Archive | Soap Box

The Crusades of football opinion


In contemplation of the remainder of this Champions League, the only available word is … drama.

Draw Juventus, and there’s drama about the bus. Draw RM and there’s drama about more Classics (even though the CL encounters aren’t Classics, but that’s another matter). Draw Bayern and the world implodes on its axis.

In anticipation of this last possibility, people are already staking out space, ground high and low, moral and more moral, real fan vs non-real fan, donning psychic armor for the battles to come. And this is before the draw. It’s like the football Crusades as supporters hoist shields and spears aloft, rushing to ideological battle. Over what?

We love this sport. Football is passion. It’s life. But it’s also supposed to be joy, fun. I see a number 10 Ronaldinho shirt and still remember the wonder of his time at Barça, not for the goals but for the fun. The game was fun, life was fun as joy was a single booty pass away. Today, in the quests for records, piles and piles of goals and conquest, it all seems a lot less fun as the team that we love prepares to face off against the best clubs in Europe. Exciting times lay ahead, whatever the outcome.
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Posted in Champions League, Messi, Soap Box, Thoughts70 Comments

The first shoe drops, aka “Don’t be fooled”


I was watching a TV show called “Fool Us,” featuring the magic duo of Penn & Teller. The premise is that magicians come out to do their thing in an effort to find a trick slick enough to fool two of the best magicians ever.

It’s pretty hard to fool Penn & Teller. The question will be, now that the magic trick of getting rid of Andoni Zubizarreta has been performed, whether this board will be able to fool us.

I hope not.
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Posted in Analysis, Soap Box, Supposition, Team News, Thoughts33 Comments

Enrique and life on the fringe, aka “Stuff is happening, but why?”

Photo courtesy of FC Barcelona

Photo courtesy of FC Barcelona

The challenge of holding a minority opinion is whether it stands up to the litmus test of logic.

A popular worldview, supported by many an intelligent football chronicling voice, is that Barça under Luis Enrique is a team that is losing its identity. The latest piece, and an excellent one from Sid Lowe, makes the case as eloquently as any I have seen before and will likely see even as for me, the team has been losing said identity since before Guardiola’s last year, and that loss isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

So in the struggle to reconcile ideas that apparently need fingers on a keyboard to wrap a mind around, here’s a view from an outlier on judgments of Enrique and what/how he is doing in the here and now. It’s a question of not only what you see when everyone sees the same thing, but what is affecting your field of view in how you react to what you see.
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Posted in Analysis, Soap Box, Supposition, Thoughts17 Comments

Appeals, Douglas and Barça, aka “An investment in rage”


There is probably, I am sure, someone around who would like the sitting board of FC Barcelona gone more than I.

There is probably a person somewhere who has disliked Bartomeu since childhood, who once upon a time had the board collectively kick their puppy in a conga line of canine disdain.

Which brings us to today’s CAS hearing on the appeal of the two-window transfer ban that was handed down to Barça for violations in youth player registrations, errors that the board has copped to in calling them benign-sounding things such as “administrative oversights.” And there is a vile, evil part of me that, if you listen very closely, you can just make out a faint sound as it screams, “Lose the hearing! They will be brought to account for their actions, and it will be one more nail in their coffin. Die! Die!”

But I love this club far too much to ever, ever wish anything bad for it. I love this club enough to apply objectivity and see that the board has done many of the things that it has done for reasons that are valid to them, even as they rile me to my culer core. (Well, except the horizontal stripes … that crap is just bonkers.)

I also know the damage that a two-window ban would do to the ambitions of the club and team that I love, which means that I can’t in good conscience do anything except root for the club and its lawyers, even as there are voices out there in the world who would prefer the opposite, whose views are in alignment with my Dark Side. Sometimes you have to take some healthy tissue out to remove a tumor, goes the logic, and I understand that. I just can’t in good conscience personally support such a thing because of the potential damage it might cause.

