Protest and Finality: Barcelona – Sevilla (CDR Final)

Javier Tebas, the head of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), has said that the Copa del Rey final should be suspended immediately if the crowd whistles the national anthem and the king. Let’s be clear: there will be whistling. There is always whistling. This is a cup competition named after a symbol of the oppression–real or imagined–that many Catalans feel and beginning with the playing of an anthem literally named the Royal March. The other thing we should be clear about is that this happens all the time.

It’s kind of incongruous: the best performing team in the cup named after the thing they are most against is Barcelona in the Copa del Rey. It used to be the Copa del Generalisimo during The Dark Years, when the sight of a blaugrana-clad captain taking the trophy from el caudillo feels as incoherent now as it probably did then.

Barcelona has won 10 more Copa del Rey trophies than Real Madrid, although both teams have competed in the same number of finals. Surprisingly, Real Madrid has won 19 while coming in runner-up 20 times. Barcelona sits at 29 heading into their 40th final, having lost just 10 appearances in the final. 9 of those victories for the blaugrana came during the reign of Francisco Franco (1939-1976). Athletic Bilbao grabbed 10 in that time period, but Real Madrid managed just 6, including exactly 0 during their European dominance from 1955-1960, though they did lose in 3 finals, all of them at the Santiago Bernabeu to Athletic Bilbao (1) and Atletico Madrid (2).

This wealth of success in a competition that seems expressly designed for capitaleños, being named after centralizing figures, is a strange phenomenon to witness. There’s a vein of protest, however, and a link to the oppression that was carried out in the name of anti-dissidence. It is easy enough to see it as a middle finger the very establishment you are against: we can beat you at your own game. Literally.

Tebas’ statements reflect a strange phenomenon within sport, itself a reflection of general society: polarization. The general nature of the day’s discourse includes lambasting one’s ideological opponents as creatures of a lesser species, putting pressure on dissident voices, and attack as a form of defense. Hyper sensitivity is hardly the problem: when Tebas demands fealty to a monarchical structure, he is requiring a singular approach to football, with centralization a main component. Hyper sensitivity shows us the nuance within a culture that has smoothed out to be as palatable for as many people as possible. Catalan separatists may not be your cup of tea, but they are certainly worthy of having around given that they–if they are truly interested in the nature of their own political positions, which is hardly a given in today’s climate–bring a different perspective to what may seem a simple question.

In a country that features the Valle de los Caidos, it’s not difficult to imagine the past as present. There are perhaps hyperbolic analogies to be made, but history is not dead in Spain. ETA is still making headlines and the central police have recently attacked voters. The question is not really whether they were legally voting, but what in the world they were doing voting for removing themselves and their homelands from the country in the first place. Tebas knows that the Sevilla fans will not jeer the national anthem–the city’s coat of arms is literally the king presiding over things with a motto meaning, roughly, “you [the city] never abandoned me [the king]”. The Catalans will whistle alone, but whistle they will, come what may. The whistling isn’t about football, it’s about politics, about identity, and about a middle finger to those who say they can’t. Some may call it childish, which it can be, or one can call it brave, which it also can be. Regardless, it will happen and then, after all of that, after the buildup and the screeching in the media and from podiums, the football will happen.

And what football it will be: Sevilla versus Barcelona, a clash of styles, of histories, and of competitive spirits. This will not–and nor should it be–a walk in the park. It took some kind of comeback to get a point at the Sanchez Pizjuan just a couple of weeks ago–an effort that many a cule has blamed for the subsequent loss in Rome that dumped Barça out of the Champions League. This should not be much different, except that Messi will start. Ivan Rakitic, a Sevillista in many ways, is looking to keep up his perfect record in the Copa, having won all 3 of the seasons he has been with Barça– and this time against his old club.

But it is not the actual match that interests me. It is not the storylines leading up to it that grab my attention. It is the before for political reasons and the after for reasons that stretch into distant future. This could very well be the last final of Andres Iniesta’s Barcelona career. This is a man who has earned the right to do whatever he wants, but it is also a man who has inspired so many in a such a diverse set of ways that it is hard to overstate his influence on barcelonismo. I once wrote a piece about him that finished with the thought that watching Iniesta is to watch possibility.

