We’re Champions …. aka “The inexorable rightness of being”

This isn’t a review. That lovely task of dissecting a hiding falls to Euler, for reasons not worth discussing here. But I do want to weigh in on an exquisite spectacle of football.

For this past weekend’s newspaper, I wrote a piece that looked at four performers: Luis Miguel, Robin Trower, Coliseum and Marduk. Respectively, Latin ballads, blues-rock, punk(ish) and black metal. The musing was about how each of the four sounded exactly like music of that type was supposed to sound, sonic archetypes, if you will. There was beauty, logic and rightness aplenty there.

After watching us win in the Champions League final, again I was struck by that same notion, the sheer rightness of it.

There have been scoffers and naysayers, people who say that United didn’t play its best match, that Ferguson got the selection wrong, that we were allowed too much space, etc, etc. And yet, the simple reality is that match happened exactly as it was supposed to happen. This is a rare, extraordinary time for a rare, extraordinary side that does exactly what it does, against opponents who ultimately have no answer for it.

This isn’t about a system, or La Masia graduates, or a coach who might or might not be overrated. This was about things being exactly right, about the right players meshing in a way that is musical, against an opponent who was in no way poor, or at all undeserving of its presence on that most massive of stages. Any side in the world would have had pretty much the same thing happen, because when you show up to play football, yesterday was exactly how it was supposed to look.

And I don’t just mean us. I mean both sides. United rolled out man-style. Witness the sheer effort of Park Ji-Sung as he ran around, their Pepe-like destroyer only without the actual physical destruction. Wayne Rooney was manly, and finished the one chance that his side had at goal, a majestic strike from a buildup that was fitting to the occasion. Van der Sar went out with style, like a 40-year-old keeper who could keep playing if he likes, but is ending on his own terms.

It was a night of unalloyed rightness. All four goals were of surpassing quality, the effort was sincere, both teams played their best. And the outcome was just as it was supposed to be.

The first half was rather fraught for me, because we were on the back foot for the first 10 or so minutes, then tentatively working our way into it. The goal came, then theirs came after it, too soon for me, but in plenty of time to let people think that this was going to be a classic, a slugfest between two titanic sides. Then Guardiola said whatever he said at the interval, and the symphony began.

I don’t know what history is going to say about the second half of that match, that began with us assaulting their end of the pitch, and ended with us simply parrying away a series of increasingly futile efforts, but I know what I have to say about it: It’s exactly as it should have been in its inexorable beauty.

Saying that this club got what it deserved will sound arrogant, but that isn’t how it’s meant. When a puzzle goes together, when a portable navigation system puts you exactly where you need to be, it just makes sense. All season with but a few exceptions, this club has done precisely what it does, when it’s supposed to, when it needs to. And it has done this, even against opponents who know exactly what it was going to do. It’s like a dominant baseball pitcher who only has a fastball.

“Here it comes. Can you hit it or not?”

The path was followed, its architecture laid out by ambition, collective and individual: a wee forward trying to excise World Cup futility from his brain; a coach with the drive and passion of a man who always wants the best from his charges; a captain wounded; scorn and allegations; a defender who man defended the ultimate challenger and won …. the stories were too numerous and too compelling for this to come out any other way, if you believe in any notion of karma at all.

And on the footballing side, again, it’s the logic of it all. Like that mythical pitcher with the unhittable fastball, you know it’s coming, and you can’t do anything about it. As Messi, Xavi and Iniesta danced among the trees yesterday and improbably, came out with the ball as they always do, it all made sense. Because it isn’t just physical pressure, or talent. It’s psychological pressure. Here it comes again. The match starts, and you’re daisy-fresh, and you get in front of the balls, and cut off the runs just in the nick of time, and make sliding tackles that are excellent.

But the same stuff keeps happening, and eventually you run out of answers. The legs get a little heavy, and those damned midgets just keep coming at you. You lunge instead of running, just miss and it’s another goal. The mightiest mite finds a bit of space due to a simple, tiny mental lapse and in that moment he dances laterally and smites a shot off the dead run — a shot hit with no windup, no advance warning, hit with the power and accuracy of a more mortal player who huffs, puffs, drags his leg back, sizes up the opening and strikes. And it’s a goal.

