The Joy and the Jayhawk: Watching Barcelona on the Eve of Elimination

During the Barça game on Saturday, I hung out at my parents’ house. I did immensely fun activities like fixed a car seat in my mom’s car. Then I went to get tacos with my family. Solid afternoon, really. Sometimes it takes all of my willpower to not check the score or not read my group chat on Whatsapp in which my friends and I wax lyrical about all things blaugrana, but today I didn’t really even wonder. I’m relaxed about this and maybe that’s just where I am mentally, where sports are just a distraction from reality and not the actual reality.

I mean, okay, so I watched the game after I got home. It’s not like I didn’t watch. My daughter drew at her table nearby and occasionally joined me on the couch for some quick information about the game. When Luis Suarez pinged the ball off the post and then Messi followed that up with his own post shot, the little one wanted to know if my yell meant another goal. My wife told her that no, it meant they hadn’t scored. A few minutes later, she came over to me to point out that we weren’t watching basketball. Then Messi scored his second and the team’s fifth and she wanted to know who he was.

“That’s Lionel Messi. He’s the best soccer player in the world,” I told her.

She shook her head. What kind of sacrilege was this? In my very own home I had an infidel?

I am the best soccer player in the world.”

Oh, well, okay. I can handle that. My wife pointed out we should probably put her on a team if that were the case. My daughter then curled up on me and watched a few minutes, which is about as pleasurable a way to watch sports as there is. Being a parent and a sports fan can weird sometimes, with the need to balance the world, but when the two things combine, it’s just a way to breath deeply and feel a close connection with your little one. We were both rooting for the same team and—

“Which team is Barça?” she asked in the 75th minute. Hmm.

I then paused the game and took my daughter off to brush her teeth and get her ready for bed. Not as a punishment, of course, but because that was the timing involved. Sports are a great way to share things with family and friends—emotions, connections, awkward public rituals involving choreographed chants and matching clothing—but nothing beats reading a book to your kid while she curls up on your lap. Even if it’s the same Babar book time and again. Seriously, though, Babar and Celeste have some issues with hubris, not to mention democracy and I’m not really down with it.

Whoever is the best player, only one of those in the debate will be on the field on Wednesday when Barça takes on PSG in the return leg of what amounts to a dead rubber. 4-0 down going into the second leg is hardly the barrel you want to be staring down and it seems unlikely that Barça will make it out with anything other than an elimination. And you know what? That’s okay.

No, really, it is.

Look, I want Barça to overcome this and make history and win the world and never look back. I want Lucho to be carried through the streets on the team’s shoulders as a tribute to his brilliance. But the problem is that the first leg happened and while I’ll be avoiding all things news related all of Wednesday, running home to have dinner and put my little girl who thinks she’s better than Messi (she is, goddammit, and don’t you say otherwise or I’ll find you) to bed, then I’ll curl up on the couch with (several) cold beer(s) and hope for the best. Yet, throughout the day I expect to be calm rather than over-the-top excited like before the Inter Milan comeback-that-wasn’t or, really, many of the other remuntadas that have happened over the years. Part of it is my age, part of it is my place in life as a dad and husband, part of it is how freaking busy I am at work.

But most of it is the Kansas Jayhawks.

I don’t think it will shock you if I tell you that I love the Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team. It may shock you to know that I am more vociferous in my fandom for KU than I am for Barça, but the truth is that basketball is how I spoke to my dad for all those years when speaking to my dad was tough thanks to youth, hormones, and general adolescence. So I’m more emotional, more connected, in a way, than I am with Barcelona, whose moves I try to analyze somewhat dispassionately. Kansas is just a bunch of kids running around dunking on fools and winning 13 (!) consecutive conference titles. And yet this year, a year in which they’ve ended the regular season as the top ranked team in the country is the year that I have been the least psychotic. Maybe it’s because they keep gutting out wins or maybe it’s because my expectations were not as high as they sometimes are, but whenever we’re down, I just sit back and enjoy the sheer brilliance of the team. And they always come up with the goods. Down for 14 with 3 minutes to go against West Virginia? Win. Down 12 against Oklahoma? Win. Down against Baylor? (Rock) Chalk it up.

The defining feature of all of this has been that this Kansas team is the most fun Kansas team I have ever watched. Certainly under Bill Self, whose M.O. has always been to control the half court and crush the life out of games whenever that benefits him. Maybe he just doesn’t have the tools to do so this year with a 7-man rotation, but whatever it is, I sit down to watch Kansas and I get to watch a thrilling contest. The team just goes out there and does…things. Stuff. Sportsball. They throw alley oops and miss easy passes and hit so many 3s and miss layups and commit stupid fouls. It’s the fun of watching kids on a slip and slide. Even losing to Iowa State at home was fun. You gotta shrug sometimes because every now and then you wake up with a kink in your neck or a stiffness in your legs and the day isn’t quite what you thought it would be.

That’s kind of how I feel about PSG: it was a bad day at the office and it killed the Champions League season, but hey, there’s always next year and anyway we’ve still got Neymar doing all sorts of outrageous things on the left wing and thats just incredible to watch. And oh yeah, that guy Messi is the second best player in the world behind my little girl.

And we might win. 3-1, I’ll say, which will feel tantalizingly close but that 1 goal will mean they’d have to ship 6 total to lose and, well, yeah that’s not going to happen. We can all agree that letting in a single goal completely sinks whatever is left of the ship. Is that how shipwrecks work? Well it is now.

Whatever happens, let’s have the fun we had against Celta. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. And losing always sucks, but there are worse things that can happen and most of them involve watching sports in a bad mood, as if somehow a negative outcome of a match is a reflection on you, on your life choices, or your intelligence. It’s not, don’t worry. We’ve all already judged you for so many other things, as it is. Like how that new haircut totally makes you look like your mom. Which is fine cause your mom is pretty cool, but she’s not a fashion icon. Unless you’re Blue Ivy, in which case, can you please tell your mother I really liked her latest album and maybe can she tweet about how great BFB is and also would she and Queen Serena like to hang out for a day?

