“It’s clear we lost the worst way possible in the CL, but that’s how football works. Anyone can have a bad day, and you have to pay the cost. They were superior, but this victory against Sevilla is very important. The team needed it.”
— Jordi Alba
Life is a struggle with acceptance. Each and every day, we wrestle with uncertainty, and do so in various ways. In so many ways our embrace of sport introduces yet another control variable. We can watch our team and root for them, but we can’t influence the result in any way.
Barça obliterated Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final, dropping a vaunted manita in a match that was for the team’s first trophy of this season, with the second — for winning La Liga — on tap. The group was magnificent. Iniesta started, and played like Iniesta, like many of us knew that he would, a genius who has decided to leave the only club he has really known. He shook, slid and danced, and we want him to decide to stay.
After the match today, Jordi Alba was snarling, dropping truth bombs left and right. He and Sergi Roberto discussed the Roma match, the latter saying that everyone was trying to figure out what happened, but have also decided to move on. Jordi Alba decided to lash out at all of the talk about Valverde, saying that their Mister brought a clunky team to something exceptional, and Roma was on the players rather than Valverde.
Roma. It will always be difficult to consider this season without considering that awful 90 minutes. But as we watched the annihilation today, it was difficult not to wonder where this team was. Even where a shadow of this team was. It was more than fatigue and tired legs. Something happened, something deeper, something that even the players don’t know, and they were there.
In 1956 a movie came out, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” The premise was that alien life forms came to Earth, bringing giant seed pods. The pods were placed at a potential victim’s house. When they went to sleep, the pod would “hatch,” taking the form of the person. It looked like them, sounded like them, but something was dead inside the replicant, something you would only know with intimate knowledge of the person.
Maybe Barça got body snatched. it’s as likely an explanation as anything else.
Look at that dynamic first goal, that started with a 70-yard bomb from Cillessen, a keeper with a key pass. Coutinho ran onto it, popped a pass to Suarez who slammed home. It was a bustout, and strangely reminiscent of how Roma played against Barça, bypassing the Sevilla press to get directly at the back line. It was a brilliant goal, and one wholly unexpected by Sevilla. Barça plays a certain way. What was this?
What life should really teach us is that control is illusory. We don’t have it. Not in work except in a limited sense, not in life, certainly not in the sport we watch as we cheer for our teams. Comfort and acceptance come when we understand how little control we have, accept and embrace that.
Roma was painful because a team that is so often controlled and in control, was out of it, run over and kept getting run over. Time and again, goal after goal with no answers. It verged on traumatic, and our quest for knowledge is going everywhere, from rotation and tired legs to a coach whose fault it all was. Reality is, who knows how it happened. Tacticians held forth, and it’s easy to explain what Roma did. It is impossible to explain what Barça did.
So what if we let it go?
What if we consider the Roma match as history, a series of moments beyond everyone’s control, and move on. Today’s match was a beautiful exorcism in which the team that we love played like the team that we know. Sevilla wasn’t expected to win this match, as much as people tried to create danger from a team that has been leaking goals like a sieve since its amazing ouster of Manchester United from Champions League. It’s almost as if Sevilla made a pact with Fate, giving everything to get that result, sacrificing much.
The final score probably wasn’t expected, becasue people still aren’t convinced that Barça is as good as they are, even as the openness of their attack today made them defensively suspect. Sevilla had chances, just as Celta had chances, just as Roma had chances. But from the early first goal, Barça was always on the front foot, deciding to deal with the philosophical notion of control by striving to play their game. When in doubt, do what you know how to do. Don’t think. Cede control to muscle memory and tactical reflex. Accept what you can do. Cede control.
This match was a party, an exorcism. Look at the spacing on the pitch, the ball movement, the running, the aggression. In many ways, it is a mini rebellion against the stolid solidity that has characterized this season, almost as if the accountant shed his sensible suit and black cap-toe shoes, took a trip to Armani and went wild. Barça gave up chances to Sevilla, but scored five goals. Poor finishing and luck helped with their clear sheet, along with an excellent match of Cillessen.
