This isn’t normal

It will take a time, a long time, before we, the collective Barça fanbase, will be able to get our minds around how crazy, how fragile this incessant winning business is.

There was an excellent piece by Sebastian Stafford-Bloor, in which he describes the paranoid reality of the debutante championship aspirant.

“Most fans are raised on a very simple principle: that what they want the most will never happen.”

Each and every season begins with every team at the same moment: zero points and the world to play for. Even the teams whose supporters know they have about as much chance of true glory as an ice cube on a griddle, can believe right up until the first beatdown comes. A new Champions League entrant believes that if the breaks happen right, maybe, just maybe.

FC Barcleona has been, except for rare bumps in the road, at the top of the pyramid since the 2008-2009 season. It took a goddamn volcano to stop Barça. Before that there were glories to be had in 2005 and 2006. Many of us with longer tenures at the club had gotten used to the frustration, the almosts, the sun glinting off a ring that couldn’t quite be grasped. Then came Ronaldinho, and everything went crazy. The time since then has been a whirlwind of absurdity that many still struggle to understand. Fear and paranoia are the supporter’s natural state. Success only ramps up those notions, the fear of losing hold of that brass ring.

Is it better to have loved and lost, or never to have loved at all? The 1985 Chicago Bears are a team that has gone down in National Football League folklore, a swashbuckling group that played defense like Chile’s national team attacks — GET ‘EM! The scorelines were gaudy, the personalities outsized, the dominance so complete that many were bandying about words like “dynasty.” The Bears haven’t won a championship since. The last Chicago Bulls title was the last year Michael Jordan was stomping the terra in full force, the 1997-98 season. The team that won six championships in eight seasons hasn’t gotten a sniff of full glory since.

Winning is an extravagant state of grace that turns us into wrecks. Even with the best team in basketball, Bulls fans worried a lot like Barça fans fret today, because that’s what winning does to you. Leicester City supporters must be having the time of their lives. Like every group of supporters of every team, the new Premiership season started with hope. Weird things started to happen, unthinkable things and as the season continued, it just kept getting weirder and weirder. Now, still atop the league with a 5-point gap, what happens? Does terror or paranoia set in, or is it like the guy who finds a wad of cash on the street and heads for the casino, throwing around big bills and thinking, “Easy come … ” It’s the Thunderbolt.

FC Barcelona is something very different. Season after season there are parades, and cups, and speeches by potted players in front of an adoring throng. The next season starts, people expect logic to prevail, for the law of averages to take over. Rivals spend Croesus-like sums on talented athletes and there are those same damn midgets, capering about a ribbon-festooned cup like some sort of pagan ritual. Again.

This state is so abnormal that there isn’t verbiage sufficient to explain how abnormal it is. It’s the other side of the coin that is so elegantly described by Mr. Stafford-Bloor. There is still fear and worry, but of a different kind. Expectation is a grim taskmaster, one that shreds patience and turbocharges need. It breeds fear, and makes anything that isn’t glittering swathed in black clouds of doom. “A shot on goal! Bravo had to make a save! Oh, no! How much time is left? Five minutes? Noooo!” And Barça is up 3-0.

Could have been a manita.
The midfield is sloppy.
They’re struggling to build from the back.
The next opponent will be real trouble.

FC Barcelona is on a 34-match unbeaten run that will end at some point. In a lot of ways, that moment will be a relief, because streaks become a burden that creates a schism. Half the world wants it to continue, the other half wants it to end, and badly, at the worst time. The players just keep playing, and winning and the supporters keep worrying, because that’s what supporters do.

What is more rare is to take a moment to understand how spectacular this all is. Two trebles in six seasons, in a game where a single championship is something extraordinary. As Stafford-Bloor writes:

“If a fan has never known anything other than title-challenges and high-stakes games, he or she inevitably has a tolerance to the emotions which swirl around that sort of existence. It’s what they expect, it’s what they feel entitled to.”

Curmudgeons always snarl about that entitlement, suggesting that it’s a bad thing, but human nature is to want the spigot controlling a font of goodness to break in the “on” position. How wrong is it to want to keep winning for a fanbase already glutted by success? How illogical is it to continually worry about something happening that will shut off the joy? Heartache will come soon enough. Why rush it?

But think. The next Barça match, just think … for a moment. Think about the teams that have crashed on the rocks of the sustained excellence of a bunch of guys whose appearance wouldn’t get them tapped for a public park kickabout. “The short one? No way!” Think about how easy it all looks, about that time you might have tried a rabona in your backyard, never mind with a top-league defender whacking you in the shins. Think about every magic, wonderful thing that has to happen to create the kind of sustained excellence that has become the norm for Barça.

