“It is what it is.”
When Ernesto Valverde uttered that phrase after Barcelona’s shock loss to Liverpool in Champions League, it was as surprising as it was open to interpretation.
Some lost their minds, thinking that he was brushing off the devastation. But no. And in a way Valverde offered the perfect summation not only to that day, but to life.
A neighbor of “it is what it is” is “que sera sera,” or whatever will be, will be. Again. Perfect. In many ways it could even be thought of as the template to help everyone move on, to get to the next spaces after the match. It wasn’t a shrug as much as it was acceptance and acknowledgement and a question: “Okay. So what now?”
On Twitter, the firing squads were out. Valverde, Rakitic, Suarez, Coutinho, etc, etc. Everyone personalized the loss in their own way, and continue to personalize it. Answers are being sought to questions that can’t be answered, which doesn’t stop people from seeking solutions. But at the end of it all, it is what is is.
There are things that we believe in. Fate is a nebulous quality that everyone subscribes to, with varying degrees of fatalism. People call fate many things, but this life force that governs stuff gets different amounts of weight. Some put everything in it, others not so much.
We like to think that we can control events, and in the broader scheme of things, we can. We can choose not to go surfing on a day that weather people predict massive waves. But once we choose to wax up the board, if a big-ass wave comes for us, we can shrug as we ride it, thinking of the role of fate in bringing us that wave as well as either of those two phrases: It is what it is, or que sera, sera. Both work.
You can use every bit of your available skill to ride that wave out, but it might still smash you on the beach. What next? Reliving the wave? Rueing the decision to go surfing that day when you should have known better? How long do you relive it? If the next day is perfect surfing weather, are you sitting at home, looking at your board and wondering, or do you ride?
Once, riding my bicycle to work on a wet morning, I was riding slow and careful so as not to pick up anything that would puncture the wet rubber. No avail. Flat tire. I happened to be near a bicycle shop that was owned by a friend, and popped by on the chance he might be there, even though it was many hours before it was to open.
He just happened to be there at that exact instant I needed him to be, and was just about to leave when I rolled up. Fate? Luck? I fixed my flat, and while walking down a wooden ramp down to where my bike was, I slipped. When I put my arms out to break the fall, my hand slammed the wheel down on the ramp, damaging the rim. It was hilarious, and a perfect real-life illustration of fate, and it is what it is.
“It is what it is” is liberating in the right context. It doesn’t mean that something doesn’t hurt. It just means that welp … okay. What now? How do we move forward? How much time do we give ourselves?
Since the Liverpool loss, Barça Twitter has been in turmoil, a sea of agony and recrimination. Many have talked about being “humiliated,” a notion that is fascinating. As connected as we are to a team, just how connected are we? How can we personally be humiliated by a loss of the team that we support?
There has been talk of the way they lost being “unacceptable.” Which means what, exactly? Is someone going to stop being a supporter? Will there be a video of them burning their Barça shirts? What makes it “unacceptable” and what is the next reaction? At work, unacceptable behavior leads to a firing. In a relationship, unacceptable behavior might end it. In football?
Liverpool came up short in the Premiership title on the final day of the season, having squandered a 10-point lead over eventual winner, Manchester City. Their last match was away, but Anfield was packed, and celebratory. Even after the outcome was inevitable, the love and support for the team was on display.
“But they didn’t have a 3-0 lead! It is how Barcelona lost!” Well, okay. They had a 10-point lead in the standings at almost halfway. That is a big lead in any league. They gave it away.
At Barcelona’s last home match of the season, against Getafe, the Camp Nou was just over half full. If the cold shoulder could take a form, it would be in the expanses of empty seats. But if, as Valverde accurately said, “It is what it is,” then what is our role in this?
We are here because of the team. We love and support that club and that team, many are great fans of players on that team. In the next match, against Getafe, that team was hard to watch. They were playing like they didn’t want to be there, and they probably didn’t. Messi’s face almost broke me every time they showed it. Vidal scored a goal, but only he was smiling. Our heroes were in pain. Any residue of Anfield that was coursing through my veins was leeched by watching that dance of the dead.
But being there was an important part of moving on for the players and ideally, for us. Life goes on. There is the next training, the next match, the next trophy on offer. Life doesn’t care about the human need to wallow, because there is always more of it. Work. Friends. Food. Stuff. How many of us have heard from someone, “I understand you’re hurting, but … “
Heartbreak often makes us more compassionate and understanding. It tempers us on the anvil of misery. When we have a friend who is going through a hard time, what do we do? “I feel worse than you do, asshole. Get out of my house.” Or do we support them at their dire time in any way that we can? In watching the players against Getafe, for many, the support system kicked on. “My team needs me” is a weird thing, because it really doesn’t. It does in the sense of money for the stuff you buy, but practically, that’s it.
But if we believe in the notion of support as some intangible force, a thing that a hopeful collective musters to buttress that to which it is devoted, then yes, the team needs us. Would they be just as great in an empty stadium? Yup. But the idea of support, of buoying the players with our emotions, is real. It works for them and us, for better and for worse.
After Ivan Rakitic was photographed at a festival in Seville, the machine went to work. He wasn’t in sufficient pain. How dare he take a photo, smiling, with his brother. Some Boixos Nois visited his home, and he talked to them, explaining that his commitment was full, but a planned trip with his family was a planned trip with his family, as they are his everything. Unacceptable is ultras visiting a player’s home because he has the temerity to be photographed being joyful with his family.
It’s easy to wish for a template that would help people get past this, stop fighting, posting hashtags and calling for various heads to roll. Valverde’s initial reaction is still the best one. The more vulgar, modern descendant of “it is what it is” is “shit happens.” It does, and reliably. Wipe off and roll.
What is there for us now? The last Liga match, then the Copa del Rey final. Then a summer of transfer gossip and speculation. Right now, there is a conversation going on in my Twitter mentions that I don’t care about, because it’s about Anfield and aftershocks. Doesn’t matter. “It is what it is” has become “It was what it was.”