[Note: this was written on June 11, 2011. It has not been edited since then.]
[A/N: I wasn’t planning on posting this — it was meant for something else that didn’t work out — but since the international break is here and we have pretty much nothing to post about, I thought I’d give you guys something long to read. For me personally, it was hilarious reading this after a couple of months. It starts off all normal, hits a certain point and then disintegrates into venting frustration. 😆 Anyways, here it is.]
So…where to begin?
It’s a good question, y’know, because there’s just so much that I don’t even know, but I guess I have to start somewhere, so I’ll give you this quote. It’s one I had admittedly forgotten about, lost in all the hubbub, but one that I’m sure never left the minds of our players, and especially our coach:
“We should have been somewhere [on May 22, 2010], but we didn’t make it. We owe you one, and these players won’t fail.”
-Pep Guardiola during the 09-10 celebration at Camp Nou.
He was speaking about the CL of course. How we should have been playing at the final — at the Bernabeu — and that because we weren’t, he and our players owed it to us to win the CL at another symbolic stadium, Wembley.
From the beginning, as usual, our goals were to win it all, so this season was all about overcoming the obstacles, the roadblocks to our path to glory; but unlike previous seasons of the Guardiola reign the obstacles we had to overcome this time around were larger and harder, starting with the most irritating of them all: the media.
Jose Mourinho rolls into Madrid, fresh off winning the CL with Inter, and a perpetual whiner with a legend and Barca complex plus fawning, hyperbolic dimwits with endless column space to fill and too much power to wield equals somebody make it stop. From the get-go, he starts his usual thing, the same thing he did in Portugal with Porto, England with Chelsea, and Italy with Inter: he ranted about referees, schedules, bias. But this time around, with existing morbo between the teams, it was much more poisonous. The insinuations, the dirty play, everything was toxic and meant to do far more damage.
However, we had even bigger issues than an egomanic. Much bigger ones. We had:
- The Ibra fiasco. When it started, I almost couldn’t believe it. In my mind, there was no way we’d sell a player with such a high transfer fee after one season, especially when said season was decent-ish for a tall man in a new team and, more crucially, system. But he was sold, and at the very end of the summer transfer window. It left us a man short in a crucial position and without time to replace him. It didn’t help that his agent, who looks like an evil pudgy character out of a Disney movie, and Ibra himself took it upon themselves to make sure the bridges weren’t burnt, but incinerated and then stepped and spit on for good measure. Did Pep plan to play without Ibra, deciding that the so-called Plan B wasn’t working? I don’t think so. Contrary to popular belief, Ibra the player wasn’t the failure, the person was. Team harmony is crucial in this Barca side and he wasn’t happy that the team wasn’t going to play his needs. And so off he went to a team that would.
- World Cup fatigue. Much has been made of the fact seven of Spain’s starting eleven are Barca players and that we had 8 players start the WC final. Iniesta and Busquets were the only two players to play every single game at the WC for Spain. Something to proud of if you’re a cule, for sure. However, there is no doubt that that is a problem for Barca. Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Busi, Pique, Puyol, and Pedro! for Spain, then add Messi, Abidal, and Alves for Argentina, France (ahem), and Brazil respectively, and that’s our entire starting eleven clocking up extra minutes at the world’s largest sporting event. They had no rest this summer, coming off a gruelling 50+ club season, and others hadn’t had breaks in years. Dealing with this was an extra headache for Pep.
- Injuries. As a direct consequence of those extra minutes, we saw Xavi struggle with tendinitis, inflammation in his ankles due to overuse. He hasn’t had a summer break since 2007 (Euro ’08, Confederation Cup ’09, WC 2010) and it was showing. There was a time of uncertainty, if he would be able to finish the season, if he’d require surgery. It wasn’t looking good, but, just like every other crisis we’ve had, we managed. (It helps that we have a beast like Messi, and a healthy!Iniesta.)
