Fight Fire with Fire, Or: Becoming the Big Bad Wolf

[Note: this was written on June 5, 2011]

I don’t know about you, but the 28th of May was the first time a football match has reduced me to a sobbing mess. It was an expression of joy, relief – and the ultimate release of frustration. When Gerard Pique spoke so emphatically about what we don’t do at the celebration on the 29th, he was speaking our language. If the fans have felt helpless and angry about the way our club have been attacked this season, imagine how it affected the players.

Thank God, then, for such a brilliant ending to the 10/11 season, one which seemed to erase all that had gone wrong. Someday we may have another, equally skillful team to call our own. We may even have a better one. But I’m convinced we’ll never have one quite like this again, with supremely skilled players who fit together like a jigsaw puzzle totally subsumed into a collective. That, to me, is the most striking thing about this team.

identity and silverware

The second most striking thing is their composure. I’m sure nobody reading this needs to be lectured on the way Cruyff changed Barca’s history. Statistically, it’s really quite striking. Before 1989, Barca had won the league 10 times in its entire history. In the 22 years since, it has won 11. Before 1991, Barca had infamously never won the European Cup. In the 20 years since, it has won 4 times under the new format. A culture of pessimism and victimisation has been transformed into one of confidence and self-assurance. Under Guardiola, this new identity has become the default.

This has been reflected by the way outside perceptions of Barca have changed. We used to be the perpetual underdogs, the ones with the hard-luck stories. They play good football, it was said. Pity that [internal politics are holding them back/they have such rotten luck/their superstars are always making trouble/they don’t have a winning mentality].

In this day and age, we cannot claim to be the underdogs of anything. Not with that winning record in the last 20 years. Not with a team that makes anyone they come across adapt to their style of play. The tone of the press coverage of Barca’s victory over Manchester United received reflects this. We’re now the big bad wolf.

Problem is, we’re not very good at it. It’s never been Barca’s way to take the victory and run. We care what other people say about us. We care about how our victories are achieved, and how other people perceive them to have been achieved. That’s why all the scurrilous crap emanating from Madrid’s general direction this season bugged all and sundry associated with Barca so much. Caring about the how is part of our identity. It’s not going away no matter how many trophies this new, improved team wins.

And that’s just fine. For once, those Nike T-shirts got something right: football gives back what you put into it. Going around with the belief that our way is the right way is all well and good, but no one’s going to pay attention until you prove it. And keep proving it.

fire with fire

It may be a cliche, but it’s still true: the absolute worst thing our opponents can do to Barca is to make it forget itself. Think that’s impossible? I wish it were, but the past four years have shown us different.

Firstly, remember back to the mess of the Clasicos. Be honest: would you honestly say you were proud of Barca’s entire performance? Or would you rather forget how we won, only that we did?

It’s in a football fan’s bones to think that the world is out to get us. I would argue that this is mostly not the case. In fact, many neutrals are predisposed towards Barca, and many who were turned off by the Fiascos came around again after the Champions League final, a timely reminder of what we are at our best. It was said that the final had shown Barca were not by nature predisposed towards the dark arts of the game. That they had been driven to it, either by: 1) the heat of the occasion, and/or 2) Real’s tactics.

The first I can excuse. That’s part of the identity of the Clasico. The second, I find considerably more difficult. The type of tactics Real used will only become more common as teams retreat in fear against Barca. Our response cannot be to resort to ugliness, not if we care about the how.

Secondly, consider the dark days of April 2008. Few remember now the polls in the Barca papers showing Mourinho to be the fan favourite to take over from Frank Rijkaard. Every drop of ink spilled on the topic reflected a loss of faith in our own identity, engendered by the complete collapse of Rijkaard’s team. A team which, least we forget, managed to limp into the Champions League semi-finals by virtue of sheer individual talent.

By a mixture of sheer dumb luck, good advice, financial concerns and political opportunism, Laporta opted for continuity in the form of Cruyffista Pep Guardiola instead of a radical break in favour of another style. The fact that so many people were in favour of the latter [and to be honest, I had moments of agreeing with them] illustrates the chronic short-termism of modern football. It also teaches us a valuable lesson. As Tito Vilanova put it:

“But Barca must maintain this philosophy. At such times [when the outlook is bleak], people must not be thinking of looking for another way of playing or for different types of players. It is a philosophy we need to maintain.”

In the final reckoning, this has been a dream season of remarkable success against the odds. There will be far harder days in the years to come. That’s just the way football works. When those days arrive the value of our memories of the difficult lessons of this season will be just as valuable as the glory.

“The ball doesn’t get dirty.” – Diego Maradona

For my part, the past month has renewed my faith in the essential character of this club. Whatever problems and concerns I have with the men in charge in the boardroom, it is on the field where the best face of Barca has had its purest, redemptive expression. That’s all one can ask of football, isn’t it?

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Written by:

20-something Chinese Kiwi Barrister. Enjoys short walks on the beach, Argentinian players and Pep Guardiola. @blackwhitengrey for hot takes on all three.


  1. September 8, 2011

    So basically, all the admins did a season review, a kind of ‘what this season meant to me’ sort of deal. The thing we wrote them for didn’t work out, so they’re just sitting in the drafts unpublished.

    • Whatever
      September 8, 2011

      Thanks for explaining this. I was wondering why is every writer reviewing the season.

  2. Dani_el
    September 8, 2011

    Pep Guardiola received the gold medal of the Catalunya Parlament hours ago. I think it’s a life time achievement award for his professional career that has supported values as humility, team work, respect and so on.

