This is a guest post from Sarthak Kumar, host of The Spanish Football Show. He also writes for Blaugranes Barça, and is a passionate supporter of Rayo Vallecano. Look him up on Twitter @Vallecanos1924
I envy you.
Yes, you – the Barcelona fan sitting behind the screen. The fan of a team with ungodly sums of money, with a team that rarely ever loses, a team that has won so many trophies that you may actually get bored from winning (yes, that was a Donald Trump quote). Maybe you already are.
I was one of you – I wasn’t on Twitter bashing every player that made a couple of errors. But I enjoyed the flicks and skills that looked amazing but seemed mundane because of their frequency. And won trophies.
I remember those magical times – I was 15. Naive. Innocent. I looked at those players as the messengers of football. Now these were THE footballers. The crème de la crème. The very best.
I thought I was supporting the best club in the world. A club that always won.
Somewhere at the start of the 2013-14 season, a man came to Barcelona by the name of Tata Martino. And I was loving the start to the season – the team was playing really well, and everything seemed to go be going amazingly well. The flicks, the skills, the amazing football. AND they’d only gone ahead and signed someone who personified all those things – Neymar. Everything seemed right.
And then it happened.
I’ll never forget that date: September 21st, 2013. It seemed perfect, Barcelona against a weaker opponent that had finished eighth the previous season but not qualified for Europe due to financial difficulties, and as a result lost the team’s top three goalscorers. What could go wrong?
The score finished 4-0, but as many Barcelona fans know, Barcelona was out-possessed by Rayo Vallecano, the poorest side in the division. I’ll admit to having been impressed by Rayo’s achievements the season before, but my mind was just processing the fact that Barcelona had just won. Three points in the bag. Routine.
Maybe because I was 15, or maybe because I hadn’t seen anything like it, but what came next confused me immensely. Criticism, from all sides, about how Barcelona’s 45% possession was bad somehow. Criticism at a level I had never seen before. And it wasn’t just this match — it was throughout the season — but the Rayo match had taken it to another level.
I honestly thought it was akin to racism. My mind thought that because he wasn’t from Spain exactly, he was being held to a different standard than if he had been Spanish or Catalan. Emmanuel Petit came out last year saying that Barcelona’s Catalanism verges on racism, and it makes me wonder why Luis Enrique didn’t get the same stick when Barcelona had less possession against Rayo. Or in the UCL semifinal against Bayern. Or against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final. And so I left, thinking that this wasn’t the kind of club I wanted to support. Turns out I wasn’t totally wrong.
I don’t miss supporting Barcelona anymore. Maybe because I wanted to experience something different. Loss, for example (I’m quite dark like that). Struggle. A stronger connection with the footballers on the pitch. Something more modern and human. But in the years of following this blog, I do enjoy the discussions that happen here.
I laughed when there was a huge discussion about transfer fees, and whether Douglas was a waste of money. I support Rayo Vallecano now, a club whose record transfer fee is EUR 2 million. It amazes me how little money that is for Barcelona, yet how much people care about it. It’s like if I just went and bought a Starbucks. (To be fair, it wasn’t that great). But when our best right back left, I genuinely wanted Douglas at Rayo. Not even kidding.
I can’t believe it when the club looks at the stadium you currently have – the largest, most good-looking stadium for a club in Europe – and thinks to itself that it needs a bigger one. And no one bats an eyelid. Getting a new, expensive stadium should be a topic of discussion for days and months on end. Meanwhile, the seats in the Estadio de Vallekas are scraped, old and broken. And there are just three stands – the fourth side is a giant wall with advertising on it (Donald Trump – that’s how you pay for a wall).
I find it amazing that fans can take a win like just another random thing that happens. A win is beautiful! It’s a milestone in itself. It’s almost cute that when Rayo wins, the fans give a standing ovation to the players (sometimes even when they lose but play really well), the club releases extra videos of fans cheering, because we know it is rare and precious. Not too long ago our former coach once said that Rayo would lose more or less half the time and safety from the drop meant winning enough of the remaining games.
I find it puzzling how fans are so quick to criticize their manager, and for tactics of all things. Sometimes it feels like suppoorters forget that he is a professional football coach. Sure, criticize his tactics, because you surely know more than someone who’s studied tactics for years and has a degree in tactics and player management you don’t possess. That makes total sense.
There’s one thing I can relate to though, and that’s your board. Covering up profits? Check. Eroding the club’s identity? Check – our board recently bought a franchise in Oklahoma, the one place where LGBT rights are not allowed (a cause Rayo supports and donates kit sales to). The Rayo board has eroded away at what this club represents, and lost money because of it. Sounds familiar, I know.
I’m not attacking you as a Barcelona fan. It’s my reaction to years of reading this blog and taking an outsider’s look at Barcelona Twitter. And no, this isn’t to get you to start becoming Rayo fans, or for me to vent my frustration at our board (#PresaVeteYa). And no, I’m not supporting Donald Trump. But, for some odd reason, I do want you fans to know how privileged you are. Barcelona is the best football team in the world. Don’t let that be taken away from you, and don’t take it away from yourselves.
Especially now. Especially when you understand the contrasts at play in this year’s Copa del Rey final. Recently promoted Deportivo Alavés will be Barcelona’s opponents, but for Barcelona it could have been just another club in their place. Guess what – I would KILL for Rayo to be in the quarterfinals, which hasn’t happened in 15 years. Alavés reached the final as a result of a goal from a player who cost nothing, with a squad hastily assembled from players who cost little to nothing, and with fans who couldn’t quite believe what had happened, while Barcelona fans whine about Lucho and transfers and being one point behind Real Madrid.
Kevin and I did a podcast together, where he was talking about how many Barcelona fans have this “petulant entitlement.” I love that phrase, because it captures that need for something to be better than it already is even if it’s doing amazingly well from a sporting standpoint. That desire for something to be better than perfect. And that you deserve it, too.
You’re supporting a club that is at its peak, and you are in a position to demand even more, without a care in the world for the inevitability that sometime in the future Barcelona won’t be winning trophies with such frequency.
Just a little part of me really does envy you.