In the 88th minute, Neymar made a mazy, crazy tightrope of a run to lace in a pass that Messi just missed making contact with. On the defensive end, Suarez ran down a ball, working it loose from a Granada player who looked at him like, “What the hell is your problem?”
In the 88th minute of a match that their team was winning 0-3, the hustle and determination were unalloyed. The last goal of the Liga season, of a campaign that concludes with FC Barcelona as defending champion, was scored by Luis Suarez at the end of an arc of brilliance that started with Messi, continued with Neymar and ended on the boot of the pichichi.
Fittingly, Neymar found himself in the box, 1v1 with the keeper, but his goal wasn’t a sure thing. Suarez’s was, so the pass wasn’t even a question. Bang. 40 goals for Suarez, not that anybody except statisticians are keeping count. This team counts trophies, because what else is there, when you do what you do better than anyone else in the game that you play?
Since 2008, this group has won six Liga titles, three Champions League and three Copa del Rey. It has two trebles and a double, and is going for another double this season. It has made winning a habit. Even when the team hasn’t won anything, the year of Tata Martino, the margin between “failure” and a treble was a goal here or there.
This edition, that wrapped up La Liga by dispatching a cranky opponent while dodging divots on a cabbage patch, for a while brought the phrase “double treble” into the lexicon, until that brash anticipation was undone by a poorly timed international break and a remarkable, resilient opponent. To understand this team, look at this stat: In 5 matches, with everything on the line, they scored 24 goals and conceded none. Almost 5 goals per game.
League championships reward consistency. The team that wins the most points over a season of more than thirty matches, is crowned the champion. Ups and downs, injuries and runs of bad form, luck good and bad, opponents playing over their heads, those ugly days when the wheels come off. Week after week, match after match, teams face off. The league champion is a true one, and an immense accomplishment particularly in La Liga, which is the best football league in the world, no matter the blatherings of marketing folks who might assert otherwise.
Writers run out of things to say about this team that finds ways to make us speechless week after week, with wonder goals, passing displays and football of the like we have not seen since … well … the last time Barça did it. There might be no truer testament to how good this team is than to look at the arc of Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid, part of a blizzard of signings, money piled atop money atop even more money, coach after coach, new teammates that this time, will get it done. Ronaldo and his teammates have won, in that stretch, a single title. One. And one Champions League. Atleti grabbed another Liga.
Everything else has been won by Barça, a team whose winning and sustained excellence is so expected that the Champions League finals in which they don’t feature feel like flukes, like at any point someone will say, “Whoops!” and put the correct team on the pitch.
This is also a team that doesn’t care about anything except winning. That late-match hustle and vigor is a trait of that group, an assemblage that understands that you can stop when the final whistle goes. Before then, it’s everything, because you never know. Sevilla taught them that, Villarreal taught them that. Garden variety superlatives are insufficient, and someday, when we sit back and really consider what this team has done, the only thing we will be left to do is sit, in slack-jawed astonishment.
This team doesn’t care about media sniping, about a fan base that spends more time doubting them than celebrating their accomplishments. This team doesn’t care about external forces, or anything that might get in their way. This team plays like someone with somewhere to be, because that is precisely what it is. Time presses. Time makes gods mortals, geniuses merely smart. Time does what it does to athletes, no matter the moment, and those warriors battle and race against time.
This team understands the moment that it is in, a crazy, high-pitched thrumming created by the collective talents of player after player who is the best in the game at his position, an assortment of selfless riches, gold that would glitter if fit weren’t so busy dirtying itself so that another piece can shine. This group has made history, and wants to make more, because tomorrow is always there, always looming, always reminding an athlete of its presence.
We watch Messi run, watch Neymar get fouled yet again, watch Pique leap, Iniesta turn and Busquets extend a seemingly telescopic leg to ruin the dreams of yet another opponent. We watch Alves bound up and down the pitch like a kid chasing a new ball, watch Mascherano win another ball with guts and savvy. And we forget that everything is one bad step, one off landing away from falling apart.
For athletes, that is tomorrow. They celebrate goals and wins and if they win enough times then championships, and they fete these accomplishments with unfettered abandon because they know that tomorrow is coming, and want to be ready. Sport loves to look back in anger, loves to assess teams and players in and out of context, to say, “Remember how great he/they/it was.”
Players aren’t interested in that. History is the past, and the future is terrifying and uncertain. Fans say “Wait ’til next year,” where athletes rue their failure because there might not BE a next year. This time, this moment, might be it.
The celebrations of Leicester City in the wake of that club’s Premier League championship were glorious, fun, tear-inducing, all the things you can think of, because they understand how remarkable, how precious winning enough times to say that over the course of a season, you are the best, is.
Of the last eight seasons, Barça has been able to say that six times.
Before the match there was talk of payments, and briefcases, and Barça didn’t care. What would have to be in a briefcase that would make Granada not be Granada? What would have to be in a briefcase that would make Cuenca come up against Mascherano and not lose his manhood? What would have to be in a briefcase that would make the Granada defenders suddenly be able to contain Suarez, Messi and Neymar? Money is a motivation, but it ain’t magic beans. Talent does what it does.
The Liga finale against Granada was fraught for some unfathomable reason. Barça did what it was supposed to do, as it has done for week after week, and a Liga championship is the result. This Liga. This isn’t “yet another” Liga because at some point a championship exists on its own, as a testament to the consistency and quality of a group of players, week in and week out. History counts championships, supporters worry about the next one. Players understand how wonderful this one, this one right here is because they understand the tyranny of tomorrow, particularly this group, that has spent a far too many days of those eight wonderful seasons, being buffeted by heartbreak, those constant reminders that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, that this is a special championship because each and every last championship is special.
Congratulations, Campions. Celebrate long and loud, and may tomorrow never come.