Curses!

This is a guest post by Peter Peychinov, who graciouly tossed thls gem over the transom. Do you believe? You should believe?

I’ve often struggled with the idea of a curse, or rather the concept. What about pre-determination? Are we guided by invisible lines, a pre-written script that we execute like automatons? Maybe we should ask Red Sox fans and their famous Bambino curse. What is a curse? Who threw the curse, why did it stick? More importantly, how do you break the curse?

As the innocent hand of a football club representative (I know, right?) handled the ball and the host opened it to read aloud “Real Sociedad”, I’m sure some of us knew what would follow. “FC Barcelona.” I knew it, even if I didn’t, because there were still balls left. FC Barcelona. At Anoeta. The cursed stadium. Why did it have to be Anoeta? Do you know it will be the ninth visit of that stadium since the last Barça victory there? Do you know it’s been 9 years and counting since that last victory? Does it feel like a curse? Oh, and it starts at 9:15 pm Spanish time. How about now?

It wasn’t always like that. In the primordial ages when Messi was the long-haired streak that dismantled Getafes and was learning from Ronaldinho to become the best player that the world has seen, when the Argentine magic that makes us lose our breath, scream like maniacs and refuse to believe what our eyes are telling us was still an occasional sparkle, back when Puyol still hadn’t kissed the captain’s armband in that match, Barcelona won for the last time against Real Sociedad. Goals by Iniesta and Eto’o. Real Sociedad was relegated at the end of that season, after 40 consecutive years in Primera División.

Real Sociedad started their own private version of hell, trying to come back. For two years they reached and missed the chance to get back in La Liga. Turmoil followed, presidents resigned, were elected and fell, as the lack of money forced the club to enter administration. The wait in purgatory ended on the penultimate match day in 2010, when the club became Champions of Segunda division, just months after celebrating the club´s centenary. What a beautiful story, right? Not for culers, it seems.

Since coming back to Primera, Real Sociedad has become the curse of Barcelona, the Kryptonite of the team that won so many trophies we’ve come to consider them not just the norm, but the minimum. Something always happens, something inexplicably randomly merciless clicks every time Barcelona goes to that cold cauldron of misery and suffering. Two points in seven years, that’s the total haul of Barcelona’s legendary teams. Always something, and with the pass of times it has been more and more ridiculous. A loss after a two-goal lead in 2012-13, with the winner in the closing seconds of added time. 2013-14 was even more ridiculous – Song own goal, bad pass by Bartra … The great debacle of Anoeta in 2015, which saw the fall of Zubi was an own goal, an unstoppable header by Barça´s resident squirrel. How is it that a 1.65m wingback manages to shoot a bullet in his own net when he´s surrounded by players that top him by a head? How? How is it that Pique does not jump to claim a cross and leaves his rival free to head home?

Although there’s another side to the story – a couple of months ago Barça was played off the camp by a rampaging Real Sociedad. It was a disaster, and Barcelona was saved by the ref, who invalidated a legal goal by Real Sociedad. And still, it involved The Curse, with Masche slipping and Pique deflecting a ball in the net, a ball he would 99 out of 100 times manage to clear off the goal line.

It does feel like a curse. But here’s the thing – Real Sociedad are not just any team. Right now they are in fifth place, just two points below Atletico Madrid and above Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao and Celta. Are those names familiar? Maybe, just maybe, those Basque men up north make their own luck? Maybe, just maybe they are not a team that somehow wins against Barça, but a team that has spirit, guts resolve and all those qualities that in the 90 minutes on a cold Thursday night can make the difference between a loss and victory. What if that´s a team that takes pride in being a nasty, tough opponent that´s not awed by names?

Maybe there´s a curse. Ask the Red Sox fans. Ask the fans of the Cubs and their Billy Goat curse. I don´t know. They will tell you all about those curses – and now hear this: both the Red Sox and the Cubs won the baseball championship known for some reason as the “World Series”. Their curses broke.

Curses break. Believe it. Believe it as strongly as you believed that Barça would win last season when for many it seemed that something would click and the double-digit point lead in La Liga would melt and someone else would lift the trophy. Believe it like you believed at Mestalla. Believe it like you believed against Athletic, against Atletico after Anoeta, against Milan.
Curses break. It’s our turn now.

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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.

26 Comments

  1. georgjorge
    January 19, 2017

    The Curse is broken! Rejoice!

    After a strong beginning, it became an incredibly scrappy game, not least due to the referee refusing to hand out cards for any number of fouls that needed them.

