Football, context and REAL mediocrity

On July 30, the official FC Barcelona Twitter account wished a happy birthday to Andre Gomes, with a hope that he can return to action soon.

Predictably, the replies filled with people who chose to paint the walls with bile, because why not? This is, after all, a player who is wrestling with his own demons of pressure and expectation, who is feeling psychologically hindered from doing the thing he loves most in the world, the thing that is his job. This is a player who knows the seasons that he has had at the club, a dream job, have not met his or anyone’s expectations and showed up this season fit, muscular and ready to make a mark — or show off for his next job.

He didn’t even last a half of the first preseason friendly, picking up a hamstring injury that will sideline him for about two months.

Yeah, that guy needs your crap.

Here’s something even more interesting. The people giving Gomes crap on Twitter, Instagram and anywhere else that they can, more likely than not, aren’t as good as Gomes in the context of what they do, and probably a fair bit worse.

Gomes was one of 22 players to make the roster of FC Barcelona, easily one of the top football sides in the game, maybe even the top side. That means that based on his job appointment, Gomes is one of the 22 best at what he does, in some sort of context. Not good enough for Barça? Let’s say Valencia, then, who finished fourth. So he is one of the top 100 or so at his job. How good are you at your job? Could you perform it under the pressure, expectation and scrutiny players are subjected to? Would you visit Twitter with trepidation, wondering how full your mentions are going to be after you got a C on that exam, or was late filing that report for a meeting deadline.

“You suck. Go somewhere and die, you waste of money.”

In my role as a journalist for a Top 10 publication, some might presume a level of quality and competence. If you look at all the papers, zines and blogs and look at their music editors, would someone place me in the Top 20? Top 100? Interesting question. How about you and what you do? Where do you think you would rank if there was an open tryout for your job, may the best person win?

How good are you?

A player for a mid-table professional side in one of the Top 5 leagues is exceptional at his craft. He performs at a level that in the context of our day jobs, we can only hope to aspire to. If we met that level, we would be elite — able to write our own ticket, make the kinds of absurd demands that elite people in our particular jobs can make. “I want a bunch of money, a nap room, a car and a puppy. Do you want me or not?”

Most of us, like the players we line up to excoriate, are decent at what we do. We’re good enough to keep our jobs. If we had fans, there would be days where they would take to Twitter to rant about how much we suck, and should be fired. It’s worth wondering how we might feel, were that to happen. Would you feel bad? Motivated? Angry? All of the above?

Lucas Digne is leaving Barça for Everton. He has been a professional. He has played when asked, sat when demanded, hasn’t carped or snarled about playing time, hasn’t said that he would be better if he played more. He just did a professional’s job for the club that he works for, even going above and beyond when a terror attack hit Barcelona’s La Rambla when he rushed to provide assistance. The club’s official Twitter account noted that he was given leave to finalize his business, and again, bile. The club gave him a choice, and he chose to leave, for more playing time and almost certainly, a whole lot less extraneous crap. So thank him for his service, and wish him well in his new role.

“Can’t we criticize players? Are we just supposed to accept mediocrity?”

Sure. Knock yourself out. But understand that you probably suck at what you do with a greater frequency than a top-level footballer. And our colleagues, our bosses, find ways to live with our adequacy, day in and day out.

“But it’s different. He’s an athlete.”

Contracts don’t say, “You will be paid X amount, and you have to take Y amount of crap.” We support a club. We aren’t paying customers, unless season ticket holders or socis. We have nothing invested except our desire to live vicariously through a bunch of millionaires. No wonder we are so angered when they don’t meet our expectations. We’re a lot like the sporting parent who lives vicariously through their child, making the kid’s life hell every time he or she doesn’t win. Our feelings relate directly to the performance of things we can’t control, and that lack of control makes us even angrier.

