Contagion

Pathology is about the study of the science behind diseases. If a pathologist were to do a study of FC Barcelona and its fanbase right now, what might they find? What steps might they take to quarantine the malady that is spreading exponentially? Fascinating to consider. Let’s start with the famed hashtag #valverde out.

As the disease spreads, it has mutated. It no longer wants a coach fired. It also wants a team to lose so that the firing of the coach can be facilitated. Smart people will say that sometimes you have to be aggressive with an illness, that sometimes extreme steps must be taken.

Whoa.

Let’s start with a more basic suggestion before digging in to these notions: Find another club. You should never, ever want the club that you support to lose. If you do, perhaps what you really support is your particular pathology, which is a need to be right. And that is wrong. How can anyone who remembers how crushed Messi is by losing, ever want his team to lose if they support that team and lionize the player?

There is an even bigger problem with the Valverde pathology, which is that people just aren’t considering the entire issue. Surprisingly for some, the Battle of Rome is still being fought, never mind the battle of Anfield. What most aren’t considering is that if Barcelona rolled out the exact same lineups (and there is a strong case to be made for both XIs, then and now) but with a different coach, how different would the results have been?

Liverpool ran Barcelona’s old legs off. Valverde and his team, seduced by a first half in which they really could have had a goal, looked to stay the course and move on. What happened next? Valverde, say the pathologists. Ah, yes. He got outplayed in one goal, didn’t mark a player who was rooted like a tree, waiting to head the ball home. He also played the crap pass, then didn’t control it. Valverde also stood around adjusting his socks or setting a wall up exactly right, while a schoolboy ploy fooled veteran pros.

#valverdeout, indeed. But if you change the coach, do the players do the same thing? What could have been done to prevent the outcome? Everyone has their players they would have selected, including me. But unless you also admit that Valverde’s tried-and-true XI was a sound decision and the players made uncharacteristic errors, the arguments are incomplete.

If we don’t want to admit that team speed was also a problem, that Liverpool got to every disputed ball first, we still aren’t looking at a full picture. Coaches are fired all the time because it’s easier to fire one than 22. And there is sometimes a new coach bump before reality returns. Just ask Manchester United about that.

There are other reasons to not think Valverde is the right call to lead the team next season, but Rome or Anfield aren’t among them, even as people are refusing to let those go. I made many of those arguments here, back in February when his renewal for another season was announced. Want him gone for Alenya, Puig and De Jong. Not Anfield.

When Josep Bartomeu said that Valverde will remain, he left a lot to unpack for the “Valencia needs to do us a favor” crowd. If the Copa was going to sway the outcome, Bartomeu had any number of wishy-washy utterances at his beck and call. He was firm, which means that you’d better believe he consulted the main player in this drama, Lionel Messi. If Messi didn’t think that Valverde was the one to continue, Bartomeu would have jettisoned Valverde without a moment’s hesitation. Yet he made a very public statement about his coach’s future.

If the Copa is the weightless thing that so many culers think it is, what would then elevante its weight to a level that would warrant a coach being fired, if losing a 3-0 aggregate lead in Champions League, a much more important competition, didn’t already do it?

There are things that Valverde should have done, we can speculate in the perfect clarity of hindsight. But don’t suggest for a moment that there weren’t things that the players could have done, that if you play that same match ten times in the exact same conditions, Barcelona doesn’t advance nine out of ten time. Hindsight doesn’t matter now. As he said after the Liverpool match, “It is what it is.”

So now what? Where does the pathology go from here? Let’s say Valencia stomps Barça in the Copa final and Valverde is fired. What then, except another off season contemplaing failure for a player who deserves nothing but good things? What coach comes, and what does he do? And what happens when that still doesn’t mesh with our anticipation of a brave, bold new reality?

#newguyout

And THEN what? Where does it end? No idea, but until we get our collective minds around breaking free of the peculiar pathology that breeds misery and change. How many coaches are fired until the right one comes? Every six months? “You have until the winter to bring us the joy of perfect football, or you’re fired, too.”

A startling observation was made by Gabriele Marcotti, that of the five coaches who have all won titles in the European Top 5, only Guardiola is safe. Allegri at Juventus has already gone, it wouldn’t shock if Valverde left, Kovac could leave Bayern and Tuchel PSG. It is the kind of a world we used to scoff at that we are now part of. Are we better for it, or just unhappier?

A pathologist would suggest a program of quarantine, then looking at the most effective way to cure the malady that is infecting a populace. The problem with this particular pathogen is that the affliction is an addiction to winning all the time even when such a thing is impossible, coupled with an idealism that also wants to win the right way.

The prognosis for that patient is, in a word, dire.

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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.