It was like that first brush stroke, thick with paint and intent, than an artist lays on the canvas.
Busquets spanked a pass to Messi, one of those passes that lesser players wouldn’t try, one of those passes a lesser player wouldn’t have been able to receive. The pass had to be struck firmly because Messi was inset among Sevilla defenders like a rose among brambles, this beautiful object that needed to be freed. Busquets spanked a pass to Messi.
As Messi controlled the ball and began to move in a single motion, new signing Andre Gomes began moving as if he knew what was going to happen. And he did, like the glass-jawed fighter who has so often been on the receiving end of a beating. He knows. But his step was lighter because this time he and Messi were on the same side, this time someone else’s teammates were going to look the fool. This time, he could do what he probably imagined he would, if he ever got the chance. His delicate side-foot returned the ball to Messi, its rightful owner, who danced into the box deeply enough to sow panic in a defense that was thinking, “Oh, crap, here we go. Not again.”
But this time, Messi didn’t use his scythe of a left foot to add to his tally of goals. He slid a perfect pass to Arda Turan, who finished with an acute angled shot that whipped past the keeper. The goal was ballet, on the move, with a sphere at everyone’s feet. The men and the ball never stopped moving, the goal simple, but of the highest order. So fast, so aggressive, so violent. Sevilla didn’t have a chance.
In the Camp Nou there was this intake — that silence before the explosion of sound, as sport did exactly what it was supposed to do: elevate the spirit. It was beautiful, so beautiful that for the rest of that match, for 90 extraordinary minutes, nobody cared.
Welcome to your team, culers.
Every now and again in life, something extraordinary happens. Maybe it’s a job. Maybe you fall in love. Something happens that elevates your life from everyday to, for a bit of time, magical. When that happens, nothing else matters. It’s raining and you’re kicking up your heels. Let it rain. Fender bender? Whatever. The net result is that whatever it is, you don’t care because everything is awesome. For a very lucky few in aggregate, that thing is sport. There is only one champion. Everyone else loses. Amid all that misery, why do we seek out more of it with spite, bile and venom? There is even scoffing at “bandwagoners,” the new fans who come to Barça because holy crap, those guys are good. And it’s logical. Who wouldn’t want to be part of this?
Messi is in peak form, not as a goalscorer but as an all-around destructive force. Iniesta is renewed. Pique is the best CB in the game. Neymar is the second-best player in the game, passing to the best player in the game while working off the best striker in the game. The team has been refurbished to take advantage of all of this, elevating the setting for its glittering diamonds from gold to platinum.
Everything is awesome.
The culer way is usually spite, paranoia and disdain, leavened with slivers of joy. Real Madrid cheats, the world is against FC Barcelona and our Way is superior. When Barça wins we paint it as being against the natural order of things rather than something eminently logical, and sigh in relief that the best players in the game managed to do what everyone expected them do except, strangely enough, the people who support them.
We should stop. Or at least try to. And we shouldn’t stop because it makes us look like assholes to people who laugh at our whines about having to settle for a team’s star attacker as our fourth forward, or piss and moan because we have to “settle” for Ajax’s brilliant starting keeper as our backup.
We should stop because bile eats away at things that are beautiful, makes us forget that each wonderful moment is never going to happen again. We shouldn’t be content with having spent so much time worrying, snarling and scoffing that a rose was able to bloom, wither and die while we were shaking our fists at the neighbor.
Barça Twitter was filled with spite in the wake of Cristiano Ronaldo winning UEFA player of the year. With it came the inevitable Messi comparisons, and denigrating the award in part because Ronaldo got fat on a five-goal outing against Malmo.
Don’t care. Not a whit. Because Barça went crazy this summer. One of the gray-shrouded perennials that blooms annually around July, is disappointment. The team has needs and Barça doesn’t sign anyone, or doesn’t sign the right people. It needs a CB and gets a player whose coach said, “Well, he can play CB.” The team needed shoes, and got coats. As recently as January, seeking attacking depth, the club couldn’t scrape together 18m to bring Nolito in.
The craziness is that the team has addressed every critical weakness in the roster, fixed all the problems that plagued it during that one awful match against Atleti when they couldn’t buy a goal, when they fatigue-walked their way to loss after loss before righting the ship and stomping away to a close-run Liga title and Copa victory. We used to always look at Real Madrid and envy their depth, envy how they could take off a Modric and bring on an Isco, take off a Bale and bring on a Jese.
This season, that’s Barça.
