Barça 0, Real Madrid 0, aka “Playing out the string”

Everybody has luggage. What motivates us to get new luggage, when we have luggage? Something has to break, or be too small for our needs. It never, ever occurs to us to get new luggage as long as our luggage works.

Barça and Real Madrid are teams festooned, positively peppered with luggage, baggage that is players, back stories, our expectations of them and our unwillingness to let go. Boards and technical staffs know that so they put off making moves we clamor for but don’t truly mean, because the damn luggage that we have is fine. It works, we know it, we adapt to it. One wheel sticks a little bit, okay.

People will convince themselves that this was a good, or interesting Classic instead of what it was, a match between a pair of old heavyweights stalemated in lassitude, poor decisions and aversion to risk. The match we got was the byproduct of unparallelled success, legendary players, fear, stagnation, our own needs.

Because we supporters are playing out the string, too.

We clamor for a team that will play the right way, because what else do we know? The usual way, the way that had the world singing sonnets of praise, is the thing. Do that thing with the right people and magic will happen. But those days are gone, too. We love that favorite bag. Why give it up?

We evan adapt new luggage to old specifications. “Nope, not the old bag,” we say, “which did this precise thing. Look at how it fits in the overhead bin. This new bag? Nah.”

It isn’t nostalgia as much as it is a comfort with what works, an established template against which all else is going to fail because it isn’t that thing. New player in the position of an old legend? Well, he’s not this, or that, can’t do this, or that. Sell. And the next one comes, and goes. Now where’s that old bag …

Pique kicked ass again, for a 32-year-old part time businessman. When Barça struggled to play out of the back in the past, he or Puyol or Umtiti or somebody would make a gambol, a dart up the pitch with the ball. That Pique isn’t with us any longer. Now Pique is part of a mess of veterans just on that pencil-thin line between functional and past it.

Pique, Ramos, Rakitic, Modric, Kroos, Vidal, Suarez, Benzema. There are new players tucked in here and there, each team sporting a bright, super-talented young midfielder whose skills are in thrall of the old familiars, the tenured veterans.

Real Madrid has the same batch of limitations, so when two identical teams in so many ways, even down to a sparkling young midfielder, square up, zeroes is the inevitable outcome. Barça even has to play like Madrid now, rushing into open spaces, playing off the counter, relying on a sparkling play by a superstar. Even both sets of supporters have become the same: expectant, unforgiving, just as the boards have in their fondness for the big bauble, the mega-millions splashed on this summer’s genius, the one key that will bring it all back. We convince ourselves this one piece will fix the limitations, the accumulated wear and tear of hundreds of luggage carousels at so many airports.

We seream about the absence of a system, rail against the manager whose tinkerings make our eyes bleed, wearing our agonies like stigmata. Can’t watch, can’t deal, my soul aches, what is my formerly beautiful team doing? No system, no midfield, no nothing. But what system can they play? Suarez isn’t a system player, Suarez is a “make magic with the ball anf score” player. What system would he best thrive in? How does, how should Griezmann work? Ah. A system. Why won’t Valverde instill a system that gets the best from these players. What system might that be? Barça Football wasn’t just prety triangkes 414 passes and perfect goals. It was a lot of hard work. Who does that work now, to unleash the press that keeps the ball in possession, that frees the offense. One forward can, one fullback can. The rest chase and struggle against time, even Messi, though he has adapted. He was so good that he looked like a visitor at times, a pro visiting a local club league to play a pickup game.

We want a system means what, exactly? There is no turning back the clock, no salvation, no sudden magical reckoning that makes it all suddenly work. Sure, Valverde can come up with something, right? He has. “Okay, aged but still superstars, go out and be superstars.” Formation? Uh, nah. Do what you do. What if he is playing already, the best “system” with which to maximize the players he has. Let their excellence do stuff. We don’t like that because it isn’t a system, isn’t a way of playing. We demand a Way. But this might be all they have, all they can give.

Ah, we say, Valverde has all of this young talent that he isn’t using, but if he was to replace Pique in the XI with Todibo, Alba with Firpo etc, how on board with it would we be? First mistake? First bad loss? We can’t really properly assess players that we have because we have no idea what they can do. But what do we really want? How ready are we to discard the comfort of the familiar?

Semedo sucks, is the common thinking, then we watch him with Portugal and want that player. Okay. Then don’t dump the ball to him on the sideline, pressed by opponents and having no outlet, then expect magic. He made two runs that got him the ball in the right place, and he made great things happen. Does he suck, or is it something else? Can a system fix all that? Life will be better when Semedo isn’t there.

Sub him off. Valverde did. It was still rudderless adequacy. Less poor more than better, as both teams tired, and flailed at each other. Aside from a goal line clearance from each team and a couple of misses, most notably from Jordi Alba, but this wasn’t a match that looked to end 4-4, or anything like anybody’s manita. Just palooka-armed sluggers swinging at each other. We open the closet, and there’s that luggage.

New board, new manager and by then, the players on the verge will be past that point. And we will breathe a sigh of relief at new beginnings, but will we be able to let go of the past, once and for all? The value of this team is as a bridge. It plays wrong, does so much wrong, but the one thing it does right it put the past to bed because the past is embodied in these players, luggage that is on the way out. And that’s that.

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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.