Posted on March 2014.
These are the times that try culers’ souls. The team is in turmoil, rumors are flying hither and yon and we don’t know who to believe.
Players coming and going, coaches coming and going. But thankfully, I am here to help you, with a handy guide to who you should believe:
The convenience of troubled times is that everyone is desperately looking for three things:
— A way out
— Justification for why they were right in predicting that troubled times were a’comin’, even if they didn’t predict that troubled times were a’comin’.
It is also human nature to latch onto things that give us comfort, psychic security blankets that provide balm in stressful times. The team lost? Whose fault is it? End of a cycle? You bet. Let’s go with that piece I have ready. Unnamed sources say that X player is coming? I knew it! He will be just the thing.
My general transfer rumor rule is until the player is seen grinning, standing in front of the crest at the Camp Nou, he isn’t coming. Exceptions to that are if a player’s club or Barça say that an agreement has been reached and he is coming. Barring that, he isn’t because my general bias, as a journalist who is not a fan of any player, is to believe nothing because generally, that kind of stuff doesn’t matter in a situation such as Barça is in right now.
One player, even two players isn’t going to matter a whit until whatever is plaguing the team internally is sussed out. So anybody who comes at me with solutions, blame or balm really isn’t going to get my attention unless they start asking the right questions of more than the thing that supports their supposition.
— “Fin de siècle,” usually comes from the Sant Guardiolus of Catalunya contingent, who believe that the now-departed FCB coach hung the moon and there will never be another one like him.
— “Tata out,” usually comes from folks who say that results were a lie, that yes, the club is in line to make the Champions League quarterfinals, are in Liga with a shout still and in the Copa final, but that all happened thanks to magic elves and duct tape. Now we fully see that our coach is in over his head.
— “X player sucks,” usually comes from people who don’t like X or Y player, and think if that player were gone or had never come, everything would be completely different.
But for me, again, nobody is asking the right questions. The “Tata out” crowd should be asking themselves about the play that got the team to this competitive juncture, and if the players did it themselves, why aren’t they continuing to do it? Is Martino the one missing passes, or plopping tame shots at the keeper? I look at one stranded midfielder after another and ask myself if Martino is the one not dictating the pass with movement?
“They lack direction and guidance,” say the “Tata out” crowd. “There is no motivation.”
Then Alexis Sanchez says in an interview that Martino is a wonderful motivator, like Pep Guardiola was and again the situation is complicated. See, Sanchez said it, so it is suspect, since he isn’t Masia or Catalan and we were just baying to sell him, dammit. And look at the source! The club put him up to it. They want to make Martino look good right now. So based on what we “know,” Sanchez is lying. The team is a mess and Martino a clueless boob who is in over his head. “Tata OUT!”
The “fin de siècle” crowd needs to understand the definition of the term. Can’t be a cycle once the cycle is broken. So as soon as Barça didn’t repeat as Champions League winners or Liga winners, the cycle was broken. A run of good results or dominance is different from a cycle.
The “X player sucks” crowd needs to ask themselves about the full culpability of that offending player, and how much effect he had/has on the result of a match. Unless Barça has signed a Tasmanian devil who can be all places at once, the answer to that query is usually pretty interesting.
And yet, we believe what we want to believe because it supports what we want to believe.
Messi was tagged by the tax man for monies owed. The first reaction was, “They will do anything to unsettle our team.”
Once the stories were confirmed, it was “Well, it must have been a misunderstanding. Yeah, that’s it.”
Once they paid up, it was “Messi just wants to play football, cuddle his son and play PlayStation. He isn’t bothered with that stuff.”
Got it. Now compare that with the Rosell friendly match kickback allegations that reared their heads in Brazil. When they first came up it was, “See, I knew he was corrupt.”
More information came out and it was “Man, he is even more corrupt than we know,” even as he denied involvement and said he would be exonerated.
Later, when he was in fact exonerated, it was, “Naaah, I don’t believe it. Something is rotten in Denmark.”
