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.