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.