Anger is sometimes good. Rage rarely is. Anger can clear your mind, just as rage invariably blinds. We see but we can’t see, because all that we see is what our rage is telling us to see. Perhaps that explains a lot of my stance against being a fan of a certain player. For as you are a fan of a player it is just as easy to dislike a player, to not see something even when it’s right there in our faces, because of the blindness that is an aftereffect of rage. I”m not mad at Douglas. I’m mad at the situation that means a fast-diminishing Alves is still our best right back.

But even there, looking around at the footballing world makes you wonder where the quality RBs are on the market. They seem to be even more scarce than that “world-class” CB that everyone talks about. As the team failed to get Cuadrado and Enrique didn’t want a purely defensive RB, problems arose. Someone, somewhere who knows a lot more about football and assessing talent than I do, decided to take a shot on Douglas. Okay. He’s here. Now let’s see what happens.

It’s a weird thing rooting for a club. There’s so much that you have to put aside as a consequence of that allegiance. I hate that the club I love signed a player who troubles me morally. I hate that the club I love has, as one of its best players, a man who stood accused of calling an opponent a monkey. I hate that it kicked iconic players to the curb as said player sat weeping at a press table. I hate sold shirt fronts, surreptitiously sold stadium naming rights and all of it.

But when our players stride onto the pitch wearing those famous colors, even if those colors are highlighter yellow, I want nothing more than success for that entity.

This makes it a struggle for me to understand things, not only wanting an appeal to fail, but the almost obsessive dislike of players.

I watched Douglas play in the Copa match on Wednesday, and thought, “Hmmm … not as bad as his first time out, and he is actually trying to DO something this time. Better.”


And it was weird to think that because out in the world of social media, predominantly Twitter, the steadfast belief that Douglas is the worst footballer on God’s green Earth has been pre-sold with such vigor that it is seemingly impossible to imagine him even completing a pass, never mind actually not comprehensively sucking. So when you say “There were positive things in his game,” it becomes the same as saying that Douglas is the second coming of Dani Alves. He isn’t.

Reality is that I, like most observers, still have no idea WHAT Douglas is, but I know what he isn’t: He isn’t as bad as his detractors make him out to be. He can’t be. Because if he were, every pass would have been intercepted by opponents leading to goals, he would have knocked in a couple of own goals to boot … and kicked a puppy while snatching Thiago Messi’s binky.

Douglas, however, is just the latest. Alex Song has been on that list. Alexis Sanchez spent a long time on that list, and even now, many say that he is playing well because it’s easy to shine at a lesser club, and he still isn’t “Barça quality,” whatever that means. Pique is a dimwitted, unfocused playboy, Sergi Roberto is a waste of oxygen who cost us some player or another. What they all have in common is that they are (or were) Barça players.

And there is a perception gap that is often attendant to that worldview. When Sanchez ran at three players and lost the ball, it was often, “He can’t beat anyone 1v1.” But when Messi makes a run at 3 players and loses the ball, it’s “Oooh, man! Almost! He’s so brilliant.” We have to strive to see everything, instead of what we want to see.

There is a seeming craving for the failure of the Undesirables that is odd to me because if they fail, the team fails and the club is damaged. Champions League failure means less prize money means the bottom line is affected means less money for transfers means more whoring out of the Barça brand and a return of the color copies moratorium. No, I want and need for every one of our players to succeed, including the ones with a taste for human flesh and who hurl invective at wild-haired Brazilians from behind the safety of a cupped hand. Everyone. I don’t have a choice in that, really. I don’t want to be right when it comes to the failure of my club.

Yet the silence when a detested player performs well is deafening. One of those players can not put a foot wrong for 89 minutes and 58 seconds, misplace a pass in the last seconds on injury time and it will start: “A-HA! Told you. He sucks. Can’t even complete a damn pass on the ground. Anybody who defends him is stupid.” Can you really see everything objectively then? Good question. But in many ways it becomes like the person who says to you on social media, “Your an idiot.” Applying a bit of perspective sometimes makes a picture clearer as we put our short-term happiness in the hands of 11 millionaires in short pants.

Even when culers circle the wagons, it’s sometimes for good and bad. In a recent commentary piece by Paul Scholes, he said that the team looked “bored,” for lack of a better descriptive. There is much to agree with in that piece, even if the reasoning behind why it is occurring is wrong.

