Aleix Vidal: An underdog story

The rules have been violated. Barça won 0-6 at a difficult away ground, and the players don’t really care a whole lot.

This is what Sergo Busquets had to say:

“Vidal is loved by all of us, this is awful, we feel really bad. Win comes in 2nd place, he comes 1st.”

As Busquets notes, that Vidal tackle destroyed everything good about this match. It was a reprehensible, irresponsible action that violates every aspect of the players’ code of conduct. A professional doesn’t do that to another professional.

Football is a fast, hard, potentially violent game. The thing that keeps it from teetering over the edge into savagery isn’t the officiating, but the players. They are professionals who understand that when you make you living with your body, playing a sport for money, you have a responsibility not only to yourself but to each other. You don’t back off, but you don’t comport yourself in a way that is reckless, that will cause injury.

This is true even if you don’t know that it is going to cause injury. You don’t do a studs-up challenge when an opponent has his leg planted because you understand that you can shatter bones, destroy ligamnets and ruin careers. And every professional knows that “There but for the grace of God go I.” Challenges come in hard and fast. Every now and again, one will cross a line, but those instances are rare.

We saw one when Radja Naingoolan went in hard on Rafinha from behind, and tore the Barça mid’s knee ligaments. And Nainggolan had previously broken an opponent’s leg in two places. It was a violation of the rules that professionals have. You don’t destroy another professional’s ability to make his livelihood.

It’s sport. You play hard, you go hard. But when you are losing by six goals in the 86th minute, you don’t do that. You just don’t. People will assert that well, you play until the whistle, and blablabla. No. Theo Hernandez had no chance at that ball, no chance of doing anything except destruction. That is what he chose. It was the 86th minute and Vidal was miles from the Alaves goal. All he was looking to do was control the ball and move it along so that the clock could run out, and he and his teammates could return to Barcelona.

In an instant, all of that changed.

Hernandez has said, publicly, that he didn’t mean it, that he will go and see how Vidal is. He already knows how Vidal is. He saw the aftereffect of his savagery. Let’s be clear about this, if you haven’t seen the horror tackle. He went in, JUMPED in with both feet, in a way that made it impossible not to land on the legs of his opponent. When you do that, you don’t care. You might feel bad in the aftermath, but you don’t care at the crucial moment when you should care about the career of another professsional.

No player ever means to injure another player. Intent doesn’t absolve you of reponsibility. That was a vile tackle if the game is in the balance. It is inexecusable and a transgression of every athletic code to maim a fellow competitor when there is nothing to compete for. It isn’t about fairness. It’s about hunanity.

The danger of big clubs going to visit lesser clubs is that lesser players have less margin for error. Mascherano will go in hard, but he has already weighed the situation, and understands how he can make the challenge without destroying. If a player makes a basic slide challenge and an injury results, it’s awful luck. Nobody will ever say that the challenge shouldn’t have been made.

There is nobody in football who would believe that the challenge Hernandez made on Vidal at that point in the match, should have been made. Some will say, “Well, his cleats caught and that made it worse,” and things such as that, ignoring the reality that it should never have happened.

Vidal was a wonderful underdog story, like that team who has been counted out them makes a stunning comeback. He was signed from Sevilla the same season as Arda Turan, another signing that nobody liked. He made some errors, didn’t work hard enough and suddenly stopped making squads. His coach, Luis Enrique, the man sitting on the bench looking like he had just seen someone get shot, said that the rest of Vidal’s Barça career was in his hands. Play up, show up and he will get back in the squad.

That’s what Vidal did. He came on as a sub, and did some damage. He scored a goal, and the cut to the bench showed a scene of joy, one that people mistook for jibes. His teammates were genuinely happy for him, because every player understands not being good enough, then making a liar out of the people who believed that you weren’t.

Luis Enrique said that Vidal had proved him wrong, and the Catalan RB went from no squads to making every squad, and playing well when he did. He scored another goal, nabbed assists, including a lovely one to Luis Suarez for the first Barça goal against Alaves. He scored or assisted in seven of his last eight matches. Many would suggest that he was on the verge of making the RB spot his again. It was a delightful story, one that is potentially over, ended in an instant.

Vidal did his job. He worked hard, worked to correct his errors and was never the subject of a lot of whining in media outlets. His path was always clear, and he worked to get back on it.

Now it’s done. If Vidal is lucky, it is a severe dislocation, which means 8 weeks, conservatively. It would be a bit longer if the ankle was fractured. If the ankle is broken, three months just to get to a point where function is possible, then rehab after that. And it only took a second. The record will reflect nothing of Vidal’s pain. The ref didn’t even ajudge the challenge to be a foul. Play on, except that another human being can’t walk.

This isn’t about subs, or the rest of the season, or what the coaching staff will do. Right now, this is about a human being whose life has been irrevocably altered by the actions of another. And it breaks your heart.

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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.

61 Comments

  1. RT
    February 14, 2017

    I was trying to avoid all football related websites but of course I’m a masochist (I also wanted to stop watching after the third goal but as usual watched till the bitter end). That was not fun at all! Everyone was bad, except maybe Ter Stegen and Neymar right?
    Does anyone think Luis Enrique will be around next season? (not whether he should, but it seems unlikely).
    I really don’t understand what is going on with Rakitic this season. Did Luis Enrique drop him because something is wrong with him fitness-wise or something else? Or is he not playing as well due to not being played as often? Why would he start with Gomes and not Rakitic? Does anyone have any information/theories regarding this?

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