After a bright start in Liga, the three bullets above reared their ugly heads and pierced through our team like a 5.66mm Le Mas. We lost 0-2 at home to Hercules, David Villa was struggling to score goals, often directly compared to Ibra, who had started so brightly. Passes that used to be second nature were missing its mark, posts were being hit at a perturbingly high rate, late goals were being conceeded. We looked a tired team, like we hadn’t had a break in forever and with the WC, that wasn’t too far off. The hallmark match of this tired Barca was the home game against Mallorca. We peppered the Mallorcan goal, leading by a slender 1-0, but we couldn’t seal that game. A lax pass and lackadaisical defending gifted Mallorca a 1-1 draw that was not undeserved, but avoidable. So, so avoidable.
Like every feel good story with a happy ending, or any story really, there is always a turning point. The turning point of the season for me was the home game against Valencia. The 5-0 served its own purpose, of course and I’ll get to that later, but the Valencia game was a game of two halves. The first half showcased everything that was wrong with the season so far, every issue was exposed like Ryan Giggs on Twitter. Losing 1-0 at HT, things looked bleak. However, whatever Pep said in the locker room did the trick and the team that came out of the dressing room was a reborn one. Goals from Iniesta and Puyol won us the game, but more than three points, we got self belief and confidence. The remuntada, or comeback, did wonders for moral and from that game on, we only went one direction: up.
A 5-0 against Sevilla, with Villa breaking his duck and adding another, a 3-1 win in the second best game of the Liga season, in my humble opinion, against Villarreal, and that 0-8 win against Almeria prepared us for the one of, IMO the best, team performance in football history: La Manita, the 5-0 demolition of the Evil Empire.
The treble winning team was a special one. Messi, Eto’o, and Henry formed the deadliest of tridents, games were over by half-time, and trophies were won in the most exciting of ways. The ’09-’10 Barca was also something to behold, continuing the record breaking and has its place in the record books after cumulating 99 points in the league. Neither team, however, was like ’11-’10 Barcelona, simply because those teams were collections of highly talented individuals willing to play for each other; 2011 Barca is one single organism that annihilates everything in its path in the most artistic and hypothesizing fashion imaginable.
On its off days, it’s hard to beat. On its day, it’s unplayable, as EE found out. Our starting XL had 8 canteranos, and all five goals was scored by and/or assisted by canteranos. It was a performance of a lifetime, one that will stay in the memory forever. From that game until the winter break, Barca was unplayable. It didn’t matter how hard you tried, or how far you ran, you’d be outplayed and outscored.
After the winter break, our issues flared up again. The magic of December was lost and we stumbled into January. The deciding leg of our tie against Athletic Bilbao at San Mames was rainy, muddy and as
epic colossal as any game in San Mames usually is. To add to the drama, we were Xavi-less. Only fitting our resident King, Eric Abidal, would see us through it.
February, or rather Hlebruary as we like to call it, came and our form left. It’s the time of year where our fitness and form always dips, just how November and April are the times where our form and fitness peaks. This Hlebruary was worse than every February before it. We were three times more tired than we usual are for one (thank you WC 2010! You’re too kind!), and injuries to Xavi and Puyol to bursitis in his knee (also due to overuse) meant we had players playing even more minutes because there was no-one to replace them.
It is in Hlebruary that the most painful loss of the season for me came: the away game against Arsenal in London. Yes, it was more painful than the Copa loss, so much more. Unlike the Copa game where we were one wrong finger tip away from winning, this game we lost due to carelessness and a lack of effort — a lack of effort that stems from fatigue. Losses are easier to take when you are outplayed and lose due to the other team being better than you on the day, not because you were too lazy to close down your opponent and gifting balls in dangerous areas. The image that I can’t stop from coming into my head is Messi, tired and unable to move or press the opposition, and how if we had a deeper squad, if we’d have rested our players more, this loss could and would have been avoided. It hurt. And it couldn’t be made better until the return leg three weeks later.
When the return leg arrived, I was nervous and excited (nervecited). I couldn’t wait for us to make the wrong right again, but our fearless caveman of a leader was out of commission with that blasted bursitis.
Arsenal started off defensive and as the clock ticked by, I wondered when we’d get the break through. I was screaming and yelling at the TV, willing the team to get that go ahead goal. Half time inched closer and closer, and with each passing second I willed the team on. Finally, after a backpass from Fabregas under excessive pressure from our players, we got the goal, and what a goal it was. Messi controls the ball, lobs the goalkeeper, before volleying the ball into the net. The celebration after was so apt for my feelings; the joy and relief mirrored my own to a tee.
