This is a guest post from Davour, who took me up on my offer of stepping into the crucible. The offer is always open. Just write something up, and reach out to email@example.com
After a disappointing Champions League final where the eternal rivals made a fool out of the very team that kept a clean sheet against our beloved Barça, I felt I truly needed a break from football. But couldn’t help but noticing that these dark, quite intense, emotions were spurred by the success of Cristiano Ronaldo, rather than Madrid as a team. This baffled me to the extent that I needed to confront them in some depth. Where did these irrational emotions come from? Why do I care?
If I were comedian Jerry Seinfeld, my approach to football would be: “Hey, what’s the deal with soccer? 22 men running around chasing a ball to get it into a goal. People are paying to watch this?” Of course, his comic success comes from the simple, existential realisation that all human phenomena are absurd if you strip them of context. Take money for example: “You give me this Ferrari, and I will give you a piece of paper with numbers on it. Deal?” Bereft of context this makes no sense. But in context, it is part of a both simple and very complex system of value by proxy. Money represents, channels value and thus fulfills a function on which we have all agreed.
How is this important in this context? Well, football does not make more sense than money, but also serves a function. Well, many functions, depending on who you ask. Entertainment, sure, but more than that. Need to identify with a collective, and in opposition to others? Closer. But for me, it is obvious football has come to represent an escape — a sort of haven where things are less complicated (even as we complicate them), and where I can engage without responsibility or consequence. It’s something to preoccupy my mind from all the complicated things that go on in my own life -– work, relationship, fear of dying and so on.
In other words: football provides a context where meaning is provided, served on a plate. And the trouble begins when you invest too much emotion in this meaning. I started caring about other people’s opinions about Messi-Ronaldo, bla bla. Why? Because it defies the logic of how I perceive this made-up world. It disturbs the order which provides simple joy to my complicated life. When Real Madrid and Cristiano enjoy success, like their Champions League win, it is the equivalent of Sauron prevailing (or Voldemort, for a younger generation). Because football, to me, is just that: a fantasy.
Still, it wasn’t always like this. As a child, I loved AC Milan due to the Dutch, and hated Inter Milan and their Germans — but not to the extent that it killed me. I have always loved Barca (since Laudrup), but I didn’t used to hate Madrid -– I respected Raul, Redondo, Laudrup (!), Carlos, etc. I was a balanced football supporter who even sort of enjoyed young Cristiano’s game at Manchester United.
For a few years, other things were too important, being a student, exploring life. Then Ronaldinho lured me back to football; I started caring again.
And then Messi came along and the fantasy took off.
Of course, it was properly established only after Ronaldo moved to Spain and the silly comparisons began for real. Good vs. Evil. A mighty battle in which we were almost always the winner. Joy was gradually replaced by entitlement -– and, surely, resentment on the other side as they were almost always losing, despite all the money and fame, to some home-grown midgets and a shy Argentinian boy. The humiliation! And for me, us, the ultimate fantasy: the good guys, with humility and solidarity, with ideas and ideology that were so easy to romanticise.
And we won and won -– and Messi kept stepping up every time, always being a little better (well a lot, really) than his opponent, who of course is a personification of all the evil of Madrid: arrogance, superficiality, overblown ego, a capitalist concept with a six-pack and great marketability. What joy, that this beast should be consistently slain by our little super boy!
This one-sided battle killed the dynamic of football, just like the big clubs are doing to the Champions League (imagine Valencia, Ajax or Steua Bucharest in another European Cup final!). It becomes too predictable. And when suddenly the sun does not rise in the east, the world order crumbles. Seem familiar?
I became like the Western liberal elite, who cannot grasp why people would vote populist -– it is so stupid! It is illogical and irrational. But all the resentment of the Barça era now comes back for revenge. Their fantasy is coming true and mine is challenged. They have built an identity in face of hardships, losses and humiliations. Cristiano is their hero, and has finally lifted them to glory. Of course they will gloat, of course they will channel their resentment, regardless of its absurdity. It is their time and they can’t care less about Messi objectively still being a much better footballer. Screw him and all his stuck-up fanboys. We have invested in this, and now it is payback time.
Yes, for me, favoring Cristiano is the equaivalent of electing Trump (weird hair analogy, too). Or denying climate change. A fantasy people hold on to for one reason or another. I understand this. And I understand myself in this.
BUT -– it does not make it right. Understanding should not breed neither condescension, sympathy nor hatred. I must still oppose these forces (Cristiano, Trump, climate change). But I should not buy into the anger industry nor the self entitlement worldview, nor the martyr’s state of mind.
Stay calm and carry on.
So, finally, I will hope for two things: first, that I get my shit together to the extent that I will not need an escapist fantasy any longer, and second, that next year will bring the third coming of Messi –- that he will inspire another victory, Good defeating Evil once again. And that I can enjoy it for what it is. Go Frodo!