    Low points: Neymar running alone at the goalkeeper and not even forcing him to make a save as he rolled the ball gently into his hands. Busquets somehow thinking he could outplay three opponents on his own as the last man inside his own box, then doing a ridiculous dive to get a call. But – The Curse is broken, and the team can now roam the earth freely again (hopefully including Rafinha somewhere along the way).

    • Davour
      January 19, 2017

      Yes. But high points: they did not have one single shot on goal, and our first half (when Iniesta was still healthy) didn’t look too bad, despite some kick n’ run. Umtiti and Piqué is a massive CB partnership – I don’t care about early hick-ups. We did not miss the penalty!

      Messi disappeared, but that happens when we have no control whatsoever. But a lovely move to get that FK.

      A good fight; the team worked hard – and a great result!

    • georgjorge
      January 19, 2017

      No shot on goal? Wow. La Real looked threatening at times but there really weren’t too many clear-cut chances (apart from the possible tap-in which was wrongly ruled offside).

      You are right of course. I would prefer beautiful combination play and the ball being walked into the net each game, but it also takes a lot to win such a scrappy match and keep them from creating chances on their own.

      Also, Gomes hinted at what he could bring to the team with some deft footwork and forward runs (though he also showed what he still has to learn with some atrocious passes which created real danger for Barca).

  2. luisthebeast
    January 19, 2017

    It did nt seems to me that we wanted to spend much energy to this game.Except one setpiece,the wrong offside call, we were ok at defense.There were also 2 penalties for us,Neymar and handball in Pique shoot and Illaramendi could ended the game with 4 yellows.It s not like Sociedad deserved anything.I hope Iniesta have not something serious.Suarez and Busi needs rest.

  3. ooga aga
    January 19, 2017

    Word is that Don Andres had some small discomfort which led to his substitution at the half, he will be evaluated tomorrow in Barcelona.

  4. TITO
    January 20, 2017

    You can say whatever you want, but we had a great game last night.
    They had 0 shots on our goal, at their ground, which itself is unbelievable.
    Was not a beautiful game, but had plenty of other aspects of the game. We run, we fought, we intercept, we gave them little of their own medicine for them to see how it feels, and i i am absolutely delighted by the play, and the final result of course.
    This is how i want the team sometimes to respond at some hostile grounds, to show more guts and when you combine that with the talent, the result most come.

  5. ooga aga
    January 20, 2017

    Don Andres out for the Eibar match. Hopefully that’s the only one that he misses.

  6. Jim
    January 20, 2017

    I quite enjoyed that last night . Felt comfortable throughout but especially in the first half when with Iniesta, Messi and Busi inter passing very well there was a good flow to the way we moved up the pitch together. Loved the way Suarez wasn’t happy with the closing down as he went to press and waved everyone forward. Got a bit more fractured second half but the effort was there throughout. When you factor in the difficulty of this game ( thanks for the article Peter. Always good to hear your thoughts) we did exactly what we needed to do. LE as well, just as I was shouting at the TV that the defence was starting to leave a gap to the mids which would have harmed the closing down, was up and screaming at them in his bobble hat !

    Players who caught my eye : Cillessen who I thought passed pretty well under pressure at times, Gomes, in flashes showed more promise than I was expecting but equally demonstrated some of the concerns I still have and for me, Neymar had a great game stopping the ball a LOT less and committing defenders earlier than he has been. Tireless work again in defence as we noted previously. If he continues like this, goals will come for him. Doesn’t mean I’m giving him a pass for the exaggerated fall with the keeper. Just nobody falls that way when flicked by a hand. The horrible commentator I had who was working with an Irish guy who I didn’t think much of got it right for me ( unexpectedly) when he said if the contact brings you down its a penalty if it doesn’t and you go down its simulation.

    The Messi thing is weird. He has the same cold eyed ability to get fired up but not lose it in confrontations that he does in his football. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone booked for time wasting in the first half of a two legged tie, I was scared when I saw him buttonholing the ref at the half time whistle ( who is the old guy who shepherds our players away in those situations? ) but he was able to do it pretty coolly. I averted my eyes when he stood over the FK but have to praise the ref there. It’s just a disgrace that players deliberately try to get players booked that way especially when they’ve raised their whistle which is a sign he doesn’t want it taken quickly so he can sort out his position first. You have to say, though, that if the ref had wanted to, he had the opportunity.

    I’m starting to get really excited about our CB partnership. Yes it should have happened earlier and yes, Umtiti will make errors but he is gonna be a big player for us in the future.