Someone said that Thomas Vermaelen will never play a match for Barça. I hope that isn’t the case, because he’s one of our players, who was signed for a reason and can be a help to this club. I hope that Douglas continues to improve, loses that deer in the headlights look and develops into something other than a punt of a transfer. I have to hope for these things, because of how much I love Barça.

Nobody, but nobody can tell anyone how to support a club. People can love the club deeply even though they find nothing but wrong in everything that the team and organization does. Being a supporter isn’t about blind loyalty or always seeing the bright side. I don’t know that it’s even about wanting the best for the club. I can’t even adequately express what it’s all about, except from my worldview, from my very personal side of things.

And from that world it’s about seeing, not being blinded by pre-sold notions, about expecting the best and being saddened when that best doesn’t come without losing hope that next time, it will. It’s about expectation and heartbreak, tears and exultation, about wanting the best for every player on the team no matter how they came to the team. It’s about pride and history, traditions and beauty. It’s also about going your own way in how you show the love for that team.

Posted in Soap Box, Thoughts96 Comments

Barça 5, Sevilla 1, aka “Congratulations, Messi”


Today was an extraordinary day at the Camp Nou, a day on which a truly remarkable thing happened as a 27-year-old player … no, phenom, broke the Liga goalscoring record with a remarkable 253 goals. He accomplished the feat at home, in front of Barça supporters, via hat trick, at the end of a truly absurd week in which people lined up to defy logic in discussing the possibility that Lionel Messi might leave FC Barcelona.

And as fools like me suggested that Messi didn’t give two rampaging shits about what people were saying, that all he wanted to do was take to the football pitch and do what he does better than anyone else alive, it seemed fitting today that Messi did precisely that. Exorcism? Maybe. Statement? Possibly. Extraordinary match by an extraordinary player? Hell yes.

And that last is the point, the point that screams to be made as from week to week players are done, then “Back, how dare anyone doubt” and all points in between, is that each week, each match is different and proves absolutely nothing. Just as some days you go charging out of bed, full of energy and ready to take on the day and other days you roll over and hit the snooze button, what the hell makes us think that footballers are any different?
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Posted in La Liga, Messi, Soap Box, Thoughts138 Comments

Is “mes que un club” just a slogan, aka “Multinational corps don’t have politics”


A favorite Twitter commentator brought something to mind this morning in posting a very good editorial about the club and its stance, or lack thereof, as the September 11 pro-independence (or pro-choice, dependent upon whether you like waffles) day looms.

Many people come to Barça for the football. I would reckon that most come to the team for the football, and think of the club and team as one, rather than the former being a representative of the latter, an umbrella that encompasses everything from many other professional sporting teams to charitable/human rights efforts and other enterprises. And if all you care about IS the football, stop reading now.
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Posted in History/Culture, Soap Box, Thoughts284 Comments

Dani Alves and the perfect gesture, aka “Your stupidity is soooo tasty!”

Image courtesy of Mundo Deportivo

Image courtesy of Mundo Deportivo

How often do we get to say the exact right thing, make the exact right gesture?

Many years ago, when my wife and I were urban pioneers, we lived in a neighborhood festooned with um … indigenous businessladies. One night while she was out walking the dog, a car rolled up alongside the curb and a man inside the vehicle asked my wife “How much,” presuming that the dog was a brilliant ruse, perhaps. Her response: “Just me, or me AND the dog?”

The would-be Lothario figured things out pretty quickly, and sped off. Perfect response to a ridiculous situation.

When Dani Alves strolled over to take a dead-ball situation during the Villarreal match on Sunday, it’s a safe bet that he had absolutely no aspirations to perfection, aside from a player’s usual striving for excellence. But when the banana came flying at him and he casually picked it up and ate it, attention and focus fully on the pitch and beating Villarreal, it was the perfect response to a ridiculous situation.

Neymar, not missing a beat, Instagrammed a photo of he and his son eating bananas, starting a “we are all monkeys” campaign that spread like wildfire. A Spanish TV newscaster ate a banana on the air. Players such as Kun Aguero have photographed themselves eating a banana, in the selfie as social revolt vein.