The only legitimately human reaction would be to shake your head, bury your face in your hands and weep at the beauty of it all.

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Written by:

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.

22 Comments

  1. georgjorge
    March 1, 2016

    At the risk of seeming to do nothing but read these articles all day: brilliant again, especially the last sentence.

    The funny thing is, when I watch games on TV I’m always conscious of the context – how important that game is, how many goals the team needs to advance etc. But when I watched them in the stadium I couldn’t have said what the score was, and it didn’t matter to me. All that mattered was the present – this pass, this tackle, this shot, the beauty of all the interplay between the players. So naturally I didn’t worry at all about losing, and would have been very happy even if the game had turned out to be a defeat. Maybe some sort of emotional detachment from the things happening during games also adds to the worries and cautious calculations we experience.

  2. horlahlehk
    March 2, 2016

    Wow!!! this is a really brilliant piece Sir Kxevin…..it is fantastica! Jez stunning, wah a brilliance lyk a Lionel Messi play
    Appreciation sir!!!

  3. Laurentiu88
    March 2, 2016

    yes, another great read! thks for the perspective…
    it made me remember all those bad times when we weren’t achieving anything in europe… like that year valencia kicked us out of ucl semifinal, i remember i was counting how many stars our team had when compared to RM’s and how that will be the best cup, by defeating RM in the final…. that was such a great team too yet it failed to achieve anything major….

  4. Davour
    March 3, 2016

    It’s like a drug, it seems. Tolerance increases and you need more and more to be satisfied… strange when it seems another treble is the only thing that would really really make the fanbase truly happy. A double would be ok, a single would be below par and nothing would be appallingly bad! In a sense, it suffocates some of the enjoyment, having everything to lose. I remember watching Barca to enjoy the skill and trickery of Laudrup, Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, young Messi – never expected to win all that much, happy when we won anything. Before the Leo-CR comparisons made too much out of statistics (back then it seems nr of goals was a less important feature to be the best, no?). Still enjoy it, but it is different when you expect brilliance, anything less will be slightly inadequate.

    Always complaining…!

  5. TITO
    March 3, 2016

    As i said before, we have to do something about those penalties. I dont want a single penalty miss to cost us a title in end.
    As for the game, the ref got it so wrong in both cases with the red cards for them. A little worried about Suarez and Neymar’s try hard to score and in multiple attacks they just refused to pass the ball to each other for a simple tap in.
    Im not trying to be negative, it’s just an observation from the last few games, i hope im wrong.

  6. Davour
    March 3, 2016

    Solid win, Leo, Ini and Mathieu in good form. Neymar is starting to show some frustration at not scoring, I think. Let’s see how the “it does not matter who scores” holds up! Suarez can’t make it happen, either, and should not be allowed anywhere near a penalty again this season…

    Probably good that Neymar is suspended away against Eibar (though a tricky feature); he probably needs a rest – he has looked a bit off lately (still rather brilliant and hard working, though) – and LE is obviously not allowed to sub any of them…

  7. Tata2
    March 3, 2016

    Anyone noticed that Messi played as a number 10 today? My concern though is Neymar, he’s becoming a little bit selfish, even in the arsenal game when Messi and Suarez were wide open,he chose to go for goal himself and missed, I hope this doesn’t bring disunity. There’s something about goals, when you are so desperate to score you could even miss sitters. Watch today’s game, Messi who was working the hardest to set up either of Neymar or Suarez was “unfortunately” the one having the good scoring chances falling to him even without trying too hard and for now, I think Messi should be our Pk taker in situations where it matters most

  8. ian_percival
    March 4, 2016

    I think the Suarez-Neymar frustration over not scoring is a problem, they were sulking all through the match, is not good, they’ve got huge egos which have been kept in check cos they’re at barca, I hope it doesn’t breakout. Would hate the headline: ”MSN AT WAR” it will wreck the harmony of the team.

