There is a rapper whose name is Mister Muthafuckin’ Exquire.
Aside from ensuring that his performing name will never, ever be used in full by a major media outlet, the rapper’s name made me think of other people and things whose name should include that barnyard epithet.
Muthafuckin’ Atleti. Not again. Oh Lord, not again.
The Champions League draw happened and everybody had their favorites. Most polls favored either Wolfsburg or RM, the two easiest teams in the draw for Barça. The devotees of history figured it would be PSG, because that Ibrahimovic thing is still strong. But some of us knew better, people easy to identify by finding the person cowering with trepidation. Yes, over there. That coal-black corner from which all you can detect are sobs.
Barça is perfect against Atleti under the reign of Luis Enrique, a gaudy 6-0 record against a team that the year before, ruined culer parties like some dude running around, pissing in punch bowls. “Party over here? Not any more!” Champions League, Liga … no sprite parties, just rueful memories of what might have been.
Luis Enrique took over, brought in some key signings and changed everything. Barça is perfect against Atleti. So why worry?
Because Atleti is, for you boxing history devotees, Jake LaMotta to Sugar Ray Robinson. It’s nasty. It’s personal. It’s contrasting styles, the dancer against the fighter that never relents. Robinson could usually count on a sliver of space, something to take advantage of. LaMotta just hunkered down and kept coming, this unrelenting force interested in nothing except doling out punishment. Taking punishment? Sure. That’s part of the deal. It was a tunnel of agony and at the exit was something approximating light, a respite of sorts until the next descent into darkness.
Barça dances and capers, each and every opponent requiring different levels of effort even as they all have one thing in common: a lapse. In only takes one. And the rapier is buried. Not to the hilt, because the wounded prey is fun to play with. It chases harder through cut after cut. Not Atleti. They don’t tire, they don’t stop pressing, they don’t stop kicking, and grabbing, and tactical fouling, and making runs and prodding for a weakness that comes not in anything other than just being absolutely sick and tired of them and what they do. “Leave me alone, man! Come on!”
It’s at that moment that Atleti have you, a team that people are fond of saying, “They squeaked that one out.” But they didn’t. They build a room with no doors, and opponents have to find a way out. One goal is plenty.
It had to be Atleti. The best need to beat the best. Barça’s last Champions League path was strewn with vanqushed champions. This year, it is the best. If you want to be the best, beat the best. Again and again. And here’s another one. It’s called Champions League for a reason.
If Barça reaches the semi-finals, it will win the Champions League. Atleti is the best team left in the tournament, as well as the team most capable of beating Barça because it’s the only group that never relents. Barça hates that. What does Atleti hate? That even in a doorless, windowless room erected with glue for mortar and steel backing brick, Barça’s technicians can find a way out.
Will the best team win? It usually does over two matches, barring injuries or stupid ref mistakes. But often, the “best” team is the one that most consistently, most effectively plays its game. Barça strengths are Atleti weaknesses, and vice versa. Ultimately, the winner will be football.