Some years ago, there was a cycling team that did a hard Saturday morning group ride, a legit spirit crusher. One teammate, preferring not to start his day with agony, would ride up to meet us after the pain and suffering, to enjoy the post-thrashing camaraderie. Like clockwork, there he was, except for one Saturday.
It was weird, his not showing. It was a beautiful day. We wondered about our talisman, and the day went on. A bit later, we learned that he didn’t show because he was pedalling to the ride as usual, but on this Saturday morning a drunk driver crossed his path, striking him in such a way that it pinned him to a parked car. He survived, but it took him a very, very long time before he could walk, much less pedal a bicycle, which he eventually did.
Arturo Vidal destroyed only a Ferrari when he drove drunk. He got lucky. And because of the way that sport absolves miscreants, he had a presser, wept, and wasn’t even sent home from Chile’s Copa America squad. Why? He could get it done on the pitch, and the rules are different for those players.
That same summer his transfer to Bayern Munich went through, because he could get it done on the pitch. He is now an FC Barcelona player, because someone still thinks that he can get it done on the pitch, even as for me, this transfer represents so much that is wrong with the club and how it is being run now, an “anything to win” mentality that permeates everything.
There is much talk about “mes que” ness, and people not understanding what it means, or grousing about this player and that player profile, and the board is killing the club because of formation stuff or tactical decisions. It’s so much nonsense.
But in the same year where the club is looking to finalize selling the naming rights of the club, the men who allowed the club to be found guilty of an offense to keep their own names clear have sanctioned signing a player who, luckily enough, only killed a Ferrari rather than another person or himself.
Hey, he is a bargain, and can still get it done on the pitch. Did they even have to hold their noses while they did it? Probably not. Second chances, right? He didn’t kill anyone, just destroyed a Ferrari. Oh, that Arturo.
Luis Suarez represented one thing. When the club signed him, a player found guilty of having made racist remarks to another player, who bit an opponent during a World Cup match, the curtain was raised on the “anything to win” mentality. He morphed from vile to “What a goal!” in no time, as the moral malleability that cloaks players who can get it done on the pitch went into effect. But one big Barça Twitter account still calls him “That Guy.”
Vidal is another level that is, for me, a disgusting one. Character and morality is supposed to matter. There was a time when the club considered the character of the players it was going to splash millions on. In the here and now it’s business, and everything goes, when it isn’t for sale. The technical staff should scout Ruben Semedo, who is bound to be a bargain. Second chances and all, right? He’s out of jail and promises to be a better person. Okay.
Does morality have a place in football, in sport in general? It’s worth an ask. Or should we just go directly to what Vidal can do for the team, assuming his serious knee injury hasn’t left him a shadow of the player he used to be. We can say that it is a shrewd piece of business for a player who can provide quality depth, something sorely lacking at Barça last season. We can say that he replaces the Paulinho profile that Valverde wanted to retain, can say that he adds fire and fury, effort, goals, blablabla, all the stuff that we say when talking about a signing.
The club wants to make sure that Messi has the best shot to win a lot more big silver in his dwindling time at the highest level, and a player such as Vidal can help assure that. It all makes sense, tactically and on paper.
But the club that so many of us love is supposed to represent more than that. That club is supposed to say that “We can’t consider a player such as that, because the character of our players matters. There will be people in the stands who support this club, who have lost loved ones to the actions of drunk drivers. FC Barcelona understands this, and wants to make our stance clear.” But in the here and now, this group running the club would never say that, the men still shaking off the bed head from laying down with Qatar, who found morality only when a higher offer from a different sponsor presented itself.
The technical staff, including Eric Abidal, presented the signing and the club got it done. Valverde defending the signing in a press conference, talking about all that Vidal will be able to do for his team.
It’s all about profiles and money now, about what someone can do for the team. The Vidal transfer looks to be a bargain, at something around 18 million for a top-level player who still has a couple of seasons in his legs, assuming normal function. But it’s fair to ask what’s the real cost of that bargain? That’s up to each of us, but it’s too rich for my blood.