    So a good night for me all round. Btw, good luck to our friends across the pond on their big day. Sitting watching it as I write. Tbh, it’s the first one ( in a long life that goes all the way back to JFK , in b/w for younger readers, on TV ! ) I’ve felt a little emotional about .

    • ooga aga
      January 20, 2017

      Real Sociedad players been making angry comments that Messi shoulda been red carded, though I understand that Messi actually brought the guy the ball and the latter then kicked it at Messi, which is absurd.

      With regard to your last bit Jim, i want to apologize on behalf of everyone here for what is about to happen. I know nobody who supported him except my reactionary 80yr old father, and nobody i know knows anyone who supported him, so we are scratching our heads and crossing our fingers that our worst fears won’t come to pass.

  7. Jim
    January 20, 2017

    Not your fault, Ooga. ( More the 42% who heard but didn’t vote) and we need now to judge on actions rather than the (vile) campaign. We don’t dwell ( rightly) on politics here . I was and am more lamenting the loss of a gracious , classy human being from the office, devoid of any considerations of policies.

    I do worry about the fallout when some people realise the difference between words and actions, between human decency and unacceptable arrogance and I can only hope we embrace the need to educate our children to be able to tell the difference in the future. I was hoping that today would mark a change but , having heard the inaugural speech my confidence is diminished.

    ( Kxevin, please delete if you think inappropriate ).

  8. January 20, 2017

    That match was an alley fight, of the kind Barça usually comes out on the wrong side of at away grounds. People are snarling about aesthetics. Bugger ’em. That W was beautiful.

    Highlights for me were Cillessen, Neymar still being in beast mode and Gomes continuing to improve, almost with every outing now. Suarez was MIA, and I found it fun when Messi got riled up. You don’t see it often.

    Umtiti is the business. I do hope the Lemos rumors are true. He impressed hell out of me last weekend. He apparently said no to us last season because he wanted more playing time. But with, possibly, Mascherano and Mathieu moving on this summer, team will have 3 CBs in Pique, Umtiti and Marlon. One more with some experience would be useful.

    • Mishti
      January 20, 2017

      I am with you on the alley fight thing. For many many years I had hoped that Barca would give as good as they got and fight fire with fire in certain situations. One of the reasons I love LE is that he seems to have brought that to the team.

  9. dl
    January 20, 2017

    OT — couldn’t bear to listen to the speech and fro Jim’s comments it was a good decision. I repeat all other’s apologies for the next 4 years, and hope for the best.
    I enjoyed the game less and less as it went on, but did respect the spirit shown. Normally when Messi gets angry he channels it nicely into the game, but not this time, where he seemed to be almost self destructive. A sign he really is human, I guess.
    There were a couple of cringe worthy errors be gomes, umtiti and others, but they need to make these mistakes and be able to recover, so in that sense it was a character building match. Class by umtiti to get stomped in the face and just get up and get back to business — he’s one cool customer and, mark my words, a future captain.

  10. Davour
    January 21, 2017

    Watching a some of RM-Malaga. Ramos brace from set pieces, apart from that, Malaga looked pretty good. That is quite a weapon they have there, with Kroos and Ramos, a remedy for poor displays. We have Messi’s FKs of course, but I can’t help but to feel we should be a slightly greater threat from corners and FKs with the players we have – Umtiti, Piqué, Gomes, Rakitic, Suarez, Busi are all tall enough. We have fixed the defensive deficiencies from set pieces pretty well, not yet found the attacking efficiency, though. I’m thinking Umtiti simply has to start scoring sooner or later with that fantastic jump. But I guess it can’t be taught, that instinct; Ramos has the sixth sense of a poacher. Still… many have complained LE seems to prefer taller, stronger players (Denis?) – those players’ move, then.

    • Davour
      January 21, 2017

      And then Stoke-Man U. Immediate drop of technical level; these guys have nothing on Malaga! Zlatan and Pogba so far failing the “Messi-test” away at Stoke on a winter’s afternoon.

    • georgjorge
      January 21, 2017

      I usually don’t watch the Premier League much, but I’m looking at the second half of Man City – Tottenham now. And it seems that apart from the quality of his players, Guardiola really must struggle with the differences regarding refereeing. Within twenty minutes Raheem Sterling is clearly fouled twice in the box – one of those occasions also a clear red for the defender – and nothing gets called. Several other incidents (on both sides of the pitch). Hard to outplay the opponent with the passing game when the opponent can just shove you off the ball.

    • Mishti
      January 21, 2017

      Good point about our attacking threat from corners, usually our corners are pretty disappointing to be honest.

  11. January 22, 2017

    Guys, this is one reason why Barcelona has always struggled against Real Sociedad – physical superiority of Real Sociedad players, amplified by permissive referees.