      • Dani_el
        September 8, 2011

        He does! Excellent speach. Thank you Linda also, for this beautifully written article.

  3. BarcaGirl_Indo
    September 8, 2011

    I love this season reviews.
    What BFB writers wrote basically represent what majority cules around the world felt during last season.
    Not everyone is able to explain their feelings into words, so when I read what you guys wrote, I was like : “yes! this is exactly how I felt…”
    Thanks, Linda! 😀

    God almighty, talk about hair disaster!

  4. September 8, 2011

    I remember saying back then with so much haters that we should be more like United fans lol when faced with all the hate instead of feeling down and depressed. They positively revel in all the hate, and it seems to be a rather universal characteristic whether its United fans from the UK I see or people on the internet or the ones I know personally.

    Maybe cos they’ve been top dog and labelled lucky/paying off refs/Howard Webb/Fergie time/snapping up all the talent/bullies/classless/etc for a good couple decades now and rather consistently, or maybe cos Fergie and the team just seem to have a ruthless, thick-skinned character of a side that earns and commands respect by sheer will that permeates down to the fanbase.

    (It’s actually strange- though logical, I guess, in a world where fans are a big international community through blogs and club channels and whatever- how consistent the mindset of fans of a particular club regardless of region is. Just like United fans, Arsenal and Liverpool fans also have very distinctive ways you can see regardless of the country or whether they’re from Merseyside or Malaysia. As well as us Barca fans)

    Whereas we get sad when people criticize Barcelona. Which is depressing when it happens, like during the Clasicos when everyone and everyone seemed to be piling on us. But I guess it’s just as much part of the identity. We think of the club as this representative of good and it’s like ‘how can people be against good?’, feeling like some collection-drive bleeding heart feeling depressed at seeing people refuse to part with five bucks for an orphanage wondering what’s wrong with the world? Rather than the much more proportionate ‘how can people who are not fans of a football club be against said football club?’

    It’s a little ridiculous and I can see how grating it can be to fans of other clubs, but I wouldn’t give it up. It wouldn’t be the same if we weren’t a thin-skinned bunch that feels all when we see people talk bad about Barcelona the way you get when people are cynical about good in the world.

    ‘You hate unicorns and want fairyland to be bulldozed for factory construction *sniff* and don’t believe in fairies? And want to park the bus and remove the magic from the beautiful game? *sniff, sniff* IS YOUR CHILDHOOD DEAD INSIDE?’ – Xavi, Pep, every cule, and the almost amusing, rather naively idealistic and ultimately wonderful conviction that runs through the entire team and fanbase. I love it.

    • Xingxian
      September 8, 2011

      If I wanted to haughtily sneer at all the haters, confident and secure in my glamor and majesty, I’d have chosen to support Real Madrid. It was the mentality of FCB that I identified with.

      shameful admission: when I decided (back in the summer of 2010 after the World Cup) to follow FCB and learn about its players/history/team and cheer for it… I thought Real Madrid was the favorite in the title race O_o

      • Xingxian
        September 8, 2011

        I was shocked and chagrined to find out that the team I had chosen to cheer for were NOT the underdogs but rather a horrible force of soccer that trampled over other teams. But it was too late by then to switch.

        Besides… so far I think the FCB mentality best suits me 🙂

  5. andrecito
    September 8, 2011

    anybody watching flamengo x corinithians? good stuff..

  6. barca96
    September 8, 2011

    Now that Barcastuff is partially inactive, where can we find links to articles by Guardian, Espn etc about Barca?

    • mei
      September 8, 2011

      Searching the sources ourselves mostly I guess. #fcblive on twitter brings a lot of info up , anyway.

    • blitzen
      September 9, 2011

      Follow @sidlowe, @BumperGraham and @laligaloca for a start.

  7. adopted cule
    September 8, 2011

    In the 35 years that I have watched and played sport (since I was 6), I have never seen anything that even remotely resembles this Barcelona team. I believe this team to be the greatest team in the history of the sporting world and it is not just their poetic, visionary football that attracts me, but I feel a deep emotional connection to the ways they comport themselves on the field. I feel an ugly pain in the pit of my stomach when the team is criticized for using the dark arts, because such criticisms seem so far wide of the larger picture of what this club is achieving. Mes que un club, to me, is not a description of how the club always behaves, but rather a mission statement.

    Thank you Linda for this piece that so clearly articulates the joy I felt not only in the CL win, but in how it was achieved.

  8. September 8, 2011

    Guys, I’m writing the Sociedad preview right now and I’m having a serious internal struggle. I can’t tell you the context because that would just ruin it all. But I honestly can’t decide.

    To Hleb, or not to Hleb?

    Seriously? Seriously.


  9. Chiu
    September 9, 2011

    anyone have translation of Pep speech on the ceremony (Catalan Medal)?

  10. Gogah
    September 9, 2011

    I don’t think that we are now the big bad wolf.
    That persona just doesn’t suit us.
    I think we are more like the annoying elephant (for opponents that is) that just doesn’t go down or effortlessly crushes the other ants. Of course once in a while we encounter the ‘venom-spitting cobra’ (EE) and the elephant gets a bit intimidated. But we can still crush it if only the elephant can cross that mental barrier, which it has been doing rather well the past 3 years.

    Hail Pep, the best Mahout an elephant can have!!

    Also i don’t think its a bad thing at all that we care too much about what others say about our team. It is what gives us the style and the unwavering adherence to the philosophy. Having said all this, i think the mental attitude of some Cules should change. As hard as it may seem, We must focus only on ourselves and celebrate the victories like it were some miracle.

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