There is something about Iniesta that touches my soul. It is the pain in his face, the graying of his beard, the distant sadness of his looks. For most players, there is a sense that they would be good craic, as the Irish say. That hanging with them could be some sort of memorable affair that left you dazzled. With Iniesta, it seems more likely that you would sit by a fireplace and talk. And that is what makes his potential loss so much more devastating. He seems like a genuinely nice person, with a lot of pain in his past, who would give really nice hugs. He also awkwardly plays the bongos with his famous musician friends in an interview on Informe Robinson, which was weird and cute. He wears old man sweaters and seems totally at ease like that. He makes millions of euros and has a vineyard and is probably moving to China and there’s just no stopping Father Time from ruining everything and

and

and

Andres Iniesta will be missed in a way that Puyol and Xavi are not. There is some large part of the soul of this team embedded within him, as if he is the last bastion of something that was there and is eroding. I feel old writing this. I feel old feeling this. I feel heavy and sad and I don’t want it to end. But all things come to an end, even Andres Iniesta.

Here, then, is his chance to subvert the sadness, to upend all of it. He can score the winning goal and smile that little smile, and tell the cameras what an assist it was from whoever, and we will all know that he is off in the dark, whistling a tune as he heads to his future. There will be whistling. There is always whistling.

 

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.

16 Comments

  1. mvarfi
    April 21, 2018

    It’s been hard to shake off the painful disappointment of last week.
    Thank you for both pieces on Iniesta. They make for a beautifully written distraction.

  2. Grindelwald
    April 21, 2018

    Suarez, Coutinho combo is something to watch out for in the coming season!

  3. TITO
    April 21, 2018

    This is why i was furious with Roma game.
    We couldn’t just play like this that night, right? Or any other VIP game.

  4. Jim
    April 21, 2018

    At the moment it’s just Ini’s going away party isn’t it ? He has been absolutely outstanding and the reason we are coasting at the moment. He’s going past and through their lines at will. Why on earth is he going ? This is how Valverde should have been using him all year.

    Also, no one likes a smart ass but I’ll say it again. You feed Suarez and give him bodies up there he’ll kill them.

    Despite a pretty good season there have been so many mistakes this year . . .

    Just hope it doesn’t all change. Won’t if we can keep the ball moving at this speed.

  5. TITO
    April 21, 2018

    Surely will change, we cant keep it like this for 90 minutes.

    • Grindelwald
      April 21, 2018

      I’m pretty sure we can go like this all day once subs are introduced. Considering we’ve already won the league and we’ll be playing in the next 7 days, the players will go for thorough humiliation to send a message and satiate their grumpy fans!

  6. Bruce Wayne
    April 21, 2018

    Who else got emotional when Ini scored?

  7. Víctor
    April 21, 2018

    Man, Valverde can’t win, can he? Barcelona is playing great this CdR final and Barça twitter is: “where was this team on April 10?”, “see? how did Valverde get this team eliminated by fucking Roma? I’m furious”…

    Yet, had Barcelona played poorly and/or losing: “just further evidence that Valverde is destroying our beloved team”, “he can’t even win the fucking CdR final, screw him, Valverde out!!”

    So, why the difference between Roma’s game and this one, I guess there are some obvious reasons:

    1) players were rested prior to this game, while for Roma they weren’t… this mainly is Valverde’s fault… but, who knows? maybe the big players didn’t want to rest prior to Roma’s second seg…
    2) Coutinho… this is an important aspect, sadly we couldn’t play him against Roma because UCL’s rules
    3) Overconfidence, perhaps? For some reason I do think that most of the Barcelona team took the UCL match for granted because… 3 goal advantage…

    And maybe not so obvious reasons for this change in performance are:

    4) Roma is a better than Sevilla… both are good teams, but Sevilla’s defense isn’t the best… which just makes us wonder why the hell didn’t Mourinho played to attack them in the return leg of the R16 UCL…
    5) The trip and scene… I do get the feeling that Barcelona’s teams get affected a lot by the trips to other countries and the shift in scenery…

    Of course, I can be wrong, but what I like is that we see that the team can play in an impressive manner… even with a “coward” coach like Valverde. And hopefully the team will give more importance to the UCL and La Liga next season… while caring less about CdR… and Valverde should understand that he should rest Messi, Suarez, Rakitic, Pique and Busquets before UCLs matches… rotate them in La Liga mainly before those games and risk it a little…

    People say that Ernesto is an idiot for not rotating when La Liga is almost secured… they seem to forget that La Liga is almost clinched because Valverde decided to go for a lesser risk in the tournament… had he rotated more then we wouldn’t have a 12 point lead at this stage… perhaps 5 or 6… but not that big of a lead and La Liga would be up for grabs…

    • G6O
      April 21, 2018

      Luis Enrique rotated a lot last season, we saw the result.

      You can’t have it both ways when you don’t have the squad for it.

    • Rokke
      April 21, 2018

      About the Roma collapse, to me the only logical explanation for why Valverde chose to fit a strong XI against Leganes rather than resting players for the game in Rome is that he thought we were already through, and then it might have been more beneficial in the long run to get the league done and dusted early. In hindsight we were overconfident and should have rested more against Leganes, but I refuse to believe Valverde is just too stupid to understand the importance of resting the players.