    I just checked the players that made the Real Sociedad starting eleven on Thursday – only three of them are under 1.80 m – Carlos Vela 1.77 meters, Elustondo (RB, marked Ney) at 1..78 meters and Illaramendi at 1.79 m. All of the rest, are above 1.80. For comparison, these were the players in the Barcelona starting eleven that were above 1.80 – Pique, Umtiti, Suarez, Rakitic and Busquets – and Busquets is anything but good in the air.

    If a goal from a corner had happened, it would’ve been a miracle under those circumstances. The alternative would be a learned play, a corner to Messi for example. However, I think the team’s been trying to incorporate the new guys first and the set piece plays have been left to the side. Right now the team needs to learn how to sync, how to click together defensively, and then it will be set pieces.

    Not that Unzue is confined to the bench. I’m sure he’s devising plays and just waits for the opportune moment to employ them. For the moment I’d rather the team behaved better in fluid situations like counters or loss of possession in the first third – the defence are often caught ball watching. This will improve, of course, but it takes time.

    • Davour
      January 22, 2017

      Oh, absolutely agree – those aspects you mention are way more important for our game. I was just reflecting on how our defensive improvements could perhaps spill over on attack, too. I mean RM does not have that many tall players at the moment – CR, Benzema, Ramos, Nacho, perhaps Casemiro. But they have other woes, of course…

      Will be interesting to see if Vidal gets a start tonight and if we can keep up the grit while adding a little elegance even without the meastro.

  12. Jim
    January 22, 2017

    Good point, Peter. It really is amazing how poor Busi is in the air. Don’t think he’s scared, he just seems to have no jump. I wouldn’t say Unzue has been idle though. I thought the response when we lose the ball and transition into defence was much better in this game. The nearest couple attack the ball and win it back / stall but watch the rest dash to take up their defensive positions goalside of the ball. Me likey !

  13. georgjorge
    January 22, 2017

    Line-Up: Mathieu giving Pique a rest, Arda and Rakitic in midfield.

    I have to say I’m not a fan of the midfield rotations from Enrique. Giving Iniesta a rest is well, and it doesn’t have to be the same XI every game, but there hardly have been two midfielders (besides Busquets) playing together for two games in a row. Rafinha did well, then didn’t play for some time, did well again, no play again. Gomes is tried out, then not, again, then not. Same for Suarez Minor. I get that all of them except Rakitic are new to the team, so it becomes a matter of getting to know them, but from the outside I don’t see good performances being rewarded with more playing time, or stable relationships being forged on the pitch.

    Who is this guy here making pointless complaints about the line-up before the game has started anyway? Sorry for the rant, just has been bothering me. As usual, can’t wait for the game to start!

  14. Jim
    January 22, 2017

    Don’t think anyone can object to Pique getting a rest. Guy must be out on his feet and carrying quite a few minor niggles. I suppose some will moan about Mathieu. I’m pleased to see him getting a start. He has suffered badly from injuries over the last while and, rustiness apart, I reckon he can perform pretty well with Umtiti. He has some problems playing with Masche and his frequent disappearances but both he and Umtiti stay at home . On the other hand, can this midfield keep them away from the defence ?

    Looking forward to it.

  15. Jim
    January 22, 2017

    Bugger. Torn ligaments (?) for Busi. That’s six weeks if it is. Rakitic to DM ? Pretty makeshift now.

    • Mishti
      January 22, 2017

      Sprained, apparently, not torn. They say 10-15 days.

  16. georgjorge
    January 22, 2017

    Damn, that Busquets injury…

    Honestly, I don’t know why Messi still bothers with his curveballs from the right side into the box anymore. They are brilliant, but whoever gets on the end of them this match – Arda, Neymar – can’t seem to ever put the ball in the back of the net.

    First goal for Suarez minor, and a good one! He got there before Mascherano (but then who didn’t).

  17. Davour
    January 22, 2017

    First: sure hope Busi is ok. I hear about 4 weeks absence. Bright side: Rakitic was very good in the DM role; to me, best I’ve seen him this season. And if Vidal remains an option, SR has shown he can do the job, too (but he had a quite poor game at RB; not in a good place, of late; seems to suffer not having a RW outlet). And Arda did fine after a shaky start, while I feel Denis, despite the goal, hardly impressed.

    Neymar got his goal, which is good because it obviously bothers him. But it shouldn’t really. Anyone who watches the game can see that he is an attacking mid, rather than forward, in many respects. A sort of flexibel 442, it seems.

    And Messi. My god.

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