  9. Cyclops
    March 5, 2016

    Hey, come on now, you guys are so quick to predict all Doom and Gloom, gosh
    So Ney and Suarex are not happy they aint scoring, and the immediate backlash of that you can think of is MSN at war…I’d take it, if they miss Sitters and are Unhappy, rather than miss Sitters and are grinning like nothing happened or LE got them a new toy
    Perfect attitude for WC players IMO, my only concern would be the “selfishness” emerging, but again no way do i tie that to some Gloomy MSN at war catacylsm

    As far i’m concerned, barca only played over 40 mins of real football. Here’s my two cents

    Its baffling for me how sometimes barca just decide to some extent to ‘jettison’ ball possesion(yeah, going they again)But honestly i’m bewildered, really
    I do a quick comparison with the Arsenal game, and at a point in time the possesion was around 70/30, and against Rayo- a lesser opponent its like 57/43 firsthalf( how that even came about i cant tell) so what gives? maybe its was as a function of Arsenal defending? if they’d come out to attack, probably it’d have been closer…Now, you might say, just exactly what this article is talking about; use to winning that you now crap about Ball possesion..But sometimes in a match you make deliberate effort to keep the ball, it was very evident in the sevilla game;back and forth, no control…Here it wasnt just back and forth, Rayo were actually imposing themselves on the game
    Just concerned.
    Agianst say Bayern, the only thing that could be our undoing is this tendecy to shuttle the ball upfront to the forwards with the speed of light…Bayern pressing is superb, they’re positioning also, they can be ball hoarders when they want to(actually when they play against us)- the perfect recipe to foil this team..Shuttling the ball forward quickly might just not work against their Pressing and Positional structure..So what do we have, quick attacks that quickly die out, and Bayern end up having the ball for the majority of the game, essentially shutting our forwards out of the game
    I think you’ve gotta balanced your quick attacks with deliberate ball hoarding to limit the time they have on the ball, and in effect mimimise danger..i certainly wont be watching a game where bayern are Strangulating us with possesion, and i’m busy praying our forwads just score that unlikely goal…This is probably flimsy, probably the Team already got their tactics mapped out, and if they face such quality teams they turn up their play and keep the ball more, maybe…But it dosnt hurt to complain now and then, does it

    Secondly, i think Ney has been in a bit of an off form(maybe not too much in this game)Suarex finishing has been in tatters, and i’d rather focus on that than their “selfish play”, afterall, Ney off form-somewhat, and suarex’s poor finishing preceded this recent penchant for selfish plays…Neymar should just focus on playing well, assisting his teammates-which he does effortlessly..work on his finishing, in time the goals would come……

    • Rivaldo
      March 6, 2016

      Go and watch last year’s match vs Bayern… without Xavi albeit… it wasn’t even close.

  10. Cyclops
    March 5, 2016

    Its the so-called der klassiker: Dortmund vs Bayern..
    Its quite interesting that Bayern go into this match just Five point above BVB(yeah obviously we’ve got a better point above our closest rival than they do..whatever happened to Crappy Bundesliga…)So a loss at the signal induna park- which is very possible cosidering their loss at home to Mainz, would apparently cut the point to just Two..now who would’ve thonked this earlier on?? where did all their points go to? lol

    Maybe we’re just so good we make even our Title Rivals worse than the entire Bundesliga chasing packs..likely…….

  11. Davour
    March 5, 2016

    Well, Suarez better step up his finishing if he wants the pichichi; old CR has scored a hattrick (his first fk in ages, and a beauty of a shot) and counting against Celta – who are looking absolutely horrendous…

  12. Cyclops
    March 5, 2016

    OK, its stays at Five Point..based on what bayern are use to having though, not the most safest of lead

    CR, he just knows how to make these Replys now and then, dosn’t he????

  13. georgjorge
    March 5, 2016

    Having watched Dortmund against Bayern today, I admire what Barca did against them last year even more, injuries to key players notwithstanding. Bayern are incredibly good at passing out of danger while creating danger themselves. Dortmund, itself a very good team, needed the win yet did not dare to commit men forward for the press and stayed very tight in its own half for most of the game. To take the fight to such a team and beat them 3-0 in the semifinal of the CL really was an incredible feat.

    As to the comment from Cyclops above, it has been very common to give up possession to Rayo. This time, as the times before, Rayo wanted possession badly at the cost of being very open in defense, which Barca could have easily exploited even more if it weren’t for very poor finishing. Neymar and Suarez both want to score badly right now but can’t, I think their goals and their happiness will come back soon enough. As in other games this season, it’s rather absurd when two of our three forwards have a very bad day but the team still manages to score five…

  14. Davour
    March 6, 2016

    Craig Burley over at espnfc called La Liga a “capitulation league” following RM’s 7-1 thrashing of Celta Vigo, and I have to agree there is definitely something amiss when 6th placed Celta, trailing 1-0 after one half, completely disintegrates during the second half. Same team that beat Barca 4-1 and pressured RM last time around. Ok, so CR discovered his old self and scored a beauty of a screamer and a rare fk (almost two!) – but a defence on its heals would have closed down the first chance, not leaving acres of space for him to tee up and release.

