Barça, origin theory and crisis evolution

A zillion years ago, as a wee bloke in an advanced physics class, there was a quandary for us.

The class was taught by a Catholic monk, at a school named after another monk, Gregor Mendel, who was a scientist. One day, we asked our teacher, Father Nicholas, as he was teaching Big Bang theory and the origin of man, how he reconciled his faith with the science that he taught. He smiled, and said, “No matter what origin theory you believe in, where did the first bit of matter come from? That is where my faith comes in.”

Barça is also a fascinating example of origin theory. The team is playing well enough to win, but isn’t playing well. Everyone has answers, some simple, some complicated, some player based, some coach based, even a few that are board based. One commentator on BeIN Sports even suggested that Barça lacked mental fortitude. Yet as with all of them, we run into the problem that the physics teacher, Father Nicholas, resolved with his faith:

What is the origin of the problem?

One theory is that Luis Enrique is a terrible coach, and the players have been doing it for themselves. “Lucho Out” is the rallying cry for this contingent but here is the problem with that origin theory, along with a picture of my proposed next Barça coach, if their theory is sound:

ben

This is Bemjamin, an adorable pygmy goat who has achieved social media fame. He’s cute, he frolics. If the players are doing it for themselves, why give some dude millions of dollars to sit on the bench and wave his arms around? Benjamin would do it for somthing to climb on, some milk, oats and hay. The club would save lots of money, and the players wouldn’t have the impediment of some jackass telling them what to do. They could cuddle Benjamin when things got difficult, and everything would be fine.

Another theory is that the problem is systemic, that Barça isn’t playing the right way. Once they play the right way, in the hands of the right coach, glory will follow. So here’s another great idea, and a picture of the proposed Barça roster, once the right coach is hired.

fire

The Chicago Fire is the local MLS franchise. I like these dudes, because they’re local, and they don’t win shit. But with the right coach, stand back. And they’re cheap. No need for millions and millions paid to the likes of Messi, Iniesta, Neymar and Suarez. You could get ALL of these guys for the salary of a Gomes. And there would be plenty of money left for the nou Nou, which would be festooned with trophies because the team would be winning them now that it was finally, finally playing the Right Way.

Every origin theory has a flaw. You can’t believe that the players have been doing it for themselves, and scream Lucho Out. You can’t worship at the altar of the system and clamor for the right coach playing the right system. A lot of Barça supporters weren’t around during the last days of Frank Rijkaard. It will shock few of you that people were screaming at me back then as well, for the pronouncements that the team still had a chance, that it wasn’t over until it was over, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary.

That was a psychologically damaged team, hamstrung by its catalyst wasting his gifts on dance floors and nightclubs. It was also a team that, because of that damage, would find ways to lose. It was crazy to watch that group shoot itself in the foot, week after week. In a strange way, it was magnificent. There was one match where the team went to the wondrous 5-3-2 formation, pressing for a win. Then somebody got red carded, and suddenly all of the wrong personnel were on the pitch. This situation doesn’t feel exactly like those days, but it’s close. A group of extraordinary athletes seem bereft of confidence.

People say that any man in the top 20 on the tennis circuit could be No. 1, but what separates the top players from the rest is confidence. Djokovic knows he is going to make that shot. He doesn’t even hesitate. Those same people say the beginning of the end for Federer was when his shots starting having margin for error. The fading of belief manifests itself in strange ways. Look at the shot Messi took when he hit the post. Notice how he measured that shot, took all the time in the world to line it up, then hit the post. Last year, Messi just smokes that shot past Asenjo, and rushes over to celebrate with his teammates. Another golazo.

When Villarreal scored their goal, Busquets stood there, uncertain of what to do for a crucial second. Pique chose to backpedal instead of attacking. Iniesta is forcing passes, Suarez is taking one touch too many, Neymar is hesitating when he shouldn’t be — the signs are everywhere of a team with damaged confidence and self belief. It takes a lot to come back from that, the kind of a coaching job that will be the truest test of Luis Enrique and his assistants. Unfortunately, it’s also a job for which he, with his reserve, might be ill-suited. Part of why Pep Guardiola worked was the belief not just in the team and system, but in him. Does anyone think the entire team would rush into a scrum were Ronaldo to shove Luis Enrique? But recall that incendiary moment from the legendary Manita Classic. That team was ready to go to war for its coach.

At times when the Chicago Bulls were in their halcyon days, they would struggle during a game. More often than not the team’s coach, Phil Jackson, would sit on the bench with his arms folded, confidient that he had given his players the knowledge and the power to work it out themselves. They knew what to do. They just had to do it. When Luis Enrique sits on the bench as his team wrestles with an opponent, what is he saying, and what do we want him to say? He’s saying to his players, “Work it out. I have confidence that you will.” We want him to leap to his feet, gesticulate, tell players who have played hundreds of matches at the highest level what to do, when they already know what to do. They just have to do it.