Villarreal issued a strong statement condemning the offending “supporter,” and FC Barcelona came out with a statement of its own, expressing full solidarity with Alves and condemning racism.

Once my jaw finished bouncing off the floor as a result of that last incident, something else remarkable happened. The match official, David Fernandez Borbalan, put the banana incident in his official match report so that it is there, for the record. It was as if to say “Your move, RFEF.”

After the match, Dani Alves handled everything with class and style, saying that such things have been part of the Spanish game, and you just can’t dignify them by freaking out. He added a backhanded thank you to the fruit hurler, saying that his father always told him to eat bananas to avoid cramps, so thanks to the person for providing the energy boost that helped him keep running, keep crossing the ball.


And this is how a football club properly deals with racism:

Villarreal CF wants to communicate that the club deeply regrets and condemns the incident that happened yesterday during the match against FC Barcelona in which a fan threw an object onto the field of El Madrigal. Thanks to the security forces and the invaluable assistance of the Yellow crowd, the club has already identified the (perpetrator) and has decided to withdraw his season tickets, permanently banning his access to El Madrigal stadium.

Once again our club would like to express its firm commitment to promoting respect, equality, sportsmanship and fair play both on and off the field and our absolute rejection of any act that is contrary to these principles, such as violence, discrimination, racism and xenophobia.

Racism is an unfortunate part of the modern game, and I really don’t foresee a point in my lifetime where it won’t be. Xenophobia is one of those irresistibly human things that takes us deeper than racism into those vile nether regions of all discrimination. Some might not be a racist, but a sexist. Might not be either, loving all races, creeds and colors, but is bothered by gay people. The omnipresence of the “other” is what makes discrimination so malleable and inescapable.

We hear of incident after incident. In the U.S., the news is filled with the alleged comments and views of NBA owner Donald Sterling. There as everywhere, strong words have come out. What makes that incident noteworthy is that “safe” players such as LeBron James and Michael Jordan, who usually shy away from unequivocal statements because of the potential image/sponsor damage, both came out forcefully against the alleged remarks, saying that there is no place in the NBA for that kind of an individual.

Boateng walked off the pitch during one match. Los Angeles Clippers players dumped their warm-ups in a pile, and loosened up with their warmup shirts turned inside out, as a form of protest. Two of the biggest sports in the world have had incidents that have drawn global attention to racism.

To what end?

Football has racism. Football will have racism. It isn’t cynical to say that, as much as it is reality. Because racism or any other form of discrimination (football has ‘em all) is the belief that your group is better, based on something that is (usually) unalterable. The object of discrimination can’t fix the thing that offends the assailant. They can’t not be black, not be female, not be gay. It’s easy, and it’s obvious to make someone the Other. And as long as humans have the trait that makes them want to be better than someone else, there will be the attendant xenophobia and its byproduct, discrimination.

Clubs can make statements, football can have campaigns, players can be banned for x or y number of matches, stadiums can be empty. These gestures make some feel like “See? They are doing something,” even as we acknowledge that a big part of such gestures for many is palliative. It’s like an apology, which too frequently serves to make the person making the apology feel better. “There. Glad that’s over.”

Then the game returns to “normal.” Everyone wants things to be back to normal. When you fight with a friend or loved one you regret the fight, but what you most regret is the upset to normalcy. Strife is nasty. So is being confronted by the tangible evidence of man’s inhumanity toward man. It makes us uncomfortable. So let’s don t-shirts and armbands, make a statement and return to normal.

This doesn’t mean that the efforts, the campaigns, the gestures aren’t sincere. They often are. But all of them put together don’t change a single, solitary thing about racism. We know it sucks. We know that people don’t approve. We know it’s a black eye on the game that we all love. Duh. Sadly, the gestures and campaigns also serve to remind us of something we don’t really want to admit: that maybe, just maybe, racism isn’t solvable by any of those kinds of things. That like charity, the end of racism begins at home.

