Opportunity

If you lose something, what next? Let’s say you lost a pair of spectacles, favorite spex of yours, on a bus or a train. And you kick yourself.

But whose fault is it?

The magnificence of the Barça comeback is like an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord. Winners exult, losers grieve, neutrals pick a side dependent upon their degree of interest.

UEFAlona has returned, along with the cries of cheating. The PSG president said that his team wasn’t up to it. The coach said that they wuz robbed. Everyone, everything, everywhere points to that barrage of emotions attendant to somemthing that nobody knows how to deal with.

An extraordinary photo, taken from behind the goal, shows the faces of Marquinhos, Sergi Roberto, Gerard Pique and Andre Gomes. They all have the same look on their face: shock. Nobody knows how to deal with shock, so we all get the same look, mouths agape, eyes bulging. That’s all we got. It’s only afterward that we get to deal with the after effects.

UEFAlona and the question of loss

The most accurate assessment of the situation has come from the PSG president, which is that his team wasn’t at the required level. How? Four completed passes in the last seven minutes, when the match was on the line. Di Maria’s miss, which came after the Mascherano foul, which was indeed a foul. What would have been the outcome of that foul, had it been called? Time. Precious time. That PSG free kick would have taken at least a minute, which meant that time would have expired before Sergi Roberto’s magic moment.

Was the foul a conspiracy, or simple human error. Mascherano said that he fouled Di Maria, clipped his ankle. The ref missed it, or did he? Now what? What if Di Maria had squared to Cavani instead of making the foolish decision to be the hero? It’s a confluence of decisions that culminate in one basic thing, which is opportunity. Risk and reward. Di Maria took the shot. So did Mascherano. Two players took their shot, took their risk, used their skill. Pure art vs black art, and the latter won.

On replay, you could just — just — see the foul. Just. How would a ref see that. But let’s take it a step further. If there is a conspiracy to give Barça the match, what is the time, the correct time to do it? That’s the fundamental difficulty with all conspiracy theories. In American football, it is said that holding could be called on every offensive play. Refs call the most blatant ones, the ones that truly affect play. Conspiracy vs human error opens up a massive can of worms, with all kinds of crap crawling around.

People who don’t like Barça suggest that the ref “gave” the match to them, made a passel of questionable decisions that point to little else but a conspiracy. Only a fool can’t see it. Let’s have a look.

Time and opportunity

Seven minutes, four passes. PSG should be ashamed of themselves for putting their team in a position to allow human error to affect an outcome. Seven minutes, four passes, and lots of sour grapes. Unai Emery has seen enough football to know, as have we all — refs and the attendant complaining is for losers. Luis Enrique never talks about officiating because he isn’t a loser. Emery has faced Barça 24 times and come out on the wrong end 22 of them. Different teams, different personnel, same result. Only this time, his team had an insurmountable lead. His opponents had a zero chance — not just figuratively. UEFA statistically placed the chances of the first-leg result being overturned as zero. And yet, it happened. Why and how? What decisions did Emery make that assured the outcome? Every coach says that they are going to be brave, going to attack. Then the thinking begins. “We have a 4-0 lead. We have successfull defended a one-goal lead for a match. Let’s play it safe.”

Then stuff gets crazy, the crowd starts screaming and The Fear comes. The chance is lost.

A football match comes down to thousands of individual actions, each one an opportunity for a ref to work a conspiracy. Why do it with something as blatant as the Suarez call, one that, by the by, was made by the fourth official who saw the chop from Marquinhos. Conspiracy? Look at Marquinhos’ actions, and how much he argued with the call. He tried the same black art that Mascherano tried. One got away with it, one didn’t. What’s the difference in the situations? Both players were trying to make something happen. Was it as simple as the quality of the black art?

Each official has to make a determination when a given situation arises. The official hasn’t said anything, but what if his determination was that the contact wasn’t sufficient to warrant a call, given that Di Maria had already missed the shot, and play wasn’t affected? We see that kind of call all the time. Some officials will bail a player out, others won’t. The match was being officiated in a way that let the players decide it. If the same contact had come before or during the shot, would it have been called? Good question.

The Suarez situation was different because he was on the way to the goal, chasing a pass that was catchable and controllable. He was impeded by an opposing player in the box. That is a penalty. In La Liga, without the extra official that UEFA uses, that penalty probably doesn’t get called. Or maybe Suarez gets a yellow for simulation. But to call what Suarez did a dive is inaccurate. It was an exaggeration for effect. Neymar does it, every attacker does it. Why? Because if defenders have their own black arts, why shouldn’t attackers? If a center back can be said to have made a hard tackle, or if a TV commentator can say, “I have seen those given, but the defender stood his ground,” whose black art wins?