That’s the real problem, the immense challenge of playing against a side that only a for-real hater would deny a place in history. It’s a club side that is stacked with talent, quality that knows its place, that knows exactly what to do. But more than that, it’s a side with selfless talent that understands the math of it all. If A, then B. If I make the run, Xavi will find me. I don’t have to wave my arms, or yell at him if he doesn’t find me. He knows, I know, it will happen because it’s supposed to. Because it all makes sense. It isn’t confidence that’s at the root of this soul-crushing psychological pressure. The one amazing thing that Guardiola has instilled in this side, is that difficult-to-define quality of faith.

You wake up to photograph the sunrise, and you know it will be in the east. Because it is. It’s how it’s always been. Ray Ray calls our playmaker The Inevitable Xavi, as if he is, and always will be. This club has an unshakable faith that it is doing the right thing, and that if it keeps doing the right thing the holes will open, the goals will come and matches will be won. So they keep making the runs, the passes, the movement off the ball, the pressing that demands the ball back when the opponent has it.

Some people say that the way we play is boring, that all we do is knock the ball around. They yearn for the slash of the long ball and a strong, talented forward taking it and making magic, or the set piece dynamically executed. Making 25 passes that wend their way inexorably up the pitch? Where’s the fun in that? Math isn’t fun. It’s just math. 2+2 always equals 4. But if you ask people who love math, there is the solution, and the problem. Not all problems have the same solution, even as the rigor of the process is the same. The beauty is in the action, the path to the solution.

So it is with this club. It might be passing the ball into the net, it might be strikes from outside the box, it might be a set piece. It doesn’t really matter how. What matters is that it was, and is exactly as it is supposed to be.

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Written by:

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.


  1. May 29, 2011

    Ok, so 24 hours later, having watched the game again on TV and let the whole experience settle I am ready to give my report on what I witnessed, having been lucky enough to attend.

    Before I get to the individual players I have to say something about the way this team plays as a unit, because when you watch it live you really get to see how the team functions and it is breath taking. Normally when you’re in a stadium watching a team play you get a much better sense of the teams formation, how they keep their shape, etc. You’re not just following the play so you get a much better overview of everything. The best teams always keep their shape and you can see that when you watch it live, but Barca do something that I have never seen before, its more than just “keeping their shape”… it’s like the whole team moves and functions as one unit all in balletic cohesion. There were times last night when it almost seemed as if the whole thing was rehearsed to perfection. As if they were all connected by some invisible web that kept them all within short passing distance of one another. They move as one, and they are always, always moving. Another thing that you really appreciate is the way the team shifts when they have the ball and when they don’t. It is instantaneous, like changing “stance” in a video game. All the players know what to do and they execute it to perfection. The pressing is an art and maybe even more impressive than the passing because they seem to have the ability to force the opposition to pass the ball where they want them too, where they know they can win it back. It really is something special to behold. I did genuinely feel pity for United last night who never had a chance. I wasn’t even worried when they scored, we were in such control of the game.

    On to the players.

    I might get some shit for this but MOTM for me was BUSI. Hands down. Messi was spectacular, as he always is, and seeing him live for the first time actually blew my mind at times, but last night Sergio Busquets played the perfect match. What he does for us is so underrated but so important. He is the person who connects the defensive line to the offense and he does it to perfection. I lost count of the number of times he took the ball in a seemingly innocuous position and laid off an inch perfect pass to Xavi, Iniesta or Messi that immediately put them in a position to create danger. Also, and this is something very few players have in their locker, his reading of the game is spectacular. He knows when to pass back, when to dribble, when to pass forward and he has an uncanny ability to read where the ball is gona be. He does something very unique, very selfless and very important, he creates space for others, not for himself, but for the players around him, for Xavi, for Iniesta and for Messi. He is a constant outlet, always there to receive the ball and give it back exactly where the player wants it and where they can be dangerous. It was majestic to watch, so simple, so undervalued and yet so crucial to the way we play. When you take into account his age and his experience (or lack thereof) it really puts into context what a great player he is. I could really see him being the one to take over from Xavi one day.

    Pique was a monster last night. He was in “ye shall not pass” mode and it was a joy to watch, but tbh our whole defensive line was magnificent. Mascherano once again barely put a foot wrong and made some great challenges to stop Rooney on the break more than once. Abidal missed two months? Really? Cos he had Valencia in his pocket all night. The same Valencia who gave Ashley Cole fits a few weeks ago (apparently the best LB in the world).