As this season winds down over the next few months, let’s try to experience it with joy, with excitement. Let’s go out there and show PSG how many times they can get nutmegged in a single match. And also how many goals they can let in. Hopefully it’s 5. Maybe even 6 just for good measure.

I sure do like Barcelona and I hope they win. I’ll be over here smiling, even if they don’t.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.

13 Comments

  1. xris
    March 7, 2017

    aye. well put.
    there is no pressure because of the previous leg result which should make for fun game. and that might just be the thing needed … 🙂

  2. March 7, 2017

    Great post. Couldn’t agree more, win or lose, I just want them to go out there and play the way we all know they are capable of, and I think they will.

    That said, I do actually really believe we can do it. We will need some luck to be on our side for sure, but we have beaten better teams than PSG with similar margins. They caught us with our pants down in the first leg, I think they are going to find a very different proposition tomorrow.

    Either way I am going to enjoy the shit out of it.

  3. georgjorge
    March 7, 2017

    Thanks to you and also Kxevin for trying to get some joy back into watching Barcelona. I know for myself that all too often it has turned only into formations and points dropped and that is just no fun. It’s a bit tough enjoying tomorrow night’s game because of the missed opportunity of the first game implied with every brilliant move we do, but I’ll try.

    On a sidenote, my son of five years always picks the opposite team when I watch Barca. He checks in every twenty minutes or so to see which of our teams has scored more goals, but he’s not the least interested in actually watching. So it is all too familiar ; )

  4. luisthebeast
    March 7, 2017

    Details are so crucial in a football game.Arsenal was 1-0 up and there was a PK but the ref did nt gave it.A 2-0 in HT was a different game.
    Then he gave a soft PK for Bayern and a red card.It was nt for me but that was the end of story.
    Refs in CL games must be perfect but i watch many mistakes.
    I hope in our game it will be a perfect refs team.

  5. Víctor
    March 7, 2017

    Arsenal got robbed, period. Sure, they weren’t going to turn the tie around… but they deserved the win… 3-1 something like that

  6. *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
    March 8, 2017

    .
    Today!
    4-0 at halftime.
    You heard it here first.

  7. Old_Messi
    March 8, 2017

    Barca will not go through. It’s PSG, not Celtic nor Celta. A team funded by Qataris and a genuine CL contender. They have world-class players in every department and tactically they know very well how to block Barca’s fluidity.
    Barca screwed up everything in the first leg. It was suicidal play – tactics( 4-0-3-3), underestimating PSG, approaching the game like playing against Eibar/Levante, playing the useless Gomez.
    Fact is, Barca at their best are stronger than PSG at their best, but as I said, they fckd up everything with an unacceptable performance in the first leg. It will be very hard to score goals and also very very hard not to concede.
    A lot of people are confident that Barca can turn the tie around, but these people should be realistic. You cannot expect this Barca team to thrash a very good team consisting of fully-fit top-class players like Verrati, Draxler, Cavani, Di Maria, Marquinhos, T.Silva, etc. Only Pep’s Barca of 29th November 2010 would have turned the tie around, and quite easily.

    • georgjorge
      March 8, 2017

      I think you are right – which is why watching with joy becomes even more important…

  8. Rami
    March 8, 2017

    When our brains detect a possible future outcome that might pose an emotional/physical harm, It will try to protect itself, In the case of emotional harm, It will attempt to distance itself emotionally from said ‘subject-object’, A way it can do that is by using probabilities, Or forming a hostile attitude:
    -Ah come one, The chances of turning over a 4-0 tie is almost zero, Why bother hoping!
    -They deserve getting knocked out, That’s what you get for trusting such a stupid coach and a stupid board!, And that F***ing gomez!

    And this is too familiar to all of us, But something that i learned over many years, Is that while our brains are extremely efficient in protecting us from potential physical harm, Like telling us to stay away from a hot stove, Or a dangerous cliff, Yet when it comes to potential emotional harm, It’s absolutely shitty at it!.
    In my many years supporting and loving FCB, My brain never successfully protected my from an emotional pain of a loss, Not matter how much i anticipate or convince myself a disappointment is about to come, It always feel shitty when it happens, And the only thing that i apparently gained was more days of sadness, Because i kept being a pessimist until the undesirable result eventually came.

    In the end, I learned, That i’d rather follow, What i WANT, Instead of what my brain think i will GET, That’s what makes us humans,
    Trying to emulate a computer and making supporting and cheering for your club about what most likely will happen, Takes all the soul and heart away from being an FCB fan.

    So yes, I believe in the remuntada tonight, And i don’t care how anyone think stupid it is, And sure as hell i don’t give a damn what my brain think!, Screw logic!

    Visca barca!!!!

    And you know what Isiah, You daughter isn’t better than messi, There i said it….

    • RT
      March 8, 2017

      wow this is such a great comment Rami. I keep telling myself ah it’s impossible, what’s the point, etc. yet deep inside I have hope, I believe in it. I just can’t help it! So I’m going to go with it. Screw logic, indeed. Because the worst thing is not having your hopes crushed, it’s not having hope at all.
      Visca Barca! 🙂

  9. Doug
    March 8, 2017

    Very nice Isaiah. BTW, you can always send Bill Self back to my Illini, if you Jayhawks tire of him.

  10. RT
    March 8, 2017

    Nice article, Isaiah. Very balanced and wise (and funny:)). Tonight I’ll try to watch with joy (and not fear and dread), and I hope the team can play with joy too.

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