A fantastic Barça season sucked in fact because of two matches, Roma and Levante. Nothing else matters. Damn Valverde for wanting to win the Copa, and double damn him for wanting to win La Liga. Triple damn him for not using players that everyone screamed aren’t good enough. #valverdeout

Sport is joy, possibility, beauty and failure. It’s life, even as it is an escape from life. Sport isn’t supposed to be misery. Not day in, and day out. As we move into another season, it’s probably worth assessing what we want from sport. I want victory, and beauty. I want a connection to the club that I love, want to believe that everyone is trying their hardest to achieve. I want to respect those players as professionals, even as I understand that like any of us they are going to have crap days, and I am going to grumble about those crap days.

But more than anything, I want that escape. I want to take 90 minutes a week and get away from work, life crap, bad training days, getting my own ass kicked on a race course and go all in for my team. During that penalty shootout in a meaningless friendly, I was nervous, wanted to win. Why? The match didn’t matter a whit. But that escape is complete that the team that I love is competing, and nothing else matters.

Players come and go. For every Douglas there is a Rakitic, for every Gomes a Sergi Roberto. Football, like life, has variety, in expectation and execution. Accepting mediocrity or becoming a cheerleader is foolishness. But without understanding, sport quickly runs out of beauty and possibility. It becomes a grim, joyless world where everything is the worst and the only question is how will they let me down today?

That isn’t a world I want to live in, but maybe that’s just me.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

36 Comments

  1. luisthebeast
    July 30, 2018

    What happening with Valverde is so weird.
    People critisize half of our squad as not good enough,they are happy with Paulinho,Digne out,they want Andre,Paco,Denis out,they say now that Messi and Suarez cant press anymore.
    And they also critisize Valverde as a coward and mid table coach,the man who won double with this squad with a +17 points from a much better squad.

  2. mvarfi
    July 30, 2018

    I couldn’t agree more. Thank you Kxevin for this thoroughly thoughtful piece!
    p.s. I just wish I had been the first one to comment…

  3. Jassper
    July 30, 2018

    Reading articles here gives me the joy of being a culer…. Now let’s all stop wanting to get a £150m player out of a 50m guy,(remember messi, iniesta, xavi were free)… support is all that matters whether cheap or expensive. You won’t buy a Nokia 3310 and expect it to be an iphone, but then again you won’t throw it out because it didn’t become an iPhone, all you do is cherish it because it does it primary job (i.e for communication) and that’s why you got it..

  4. georgjorge
    July 30, 2018

    Very thoughtful comment Kxevin, thank you very much!

  5. Andh'ol Roin
    July 31, 2018

    Man in my opinion the campaign so far has been extraordinary with Arthur being the highlight so far, that boy really has what Veratti has but with more creativity. Marlon is a great battle for midfield and if the runours really are true and we are looking at pogba too… Even as we are now, the three new signings are absolute bargains each, the board has done brilliantly. Too bad gomes isn’t leaving, he did acomplish the defensive side but he isnt’t brave enough at least to battle raki for a spot to give the guy some rest. As for denis, thst kid doesn’t really have that thing which we need, he is top class for smaller budgeted teams which aim for less. We are in for a great season!

  6. amit91barca
    July 31, 2018

    Hi I am Amit from India, a lurker here since 2016 and a Barca fan since 2011. The quality of writing and thoughtful comments of other folks here makes me love the club a little more. Most importantly I come here to learn about Football and different persepectives. Just wanted to appreciate this beautiful blog.

    • georgjorge
      August 1, 2018

      Welcome to the comments section, Amit! I hope we’ll hear more from you in the future ; )

  7. luisthebeast
    July 31, 2018

    After 2nd friendly quick observations.
    New signings looking good.
    We need to buy a RB and a LB,Semedo doesnt seems to be what we need.
    Sevilla will pay money to get Vidal and thats a miracle.
    Keep Mina and Rafinha.
    Paco Munir Denis sold.
    Marlon on loan.
    Buy a 9.

    • Bruce Wayne
      August 1, 2018

      If Semedo isn’t what we need, then I don’t know what you want. Really!

  8. luisthebeast
    July 31, 2018

    Oh and next season when you can watch some B team games,so you have your own opinion and not be fooled by some weird Masia maniacs on twitter who try to make some bums to look like 1st material!