    I also have to say something about Alves and what he does. Without him I honestly don’t think we can play the same way. When you watch us play on TV the camera follows the play so you miss a lot of what Alves does. When you watch it live you get to see what he does to the opposition defensive line. He really does torture them. I could see the hesitation he was creating in their back line just by being out so wide and by providing that outlet, even when it wasn’t used. I kept seeing the UTD defenders looking at him, not knowing what to do. Do you close him down and stretch the pitch, do you let him stay out there and have all that space? Evra was constantly caught in no mands land…not sure whether to press Alves or keep the passing lanes closed. Alves literally creates chaos. Chaos that Messi benefits hugely from.

    I want to say something about Messi but I can’t really put into words what it was like watching him live and seeing him so close. When they say “the ball sticks to his feet” they really do mean it. I felt honoured watching him play.

    I could probably go one forever to be honest, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Pedro they were all amazing. I am sure the review will cover most of it, I just wanted to highlight the above points because these are things I never really appreciated watching Barca on TV and I wanted to share it with everyone. Just in case you lot didn’t already realise how unbelievably incredible this team is.

    Oh and great post Kxevin 🙂

    • May 29, 2011

      Thanks for that summation, Hilal. You’ve expressed why I think that everyone needs to see this club, live.

    • May 29, 2011

      I’m both hugely happy for and envious of you. What a match you witnessed! Thanks for this, Hilal. I wish I lived in Barcelona so I could see them play every week.

    • tutomate
      May 29, 2011

      i thought Busi was man of the match too.

      • May 31, 2011

        Go to totalBarca.com and you’ll see a fascinating video on how we handled United. It includes a 20 second clip subtitled, “brilliant busquets” and it shows all his best moments from Saturday night.

        I hate him and love him all at the same time. His greatest strengths are intangible, which is he he goes unloved so easily I guess.

    • Manish
      May 29, 2011

      .. You really put it across beautifully.. i wish i was there.. sigh..envy envy…

    • blitzen
      May 29, 2011

      Amazing post, Hilal! Thanks so much. I especially loved this bit:

      As if they were all connected by some invisible web that kept them all within short passing distance of one another. They move as one, and they are always, always moving.

      This was a game you will remember for the rest of your life. I so wish I had been there as well.

    • soccermomof4
      May 29, 2011

      Very, very, very happy for you. Seeing Messi live at the US v Argentina friendly was spectacular for me, but I can’t even imagine what it was like to be at THIS game, with ALL our favorites! What a privelige!

    • Blow-Grenade
      May 29, 2011

      That is awesome Hilal. Thanks for the first hand description of what you saw on the pitch. Yes Busi was very impressive yesterday.

    • Eklavya
      May 30, 2011


      I saw Messi with Argentina but the team collectively is nowhere near Barca’s level (duh). Seeing Barca play the most important match of the season means you’ve seen the best football team ever play one of their best matches ever. Wow.

    • Barcaleya
      May 30, 2011

      Hilal – thanks for wonderfully describing your experience. Amazing this team, really. Lucky you for being there to watch a game for the ages and lucky us for being supporters of this team.

      I play doubles badminton and it’s difficult to find even ONE person/partner who can rotate well. Who will automatically step into an area of the court that is left open when the other person moves to hit the shuttlecock and for both to move in position to be ready to receive the opponent’s shot. I’m talking two people here moving in sync. Most people are rigid and won’t move from their initial designated post. If they play front-back or side-by-side, some players think they should only move laterally or vertically. They don’t think that they should be moving around, almost in rotation, to cover the court fully and well.

      Sorry for the long analogy but my point is: I am most amazed at the description of Barca – all ten men moving together, always in sync, always being there to receive and pass a ball, more fluid within a shape than rigid – because I know how difficult even for just two people to do something like this. Ten people is just simply incredible.

      I love, love Barca!!!

      So happy we played our game and had the chance to show people (again) just how good we really are and also give another chance to convert the unbelievers (as shown in nzm’s linked article).

      VISCA BARCA!!!!!