Confidence puts an athlete on the top of the world when they have it, and brings them down to earth when they don’t. Is confidence the equivalent of that original ball of matter? Origin theory. Ter Stegen holds the ball because nobody is moving, then forces a pass which a midfielder struggles with because his lack of movement has made it easier for a marker to track him, but he still manages to control and force a pass to a man who is double covered because a stagnant attack means there are free defenders everywhere, so that man loses the ball and the opponent is off on a counter which is met by a hesitant defense that defaults to chasing the ball rather than what it knows. Goal.

Look at how a single counter goal completely changed the demeanor of Barça, both against Athletic and Villarreal. That’s a sign of a fragile team, a team that is expecting snakes to bite it. Pique ranted at the head of La Liga for the penalty calls that don’t come Barça’s way at key times. It was a boss move. Another boss move would have been to charge and shut Pato down in the center circle. The team right now is like a game of Jenga, and opponents are pulling out blocks, one at a time. Note the number of times Neymar faced 2 or 3 defenders against Villarreal, with nowhere to play the ball except backward for relief, because Messi was in midfield and Suarez was standing around somewhere on the right. We all remember when a vibrant, confident Suarez was running around, blasting toward Neymar to set up a give-and-go. Things are different now.

A coach doesn’t say to his team, okay guys, get out there and suck. He doesn’t train them to suck. They deal with potential match sitautions in training, including a loss of possession at a key spot on the pitch. But in a match, when all the pressure is on is different than in training. In training, Busquets probably darts over to stop the outlet pass, Pique probably rushes in to delay and harry the solo attacker in the center of the pitch. Maybe. Probably.

Every last origin theory is flawed, which is why it’s such a roiling debate. Religions believe one thing, science believes a host of others and the debate is heated, like the origin of this Barça situation. As with origin theory, there is no one answer.

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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.

16 Comments

  1. TITO
    January 9, 2017

    Just wanna say few words so i write my position on LE and what i think about the fans wanting him out. If you get offended,so be it.
    Only a gloryhunter fan would want Lucho out in the middle of the season after two very very successful seasons previously.
    Cant you just wait until May to talk nonsense? He may deliver a trophy, he may not, lets just wait and see. I’ve said it on multiple ocassions. We are not playing bad, just that the results are not in our favor. Especially some home results which divide us on points from RM.
    So, be patient.
    It is not our divine right to be Zoolander of football all the time, every season, until eternity.

  2. Hamid
    January 9, 2017

    Another science theory that comes to mind is RELATIVITY. Under which law is Barça supposed to ALWAYS win in grounds as tough as El Madrigal, San Mamés and Anoeta? Which law prescribes that Barça should win la Liga, la Copa and the Champions’ League every season? In the absence of such Absolutes, one would contend that things are not as bad as they look. The team has just wrapped up 2 historic seasons and deserves to suck for a change. The problem is that passion dictates otherwise.
    My passion tells me that Barça’s worst enemy is Barça. My passion makes me lose a few pounds whenever the team plays. My passion turns the joy of a win into “I want more” and the sadness of a loss into “The end is near”.
    In a comment in the previous post, Kxevin noted that passion should be balanced with common sense. I have been looking for such a balance for more than 25 years now. I haven’t found it yet. And it’s OK!

    • georgjorge
      January 9, 2017

      I agree with everything you said wholeheartedly.

      One perspective – the “demanding” one – is to see FC Barcelona as THE team. The best players in the world at the best club in the world – why can’t they even be first in La Liga right now? How can they concede goals against a club like Villareal?

      Another perspective is to see FC Barcelona as a big club among other big clubs (and some smaller but very well-prepared ones). They win more than most teams, play astonishing football and have brilliant players, but they are not in any way entitled to outplay and outscore the opposition in every game, so it’s pretty nice when they manage to do it.

      While I obviously try to take more of the second perspective, I want to add that this is just a general observation, not connected to tactical discussions or discussions about personnel (like Enrique). Those discussions are important to have, but I feel they are at times too much overshadowed by the first perspective I mentioned.

  3. luisthebeast
    January 9, 2017

    I must agree with last 2 comments.We lost the joy of winning.I was very critical after the game but i feel stupid now.We played at a stadium that never is easy against a v good team.We did ok.The game against Alaves and the last minute goal at clasico is what made the damage.The team have problems but we cant win every game.

  4. Mishti
    January 10, 2017

    Agree, agree, agree. May be we can invoke another law, the law of SCARCITY in Economics, which says that value is derived from the fact that something is scarce. I guess that partly explains the paradoxical devaluation of success that has been brought about by a glut of success over the last decade.

    One of my colleagues is an Arsenal fan, and we were talking football this afternoon. The Preston game came up, he said “you know we could have been down by 3 in the first half” and just started laughing. I looked at him and wished I could recognize something like the Celta Vigo game as what it actually was, a laughable performance, rather than an incendiary one. Hamid says, the team has earned the right to suck. Yes, for sure. LE says, his players are not vending machines where you put in coins and coca-cola comes out. True. Every now and then I should just enjoy having a team that can even justify such absurd expectations. Is there another team in the world that gives its fans a pretext to expect a treble every season?

