Welcome to another day at FC Everything is the Worst, a moniker that is, increasingly, becoming less sarcastic.
A lot of things can be true at the same time. Football, like life, is rarely binary. On a day that Barça played like collective dog crap against its eternal rival, a great many other things happened, none of whice serves to negate the others.
Three mental errors of the type that we saw entirely too much of last season defined this match. Pique gave away an own goal, sticking his leg out at a ball that his keeper had covered, demonstrating poor sitautional awareness and, frankly, panic. Then a pair of ridiculous giveaways sent Real Madrid off to the races, with breaks that had at their terminus goals from Ronaldo and then Asensio.
In both cases, the eventual scorers weren’t tracked as everyone looked around at each other, expecting someone else to solve the problem. Nobody did. Barça was outplayed, outrun, outthought and outhustled. If watching that doesn’t make you angry as a culer, not sure what will.
Suarez rolled a ridiculous pass into space, and the team was like, “Hey, looka that.” Madrid pounced, ran and made the right pass to the unmarked Asensio. Boom. Golazo? Dunno. Maybe if he was marked. But that was a shot players make in training all the time, again when unmarked.
The same mental and physical lapses that defined last season defined this SuperCopa. It was a mess.
On the same day as this shitshow, the impending arrival of Paulino from Guangzhou Evergrande was confirmed by his coach, Phil Scolari. This is a baffling transfer, a player who failed spectacularly at Tottenham, then fled to the Chinese Super League as part of that first wave of big-money departures. He spent two years over there, and through his play there, worked his way back into the Selecao, where precious little about his game made anyone say, “I want HIM at Barça.”
And yet he is coming, for 40 million Euros. Nobody understands it. The profile is clear, that Keita type that, along with Abidal, the club has been missing for a very long time. What is unclear is how an overpriced journeyman is going to fill one of those profiles.
This signing was made by a technical staff and board, the latter of which has been so busy chasing money and record profits that they have let the very thing that they need to sell, deteriorate. It would be like Paris breaking the Eiffel Tower, deciding to not pick up trash in the Marais then wondering why people have stopped visiting the city.
This current condition comes at the terminus of an arc of neglect that began when Sandro Rosell won election, and immediately began pursuing personal vendettas. He started a responsibility action against Joan Laporta, sold the CB that Guardiola expressly asked for then dropped the austerity hammer, lifting it only when it was time to acquire his dream signing in Neymar. We all know what happened here, from press conferences to lawyers and days in court.
Fittingly, Rosell is watching from a jail cell as the wreckage grows, record profits and a damaaged product.
On social media the world exploded into a burst of “Paulinho!” The player must be wondering why his name is trending on Twitter. Hope he doesn’t investigate. There are people crowing “Told ya!” as they gleefully gloat about the condition the club is in, because it’s more valuable to right than bummed. There are people who aren’t bothering with the result, instead making it all the fault of the board. Because yeah, Bartomeu was making crap passes then watching Real Madrid run down to the other end. Cardoner was stranding Pique on the right wing, because of being too positionally inept and sluggish at right back.
Or wait … maybe that was the players. Maybe everything can be true at once and blaming the gas company for the electricity not working isn’t the most sound approach to things.
Paulinho is a weird-ass transfer. But that transfer isn’t why the team got its butt handed to it today. The board has been neglecting some things that it should, but that isn’t why the team lost today. One of the reasons? Sure. But if Pique notices his keeper in perfect position, and possession is controlled instead of pissed away, it’s a 1-0 win, even if that sole goal came off a dive.
Compounding matters is that the club’s general manager, Pep Segura, the appointment of whom made aware culers groan in anticipatory exasperation, in effect laid the blame for the debacle on Pique, saying that his error in effect messed up the world. To say this, you would have to ignore the wandering crapshow that was Vidal and everything else that transpired, so that you can blame the gas company because your TV is broken. But that doesn’t make everything less true.
At the moment, at Barça, everything is happening at once. Sporting project errors made by the board are coming home to roost as key players are aging. Iniesta looked bad today, Suarez looked lost without someone to play off. The left wing disaster that was Deulofeu performed exactly as expected, as he discovered that Real Madrid isn’t Chapecoense and that yes, he still wilts under pressure, which is why Luis Enrique sent him away in the first place. The club spent 12m to discover that he is the same player, yet another error from a technical staff that, to be fair, has also had a bounty of hits.
Everything is going on, and supporters are running around like villagers with pitchforks and torches instead of identifying the basic reality of everything happening. For some, the team is ignored and all of the ire is aimed at the mystifying Paulinho signing. For others, certain players are singled out for scorn rather than the collective, which underperformed as a unit.
After the match, Busquets said, simply enough, signings are needed. And he’s correct. But while the club was eschewing color copies and not thinking about key slots because who the hell knows why, but hey, record profits! Iniesta was aging. Busquets was aging. But the XI required them, which meant no rest, which means the signs of their impending dotage become clearer.
Everything all at once, and all of it is true. The team didn’t play well enough, the board has made significant errors in how it has managed the club and Paulinho is a head-scratcher of a signing. Are all of them related? Yep, even as they can all exist on their own. The weird signing doesn’t excuse the team and how it played. The board’s sporting mismanagement doesn’t mean the team shouldn’t have played better. The players are who the players are, and Ernesto Valverde, standing on the sidelines looking like a man wishing for death rays for eyes, has a lot of work to do.
Everyone does. The technical staff has to solve many problems. The board has to understand the human side of managing humans, even as for so long the team has seemed superhuman. And supporters have to understand the value of calm, and the reality of how a transfer market functions. So much to do, and seemingly so little time to do it.
There are 17 days left in the transfer window. In that time, the club must not only idenfity but acquire a controller, a left winger and a creative midfielder. Three players who fit those profiles are Jean Seri, Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho. The first is just waiting for Barça to call. The other two have effectively destroyed their relationship with their current club to force a move to Barça. This is just another plank in the falling dominoes of a club that needs to get its act together, another part of the everything all at once.
It’s okay to be disappointed, even angry. But unless we understand what we’re angry about, what that particular thing is affecting and possible ways to fix it, it’s all just ranting, narrative and tantrums. And that helps nothing.