  2. Manish
    May 29, 2011

    Kxevin.. you are making me feel like I am in the Matrix.. and Pep is the Oracle…. things have to be as they are meant to be..

  3. olbucky
    May 29, 2011

    Dude you can write. Right on once again. Don’t be a stranger in the off season. We need your insights.

  4. blitzen
    May 29, 2011

    I just watched the second half again with the added effect of soberness, and….wow. Wasn’t even close. ManU is not a bad team by any means, but there was hardly a thing they could do. We picked them up, turned them upside down, shook the change out of their pockets, set them down again with a smile and sent them on their way with a pat on the head.

  5. May 29, 2011

    For most of you, the journey to this place has been longer than mine. My first experience with soccer was flipping through the channels and stopping on gol tv. It was a preseason game Barca @ Club America, around 2005. I fell in love instantly and suffice to say I have been spoiled!

    I became attracted to the game immediately and I covered the means and women’s soccer beat at my local college before taking an internship in Telluride Colo. I became the sports writer “is a small staff of four reporters”. For the first 3 weeks I lead with soccer, the editor had to tell to give some other local sports some love.

    But I digress, I am a grown man, and I have never broken a bone before, but I admit to crying 3 times since March of 09′ in order…….
    1. Iniestazo @ Stamford Bridge, watching on T.V I openly wept in front of my girlfriend……

    2. My first game inside the Camp. I went to Barcelona for 2 weeks with nothing more than a backpack and my college refund check (a substantial amount). I was able to go to two games, the first was a CL game, Bayren @ Barca, Again I must be blessed because our boys put on a show that night!!!! But what got me was before the game they shut off all the lights (except spotlights), and played the latest cold play hit song Viva la Vida!!! As the announced each player. It was so reminiscent of the old Chicago Bull’s intros at the United Center (You feel me Kevin). I was so emotional trying to cheer through tears…..

    3. Of course later that year watching Barca, the underdog put on a show in Rome and solidify Pep and the club as all time greats. I remember tearing up as Puyol lifted the trophy.

    P.S These are out order sorry lol

    P.S.S I have no idea why I am writing this now, it’s just the emotions I have felt over the years have been strongest when this team was involved.

    Finally I just want to say I love this blog, from its early days until now watching it grow into what it has become has been a privilege.

  6. Xingxian
    May 29, 2011

    OK. Does anyone know where that picture is, I think Kari put up the post, of Dani Alves with ‘they see us winnin’, they hatin’ on it? That was magical.

    • Xingxian
      May 29, 2011


  7. Nav
    May 29, 2011

    Brilliantly written. I got shivers reading that, especially your conclusion followed by the picture.


  8. Jnice
    May 29, 2011

    Great stuff, Kxevin.

    Same to you, Hilal. Must’ve been an amazing experience.

  9. yana
    May 29, 2011

    Kxevin, the beauty of this piece is perfectly fitting for the beauty that was yesterday.

    To quote the best parts would be to quote the whole thing… but this part made me smile, what with me loving math enough to have a degree in it: Making 25 passes that wend their way inexorably up the pitch? Where’s the fun in that? Math isn’t fun. It’s just math. 2+2 always equals 4. But if you ask people who love math, there is the solution, and the problem. Not all problems have the same solution, even as the rigor of the process is the same. The beauty is in the action, the path to the solution. Exactly right.

    Another thing that made me smile on rewatch (amongst so many things): the commentator, on Rooney’s goal, enthusing on how fantastic a goal, how beautiful a play, “…like a Barçelona goal!” Because right then, calling it such was the highest compliment that could be paid. And it was a fantastic goal. I am glad no one can slam Rooney with any doubts about showing up in the big game, he worked hard all night and did his team proud.

    Hilal: oh, so jealous, it must have been absolutely amazing. I was at the Camp Nou for the Espanyol match and am still thrilled by that whole experience (and vow it will not be the last time, oh no!), so just imagine for you, the Champion’s League Final!

    Along with everything you mentioned, one thing I think that just does not come across on a broadcast is the sheer speed at which Barça plays. We see the passes and runs at pretty angles and we may mentally know that these are at speed even as we easily track across the screen with our eyes — but when you see it live, it is so fast you marvel that Xavi-Iniesta-Messi-Busquets are not somehow teleporting the ball through another dimension.