  9. August 1, 2018

    Kevin or any of you from US, If you have seen the pre season games live or on tv,, please tell, how did you find our new signings. can we trust all what we are reading about the new players and the ones like Puig.. please am so eager to know.

    • georgjorge
      August 1, 2018

      I haven’t watched the games, but I never put too much on those games. First, motivation varies wildly between the different players – veterans like Messi or Busquets would have nothing to prove at all and could play at only 20 percent., which is true for opposition players as well. Second, new players might be motivated a lot more, but as we’ve seen so often it takes quite some time to play good football when you’ve moved to FC Barcelona.

      So a disastrous performance from a new player wouldn’t worry me much at that point, while a astonishing performance won’t get my hopes up. I just wish I didn’t sound so jaded right now, because I’m actually looking forward to the start of La Liga a lot ; )

      • mvarfi
        August 1, 2018

        You sound cautiously optimistic to me. I feel the same, so far.

  10. amit91barca
    August 1, 2018

    Thanks Georgjorge. I am also eagerly looking forward to the start of La Liga. and hope we win it all this time around. Visca el Barca !

  11. luisthebeast
    August 1, 2018

    People critisized Mourinho and praised Guardiola for the way they spoke about youth players in the tour in USA.
    Funny that in 2017-2018 season at Manchester United,academy graduates played over 6800 minutes and in City 152.

    • Richzorz
      August 2, 2018

      To be fair Mourinho bought one of those “academy graduates” for a world record transfer fee (Pogba), brought in a 29-year old on crazy wages (Sanchez) with the effect of reducing Rashford’s playing time, and I guess the other main contributor to those minutes will have been Lingard who’s 25 and wouldn’t really be considered a “youth player” in the context of Mourinho/Guardiola’s comments…

  12. Jim
    August 2, 2018

    Been a great summer here so I’ve been out and about and I’ve missed a lot.

    I’d echo Fotobirajesh’s request for some idea of how the new signings/ youngsters played in the first two games. Ten minutes of YouTube highlights doesn’t really hack it. Arthur looked decent in the vids I watched and Malcolm looks to have pace and a pretty attacking mentality which is good. I don’t remember Lenglet at all from last season so not sure about that one. But we’ll find out.

    I am in a bit of idanger of losing the drift of what we’re trying to do at the moment. As far as I can see Gomes, TV, Suarez, Digne ( good servant tbh who kept quiet and accepted his playing time and tried to make the most of it . Lot of time for him. ) Vidal, Rafinha, Alcacer were all heading out the door but Digne is the only one gone with what, a week to go before the end of the transfer window ? We need to get a move on. Gomes shouldn’t have been in America. He should have been at home in cotton wool while we found him a home. We’ll now get stuck with him for another six months which is frustrating although I can’t pretend to have seen the Twitter bile that Kxevin talks about. If it’s about his personal life that’s not on but if it’s about his performance on the field then I’m sorry but he takes the big bucks he needs to take any stick for not performing. That’s football and nothing to do with whether he’s better at his job than I was at mine. Don’t understand that thought.

    For me, our best defender, mid and forward from LE Masia should be given a chance with the firsts for the season. If we don’t do it this season, it’s going to get more difficult They can’t win a place with two or three games, that’s not realistic. We also need them. Finances are gonna become pretty important for us over the next season or so. Shame about Alena, Oriol Busquets and their injuries. I’ve not seen anything that gets me particularly excited about Alena in his first team matches but I’ve watched virtually no B team stuff so I defer to others who have in terms of him getting his chance which he deserves. Whatever, I hope we’ve learned from Samper that you don’t send a thoroughbred out to train with teams who can’t string two passes together. On that topic, good to see him back ( ish) and he deserves a chance as well. ( Came across this from June on his rehabilitation. Ankle seems to be flexing well unlike my golfing friend who still has pins in and walks with slight limp.
    https://mobile.twitter.com/SergiSamper/status/1011972412513058819/video/1 )

    These youngsters can be given a chance. The problem with coaches in the past is that they chuck three or four into the team at once for a match against weak opposition and then wonder why they can’t perform. I don’t want to see how they work with other B teamers, I want to see them play with top players. Different situation entirely. You can put one in most weeks and not suffer at all. If we can’t take a chance on them while we have TS, Pique, Busi, Messi and Suarez when will we ?