Yet Barça didn’t just sign. It signed quality, players that make perfect sense and provide a flexibility and adaptability to any number of different tactics. If anyone goes down injured, the team can, like a amoeba, change form and still kick ass. It has been a magnificent summer in the window, that has resulted in a team with no real weaknesses other than the ones we conjure up. And yet the biggest worry was the eventual fate of Douglas.
We need to worry which makes it necessary to ignore the uniformly excellent outings that Sergi Roberto had at RB last season, to generate worry about that position. We have to say, if we admit that he is really good at his job, what if he gets hurt and Aleix Vidal has to play? Dooom! We, as a fan base, are so busy looking out for something bad that we are missing out on something good. We have the best team in the world.
Yes, yes, the necessary caveat is “on paper.” But come on. Barça’s second XI could go top five in the Liga. That’s what happened this summer. And it’s extraordinary.
My wife used to work at a wealth management firm. During a phone conversation with a client, the usual pleasantries were exchanged, and my wife was asked, “How are you?” She responded, “Good. It’s Friday.” And there was silence. It was at that moment that she realized that for the person on the other end of the line, it could have been Monday, or Wednesday, or Sunday. That when you’re that rich, the end of the work week doesn’t matter because you don’t work. You don’t really have a care in the world.
That’s how lucky we are as culers. We destroyed Sevilla, Europa League winners, in the SuperCopa, then obliterated Betis by a 6-2 score that could have been 10. And in that match, three of the XI were absent. THREE. The team is about to sign a talented striker in Paco Alcacer, a player who is a star for Valencia, the team that currently owns him. He will be our fourth attacker, this year’s Pedro.
You can do what you like, but this season will be one of renewal for me, for being like that wealthy person for whom it could be any day of the week. Nobody has any idea what will happen this season, but you know what? At this point it doesn’t matter. Bad calls don’t matter, ginned-up refereeing conspiracies don’t matter, gel-haired dudes who win individual awards don’t matter. The only thing that matters is the magnificent team that is part of the club that I love. To hell with the rest of them, because I, like so many others, come to sport for joy and escape. Not misery and rancor.
We have hitched emotions and spirits to this football club. It has repaid us a debt that it in no way owes by winning in unprecedented fashion, while playing the game in a way that is beautiful. We snark at the board, and keepers of the flame say that this or that isn’t right. Others yearn for a bygone time of magic and glory, meanwhile if Barça wins tomorrow, its coach will have done precisely what Pep Guardiola predicted when he said that Luis Enrique would do better than he did.
It’s easy to find things that are wrong. Today I was watching Benfica play to see how Grimaldo was progressing, preparing to Tweet thoughts about him whereupon something amazing happened: I didn’t care. Not an iota. Not even because there is no way in hell he is capable, right now, of doing what Digne can do. No. More because he isn’t part of this club, so I don’t really care about him or how he does. All I can do is count the minutes until my next fix.
It isn’t being a cheerleader, nor is it being a booster. There are those who believe there is fault with this team, who scream, “Why can’t we analyze, and find fault?” Party on, for nothing in life is perfect.
But for the first time in the many years that I have loved this club, its football team is something to be legitimately feared. It probably won’t win every match, it might not even win any silver. But none of that will stop me from not giving that many craps about anything that doesn’t involve stoking my affection for the best team on the planet. If you are married to a model who feeds you ice cream while rubbing your feet, what do the neighbor’s hedges matter?
Real Madrid can do what it wants, Ronaldo can win all the awards that he wants. Atleti didn’t beat RM in yet another Champions League final? So what. Barça is so stacked that there isn’t time for that kind of spite. They got it done, and hats off to them. Easy draw? I would have killed for Barça to have that draw, would have argued with anyone who said the Champions League trophy was tainted because of the cruise to the final, because all you can do is play the teams you are scheduled to play, be they Malmo or Arsenal.
There was a 1968 movie called “What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?” It was about a virus that made people happy. The only symptom of the malady was joy. That, for me, is Barça. We have never had a team like this, and might never again — veteran knowledge and power of youth, legends and icons backed by a smart coaching staff and driven by the best player in the history of the game. It’s impossible to think about all of that and not rub your hands in glee, to shrug at whatever else anyone else does.
Football is about armies and the attendant rivalries, the derby matches that bring out the fire in a fanbase. Every club has a hated rival, and that’s part of the glory and beauty of the game. But that’s fire. Not bile. Real Madrid got an offside goal? So what. Barça will, as well. As long as the team takes care of its own business, who cares what anyone else does?
As Marvin Gaye sang,
And I don’t have time to think about
What makes the flowers grow
And I’ve never given it a second thought
To where the rivers flow
Don’t you know I, I’m thinking about my baby
I ain’t got time for nothin’ else