We were so dominate in the return leg, we had to score for them to keep it interesting. I joke about it now, but at the time I was so worried we’d lose this match — again, of our own doing rather than the other team’s — but this team under Pep doesn’t roll that way. Messi, Iniesta, and Xavi (yes, in that order, rather than the usual reverse) linked up in typical Barca fashion and it was 2-1. Messi adds another from the spot and we’re through to the quarters.
Things were looking up again, but our final obstacle decided to reveal itself, and it was the most challenging of them all. Eric Abidal, our POTSOTM (Player Of The Season Other Than Messi) was diagnosed with a tumor in his liver. It was out of the blue, and so crushing for me. It wasn’t only that it sidelined our best defender, a player who was having the best season of his career, for the rest of the season depleting our backline further; it was much more than that, a human life was in danger. All I could hope for was that it was benign. The uncertainty gnawed on me, but the season continued, and the team decided at that point to dedicated all victories and trophies to Abidal.
Fatigue prevented us from recovering our form when we were supposed to, but we kept our lead in La Liga. The jornada of truth was matchday 30 when we went away to Villarreal and EE were away to Osasuna. It was the match-day we were meant to lose and the lead would be cut to 2 pts, but we all know what happened: we won, and EE lost. It gaves us that much needed breathing room.
The Clasico Apocalypse, the 4 El Clasicos in 18 days, defined the month of April. The first match was a draw that set up for the second match in the Copa final. Contrary of what Madridistas try to assert, what EE did in Clasico II was not defending, it was defendo. (And yes, you may pause your reading of this article and Wikipedia that shiznit). Did we moan about their defendo and Pedro!’s offside? (Correct, and by a hair. Much more closer to “onside” than Ryan Giggs but that’s neither here nor there). No, we picked up our heads and the way we played the second half made me proud. We dominated, forced the issue, and were unlikely not to score. By extra time, it could have gone either way. We’d score from the run of play, or they would score against it. The latter happened, and, well, at least it wasn’t on penalties.
Besides, we may have lost the Copa, but the trophy was so crushed to be back in EE’s hands that it committed suicide, jumping for the bus and literally crushing itself under the bus’ tire. Hehehehe.
We wouldn’t be letting the cup with the big ears suffer the same fate. The CL semis this year weren’t the normal, highly competitive games; this time, it was personal.
My favourite Pep moment of the season was the press conference. We had to deal with those insinuation and jabs in the media from Mourinho and EE. The annoying bee buzzing in our ear made a nest and started reproducing at an exponential rate. Pep took all the baggage built up and unleashed it in the most Messi (read: ultimate, amazing, perfect, etc.) way possible. All the Mourinho fan boys saw it as Pep losing his mind, that the mind games got to him, but we all know better. Pep never lost his cool; every word was intended, carefully thought out, and executed flawlessly.
We gave Mourinho and EE a taste of their own medicine. Just like how every EE player surrounded the Copa ref in “outrage”, protesting every time they were whistled for their defendo, we did the same, except in reverse. Was it right? No. Was it justified? Heck yes.
After being one-upped in his own petulant game, Mourinho did what he makes other coaches do: he lost the plot, as you know. It was affectionately dismissed by many as “Mourinho being Mourinho”, but that is hogwash. If you’re unaware, Mourinho has it in for Barca. It goes back to the time when he worked for us a translator for Sir Bobby Robson and realized he’d never manage us. “Mou” wants to be considered the greatest manager of all time. He couldn’t make it as a player, and so he placed all his hopes in being remembered as a coach — the best coach to ever grace the sport.
The paranoid rant after the first leg was him desperately trying to discredit Pep and Barca. Why? Because they are his greatest threat to that pursuit of immortality. Pep’s won six trophies in his maiden year(s) as coach, and the way Barca is playing is enthralling. If Pep’s Barca win the CL again, it would overshadow everything Mourinho has done. He, Mourinho, epitomizes the thought of “it’s ugly but who cares, it gets the job done”. What Barca under Pep do is win and win beautifully — greatly damaging Mourinho’s ability to claim greatness and place in history in the process. After all, what’s so special about playing 10 men behind the ball and counter attacking? Nothing coaches of Malaga, Almeria, and Sporting haven’t done and executed before. Playing fantasy football others, like Arsenal in the EPL, are ridiculed for being unrealistic and winning is something that will stay in the memory for a long time. Just think Inter’s campaign last season. Do you really remember it, or more pressingly, their CL final win? Unless you’re an Interista, probably not. (I didn’t watch it, by the by. Heard it was horrible game though).
