People who were there say that it was beautiful, spectacular. The magnificence even carried over through the medium of television as the Camp Nou rose as if one to applaud its warriors.
It was the 90th minute and the outcome was clear. There would be no miracle today, but Camp Nou supporters known for silence, whistles and waving the telltale bits of white cloth when things don’t go as expected, gave their all in support of their team just as their team gave its all in support of them. This was as it should be.
For yet another year Barça has gone out in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, again to a resolute defensive stalwart of an opponent. What made this one different? What made this one worthy of love and support? It wasn’t just that this elimination came at home. The feeling was different, just as it was different on my visit to see live Barça this season. Perhaps some of it is the realization dawning, now that end of annus Barça is in sight, just how glorious these glory days have been.
In some places outside the Camp Nou there was the expected rage and recrimination, and blame. Luis Enrique is the worst coach ever, this player or that player isn’t up to standard, everything sucks.
I finished my workday, went home, had dinner, talked to my wife and went to bed. It hurt. It sucked. I visited Barça Twitter, briefly, where the expected fire and brimstone rained down, and I left. It wasn’t time for that. I got to thinking about what I felt, and how it wasn’t an iota of what the players must be feeling, and decided the pile of enmity and rage didn’t need my contribution. It still doesn’t.
Neymar wept inconsolably, and more than a few speculated about why. Those of us who have tasted athletic failure knew. This one was particularly bitter because Neymar was the single-minded catalyst behind the amazing PSG comeback. He, like us, like his teammates, believed it was possible again, was crushed when it wasn’t. Some wondered why this one was so painful, where others haven’t been, but sometimes failure is like that. Failure that was a few whispers away from success is even more cruel.
Messi wide of the target, then over the target. Rakitic over the target, then over the target again. Neymar over the target, then wide right. Finishing was the demon that brought down the joy, as it almost always is. Any culer worth their history doesn’t expect Barça to be a defensive demon. With a high line, and possession specialists who aren’t always the fleetest afoot, the defense is going to leak goals. But we expect to score. Messi, Neymar, Suarez. We expect to score. And in a different world, they would have, in Turin as well as at the Camp Nou. And they would have advanced to the next round.
Football is weird. Sometimes, the ball just won’t go in, despite the best efforts of the athletes to make it go in. Juventus defended heroically, attacked with gusto, did everything that a worthy semifinalist should do. Congratulations to them. Recriminations flew about why did Luis Enrique start Mathieu over Alba in the away leg, even as Mathieu wasn’t the reason the team lost 3-0. No, t’was the odd lassitude that has permeated one performance too many in this erratic season of almosts. There have been matches this season in which the team has given its all, has tried as hard as it could from the first moment to the last. Those matches have been rare, but the home leg against Juventus was one of them. They were warriors.
Pjanic cleared out Messi, making the Barça talisman land awkwardly and gash his cheek open. And Neymar imstantly cleared out Pjanic. It was glorious. The logical person wishes that Neymar had been thinking of a potential semifinal and avoiding that yellow card, and telling a teammate to do it. But that didn’t happen, and it was laudable the way he fought for his teammate, his hero. It was that kind of a night.
They chased loose balls, Pique made amazing tackles, errors were cleaned up after, near misses from Juventus made us all breathe a sigh of relief. It was high drama in a way that it shouldn’t have been, precisely because we understand how good this team is. That is the reason and any eulogies are premature, any talk of dismantling or rebuilding is the profoundest nonsense. Because of that hope, because of the shots that sprayed wide or high that usually are on target or go in, shots that made Gigi Buffon thank his lucky stars as the force field that customarily thwarts Iniesta plagued the entire Barça team. And that team worked its asses off for the people who packed the seats and the aisles to celebrate and support them, and those people showed their love for a job well done.
There are some who will say that the team didn’t play well because well, it didn’t win. There are those who will say various things because well, the team didn’t win. They will say that people who undestand how close the team came to making us all giddy with rapture yet again, who assert that obituaries for this bunch needn’t be written yet, are cheerleaders who refuse to look at reality. And that’s okay. The people in the stands knew, the people who were there to witness it knew. Football is quite different live vs on television, even as TV provides the god’s eye view. The game is more visceral live, the effort and passion easier to understand. The highs are higher, the lows lower.
Flags flew, hands clapped, voices cheered for a group of heroes. Players took to social media, stunned, to thank their supporters. It was new to them, as well, this outpouring of love in the face of failure, beauty amid desolation. It’s impossible to know what to write when you sit down in front of a keyboard. Then you see the video, the images, the unfettered love and support, and you start typing. You know exactly what to write, because so many screaming throats and big hearts wrote it for you.
Gracies, equip, for everything.