Diving would have been no contact. Suarez felt the contact, which probably wasn’t enough to bring him down, arms flying as if he had been shot, and exaggerated it for effect to make sure the official saw it. When Neymar gets kicked one time too many, one of the kicks will bring a theatrical fly through the air. The effect is enhanced so that the official understands that something is going on. Everybody has their black art, their ways of trying to take advantage in a game where opportunity is always there, just waiting to be seized.

When Verratti cleared out Ter Stegen late in the match, should that have resulted in his being sent off? The ref called the foul and whistled play on. Conspiracy? In whose favor? If PSG had held on, would culers have cried conspiracy about that moment, about the chance Barça would have had for a last-chance effort, 11 v 10?

Absolutely.

It still comes down to opportunity. Luck is made because an athlete places himself in a position to made the play. People are even questioning the foul that resulted in the Neymar free kick goal, because once you start down that slippery slope, where do you stop? But how did the official know that Neymar was going to score the free kick goal? Or is the conspiracy just to give one team enough chances? What things could have been called or not called to influence the match? Mascherano handball, or ball to hand? Time after time, moment after moment, you could pause the match and say, “A-ha!” no matter which team you support, but it comes down to simple opportunity taken and spurned.

Football has as much a need to be aggreived as to be right. People are still not giving any credit to Luis Enrique, who changed the formation and the way the team played in response to a situation, who made the subs that affected the outcome. Why? Because of the need to be right, a need that doesn’t consider facts. Fake news. The players did it all. Anyone could have coached that team to a win. History? Sheeeit, the refs gave it to them.

So it goes with conspiracies. At the negative Betis result there was a goal that wasn’t, and culers screamed. There were penalties given and not given, and cries of Villarato arose from blaugrana throats. There are league tables that claim to show a very different world without refereeing conspiracies. It’s easier to believe that someone took something from you than that you lost it.

If you see someone wearing the spectacles that you lost those many months ago, what would you do? Would you say, “Hey, those are mine,” or would you shrug, and chalk up the lesson learned to the stuff that life deals us, opportunities to learn different, better practices.

Opportunity comes for every team. What that team decides to do with that chance will depend on whether the team puts itself in a position to get screwed by human error or a controversial decision, or rise above the nonsense to triumph.

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Written by:

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. Grindelwald
    March 12, 2017

    Great article as usual! We’ve been blessed this past 3 days with unusual amount of articles! Just wish the barca haters and esp Madrid fans get to read this.

  2. TITO
    March 12, 2017

    But as usual, we know which supporters moan about this game and they are not PSG supporters. It’s because of the same.reason. Fear. Fear of seeing the titles that they were sure are going their way, suddenly…it’s again Barca taking the glory. Simply, they just cant live with that, too much for their hearts.

  3. Rami
    March 12, 2017

    Wise and insightful words, that may have no place in a sport where emotions and prejudice is the rule.

    Envy is so tantalizing.
    Why they’re successful and i’m not, Why it’s always them and not me, Quality, Skill, And hard work?, That’s absurd, That implies i lack them, It can’t be true,……….. Oh I know what it is, Their cheating, Their lucky, They’re getting pushed up, While i’m being pushed down, Yes…..Yes…..It all……….It all make sense now.

    Never underestimate the power of denial, Or just how thick and big can that bubble can get.
    With every success FCB achieve, Hatred and envy grow, Weather they’re RM fan, EPL fan, serie A…etc,etc, Something inside of them crushes, And they hate it.
    You can give them a mountain full of evidence, On how FCB is truly treated fairly, And i guarantee you they’ll never flip a single page.
    It’s not about them being unwillingly unknowledgeable, They just don’t care to know, That bubble is very comforting, Why choose to leave it.

    • Rami
      March 12, 2017

      Look at the infamous stamford bridge match, A favorite among those who love to undermine barca, If you ask them to look at what happened in the first leg in camp nou, How we were robbed of a penalty, A non-existent offside goal, And chelsea getting away with a red card………They’ll just ignore you, And never watch a single second of that first leg.
      For them it’s not about seeking the truth, It’s about seeking comfort.