Longtime readers here will recall my Camp Nou incident, where during halftime of a match I was attending a young kid from the posh seats saw me and made a clearly racist, monkey-like gesture to his father. The dad smiled, “Oh, you little card,” not at all uncomfortably until they noticed that I was watching them. Then it got VERY uncomfortable. I shook my head, predominantly because that’s kinda all that you can do in a situation like that. Show clear disapproval and the belief that while someone might think they are superior for the simple biological marker of skin color, that ain’t always the case.

That kid learned what he knew from the parent who tacitly approved it by not kneeling down and sternly explaining to that kid why what he did was wrong, laying out how absurd it was to for the kid to return to his seat and cheer for a team that included Lillian Thuram, Toure Yaya, Eric Abidal and Samuel Eto’o with a clear conscience. That is the time to stop racism. What in the hell is a FIFA campaign going to do when the people who the kid looks up to says “It’s okay to discriminate.”

That kid probably continues to go to Barça matches. Maybe an incident happens in his life that makes him understand everyone can be lumped in asshats and non-asshats. And that ain’t color, gender or sexual orientation specific. But more often nothing happens because just as we segregate ourselves into groups of Barça supporters, we tend to gather among friends who share the same views. It’s uncomfortable not to. It’s a safe bet that the Villarreal banana thrower was at the match with like-minded souls. So where is the disapproval? To that group, racism is fine. It’s what you’re supposed to do.

We scoff and snark, call them silly or worse, but they don’t care, because beliefs supersede all. Racists have kids, and those kids have kids. Allegiance to a football club is deep and usually lifelong, so the racists potentially keep raising generations of racists. You fix that not with campaigns, but in homes and seats around the perpetrators. Today, word came down that the Villarreal member has been identified and expelled. The identification came with the help of those seated nearby. And that’s how you do it. If a racist speaks up, people around him say “Hey, that is enough of that crap. It isn’t right.” And the racists learn they aren’t wanted, even if they don’t change their views.

This doesn’t augur well for a football future in which black players won’t suffer monkey chants, hurled bananas and the like. English football fans feel better about themselves because their FA has cracked down on racism in a way that makes racists much less likely to act on their views, even as that reluctance to act doesn’t make them any less racist. It doesn’t remove racism from the game, it just removes the overt gesture from the game. Dependent upon how much discrimination you have had to deal with in your life, you might or might not prefer to know who dislikes you because of how you are. The devil you know, right?

But the absence of a gesture doesn’t mean you don’t have racism. It just means that you can’t see it. Whether that is any better is up to you. For most of us, it’s better. We can’t see it, so it isn’t there. Personally, I want racists out in the open. I want to have the hope that kids will see how ugly it is. I want to have the hope that the kid who has a shirt with Alves/22 on the back of it will ask his father why those people over there are being mean to his favorite player. I want to have the hope that the kid will resolve to not be like that, and then raise his children not to be like that.

That is when racism begins to be erased from our game, which is what has to happen for the game to be truly better, rather than beautiful and “normal” until yet another incident turns it ugly again.

Posted in La Liga, Neymar, Soap Box, Thoughts165 Comments

Ones that got away, aka “I love him so much! How can he DO that to me!?”


Just had an interesting discussion on Twitter that, of course, became the seed for a post, on the ones that got away and the reactions of supporters.

These days, no word can spark a spirited discussion like “Thiago.” Culers are never on the fence with this one, be it that Vilanova and the board cast him to the waves in a little papyrus basket, or he’s a little ingrate. After all the club did for him … .

There are many ways to look at the situation, but let’s take a broader view, for all the exes out there.
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Posted in Soap Box, Thoughts, Transfers/Transfer Rumors125 Comments

Myths, legends and difficult times for a football club, aka “The myth of Pep”


So, there was this lumberjack named Paul Bunyan, and what a lumberjack he was. When he came into the world, it took not one, but five storks to bring him home. His hand claps and laughter broke windows and he was sawing legs off beds even though he could barely walk. He made a mountain, though he didn’t really know he was doing so, simply by piling rocks to put out his Bunyan-sized campfire.