    So, so giddy. And Abi with the captain’s band and lifting the Cup, oh how that made me cry…

  10. Lev
    May 29, 2011

    Awesome game. Have watched it 3 times already and have had a constant big smile on my face the whole weekend.

    Don’t know what was so great bout Rooney’s goal, though. Giggs was offside and Rooney’s pass pretty much bounced off of the back of his leg before laying it back to Rooney who finishes it well…

    Nevertheless congrats to Man U for reaching the final and acting with class. Congrats to Barça for being the most beautiful club in the whole wide world, joining the pantheon of great teams throughout the history of the game and applauding Manchester off of the field when the game was done.

  11. IamXavi6
    May 30, 2011

    Hi guys,

    Does anyone have links yet for a HD version (sky etc?).

    Some of the torrents are far too big and also dubious of the quality and languages.

    ITV is ok for now but really need a good link for a HD that isn’t U.K bias (maybe I’m asking too much).

    BTW I’ve been a lurker for some time and I run a rival barca blog but more than happy to contribute here, I’ll give my thoughts to this game more later, but if anyone can provide new updated links that would be handy.

    Cheers and Visca Barca!

  12. Benj
    May 30, 2011

    That last goal was just amazing, a true golazo.

    I love it even more because it exposed Nani as the liability he can be.

    Messi could have gone down in the box like a certain pichichi that he is oft compared to by they who don’t have a clue, but he didnt. And look what happened!

  13. momo
    May 30, 2011

    Everything great about this season in one video:

    Take it all in…

  14. Vj
    May 30, 2011

    Some people say that the way we play is boring, that all we do is knock the ball around. They yearn for the slash of the long ball and a strong, talented forward taking it and making magic, or the set piece dynamically executed. Making 25 passes that wend their way inexorably up the pitch? Where’s the fun in that? Math isn’t fun. It’s just math. 2+2 always equals 4. But if you ask people who love math, there is the solution, and the problem. Not all problems have the same solution, even as the rigor of the process is the same. The beauty is in the action, the path to the solution.

    OH YES! THIS!!!

    This is music to my ears. And I love it!

  15. Vj
    May 30, 2011

    Evra: “For the last 3 years Barça ‘ve been the best in the world and we are 2nd. But I want to come back to the final and play against them”

    Inter who? 😛

    via Pep @ Barcastuff..

  16. barca96
    May 30, 2011

    Guys, if you guys find articles from SId Lowe, Graham Hunter etc please post a link.. Always love to read those articles.

  17. barca96
    May 30, 2011

    Jnice, how come the link that you gave me, is only a Sky broadcast but not pre match and post match talk? I like to hear Graeme Sounness.

    • Para
      May 30, 2011

      If you look back over the last two posts (Luke’s and Kari’s, I believe), Jnice and a few other people have already posted links to both.

  18. messi_fan
    May 30, 2011

    It’s funny that you use a baseball metaphor. When I was watching with a friend of mine, I used the Mariano Rivera analogy (even though he blew a save last night :S).

  19. May 30, 2011

    See? Evra could have written this! 😀

    (via Twitter @barcastuff) Evra: “Every time Messi gets the ball he knows Xavi is going to be there, Pedro is going to be there, or Iniesta. It is amazing.”

    Or Guardiola:

    Guardiola (last words to the players before the final): “I know you will win this Champions League.”

    Optajose stat: Under Guardiola, we have completed more than 8,000 passes more than any other team in the Champions League.

    • Para
      May 30, 2011

      I wanted to quote my favourite part of the article, but then I realised it’s the last line, and I didn’t want to spoil it for everyone else. Seriously folks, read this! The last paragraph makes it worth it if nothing else.

      • Barcaleya
        May 30, 2011

        Paraa – loved the last line 😀

  20. soccermomof4
    May 30, 2011

    Thanks Kxevin for a great year and great writing.
    You’re sooooo correct. We had prepared ourselves by saying if it didn’t happen this way, it would be OK and we would still appreciate what the team had given us this year. But it was right for the season to have ended this way. On any given day, a lesser team can overcome a better team. That’s not unfair, that’s the beauty of a competition, or else we would just hand the trophy to the better team w/out the formality of the game. But when it ends the way it should, it’s beautiful. It’s right.

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