    • RT
      January 10, 2017

      Yes, sometimes we just lack that sense of humour about the situation. The Celta Vigo game was indeed laughable. We are too busy being outraged and disappointed. We need to chill a bit and enjoy the game, be pleasantly surprised once in a while.
      Kxevin often has this theme, that we are too used to success in the current era, that part of the wonder and joy of the game is playing well/winning when you’re not expecting it/feeling entitled to it. I try to keep that in mind!

  5. Tata2
    January 10, 2017

    So what if the priority this time around isn’t la liga but UCL? I agree that things aren’t right at the moment, and that the mistakes of the past(the Alaves and Real Madrid games) may (or may not) come back to hurt us by May. Personally, I have this strong feeling that Real Madrid can’t go on like this till end of the season, they will hit a slump sooner or later. However, the onus is on us to not fall too further behind right now.

    On another note, like I suggested earlier, if Kevin feels the blame is on the players and not LE, cos they are not playing to instructions (this may just be an assumption) then here in lies the blame on LE. Why continue playing players who ignore your instructions??? that’s a manager without balls. Mourinho (inasmuch as we hate him) doesn’t mind to step on players toes if need be, he could sub you in and sub you out in the same match if you aren’t playing to his instructions, he could even make first half substitutions if a player isn’t playing to instructions. Yes it has upset team unity severally and cost him his jobjob, but he does always send a message that he’s the one who is in charge not you. But here we are, LE keeps on playing same players who according to Kevin, don’t obey his instructions, gets same results only for Kevin to come here and exonerate him each time. If he can’t stamp his authority on the team then he’d better leave.

    • Yaredinho
      January 10, 2017

      Since you used Mou as example, can you please provide some incidents that Mou benched/replaced Ronaldo in three years? (you can ignore my question if you don’t believe Ronaldo’s work rate/obeying coach’s instruction is/was not sub par let alone to Mou’s standard but also to any competent coach’s standard)

  6. Davour
    January 10, 2017

    I believe it is healthy to assume the kind of reflective position many have here – understanding that winning is not a given. At the same time we must of course be able to discuss what is ailing – that is in many ways the joy of being a supporter – as long we don’t lose all balance – AND the joy of watching individual moments of fantastic football, despite not always leading to goals and silver. I guess part of our frustration comes from the knowledge what these players are capable of – we know there is potential to play wonderfully, to score beautiful goals and win everything, we have seen it many times! So, why is it not happening now? I guess that is the “problem” of human beings; we are not problems with one solution; we are not made of math and logic, but flesh and blood.

    I am a teacher, used to guide groups through different tasks, to try to inspire and enable collaboration, balance egos and try to lift those who struggle, etc. I am blessed with a large number of hard working and quite gifted students who are capable of brilliance and great effort. Sometimes we have wonderful classes where everything clicks; other times nothing works well – not catastrophe, only a sense of “meh…” I know I am able to instruct, explain and inspire, and I know they are able to understand and contribute. So, why does not every lesson produce wonderful results? Of course, we are not paid millions of euros, but even so it is not ambition or ability that is missing, it is…something else, many little things, impossible to properly quantify, that skew the group dynamic. I am a little tired, setting the mood wrong? Are the students fresh in from a difficult test? etc. etc.

    We have been blessed beyond proportion. Perhaps a little adversity will do us all some good.

    • RT
      January 10, 2017

      I like your comment very much Davour. You’re so right about our frustration coming from our knowledge that our players can do so much better! So many times you think, why is Messi so glorious sometimes and so invisible at others (well, often the reports of Messi being bad are grossly exaggerated, but that’s another topic)? We all know the type of player he is, the player Ney is, what he can do. How can Iniesta have made such a terrible pass or Busi been so ineffective? All these can be answered by saying they’re humans, not machines!
      Anyway, just wanted to say I liked your thoughtful comment. I especially like your last line about adversity. I feel certain that that’s true. Of course you’re a teacher, one of the most important and underrated professions!

      • Davour
        January 11, 2017

        Thanks, RT. Appreciate it. I guess I feel I myself has woken up from a slumber where I barely felt happen when the team was scoring (unless it was a last minute grace), but infinitely annoyed when they conceded – in other words, expected winning, rather than hoped for it. Entitlement…

        • Davour
          January 11, 2017

          *have woken up (teacher, after all…)

  7. Jim
    January 10, 2017

    Could I just second RT’s comment ?

    No, silly, not the one about balance – the one about teachers. 🙂

    • RT
      January 10, 2017

      Haha Jim, are you a teacher too? How unsurprising!

      • barca96
        January 11, 2017

        If I could answer on his behalf, yes he is a teacher but retired now.

        • Jim
          January 11, 2017

          Thanks, Barca96. Was away getting involved in real life ( on the golf course!)

          RT, yes I used to be a teacher , then a deputy head at a large Secondary school but gave it all up to pursue a promising golf career ( at the age of 60 :). )

          Again, looking forward to the real us showing up tonight. Surprised at the choice of keeper even as I realise if he doesn’t play this sort of game he won’t play at all brave d vision by LE as he’s gonna have to be good with his feet.

          Should I read anything into the continued absence of Rakitic ? Not even I need this much rest . . .

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