Mes que un lumberjack Bunyan is described as being “64 axe handles high,” which by the 18-inch measurement of the average axe handle, makes him about 95 feet tall. And he traveled with the only blue ox in the history of mankind, Babe, who was sized to the same colossal scale as Paul Bunyan.
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Posted in History/Culture, Soap Box, Thoughts129 Comments

The burden of expectations, aka “We’re doomed … I think”

"Didn't I used to suck?"

“Didn’t I used to suck?”

I just want to make sure that I understand this correctly:

FC Barcelona won its opening Champions League match 4-0 over Ajax. The team is still unbeaten this season, and perfect in two competitions.

Okay. Got it.

Like Victor Valdes, Barça is this thing that nobody will realize is as good as it is, until it is gone. And make no mistake, this glorious, winning, conquering team will, at some point in the not all that distant future, be gone.

I’m not sure how people will take it. Will buildings have to bolt windows shut to keep people from leaping from them? Will the FC Barcelona bandwagon blow a strut from all the people leaping off it at the same time? Lord knows. (Shudder!) Meanwhile …
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Posted in Soap Box, Thoughts151 Comments

More Than A Slogan: Eric Abidal and FC Barcelona

“Abidal’s new contract has been written and as soon as he plays his first game, we’ll put pen to paper.” – Barcelona vice president Josep María Bartomeu, 12 December 2012

At the time, Eric Abidal accepted his departure with the grace that characterised his behaviour at Barcelona. He could have raged then about broken promises, about the club’s failure to communicate with him over a period of at least 3 months. He could have said many things, but he didn’t.

Instead, this is what he said:

“I didn’t take a decision because when your contract isn’t renewed, you don’t have a choice,” Abidal said. “The club’s decision is difficult to accept because part of my battle was for my family but also for the club. I would have liked to have finished my career or had another year here at Barcelona. I respect the choice of the club, the staff and the board. I leave with six years of happiness, titles and good friends.”

To many, the image of Abidal raising the Champions League trophy at Wembley was the pinnacle of the Guardiola era. Maybe the pinnacle of modern Barca. It was perfect – the club’s triumph interwoven with a personal triumph that touched so many. We cried and cheered for him. His struggle was our source of strength, as the slogan went.

When Barca subsequently renewed his contract in January 2012, it was a fantastic gesture of faith, a recognition of the role he had already played in making the best Barca ever possible, and an acknowledgement that he was important to the future of the team.

So what changed a year later, beside the glaring fact that Abidal was now, by the club’s own admission, healthy and cleared to play, having made a Herculean effort to recover from a liver transplant?

No explanation has ever been offered for Barca’s decision, as an institution, to go back on its word and decline to offer Abidal a new contract. Or, depending on how much of a fib Bartomeu was telling, to withdraw any standing offer. This in itself was insult enough – by dodging the question, the club implied that maybe Abidal wasn’t quite as fit as they’d made out when he made his emotional comeback months earlier, and made it harder for him to find a new club.

I doubt we’ll ever find out the truth behind the decision to let Abidal go unless someone involved has a decisive break with the current regime. And the fans aren’t the only ones wondering. Some of the players are, too.

The reality is that the decision was and is unjustifiable, even taking the most cold-eyed, pragmatic view. Barca needed and still need a player like Abidal. They scoured the transfer market without finding anyone they could buy to fill that gap this summer. We don’t know if the club doctors genuinely thought he couldn’t play on, but the club certainly never said so and subsequent events make it seem unlikely.

If the club had thought better of its earlier stated decision and wanted to mitigate the risk of offering a multi-million contract to a player with potential health problems, it could have set up a pay-as-you-play deal. Even if they had cold feet about the supposed contract that was ready to sign as soon as Abidal played a game, they could have sat down with him and at least tried to work something out. That would have been prudent and humane, and in line with Barca’s previous treatment of him. Instead, the club ducked all attempts by Abidal and his agent to set up a meeting for 3 months, leaving him in limbo until the end of May, when he was told that despite the club’s public promises to the contrary, his contract would not be renewed.

The club’s behaviour demonstrated a lack of basic competence, if not actual bad faith, and continued a troubling trend.