    In other thoughts , I’m slightly horrified by the possible arrivals of Pogba, Vidal, Willian and Rabiot, for different reasons. Still want Thiago but we may have to get rid of Segura for that to happen. I’m also not entirely sure with reports Abidal is looking mainly at French players. Is this a sign of limited knowledge or contacts ? We have quite a contingent already and I’m already raising the eyebrow at Dembele not returning early to training after not playing most of last season or the WC. Not sure why he needs a long holiday and hope that’s not a sign of attitude.

    So, we probably still need a decent, not great, LB to give Alba a rest, a rather good playmaking CM and a decent CF to give Suarez some rest, especially if we’re gonna continue the daft one up front idea from last season. Tell me we have more than a week to accomplish it.

    Anyway, looking forward to the new season to get a better idea of what Valverde can offer. He was working with a more limited backup last year and so far I’ve seen nothing from RM to worry me. Atletico have done well but I’m pretty sure it’s still too big a gap and they may well fall into the trying to change their winning ( defensive) style trap.

    As a final omen of good fortune my wife has accidentally deleted the Roma fiasco from my Sky box ( which I’d left on as a reminder that life can only get better) so I don’t have to watch it again. As I type this Aberdeen have also just equalised against Burnley in the Europa with a cracking overhead kick. Worth a look.

    • mvarfi
      August 2, 2018

      The way I understand it is that, while Gomes gets paid obscene amounts of money to play games, he is not to be viewed or assessed as if an automaton on the field. A more holistic view of the player, or any player for that matter, is needed in order to not only be fairer in our judgements, but more importantly, so that we allow ourselves to enjoy fellow humans, engaging in a marvelous distraction for our benefit, just a bit more.

      I watched both friendlies. The first halves were better than the second ones for obvious reasons. Better players tend to play better. All three signings gave me warm feelings. I hesitate to be more specific because of the nature of the games. I don’t remember most of the youngsters. I agree with you in that they need to be assessed individually only when surrounded by better players. In that regard, I thought Miranda was more composed than Cucurella when they each played their respective first halves with the first team.

      I know little about football, so I can’t justify getting too wound up about current rumors. I’m in “wait and see” mode.

      Finally, I realized today that Comcast’s deal with BeIn Sports (English and Spanish) has expired and will not be renewed. The only reason I have cable TV is so I can watch LaLiga… Sigh!

      • georgjorge
        August 3, 2018

        I think you summarized the problem of judging André Gomes very well.

        It’s an interesting problem. Usually, we would grant some good-will to people who do rather well in their field (like André Gomes). The question is, does the amount of money they earn for their work somehow make them less likely to be treated as human beings? And how much money is enough to turn them into non-humans?

        This is not such an absurd notion. Remember that having a favorable view on a person includes a good deal of reciprocity, i.e. that person must be seen as acting in a socially desired way to “earn” our good will. Earning indecently huge sums of money every month compared to almost everyone else on the planet without sharing that money (as far as we know) is not exactly socially desired, it smells of greed, arrogance etc.

        I agree that it brings a lot more enjoyment to football if we don’t feel entitled to every good thing a player does and disappointed if it doesn’t happen. But I also understand how the sums paid to top footballers (as well as the superstar status of many of them) are so high nowadays that they introduce some good old-fashioned feelings of social injustice into this sport, which turns partly against the players themselves. The smart thing for all of us who feel this injustice would be to stop watching and supporting this thing, but we all know we aren’t capable of that.

        • mvarfi
          August 3, 2018

          That’s a can of worms…
          I can only speak for myself. I rarely think about how much money Barca players make. Money is a non-issue for me, partly because a lot of players do donate to charities or have financed foundations that do charity work, and partly because I don’t think I’m in a loftier position than they are in the social responsibility front. I donate the occasional few dollars every now and again, I’ve done volunteer work, I try to recycle, buy organic produce, vote… But, I also do not loose any sleep over the fact that there are millions of people on this planet that starve. It’s callous but it can not be helped. Just because I don’t have the financial clout to do something about it, does that make me a more socially responsible human than a football player? I don’t think so. Good old empathy is not enough. It can’t feed folk.