    Burley noted that there will be a somewhat more equal distribution of funds in the liga, and why I seldom agree with (or listen to) him, this is a real necessity for the league. La Liga has brilliant teams who can snatch points away from both Barca and RM, and AM these days, a wreck havoc in Europe (EL). But looking at RM’s home results recently (less so Barca’s due to their assumed tactical restraint) is depressing – all 10-2, 3-1, 5-0, 5-1, 6-0, 4-2, 7-1…and 0-1 (of course). And this is RM out of proper shape (which is evident during away games).

    It seems, simply, that the lesser teams do not have enough squad quality to last the season, or simply not the grit or stamina to fight the greater teams away. Celta’s second half was a joke, yesterday – they couldn’t string a set of passes together and defended without proper purpose.

    Here’s hoping for a slightly more equal league at some point…

    • georgjorge
      March 6, 2016

      Great comment. There are a number of teams in La Liga who play strong football and have great players and coaches – but they can’t sustain it for a whole season. They have only the choice of being bought out by a bored billionaire from a foreign country to be able to compete, or being restricted to fighting for Europa League spots. Which is a shame because there’s a lot of potential for Celta Vigo, Sevilla or Athletic Bilbao to give Barca and RM a run for the league title or compete in the Champions League.

      It’s not restricted to the Spanish League of course, in the Bundesliga players routinely collect their second yellow card before playing against Bayern Munich so they can focus on the matches which they have a better chance to win.

    • Davour
      March 6, 2016

      Absolutely not restricted to la liga! Bundesliga is worse, at this point. But it seems there is enough basic quality in Spain to actually fix the problem, and make things a little more interesting – AM did a fine job there, one must say.

      Solid game. Messi’s first half was just wonderful. Those passes, my god, and the simplicity with which he executes the goal. Effortless. He is unreal.

      Masch had a solid, too!

    • georgjorge
      March 6, 2016

      I thought Masche had a number of awful clearances which almost lead to goals for Eibar. I’m sure Jim will be along shortly to analyse them ; )

      Agree on Messi, it looked like he spent all game distributing killer passes, just took a break from that to score a fast goal in between. And he didn’t even seem to spend much energy for his performance today.

    • March 6, 2016

      Watch again. Mascherano had one clearance, made problematic by the fact that Turan didn’t move his ass to the ball. Somehow, Mascherano bashing has become fashionable in this space. Were it not for Messi, he would have been MOTM today. He played a brilliant match.

      Perceptions of a player are often like a runaway train in comment spaces. It was interesting to note, in the cauldron of Barça Twitter, how much credit he was getting for an excellent match. And well he should have.

    • georgjorge
      March 6, 2016

      I don’t think I have it in me to watch a full 90 minutes replay of a team playing only in third gear in the rain ; ) So I will take the words of both of you for it. I want to be clear though that I haven’t been doing any Mascherano “bashing” – I haven’t been criticizing him here in the past and I think he’s doing well, but those clearances (at least two) stood out to me very much.

  15. georgjorge
    March 6, 2016

    Well not much to say about this match against Eibar. The team played without much focus, and didn’t need to. Eibar was dangerous for maybe ten minutes total in the match despite our defense and midfield playing very sloppily out of the back. Suarez got his much-coveted goal as well, some key players got rest…what’s not to like?

    I don’t know about Munir. I like him a lot, and of course it’s difficult getting infrequent chances to play and then out of position as well. But his goal didn’t seem to give him much confidence, as he didn’t really go forward any more in the second half even when he could have, instead always making the easy pass back to midfield. I know he’s not supposed to be Neymar but there were some good opportunities to take on his man. Or maybe he was acting on orders from Enrique…

  16. Tata2
    March 6, 2016

    Hate it when people look for every little opportunity to take a cheap shot at la liga. Here was someone saying in the EPL Messi doesn’t score that his first goal cos the defenders would close him down. Yea right! you have a 3 v 3 with Messi in the middle coming at you and two other forwards running ahead either side of him and you expect the 3 defenders to attempt to close down Messi so he makes an easy pass to Suarez or Munir to score, right? By the way I abandoned the man u match halfway through, it was a snorefest

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