“For Barcelona to renew with Abidal when they knew he would need a liver transplant shows the greatness of this club.” – Pep Guardiola, March 2012

I cried when Abidal raised the cup. I cried again that terrible day of the press conference as I read about what had happened: the tears of Abidal and the other players, the disturbing, buck-passing performances by Rosell and Zubizarreta, and the equally disturbing failure by any members of the press to ask the obvious questions. This time, my tears were an expression of anger.

Something happened that day as Abidal dried his eyes and Rosell grinned for the press. Something that’s very difficult to overcome – a feeling that we as a club had taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Barca’s image took a hit when we let Abidal go, all the more so because of the way his story had been woven into our club’s recent history of glittering success. Because, and here comes that hated word, Barca’s support of him had become part of our ‘brand’. We didn’t just win. We played well, we won, and Abidal raised the cup. That’s impeccable. Nobody could dent that. Nobody else, anyway.

Eras don’t end with defeats. Defeat happens to everyone. Eras end when we become something other than ourselves.

“The recovery of our manager, Tito Vilanova, and the return of Abidal to active football have provoked emotions that are as intense as or even more intense than anything any title can bring. These have been triumphs of life, victories that reward the struggles of human beings that reach beyond the boundaries of sport”. – Sandro Rosell, April 2013

This is Barca. This is what we do now. We make real people into symbols of mes que un club, to make us look and feel good. We make their stories of struggle and triumph into clip reels set to stirring music, and we use their adversity to make our triumph seem greater.

That’s fine.

(Even though it seems a bit much for the club to take credit for supporting Abidal through his long recovery now that we know the club didn’t bear the financial burden. His last contract had a clause that allowed the club to terminate if he was out for longer than 6 months. He and the club agreed to suspend his contract instead, and he wasn’t paid by Barca for the 12/13 season until his comeback. But I digress. That’s not the big problem here.)

What’s not so palatable is discarding the real people after the fact. The club doesn’t get to dump the person and keep the reflected glory. His struggle is not ours to take strength from, because we responded to it with bad faith. We don’t get to talk about how special we are for supporting Abidal through his recovery when the club discarded him after he worked so hard to return.

We don’t even get to look at Abidal raising Big Ears and just feel good about it. Not anymore. Because we know what happened after.

Eric Abidal should still be playing for Barcelona. That he isn’t – and we still don’t know why – doesn’t make us just another football club. That wouldn’t hurt.

Every time Abidal plays for Monaco, every time he goes 90 minutes for France, it’s a personal triumph for him. It’s also a painful reminder for us.

We’re worse because we claim to be better. We’re hypocrites.




[Author’s note:

I love this team. That’s never changed, and it’s probably never going to. Fundamentally, I derive more happiness from Barca than frustration and anger, and that’s as it should be. Anyone who hasn’t enjoyed being a Barca fan this past decade is probably doing it wrong.

At the same time, I have many, many issues with what Sandro Rosell is making this club into. None of these very serious issues have cut me to the core quite as deeply as what happened with Abidal. Hence this post.]

Posted in Analysis, Barcelona, Soap Box86 Comments

do not go gentle into that good night: decay, love and the winning habit

Asked what he would say to the young Barcelona fan crying for the first time last night, Guardiola replied: “Welcome to the club – there will be many more times, too.” – April 2012

It’s the end of an era! Pick up that shovel, we come not to praise Barca but to bury it. Gather around, we’re holding a bonfire of the accolades.

In the aftermath of such a traumatic defeat, that reaction is tempting. It would be easy to feel that way. I refuse.


Coaches are human beings. Footballers are human beings. They’re just as vulnerable to accident or depression or illness as you or I. If we ever needed a reminder of this, we need only glance at Barca’s manager on the sidelines. How many of us would be working in his state? Be honest. How many of us would be working if our job was as stressful as his and required the kind of hours we know his predecessor regularly put in?

His predecessor was a young, healthy man. The job made him sick. It made him old.

Tito Vilanova is in the second round of his battle against cancer.

Read that again. I’m not pointing this out to make excuses. I’m pointing it out because it’s what happened.

