Obviously this is publishing after 2021 has begun, but, like 2020 itself, you will have to grin and bear it.
I don’t really know what to say about this year. Usually there’s at least a round-up of results worth discussing (2nd in the league, quarters of the Copa, no result known for the Champions League as it is lost forever to history), but this year, that seems a bit hollow. Empty stadiums, sick players, lost months — this is the legacy of 2020, regardless of what joys there were. It’s not that Barça have been dreadful or anything, although they haven’t been good, it’s that everything surrounding sports made it impossible to enjoy sports as some sort of diversion.
All life is political and that was also obvious this year.
There are no answers to the questions that this year posed because so many people in positions of authority, power, or responsibility abdicated decision-making power in the face of a question none of them believed they would ever be asked. Some responded with quizzical looks and a slide into the shadows; some bungled onwards in the vain hope that the problem would resolve itself without too much effort on their part; others personally profited (and lied about it). It was a year of fear, political jockeying, and loss. My grandmother died over the summer, as the cases flared around the country, and I will never forgive those whose (in)actions meant I was not able to go and hug my grandfather or to support my own mother in her own grief.
We kneeled, we cried, we marched, we voted. We lost, we cried more, we broke, we repaired ourselves only to break again.
Sports? Fine. Sports.
Ernesto Valverde was sacked. Quique Setien was appointed. Quique Setien was sacked and not told about it. A vote of no confidence in the board was brought up, passed despite the board’s absolute best efforts to sow confusion, doubt, and hints of corruption in the affair. Josep Bartomeu resigned and left. A date for new elections was set, far off in the future days of 2021 when we’ll surely have flying cars and cyborg implants.
All of that happened in 2020. Globally, more than 1.8 million people died of COVID. More than 10 million people in the United States are unemployed (and the real number is likely much higher than that) and millions of others are hysterically decrying the approach of a vaccination program. An (incompetent, malevolent) authoritarian controls the executive branch of my country and is one Twitter fight away from launching nukes, possibly at Philadelphia. A maniacal, pure evil turtle controls the Senate. A literally dead (obviously now former) supporter of the president had his Twitter account taken over by deranged cultists who espouse conspiracy nonsense, anti- mask advocacy, and vaccine skepticism and it hardly moves the needle because, well, because of this.
Sure, the United States is an absolute mess right now, but there are several other countries that look at us and say “Oh, I see how things could get worse,” and somehow it’s also completely true for an American to look right back at those countries and say the exact same thing. Yes, the U.S. is garbage on basically every front, but hello France, oui, we will gladly hold your beer while you outlaw filming police and hullo England, yes, good day to you too, but why are you trying to shoot both of your feet with this Brexit thing and Привет, Russia, da, you definitely showed us by poisoning the underwear of an opposition candidate. Or, well, at least you made tons of Western media awkwardly report on a “codpiece” covered in nerve agent and that’s actually something of reprieve from horror…sort of. Yeah, I see you, Mexico, but (un)fortuantely we don’t have time to discuss you — there’s just too much material to cover. Lo siento, carnal.
Sure, sports. Okay.
Messi sent notice that he wanted out of the club and the chaos that ensued is what really took down Bartomeu. We know the word burrofax because of him and we know that the club is broke, that it hasn’t had a plan in years, just a shotgun full of transfer pellets and a desire to pull the trigger, and it no longer truly has an identity. Perhaps this feels different at the Camp Nou on a regular basis (not that you can attend), but from abroad, where the official Twitter account blasts out links to outrageously priced scarves and official partners hawk soap or whatever other product they can attach the club’s name to, it’s just another brand. It is not a coincidence that there are on-field failures at the same time as the club becomes a soulless corporate shell company. The club is too rich to truly suffer in the near-term, but it is also disastrously run and a few more years of this will result in either complete collapse and bankruptcy or a fire sale of all assets. Possibly both. Think Valencia, but with further to fall. Barça looked at Manchester United and said “That’s what we want.”
And that’s what they’ll get, eventually, if this trajectory continues. I don’t know which sporting project is the best — I’m about all campaigned-out for this year, given that I just went through 2 years of absolute garbage to get to November 3; sorry folks, I’ll just say Font seems good, if maybe a bit naïve and prone to shooting himself in the foot, and Laporta is a populist who might not have the financial control we need — but I know that we are in free-fall and we need someone to pull the parachute cord. Might even catch an updraft if we do things correctly.
In so many ways, this is the end of an era, but that era, like most eras, has been in terminal decline for longer than any of us wanted to admit. I’m no fan of Lucho’s tenure, despite his obvious success and my complete love affair with the team and the Champions League final that year, so I like to point to his second year in charge as the inflection point. We shot upwards toward the sun with Guardiola, had our wings clipped by the hands of fate with Tito, and sleep-walked our way through Tata Martino’s year in charge before finding ourselves obliterating opponents in the second half of Lucho’s first season (after the manager was nearly let go).
And then…well, look, it was actually downhill since Sandro Rosell took over, but there were cracks in the foundation as early as the somewhat demented transfer of Dmytro Chygrynskiy (he was cup-tied!). I’m well aware of the history I’m trodding on here: it was the year of 6 trophies, Messi scored the winner-of-winners with his heart, we beat Madrid twice, including 0-2 at the Bernabeu, but yeah, that was also the year that we all totally learned to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull, watched as Mourinho celebrated a CL semifinal win on our field…and we also brought in Keirrison. And that was a “sensible” €14m, but it signaled intent on the part of the board to buy high on potential and sell low if necessary. It’s not Keirrison or Henrique or Douglas who were the problem, of course, but that consistent approach (and the election of Sandro Rosell) end up producing the Alex Song transfer, the Thomas Vermaelen transfer and eventually Coutinho (a mistake), Griezmann (a mistake), and Dembele (a great signing at way too high a price). Additionally, the scandal of the Neymar transfer ended Rosell’s tenure and ushered in Josep Bartomeu. And now look at us.
I don’t really know what to say about this year. It was trash in basically every way. Some good happened personally (I have a new nephew, my wife got a big promotion at work, I picked up running again), but I would gladly trade those specific positives for me — well, okay, not the nephew, you can’t take him back — for general well-being. It feels like a million years ago that I watched my daughters as flower girls in a good friend’s wedding, in a packed church, right before a close-quarters dance floor. That was February, before we knew, before it was all something else, before 350,000 people had died in my country. That’s 3.5 Camp Nous worth of dead. And they’re still counting. The world has lost so much and so many.
And so, 2021: let’s hope it’s better. Nothing is ever without politics, nor should it be, but let us hope that we can cheer our teams in person again soon. Let us hope we do not forget the lessons so harshly learned, just because adrenaline pumps through our systems and we’re able to do things like smile at our friends and hug them. Let’s just hope it’s better.
That’s all I’ve got. That’s all I’ll ever have for 2020.