It all came to a conclusion on a Sunday when as usual for this season it seems, the team did all that it could and came up short, a hard-fought victory over Eibar that wasn’t enough.
We can congratulate Real Madrid for finally getting over their hump, thanks to a manager who in many ways understands the game better than so many supporters, an athlete who understands that it doesn’t matter how things are drawn up and what kind of tactics someone employs. A team deoends on its players to get the job done in the scramble of the dictates of reality.
Their team did the job. Our team didn’t. Is it as simple as that? No. It never is. But at the end of a season fraught with difficulty, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that this fanbase got the team and the results it deserves just as the players deserved more — from fate, from themselves, from us.
We have never understood how hard it is, week after week, to deal with a game in which everyone is at their best against you. We have never understood human imperfection as we race to apportion blame for things not being perfect, or at least our vision of perfect. We have never understood the mental energy required to always be fantastic, to have people snarl and demand why when they weren’t.
We have never understood this even as we have, for yet another season, seen it in person, seen the mental and physical effects of the unrelenting grind — in Guardiola’s last season, in Vilanova’s first, in Tata Martino’s only and now in Luis Enrique’s last. From treble to double to … ?
The team, this season is what we deserve even as the team — the whole team from players to mangers — deserved better than what they got from us. Fighting, backbiting, incessant blame and rampant hostility, outrage that humans don’t perform like automatons, that things such as injuries and form don’t matter as so many race to lay ot all at the feet of a man to whom history will be kinder than a supporter base was this season. The favored are absolved, the unfavored excoriated and through it all, players and coaches are just struggling to their jobs the best they can.
There are, for many, numerous answers to the same question, which is: why isn’t FC Barcelona preparing its party bus for yet another Liga championship instead of hoping that a Copa championship will at least be somethimg? Pick one, pick ’em all.
— Coach sucks
— Transfers sucked
— Board sucks
— Neymar let the team down
— Andre Gomes
— Arda Turan
Speculation about cause and effect is fun, but aside from consoling those who want to apportion blame, accomplishes nothing. People hate Luis Enrique, hate Gomes, Turan, Rakitic, Neymar, hate this or that. None of it matters to the state that the team is in at this moment, a state achieved as a collective. A coach sets up the team. He doesn’t tell his striker to hit balls right at the opposition keeper. He doesn’t tell his players to stand there and let someone shoot, or not cover a runner coming in at the tail end of a break. This is true even as he dictates what players will be playing, how they set themselves initially even as external stimuli wreak havoc with plans and notions.
We are intolerant of that frailty, those errors and moments of humanity even as we should understand them because who among us is perfect. Zidane empowered his players, made a group that was sick and tired of losing understand what it had to do to win. They got late goals because they never stopped fighting because they were hungry.
There won’t be lots of tactical analyses of what Zidane did even as he worked wonders, the same kinds of wonders that Guardiola and Luis Enrique did in letting great athletes see and understand what could happen when they did what they were supposed to, were capable of. We culers have seen that before as well, in season after glorious season. We talk of tactics, of playing the right way, then we get the vapors when Messi does something that doesn’t care about tactics, human possibilities or capabilities. Everything becomes magic.
People don’t diffrentiate between tactics and execution. Perfect tactics can run afoul of poor execution just as poor tactics can be elevated by exceptional execution. It’s safe to say that the coaches didn’t draw up what Neymar did in the last seven minutes against PSG. They also didn’t tell the players, “Now when Dybala gets the ball, because he has such a pretty shot, stand there and check out that form. Got it?”
Tactics can certainly aid execution, but folks still have to do the work, even as any conclusion anyone likes can be drawn from what happens. Just depends on what people want to see. “The ref screwed us this season. Betis alone.” Yet what if the team had executed, played to its level against a team that it should have been able to deal with easily? The ref wouldn’t have mattered. The team underperformed because they are human. The refs made errors because they, too are human. But the most effective way to remove human error from an equation is to get the job done, even as we struggle to understand how they couldn’t get the job done.
We struggle with understanding and accepting humanity — simple, flawed humanity — in our heroes. Suarez hits a ball at the keeper, Neymar scuffs a chance, Messi isn’t his usual cruel, assassin self. We struggle to understand that so we seek external factors. One person on Tweeted at me that “Luis Enrique is destroying the club.” Another Tweeted that almost all of the blame for this season lies with Luis Enrique.