Then there’s entropy, which happens to every great team. At the simplest level, the aging process is slowly depriving some of the best players Barca have ever had of their powers. It’s hideous to watch someone that good be ordinary. But that’s what happens.

We can only thank them for the amazing memories they’ve given us; the sacrifices they’ve made, both visible and unsung, to make this team great.


To me, the best of Barca is this: Leo Messi bearing up under whatever burden we place on his shoulders, no matter how heavy; Xavi’s willingness to play through pain and injury (even though we should never ask that of our players); the extra effort Carles Puyol puts in to achieve full fitness faster; Gerard Pique sitting down at a press conference and telling the world this team wasn’t done; the commitment of the likes of Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano to Barca’s philosophy, in words and in deeds; the quiet labour of Sergio Busquets; the confidence and composure of kids like Marc Bartra and Martin Montoya when tossed onto the biggest of stages; the number of players who turn up on days off to work; Tito Vilanova’s heartbreaking dedication to his job in the face of a life-threatening illness; and the Herculean recovery of Eric Abidal.

I am proud of this team. I’m proud of what they have accomplished so far, and the potential they have to be greater still.

A few setbacks can’t and won’t change that.


’The most esteemed club side of the past decade, playing in their sixth successive semi-final of this competition, suffered their heaviest European defeat since going down by the same score to Dynamo Kyiv in 1997.’ – April 2013

Nothing reflects the esteem in which this team has been held quite as well as the media reactions to Barca’s defeat in Munich. Through seasons of consistent excellence, Barca earned its status as the perennial favourite. It became the gold standard.

From dysfunctional underachievers who occasionally got their act together Barca became a genuine force, one with a seemingly endless thirst for success and a winning formula. It also painted a target on its back. Eventually, a new challenger was going to arrive, starved for recognition and hungrier for it.

Whatever intimidating aura Barca had as the leading force is gone now, squashed down into a shape befitting a very good team. The challenge is now to build it back up, one win at a time.


One of the best parts of being a sports fan is the simple joy of one’s team winning a game. Depending on who we support, it can be a rare delight or a regular pleasure.

But winning should never become obligatory. It should never be something we as fans feel entitled to from our teams. Not least because that takes away the sweetness of it.

If Barca wins the league in the next two weeks, it will be a cause for celebration. A proper party, fireworks and open-top buses and speeches at Camp Nou. Don’t give me that crap about the job being done ages ago and lack of competition and Big Ears being the only important trophy. Remember how much it hurt to lose the title to Madrid last year? I don’t know about you, but to me it really fucking hurt.

Think of all this team has had to overcome to win it back.

The league is not a “clandestine tournament played between Champions League ties”, as Zubi sarcastically noted. It’s big and it’s important and it rewards consistent excellence.

Think of Abidal and Tito raising that trophy. Are you smiling now? I am.


The last 4-0 loss I remember was really, truly ugly. Barca were in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey, up against Getafe. In the first leg, a young Messi had scored that goal, and they’d won 5-2. Frank Rijkaard decided to leave the kid at home for the return. The team he put out was embarrassed.

Things got worse from there.

As bad as it was, and as awful as it felt at the time, those years in the wilderness passed. It took them a while, but Barca rededicated itself to its best ideas and ideals, and rose again.

This is a story you all know, so why am I telling it?

‘From Wembley to Wembley Barcelona has undergone an extraordinary process of maturing … There is no better defence of an idea than victories, but there is no better victory than the fact that the stability of a club does not depend exclusively on a final result, but on a route map. That is the greatness of this Barça, which, make no mistake, will also be the principles that will enable them to vaccinate themselves in defeat.’ – May 2011

I’m going to get uncomfortably personal for a bit. Bear with me.

Someone who was very close to me died in May 2009. But thanks to this team, whenever I think of that month, the suffocating grief isn’t the only thing I remember. I think of the only thing that managed to make me crack a smile that week – Andres Iniesta’s goal, Messi’s tears, Pep’s run the down Stamford Bridge touchline. Good memories, memories I treasure.

We cules are lucky bastards. We’ve been blessed with this brilliant team. Keep the faith.

Ser del Barça és el millor que hi ha!

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