrasco was great.
    Neymar’s freekick was perfect, no keeper in the world’s stops it.
    Messi again is unstoppable. Give me a winning goal v Atletico vs 5 goals V Espanyol any day.

    Ter Stegen was good too, nothing he could have done about the goal, Alba, Mathieu and Masch should have all done better.

    • Jim
      September 12, 2015

      Not sure what Mathieu was meant to do, Ciaran. He had to come forward with his man and we had ample cover. Business and Rakitic were covering the middle as well. Alba. could take a little of the heat for not coming out quickly enough but the big problem was Masche ten yards away from Torres who he should have been marking. If not marking him, what did he think he was doing ? He was also looking straight at Alba four or five yards back so shouldn’t have Suddenly jumped out. No need for offside anyway. It was a really tricky situation to try for it. and we had three defenders to their one forward. Goal out of nothing.

    • Jim
      September 12, 2015

      Busi *

  12. luisthebeast
    September 12, 2015

    What a perfomance by the team!It s clear that Lucho did a great job in the preseason despite the US trip!And i hope La Masia lovers are proud for Roberto and Rafhinia!Only bad was the injury of Tomas but i put some blame to the coach of Belgium NT.

    • barca96
      September 13, 2015

      Have you had a look at the stats I presented above?

  13. simple_barcafan
    September 12, 2015

    Looks like Iniesta was roaming all over the field dictating the play. I wonder if LE watched the NT games and talked to Ini…

  14. Barcathegreatestever
    September 13, 2015

    Massive statement game against one of Europes best teams, maybe the best counter attacking out there right now. Our defense used to have me chewing my nails every time “they” had the ball, No Pique, disaster? No Vermalen? Disaster?No Alves Disaster? Times are so good!! Iniesta quietly showing that he is on Messi’s level in the midfield, a performance equal to the one in Rome. Corrigan said that despite Madrids 6-0 this game shows Barca as clear favorites, spot on.

  15. luisthebeast
    September 14, 2015

    Wow!!!What a final in US open!And huge respect to Nole who continue to make history playing finals and almost always with a crowd against him!Athlete of the year by far!

  16. Tata2
    September 14, 2015

    This is to the barca-was-stupid-for-letting-Pedro-go-look-he-even-scored-and-assisted-on-his-debut, I hope he’s setting the EPL on fire with his goals and assists and helping them break down parked buses with his running and directness. Pedro was no longer good for this barca and yes he had his moments under Pep but it was time we let him go. I have particularly loved the way we are gradually becoming a very compact team and can comfortably defend a one goal lead (The super cups aside). If we become more compact with a solid defensive base then combine it with our lethal attack then we would become almost invincible. I want to be able to see us sit back and absorb pressure instances were we lose match control ala Atletico Madrid and give other teams a taste of their own bus parking medicine plus the blend of counter attacking and possession football is really awesome.

  17. Davour
    September 14, 2015

    Watched some highlights of Halilovic against Valencia. He is definitely not a finished product, but if he gets his decision-making right he might be great. Talented he is, and was cheered by the crowd as he was substituted.

    I predict we will have wings featuring Neymar and Halilovic in three years (Messi having assumed Iniesta’s role by then)!

    • Jim
      September 14, 2015

      Must watch those highlights snd good to see him start well. Difficulty is to keep it going well enough to become a regular there.

      With regard to Messi, I’m maybe out of step again but I just can’t see this moving back into midfield. On a permanent basis. No problem ability wise but do we really see him doing the amount of work and running Xavi and Iniesta do to keep the passing game going ?

    • barca96
      September 14, 2015

      Hallilovic lacks the killer pace to pull away from his markers. He can dribble and cut but he seems to lack that bursting pace.

    • Davour
      September 14, 2015

      That might be true, I have not see him enough, but from what I saw this time, it looked like he got away but failed to pass the ball in time. But yeah, perhaps not a winger, but a mid, then!

    • Davour
      September 14, 2015

      Yeah, in fact I agree. Messi as a mid is, I’m afraid, a wet dream… a pure 10 is the alternative, but Barca don’t play that way, so who knows!

  18. barca96
    September 14, 2015

    Jim and Kxevin, did you guys watch the US Open Final (M)? Heard it was a thriller. The more I read about the match the more I feel for Djokovic. The crowd were hostile towards him and even shouted out yeahs when he misses the first serve. It’s rather strange why they would be so hostile towards Djokovic. He is a likeable guy. In fact, he is probably the most open and fan friendly top player since Agassi.

    And it’s also strange why the crowd was so pro-Federer. He is a Swiss. I used to hate watching Henman play in the mid 90’s at Wimbeldon. The crowd was so biased (understandably though). Every single point the crowd was cheering as if there’s no tomorrow. It’s good for Henman but not good for a neutral fan.

    • Jim
      September 14, 2015

      Can’t speak for Kxevin but for me I don’t think I’ll ever see such a consummate genius as Federer on the tennis court again. You genuinely have to see him live before he hangs up his racquet because TV doesn’t do his movement justice. He is also the perfect example of nice guys doing well ( wasn’t always that way – I’m old enough to remember him breaking a huge number of racquets one early season) . Finally, to me he is also the living embodiment of the foolishness of writing people off because of their age. He is playing close to, but not quite, as well as he ever has and has had to keep improving to stay at the top. Having been lucky enough to see Sampras, Hewitt, Nadal, Murray and various other top players live I am in no doubt that we are watching the best ever – by some margin.

      However, I’m the wrong guy to talk to about Djokovic. I’ve a lot more time for Rafa than him and I’ve never liked Rafa’s style of play. I really dislike Novak’s false friendliness I’m afraid. For me, his cheap, often exaggerated attempts to court favour with the crowds are easily seen through by the audience. I’ve watched his career go through the early phase where he tried to put opponents ( including a young Murray ) off by abusive comments, then through his gamesmanship of bouncing the ball three squillion times at key moments when in trouble, to his continuing ( although not so much since he wins most games these days ! ) calling onto court of the trainer whenever his opponent have momentum behind them. He’s not popular among tennis fans and probably won’t ever be ( deservedly so for me). However, no denying that he may be the best athlete ever to play tennis.

  19. luisthebeast
    September 14, 2015

    For me it s simple.He is from Serbia,not England,Usa,Germany or Spain.And Serbia is a country that the west media attack so easy.We recently saw the joke with the game Serbia-Albania and the ban for Serbia despite that Albania created the chaos.

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