This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.
In the movies, the crusty veterans, facing the team that nobody expects them to beat, manages to muster one last go, one more great effort. There is wonderment on faces as the impossible begins to happen. There is magic in the air as the music swells, punctuating one last play in which the old guys do it. They share smiles, their coach has a wry crack and … roll credits.
Real life has no interest in Hollywood endings. It has its own script that cares little for life, feelings or anything except the bitterness of reality. The match wasn’t as close as the final score, a real-life bit of cinema that was a revenge fantasy. Thiago Alcantara danced around the club that let him go. Phillippe Coutinho got a late brace, kicking dirt on the corpse of the club that done him wrong.
This was in many ways worse than the 7-0 pounding of 2013, because this time it was one match, and there was hope. There was faith that a great player had it in him on the biggest stage. Yes, we suspected that his supporting cast — it would be generous to call them teammates — would be outdone, might not show up, but still, you had to believe because that’s what sport is. The game isn’t for realists. When a second-division club faces off against the glamor boys its supporters clutch their scarves and believe. They fight, and things happen. Today, Bayern scored first, a goal so easy it should have served as a beacon.
But supporters, even Barça supporters, aren’t supposed to buckle that easy. We gave them one, now let’s get it back. Then our old friend, Own Goal, made an appearance. It was 1-1 and the violins were swelling. Then it was 1-2, then 1-3, then 1-4, and that was it. When Suarez made it 2-4, grabbing the ball and running back toward the center circle like it was game on, the illusion beckoned. Briefly. Reality came in a quick riposte to make it 2-5. From then on it was all just going through the motions.
It happened exactly as people said it would, exactly as those of us who wanted to hold reality at bay with love and faith, dared not consider because that isn’t what love is about. We prefer to leave that for the doom sayers, those who enjoy the comeuppance for what it represents: the board, the coach, revenge, decisions and “told you sos.” It’s easy to leave them to it, to understand how disappointed you are and wonder how infinitesimal a sliver your sadness must represent in the giant sequoia of agony that Lionel Messi has to be feeling right now. As people dance on the corpse, think of him.
Faith is a weird thing. About a million years ago, during my high school days, we had a physics teacher, the redoubtable Father Gerald Nicholas. He looked kinda like a mad scientist, his bulging eyes growing even wider as he undertook an experiment, or did the math that explained to us how, one day, you might throw a rock into a pond and it would bounce off the surface, back at your face. He was amazing, and life-changing, and devout. One day, we asked Father Nicholas how he can teach the sciences, things that argue against the very fundaments of his beliefs. We were talking about origin theory that day. His face changed, and he said something very simple and pure. It went something like, “Faith is a thing that defies logic. I can teach this even though in my heart, through all of the science and everything else, there are questions that nobody has an answer for. And my faith tells me that the power I believe in has those answers, did those things. And that is my faith.”
When thinking about what it felt like for some of us, for me, I can only think back to that conversation. You have to believe in the team that you love. What choice do you have? The belief in magic, the faith in formerly great players dusting off the vestiges of what they once were has to be full and complete. You can take the battering more than you can take the loss of faith, the glimmer of hope when that Suarez shot found the back of the net. It’s impossible to imagine football without faith, without love, without hope. And I don’t want to.
During the match, after the match, many seemed angry, looked for scapegoats. There aren’t any. The board is to blame for poor decisions. The technical staff is to blame for transfers and player evaluations that didn’t work. Managers are to blame for not standing strong, opting for a comfortable existence instead of making demands, And we are to blame, for hanging onto what we knew didn’t work any longer, a faith and belief in a system of football that is well and truly like a horse-drawn carriage in a world of sports cars. Modern football put paid to any notions of anything like playing the right way, as a superior opponent battered our relics of a time gone by.
And this is, frankly, as it should be. A six-goal difference, a thrashing is better than a close-run loss by a single goal. We need to put the stake into so much of what we believe, even as we can have faith that next season, it will all be different. Bayern crushed hopes, dreams and tika-taka in 2013, and then came Luis Enrique and vengeance. Sure, it wasn’t the Pure Way, but still, the blaugrana got it done, won everything that year and it was amazing. Faith restored, rebounding from an absolute ebb. This time? Who knows, and now is not the time to discuss it. Now is the time to pull the curtain down on this season, to congratulate a much better team, for a rueful shake of the head at the bleak ugliness of shattered dreams. If it hurts, if you let it hurt, it’s because love is still there. Even if that’s all we have, that’s something.