  8. Jim
    April 21, 2018

    I was doing well, and really proud of myself, and then he had to go and apologise to the ref for losing his temper and that was it. My wife actually made her excuses and left the room on some pretext. Grown man crying and all that.

    I recovered just in time to see the team dashing over to hug him as he left the pitch and then that final picture of him on his own with the trophy . . .

    Reflecting on it just now, it wasn’t the fact that we murdered them, it was that we did it playing the sort of football folks said we couldn’t play anymore. That was fitting for Iniesta’s last final, and I have to say in no small measure down to him.

  9. Rokke
    April 21, 2018

    What a game and what a performance by Iniesta. Unfathomable that a player of such class will most likely be playing in China next season, but there’s also something really beautiful in a player of his magnitude deciding to stop completely on his terms. He still has a season or two left in him at the highest level, but it’s hard to imagine a much better sending off for him than the kind of game today.

    Life without Iniesta will be difficult, not necessarily sporting wise but absolutely spiritually. A generational talent who came through the ranks of La Masia and who will go down as one of the greatest midfielders in the history of the game. We can however find some comfort in Coutinho’s recent performances as he has been showing that he has both the mind and the skills to become a key player here, and it was clear today that the team is so much better and more balanced with his creativity out wide along with Messi and Iniesta. We’ll need a player in the same mold as Iniesta in the summer, but if we get that we can have something beautiful.

    I also never want to hear that the 4-4-2 can’t produce beautiful Barca football. People on Barca twitter and other fansites keep throwing around a Cruyff quote about it being unable to provide passing triangles, and thereby it’s bad according to those fans, I guess, but not knowing the origins of that quote, I suspect it’s and old one because 1: the passing triangles were there all game today, and 2: football has evolved a lot from when 4-4-2 was just your tradition rigid formation. Grow up and stop using the words of a dead legend to promote your own agenda. It’s all about movement and the players. If a 4-4-2 provides your team the most balance and fits your key players best, which it really does for us as it allows Messi to play centrally while Suarez is still playing as a striker, then you should probably set your team up in that formation instead of living in some dream where you can only ever play 4-3-3 or you’re destined to fail everything.

    Seal the league against Depor and this goes down as a good season for me with one screw-up against Roma. Not everything has worked this season, but Valverde deserves credit for at least trying something different. Now he has to build on the things that stuck to the wall while acknowledging his mistakes, and the direction has some clean up and refurbishing to do in the summer, but the season and this game in particular makes me hopeful and very excited for what’s to come.

  10. luisthebeast
    April 21, 2018

    Having Coutinho at CL would be a different story.
    Still adapting to the team but he would be far more useful than Dembele.
    Next season will be fun with the right moves.

  11. Chiu
    April 22, 2018

    – Roma game was a bad night, you slack a bit and complacency; you get knocked out from the CL. It’s always cruel.

    – Its understandable about the moan and regret that still linger. More cules would accept it if both legs were tight, but this tie was 99% wrapped up with 4-1 win in Camp Nou. It’s unfathomable that a team with current Barca calibre would screw it. Players just didn’t want it, probably.

    – But something deeper I think, some of our pillars want the season end by April, so they can save themselves/ self protecting for WC, we don’t know what potential injury they are carrying if the season end till CL final end of May; 2 weeks away from WC opening game.

    _ anyway, let it go. time to celebrate the domestic double and hopefully next season CL will be ours. And so excited to see Messi going all out for his last competitive WC

  12. ugo nze
    April 23, 2018

    Rokke

    pls understand. if you watch the match, the formation is 442 but if you watch closely. you will notice that the formation is more likely a 433. and also this gives everyone chance to be free and gives them an opportunity to do what they do best..
    look at swarez..getting more man forward to assist him.. to me i must say and admit this is the best Barcelona game i’ve watched this season. and it reminds me of our old self’s..And i know you all will also say the same. not because of the coach or the players. but Because of everyone saying lets play our game our known style. lets be free for once let be ourselves… and what did you get, beauty of the club, beauty of the player’s, beauty of the fans..wow.. it’s not about players getting rested. no but Because they decided to play their way…and whenever You watch the game you see barca you see the joy of watching them. you see that identify, that id, that missing link…i will now be thinking what batome will be thinking so Is EV And So Is the player’s, and also the world … my question now is, will he continue To play this way or to continue playing like malaga that got our ass wooped against Roma….To Stay Or To Be Out..
    but It depends on how they sees things… it will be good if they see like me..or they still see things of their corrupted self’s…

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