  13. khaddafi
    August 2, 2018

    For heavens sake what does Barça want with arturo Vidal a 31year old. When did barca turn to a Mourinho team that prioritize immediate success over team building?

    How did we get here? when we actually a midfield Marshall, a ball carrier, a ball holder, a player that can dictate the pace of the game. A player in the mould of Modric, Thiago, Pjanic.

  14. luisthebeast
    August 2, 2018

    When your FW and wingers cant do their pressing work,you need a player at MF who can run,cover space,win battles,tackle,be aggresive.
    That was the main problem at Rome,the disaster came from our lazy approach to the game.
    Vidal for 20m is a great signing,especially for tough away games.

  15. luisthebeast
    August 2, 2018

    “When Barca started prioritize short term success”
    From the moment a coach win double and he is a coward mid table coach and cules are like “oh wow madrid won 3 CL in a row,we are shit,we have a shit squad sell them all,promote Masia youths,oh why they dont give minutes to Xavi Simones,why they want to loan Samper,he was go great at Granada”

  16. August 3, 2018

    Thanks Georgjorge for reply. Its not that I dont give any unnecessarry importance to pre seasons games, but its a genuine curiosity to know how our 3 new signings fared.
    You allright Jim:)
    Share your sentiments in Samper and on bringing up the Masia kids. Unless Segura is fired, we would keep looking for players like Rabiot, not Thiago.

    I wonder what is the real reason behind Bayern willing to sell Vidal for just 20m. I guess discipline could be one reason, on and off field. Not long back we used to read about how Barca scouts always used to give a lot of importance to the off field attitude and demeanour of players.. Seems we dont look for that any more. Otherways, Vidal looks like a replacement for Paulinho. However, he is also kind of Ramos on the field, any time red card possibility..

  17. August 3, 2018

    His off the field antics not withstanding this is a decent signing. The reason he is so cheap is because he is 31, coming off a serious injury and on the last year of his contract, plus I imagine they want to dump his salary. From what I understand he is taking a rather large wage cut to come to Barca. Inter offered him double from wha I read.

    If he can remain fit, and that is a pretty big if, he will add a lot of value, just like paulinho did. Past his prime sure, but still a quality player and I don’t expect him to be a regular starter, certainly less so than paulinho given the mf options we have now. He brings a profile that gives Valverde a huge amount of tactical versatility.

    People say he is too rash/undisciplined for Barca, but I remember people saying the same thing about Macherano and we all know how that turned out. Vidal is one of the those players who you absolutely hate when he plays against you but love when he plays for you.

    I see a lot of people complaining that we should have got Thiago instead of him but personally I don’t think Thiago would have been a good buy. Firstly he would have costs triple, secondly I don’t think he has had a single injury free season in his entire career and most importantly I want to see Arthur grow and develop in that role.

    Very excited for the season to kick off. I think we now have a squad with the depth and quality to seriously compete on all fronts. For me the most crucial element is going to be keeping L.Suarez well rested and on form throughout the season. If we can do that and Valverde can manage rotations better than he did last season then the sky is the limit.

    • georgjorge
      August 3, 2018

      It’s not that I think Vidal is a bad player, I’m just puzzled on which needs he fulfils in this team.

      We already have Rakitic in the team for a midfielder who does the dirty work of tackling, running and intercepting. Rakitic is about the same age as Vidal and has become very good in that role at Barcelona, and he already has had time to settle in. We also had Paulinho, who could do the same, though I don’t know if the player himself wanted to leave this season.

      If last season is any indication, Messi will move more and more towards midfield over the next years. For that reason alone, I would be surprised if we regularly started four midfield players. Are we really planning to play both Rakitic and Vidal alongside Busquets in a three-man midfield? Or will Vidal be content to move here from Bayern and just be a backup for Rakitic?