Belief systems are malleable, based on what we believe. People want to believe that Messi just wants to play football and PlayStation, that he just signs over the multimillions to his father and capers away, to try on his new football boots. Understandable.
Of late, player rumors are flying hither and yon. “They want to sell Pedro,” “They are going to sell Rafinha.”
Then the club president said that Rafinha will be returning to the club in the summer, and will have to fight for a place, but he clearly has what it takes.
“Oh, so you believe Bartomeu now, eh?”
Without asking yourself why someone would lie about something like that, it’s easy to build a structure of narrative-based disbelief.
In the Pedro case, the club is working with the player on a renewal, but even then it is “They want to renew him so that they can sell him.” This has credence because Pedro’s contract is up in 2016, so if he goes on the market in the summer, the club won’t be able to get maximum value because he will be able to leave on a free in 2016. So the club has to sell in the summer to extract max value, but they have to renew him first, so that they can sell him when he is under a full contract.
Would someone get me some aspirin, please?
Now, you might think that you can trust the man whose decision it will ultimately be in the cases of Pedro and Rafinha to say what is most likely going to happen, right? “A-HA! He lied about the Neymar case, and continues to say that it is legal and above board, when we KNOW that it isn’t!” But do we really? We know that there is an ongoing tax row. We know that in the drive for Catalunyan independence, there is no brighter beacon than Barça, the true Catalan national team. So if you are going to take a tilt at the windmill being spun by those insurrectionists, why not start there? After all, the Spanish government would like nothing more than to find something amiss with the affair at Barça, who signed Neymar, a player that RM wanted. And because RM is the Spanish team, vs those Catalan upstarts, of course the government will support it, and make sure that even the slightest sniff of a case against Barça will proceed, thus tarring by implication.
Man! When do they start playing football again?
For the Pedro/Rafinha narrative to work you have to believe that the board is a pack of shiftless, lying weasels. Make no mistake, I want this board out, even as I understand that they are doing, in their own way, what they think is best for the club. I think they are weasels, rather than shiftless, lying ones, but I want them out because they don’t have a mandate to govern even as club law says that they have a legal right to hold office. I didn’t vote for them.
So I always have to watch how I view things that involve the board, because it’s too easy for me to see them through my prism of dislike. Bartomeu continues to insist that the club did everything right in the Neymar deal, even as the club has paid 13.5m and, some reports say, is looking to cut a deal with the tax man. Again, the reaction to those reports depends on one’s worldview. “A-HA! Guilty!” Or, “It’s probably worth it at this point to pay some money, not admit guilt and have all this crap go away.”
Further complicating matters are the Spain and Catalunya sports dailies. Are they for or against the board and team? Marca says that Martino has completely lost the locker room. Ah, but they would say that, two weeks before the Classic, wouldn’t they? Now that an influential FCB board member is rumored to be considering stepping down so that he can stand for president, does that change the way that the papers are aligning themselves? Can a club mouthpiece be against the board?
Mundo Deportivo ran excerpts from a Hristo Stoichkov interview in which he said, among other things, it’s easy to blame Martino instead of looking at the players, and that ZubiZa asked for one thing and the club bought something else.
Ah! Wait a minute. But ZubiZa is the worst technical director in the history of football, to my understanding from the rants of so many. Send him out to buy a packet of crisps and he would come back with a donkey, or a chicken. If Stoichkov’s comments are true, does that change anything? Or does the slant of Sport, once you evaluate which way the wind is blowing, change things back? Or is the truth somewhere in the middle?
See, Sport is anti something or other, as MD is the club mouthpiece, so they want to support ZubiZa from the allegations of general crapitude so they would grab onto that thing with Stoichkov as proof that ZubiZa is wonderful. But they are also kind of against the board right now, so that also makes ZubiZa look good while making the board look bad, as they have clearly overruled their sporting director, who must know better. Or does he?
I’m confused. So I will trust former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to straighten it all out for me:
“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”
There. Got it?