It was after the Clasico Apocalypse that I really and truly hated EE. Before I disliked them due to the rivalry and such things, but I never hated them. I had a sort of begrudging respect for them; they are one of the great teams of Europe and a worthy rival. This all changed after those 18 days. They couldn’t get it done on the pitch, so they took it off it. And that propaganda was taken to such despicable levels that it even immersed cules into it and pited some against their club.
Let me say now I don’t have a problem with people asking for transparency from Barca. It was one of RoSELL’s “promises” during his campaign, and it’s what we do on BFB — we call out the club’s mistakes and the other sketchy things they do. We do it because we hold the club to a higher standard, because we want to make the club better, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t make you less of a fan if you ask legitimate questions of the club. You ask because you care and want fix the faults that you see. The club has a responsibility to the fans, and likewise the fans have a responsibility to the club. We give the situation the benefit of the doubt until we get the answers we’re entitled.
Or at least, that’s what we should do.
If there’s one thing I learned from the Busi fiasco is people are easily manipulated, and they believe what they want to believe. (Okay, that’s two things. Whatever). Nothing I didn’t know already, but it was alarming how quickly people turned on Busi just based on a video with no audio that was released solely to damage the club and Busi’s own reputation. Just because someone does a crap job of embellishing contact doesn’t make them a racist. What kind of logic is that? This is a person’s life and career that is affected by this, and it’s why Xavi’s support of Busi during the Liga celebration really got to me (I love that man). If racism is so serious, then the holding back in judgment is crucial, because in my view condemning an innocent man of being racist is just as bad as being racist. You become one of those pecksniffian reactionaries, as I like to call them, and no-one wants to be a pecksniffian reactionary.
You don’t need to “believe” in the player/club like it’s a hopeless situation, like he’s already guilty, and believing means you’re a true fan. No, you should believe in the sense that there are reasons to think, to believe, the person is not a racist. Mourinho’s created an environment where there is only accusation and defense with regards to Barca (and EE, I guess). It doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be that way. We can discuss Barca without having to “take sides.”
At the end of it all, I won’t lie, I felt drained. Happy, oh-so-satisfied and proud that we went through to the final, but drained nonetheless. We had to deal with so much drama, so much nonsense, and that’s just as fans. I can’t imagine the toll this must have taken on Pep and the players, the ones that actually have to deal with it all every single day. I can turn off my laptop for a day or two, and I won’t have to worry about seeing anything on TV [Thank you, HockeyLand], but the team can’t. The radios, the TV shows, the papers, the public and friends; everyone is talking about it or mentioning it. They are surrounded and hounded by the nonsense. If they respond to it, it’s lowering themselves to their level; if they ignore it, it creates doubt. A classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Before the whole Busi fiasco, I wanted to win the CL badly. After it, I wanted it like Messi wants his legos after a week away from home.
And so Wembley came, and I still can’t put into words how absolutely elated I was, still am, after that match. It was the performance that made the toxic atmosphere created go away with a poof. Only Barca can do that to me. After the win, I felt like I was on cloud nine. When I saw Puyi give Abidal the armband and lift the CL in his place, forgoing his [Puyol’s] own place in history, that was the last straw. It was so….perfect. I had never been more proud to be a cule, and so I decided, no matter what happens next season, not matter what crap they throw at us next, I’ll just remember that moment when Abi lifted the CL after a monstrous match on the left, and all the negative feelings will go like Thong Boy in big games and disappear.
They owed us one, said Pep. And the players didn’t fail.
To continue winning trophies while still keep the attractive football, to become a reference and take its place in history, Barcelona had to get better every season. And better they got. We overcame our obstacles,and won the trophies that mattered.
I couldn’t be more proud.