      I can understand the potential of all the other signings so far this season, but this one doesn’t feel like it fits very well.

      • August 3, 2018

        I think the whole point of adding Vidal is to give much needed rest to Rakitic, who does indeed fulfill a very similar role but is extremely overworked and tends to dip in form when very tired. We will need his work rate and experience even more this season with Iniesta gone so keeping him fit and in top form is critical. At under €20m with the experience and quality that vidal has this signing is a no brainer really. At his age he will neither expect nor demand a starting role at barca and given his knee injury will need time to bed in slowly anyways.

        Last season we missed out on a possible unbeaten treble because we lacked quality depth. We now have a team that is stacked everywhere imo, with a great mix of youth and experience. I for one am very excited and optimistic about the upcoming season and cannot wait to see how Valverde does now that he has the tools at his disposal that he lacked last year.

      • Hristo
        August 4, 2018

        According to opta Rakitic is bellow average tackler, 8th in our team. His interceptions are low as well.
        On top of that he contributions are twice as well statisticly to those of his Sevilla days

  18. luisthebeast
    August 3, 2018

    With the players we have it seems that the system will be 4-2-3-1.
    Busquets-Rakitic/Vidal,Coutinho-Messi-Dembele-Suarez.
    It s clear that Messi cant play anymore as a false 9 or winger,so Valverde will try to have him as close to the box but also the team needs to have a balance in transitions and double pivot is a must.
    Keep in mind that neither Coutinho neither Dembele are great at defensive duties.
    We can forget 4-3-3,Busquets cant play anymore as a lone DM,we dont have the players for that.

  19. luisthebeast
    August 3, 2018

    Cules must understand that Messi is nt anymore 23 or 25 or 27.
    The club try to help him in these last seasons,they signed Neymar,Suarez,Alexis,Coutinho,Dembele.
    Yes they paid huge money on FW and wingers to have the best around him and also that affected the other positions,when you spend so much on FWs you cant also buy WC in MF or DF.
    It was sad that some transfers did nt work,like Cesc,Turan,Andre,they were nt shit players but they did nt work.
    That happens in the game.
    It is nice to want to build a new team with youths from Masia and also great young transfers and also to want treble every year.But that is real life not FIFA.
    Club is in a weird situation that must start building after Messi Barca and also have a team to maximize last Messi seasons.
    Not easy at all.

  20. luisthebeast
    August 3, 2018

    And tbh this is nt 2008,there are nt great Masia talents in the squad like Xavi Iniesta Puyol Pique to have a core and build around them,there are some kids like Alena or Puig but who knows how good they are to have the quality and the mentality to be the core of a new era.
    In 2 seasons many of the starters of today will must replaced by quality players and if Masia cant help club will need a lot of luck to find the answers.

  21. luisthebeast
    August 3, 2018

    So for now i prefer a 31y old Vidal than a Rabiot who can have the luck of Andre or Thiago who is 27 and would cost over 60m.
    Offcourse i would liked better a Pogba or a Veratti or a KDB but club dont have the money to sign a WC MF.
    For me the Dembele deal was a mistake,club could use better that money and maybe Coutinho also but they had to reinforce the attack after Neymar departure and they prioritized that than the MF.
    Cant blame them but soon they wil need to solve many things.

  22. squeen
    August 3, 2018

    Vidal as a player reminds me a bit of Turan…just saying.

    Also, a strange thought I’ve had, but never vocalized: perhaps bombing out of the CL and breaking the winning streak will end up being a blessing this year because the players will still have a hunger in their bellies.

    I’m a little reluctant to believe in Arthur. Been burned before, but I can’t deny my excited anticipation.

    AndLordPleaseNoPoga! (ack)

  23. luisthebeast
    August 3, 2018

    Big respect to Zlatan,36y old after a horrible injury and a surgery,15 goals in 17 games in USA.
    In modern football age is nothing,if a player works hard and have the mentality and the passion,can play at top level until 35.
    Look at Ribery and Robben.
    And then you have some 20-22 y old kids who play good for a season and they believe they are so great that they dont need much training.

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