Iniesta scored. He had to score. We have long joked about the force field in front of goal that seems to plague everybody’s favorite player. Today, it was down. He spanked a deflected shot off the crossbar, and scored a lovely goal at the end of a typically Barça move. Iniesta. Correa tried a move, and it was Iniesta who darted over to control the danger, just outside his own box.
And look at that damn football. The run, the dance, the Alba backheel and the Messi slam home. But the roots of it was a perfect give and go with — who else — Iniesta, who slid into space to play a perfect ball for Alba to control. Alba, of course, tried to spurn the gift but made good in the end.
By the 33rd minute, Sevilla was two goals down. Sevilla had to chase the match, which was only going to lead to what it led to: more Barça goals. Look at how open the Wanda pitch seemed, compared to how compressed the home team, Atletico de Madrid, make it. It seemed as expansive as the Camp Nou, and Barça took full advantage, pressing and driving to create something, to make something beautiful for themselves.’
Before the match, Valverde said in a press conference that the team wanted, needed to win the Copa final so that they could begin the process of forgetting about the Roma debacle. We snarled in the cauldron of Barça Twitter, calling Valverde tone deaf, expressing rage and outrage that something such as that would ever be forgotten. Then after the match, Sergi Roberto talked about that very thing, about the players needing this result to purge, to chase away the ghosts.
To exorcise, they had to give up control. Not only tactical control, not only defensive control, but psychological control.
What if they had done that against Roma?
They didn’t. Let it go. They did it here, and won a trophy. They celebrated, even as the ceremonies were bittersweet because the players already know. The image of Messi hugging Iniesta, eyes closed like something that he never wanted to let go, the subsitution of Iniesta and the cheers from everyone in the stadium, the hugs from every member of the XI, Iniesta blinking back the tears.
Messi was genius, with pass after pass that only he could make, almost as if wanting to reassure Iniesta that though he is leaving, his magic will still exist. The third goal, an absurd ball threaded between the phalanx of defenders accompanying Suarez yet still putting it in a spot that only Suarez could get to, bursting clear to slot home.
The last time Barça played Sevilla, they pulled off an improbabe comeback from two goals down to gain the draw and remain undefeated. Sevilla was a different team, and Barça was a different team. Barça is harder now, angrier, more resolute. It’s easy to say that this team wouldn’t have been turned by Roma, but that’s history. Let it go. Enjoy your team, enjoy that magic, watch them do what they do.
This was always going to be this way. Sevilla might have suspected it, might have said among themselves, “You know, this team is looking to beat the crap out of something, someone in its first big match after that Roma defeat. This could be us.” And it was.
Iniesta’s goal could only have been assisted by Messi, could only have come from one of those perfect Barça give-and-gos that they perfect on practice pitches by playing telepathic football, his pass to Messi just outside the box leading to a run that can only be stopped by fouling him, but he is already in the box. When Messi slid him the ball, everyone — maybe even Sevilla supporters resigned to the inevitable — wanted Iniesta to do exactly what he did. His control was an afterthought as he rounded the keeper and bashed it home. It looked easy, but there are few players in the game who could have scored that goal.
The match was already over, but Iniesta put paid to everything with his goal, even the psychological coda on the proceedings. The Chicago Penya sang his name, just as the supporters did at the match. What else could you do?
Letting go is hard, but necessary. Life forces us to, to keep us from becoming bitter, a mentality shaped by what we have lost rather than what we have. The most bitter old people act as though they miss being young. The most bitter sports fans constantly discuss the ones that got away, the matches that their team lost rather than the ones that their team won, letting failure and negativity define their sporting existence.
The players of FC Barcelona chose not to do that today, ensuring that they will have a domestic double in a season that has been legitimately magical. It has featured amazing comebacks, goals that we don’t quite know how they happened, moments of wonder and majesty, capped off by a psychic and sporting purging against Sevilla. Barça’s players chose to not be defined by failure, chose to write their own story, to show everyone what they could do, and it was spectacular, beauty that is what it is, a beatdown that was for the players, for themselves. Have they let go? Today’s match wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t. Control what you can, let the rest be what it is.