Another group believes that Barça would be relegation fodder without Messi, who has been astonishing this season, as usual. Does he struggle with the expectation of greatness, constant, continual greatness for club and country, a country adpted by many culers because of him? How hard must all of that be, and do we care and understand?
We watch, we see, but we don’t understand. We’re all too busy fighting — perception, humanity, frailty, each other, a real world that isn’t perfect and a team that can’t win everything. And we will fight some more because that is what our fanbase does, what it excelled at in a season that made it so hard to be a culer because of all the petulance, hostility and nonsense. The team deserved better, and we failed them just as they failed us.
The players, athletes, understand what happened, understand the crazy flight of a ball, the ups and downs, unpredictability and being mentally tired. They understand the effect of key injuries and players underperforming at key times just as they undersstand the focus that has created a season filled with fantastic memories.
Alaves, Deportivo, Malaga. Dependent upon who you ask, the answers to the first is rotation, the second tactics, the third because the coach sucks.
Barça lost at home to Alaves in a rotation XI that should have been good enough to win. It wasn’t. Whose fault was it? Should Messi and Suarez, still getting rest from a busy summer, have been included? What would have been the cost of that, physically and psychologically? Hindsight is always easy. It makes everyone a genius. “Rotation. It was the wrong XI.” What was the right XI? Would a tired Suarez have been better than Alcacer? Unknown, like so many things in this game.
Coaches made errors, players made errors. There were decisions, substitutions, plays made or not made that every person who made them, just as we all do, wish were different. “Why did stupid Lucho keep playing Gomes.” Maybe if Rafinha and Iniesta had been able to stay fit, he wouldn’t have as much. Maybe if Turan had been able to stay fit there would have been shuffles to be made.
“Stupid Lucho didn’t get an RB.” Belatedly, he did when Aleix Vidal suddenly burst into life. Just as that happened, he was scythed down. Stuff happens.
Reality is that things are as they because a collective wasn’t good enough. Gomes didn’t really start showing signs of real life until after the Classic. And that, assuredly, explains why Suarez was missing Messi setups or batting the ball right into the arms of the keeper. It explains why Neymar missed shots that he normally makes, why Jordi Alba got punked at Deportivo for the winning goal. Why did all of this happen? Who knows? PSG hangover? Good quality of play from an opponent compared to a down trough in the cycle for Barça? Sure. Why not.
It’s hard for us to admit we don’t know anything. When this season ends the summer window will be almost upon us and everyone will have their ideas of what the team needs, who they would sell, give away, get the bastinado, etc. Part of the fun of spending a summer for those who don’t care about yet another international tournament, is transfer speculation. This is true even as, for the most part and certainly as it pertains to Barça, we don’t know. As with the Tata Martino year and for very different seeming reasons, this team was a but a few goals away from being in for yet another treble. If one of the aforementioned matches is different, any host of things could have made reults quite different. Instead we are where we are, and now comes the transfer window.
Barça is getting a new coach this season. We don’t know what that coach wants, personnel-wise, or how he will choose to line up his players. We don’t even know how he plays, because coaches react to the personnel they have more than they come in with a standard way of playing.
People think we need an RB, LB, CM. Okay. What if that new coach goes 3 at the back with Pique, Marlon and Umtiti, moves Messi to midfield, returns Sergi Roberto to his normal hunting ground while adding Sergi Samper and deciding to experiment with Busquets farther forward. That same coach chooses to keep Deulofeu? What do we need then? There are too many possibilities to know what Barça might or might not need. A case could be made, given that Mathieu will be leaving and Mascherano is into his athletic dotage, that a CB is needed as much as anything else, even if Marlon stays with the first team.
We don’t know anything except what we have now, which is that our team tried and fought as hard as it could. It deserved better than what it got, deserved better from us. We can hope there will be some silver, and we can choose to or not congratulate them for that achievement, just as we can choose to or not congratulate them for a hard-fought season even as they fell short of the mark.
Perhaps most crucially for the comimg future and days of uncertainty, we can strive to understand, to not only watch but to see, see what a remarkable team — a group in its entirety — we have had the pleasure of witnessing this season. The coach is leaving, players will be leaving, things will be different. For now, what we have is our team, a group of humans who did the best that they could. Sometimes that isn’t enough, which doesn’t diminish the tears we shed, the exultation we felt, the triumph we shared.