  4. Davour
    March 12, 2017

    Thanks for the break-down! Seldom has the notion of truth and perspective been so relevant, both regarding camera angle of the actual event of Suarez’ penalty call, and how you choose to construe the event depending on allegiance. It’s interesting this focus on the attackers’ “black arts” while the defenders “tricks” are much less often analysed – but why wouldn’t Suarez go down easily to avoid a knee from behind? It’s protecting, and that is – as you point out, Kxevin – what Neymar does, too. Even Messi, at times, though he has often been the exception to prove the rule (and also less often receives the ball with his back against the defenders, holding up the ball). I made the mistake of visiting espnfc’s site (desperation, I suppose), and stumbled upon a beautiful piece of conspiracy writing:

    “Messi got rid of Neymar because he can’t handle him taking over naturally so he starts his political games, big problems in FC Barcelona according to my sources, Messi is not happy because he thinks Neymar is “trying” to steal his spotlight, their was a big rumble between Messi and Neymar, majority are in support of Messi and only Rafinha spoke for Neymar so that’s why the excuse for their absence. Neymar is leaving Barcelona at the end of the season and I think Rafinha too.”

    Rafinha being out with gastroenteritis (like Messi after that La Real game), the “excuse”-condition for players protesting, of course offers plenty of ammunition.

    To me, Messi did not seem especially concerned after the final whistle…

    • Rami
      March 12, 2017

      What suarez and neymar, Or any of our players do, Is no different than all the teams of the world do, It’s simply a case of looking where your prejudice wants to look, And shy your eyes away from anything that goes against it.

      Holy mother of all that is glory, What conspiracy!, Hahaha, I feel dizzy know…., Ignorance isn’t a bless that’s for sure.

    • lovell
      March 12, 2017

      Please share the link to the ESPN story

  5. Víctor
    March 12, 2017

    I can’t blame the PSG fans for feeling they got robbed… after all, that Suarez’s penalty was very doubtful and, apparently, they didn’t get one earlier…

    However, they forget that their team had a 3 goal advantage at minute 85… even with that ref’s mistake… how can a team get 3 goals against in that period of time?? Their team failed big time as well… they weren’t smart enough to keep the rythm and ensure that advantage on the last minutes. They should look at their team as well for losing that advantage… even if many of us felt that everything was lost… the Barcelona team didn’t and PSG should have been aware of that…

  6. untoxgsd
    March 12, 2017

    I dont know if you guys heard but theres a petition created by a real madrid fan for the repetition of the Barca-Psg game. It has 100000 votes and counting already! It’s crazy how bitter they are!!

    Question, where’s Jim??? I havet seen him commenting at all the past few days and especially after the PSG game.

  7. ooga aga
    March 12, 2017

    Folks, the foul by Marquinhos on Suarez was a STONE COLD PENALTY. Surprised to even see some folks here doubting it.

    1. marquinhos isnt even watching the ball. Plays the man, not the ball.

    2. Ok, even if you can nevermind that he throws his arm up and hits Suarez in the general face area…

    3. His legs clearly hit Suarez’ leg from behind, and when you are running at soeed, no way you stay on your feet after that kind of leg contact. This is what I think folks are missing since they are watching the arm-to-face contact instead.

    Stone cold, iron clad , however you want to say it.

    With regard to Masch’ hand ball in the area, there was a similar incident by PSG player in the box moments prior.

    And the foul in Neymar also a clear penalty. Doubt arises because Neymar looked to invite the contact. Still, you can’t fall down as a defender and block the attackers path, essentially forcing him to jump over you. Great reffing in this match.

  8. HorlahFCB
    March 12, 2017

    Meh!…..Messi was really poor!…. It can happen, tho….. Loss was nuh dah painful…. Buh, since am quite confident RM will drop point tonight… Ah think dey wld just go on to draw now…. FCB

    • Grindelwald
      March 12, 2017

      Shit happens mate, but seriously Enrique’s rotation has cost us about 9 points! He needs to take games against relegation-threatened side.

      • Rami
        March 12, 2017

        If we follow this logic, Then we have to field our best XI for the rest of the season, All matches are potentially difficult, And if the players can’t step up their game against a “relegation threatened side” as you called it, Then when can they?

  9. TITO
    March 12, 2017

    We have to lose from time to time. It wasnt the worst of the losses. Players were tired, obviously and time will tell if this game will have a say in the final stand. We were almost 20 games wirhout a defeat in the league i think, so…no hard feelings this afternoon.

  10. Víctor
    March 12, 2017

    That was at least a yellow card for Navas… wonder if they’ll scream about pro-Madrid conspiracies…

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