Or, how I learned to keep calm and trust Pep.
“Messi looks to have lost the thread of his dynamite and Iniesta, the poor guy, looks like he is sleep-walking. I don’t want to sound too opportunistic but I was ridiculed when I said Barcelona are a worse side than last year and above all two years ago.
“In this country everything has to be black and white; Barcelona are in crisis, that’s the truth. Propaganda and fanaticism don’t play a part.”
Let’s talk about this perfect bit of ridiculousness [from a column in El Mundo, translated by the Telegraph]. Hilariously, the writer states that everything in Spain has to be absolute in what seems to be a disapproving manner, right before plunging knee-deep into the same quagmire himself. 98% of all European teams would dearly love to be in our kind of ‘crisis’. In fact, the very tendency to cry crisis at the first sign of trouble is an impediment to long-term success.
I’m not here to make any grand statements. Just to remind all and sundry of a few pertinent points in these uncertain times:
1. It might be only human to take a good thing for granted after it’s been around for long enough, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.
Two games ago, I watched a decent Barca performance of great significance. The victory against a listless Atletico Madrid meant that Guardiola’s team had surpassed the great Real Madrid of Di Stefano by winning 16 games in a row. Not an easy thing to do in a league that, whatever its weaknesses, still has a decent enough middle class to make life difficult for its aristocracy.
All teams, even the truly, epically bad ones, are capable of one good game a season. Great teams just make a habit of having good games. The difference is consistency, and consistent excellence is the most difficult thing to achieve in football. Make no mistake, we’re watching a fantastic Barca team. Do they have off days? Of course. Everybody does, it’s part of the sheer unpredictability of the game, a product of the number of variables involved, not all of which can be controlled. But they have less off days than most teams.
The problem posed by cup tournaments is that consistency matters less and chance matters more. Luckily for us, our off day (or days, if you want to count Sporting) haven’t dealt us a fatal blow. And it certainly doesn’t mean we’re suddenly a team in crisis.
“But let no one be fooled, this Barcelona is as strong as in years gone by. The proof was in their overpowering first half. For those who doubt this theory, I would refer them to last year’s quarter-finals” in which after a draw at the Emirates “a divine Leo Messi, a superlative Messi” had scored four at the Camp Nou. A February blip for Barcelona, he noted, had been the story of the last three years.
That’s Marca‘s editor, by the way, somehow emerging as the voice of sanity in this media circus. [I know, I’m surprised too.] That point about a February slump is particularly well made.
2. This was a well-balanced game against a good team.
I’ll let a few of our players speak for me here:
“We played good football. They were very effective in front of goal and we weren’t. You pay for that in Europe”. – Xavi
“We’re fine. There is no need for alarm bells. This is Europe and it’s hard to win games.” – Alves
If you thought Arsenal were going to roll over and let us tickle their soft underbelly, you haven’t seen the majority of their games this season. Sure, they still have some problems at the back, but their offensive powers are considerable, and more importantly varied. We paid for our failure to kill the game off when we had the upper hand by finishing our chances. A little more bloody-minded-ness next time would help put things right.
3. Blaming the referee is the easy way out.
It’s unworthy of a team with the resources we have. The only teams who should complain about refereeing bias are the comparative minnows who will almost always get shafted. For the ‘bigger’ clubs mistakes almost always even themselves out over the course of a season.
As Guardiola said when he was asked about the decisions of the referee: “You have to be able to surpass that.” I was glad to see Maxwell, Alves and Xavi saying basically the same thing when queried independently about the issue. Complaining and feeling sorry for ourselves would be a waste of energy. Their focus was rightly on what they could change for the second leg. And that gives me hope.
Finally, I leave you with Guardiola’s parting words:
“Allow me to have faith in my players. They have achieved too much in a short space of time for me not to have faith in them.”
This team have earned the benefit of the doubt. Bring on the weekend.
Sources not cited above: fcbarcelona.cat, guardian.co.uk, uefa.com, @barcastuff on twitter