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Barça 7, Osasuna 0, aka “It’s the little things”

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osamessi

I won’t begin, for an instant, to pretend that I didn’t expect Barça to win this match.

–They were at home against Osasuna, a team that doesn’t travel well.
–I think that those who want to write this team and its coach off are nuts.
–The group appears to be coming out of a collective trough.
–It’s what professionals are supposed to do.

Nonetheless the match brought me great joy, not because it was a victory, but because for the first time in a long time, our sprites looked like they enjoyed playing football. I won’t presume that I would be able to chronicle the human side of today’s win as eloquently as Eric Coffin-Gould did over at TotalBarça.

All I can point to is the Messi smile.

This has, quite frankly, been a long, long season. From board squabbles and stadium referendums, legal actions and NeymarGate, players leaving, personal tragedies and heartbreak, this has been ridiculous. That, through all that crap have come moments of searing beauty makes you wonder how the people who do them, actually manage to accomplish such feats.

And then, Messi smiled. A genuine, “Gosh, this is fun” smile that made you realize how much of this season we have watched him trudging around the pitch, head down and grim-faced, visage set not in determination but in something else foreign. He broke another record today, but I don’t think he was smiling because of that.

Every week we watch, marvel, carp, piss and moan. I have said that it is multimillionaires capering about, playing a game. But it’s also a job. Just like you get up on Monday morning, sigh and get dressed for work, so do they. It strikes me that just because fools like me think that it would be fun to play football for a living, to be able to do tricks and make people cheer, doesn’t mean that it’s so. It’s a job, a job that isn’t always whistle while you work.

And I got to thinking about why Messi smiled, and came to my own conclusion, as writers are wont to do. For me, he smiled because for the first time in a very long time, the game was fun. It wasn’t fun because of the lopsided scoreline. It was fun because of the glee of possibility. When a conductor and an orchestra bask in the rumble of a well-earned standing ovation, they are thinking, every last one of them, “Holy crap, we did it! We didn’t just play the piece. We played that piece of music in a way that changed lives, just for a moment.”

One lovely summer night, at the end of a spectacular reading of the Mahler Symphony No. 2, people were applauding like crazy for the Grant Park Symphony as I cursed my critical reserve that doesn’t really allow me to clap at performances. But I rose to my feet and, with one hand, gave the devil horns salute, that metal tribute that says to the band, “You killed that shit. You, my friend, are metal as hell.”

A young violinist saw me, pointed me out to a friend and, from behind huge grins, gave me a nod. If I was at the Camp Nou today, it would have been devil horns for everyone, because that performance was metal. It was “this is what we do.”

Messi smiled because he was part of that collective wonder that is created by in-form performers. He scored three goals, but my delight was in seeing the thrill he got from celebrating the goals that teammates scored. Was it a monkey being lifted from the team’s back? Was it the realization that yes, they still have the capability to obliterate an opponent? All of the above? Dunno, but yell at me all you like for reading so much into a smile, but that grin made the match for me.

Does anyone who has a dream job realize how lucky that they are to have that job? Good question. I love what I do. I would do it for free. Every now and again, I get paid and say to myself, “Wow. AND money?” Football players must do that, as well, even if it isn’t always 7-0 scorelines and goals for everyone, even as they also have those “Oh, crap … work!” days.

Ray Hudson, during his match commentary, focused on a simple word in describing how the team played against Manchester City, and again against Osasuna: hunger.

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People bristle when our team’s hunger is questioned, as they should. Saying that players don’t want something is a complex allegation. It also isn’t true. There is never a time that players don’t want to win, even as there are times when they aren’t physically or mentally capable of doing everything necessary to ensure a positive result.

So La Real, mad and seeking vengeance, play out of their collective minds and beat us. Then Valladolid come in and take advantage of a still-down team, and grab a one-goal win. And the world comes to an end. Players should be sold, #Tata out trends on Twitter and it is, simply put, bedlam.

And whether it was a collective mirror check, or the realization that “Hey, this is going to be it for many of us,” or all of the above, the hunger returned. They didn’t just trot against City … they ran. Watching that match and looking at the 50/50 balls that were ceded against La Real and Valladolid with almost a “Sure, go ahead,” were attacked with fire against City. Can fear and worry make a team focus? Certainly.

Tata Martino said in his presser last week, that the best way to fire up his team is to doubt it, so people who don’t want Barça to play well should stop saying bad things about it. Who hasn’t done something to spite someone, right? “I’ll show YOU.”

But a lack of hunger doesn’t imply a lack of wanting to win. A friend and cycling mentor said to me that some riders walk up to the pain door, look and shrink away. Others open it, then decide it’s too much. The winners don’t even think about kicking the door down and striding through it. You don’t win because you are better or more talented than your opponent. That is just part of it. You win because at that moment in the competition when it’s on the line you say to yourself, “I want this enough to do anything for it.” Then you do. If you couple that desire with effort, that defines hunger.

And to hell with tactics. It wasn’t tika taka, it wasn’t counterattacking, it was everything all at once. Long balls for Pedro to run onto; a long pass launched by Valdes that Pedro tracked down; Messi being a bull; Iniesta unleashing a piledriver that had something extra on it from outside the box … goals scored in all kinds of ways, from team goals to individual brilliance by a team who was saying, with its collective play, “It doesn’t matter what you say, it doesn’t matter how you play. We are better than you, and here’s why.”

osainigoal

You watch that from the bench if you are on that team, and you marvel. So Song comes on and kicks ass, because he has the hunger. He doesn’t want to let down the side. Tello comes on and scores a marvel of a goal, because he doesn’t want to let down the side. The cliche “all for one and one for all” in the context of a football team seeking to be its absolute best, isn’t a cliche at all, but rather the way things are.

People will say “The team still needs a CB,” “This result doesn’t hide the team’s problems,” etc, etc, and they will be right. I also don’t care. We have the players that we have, players who on their day, are fully capable of beating any club in the world.

Even as faith-filled culers know that, we are also clueless as to the ultimate fate of this team. It could win a Treble, it could win nothing at all. But I do know this: those who come to bury this team, should, as blitzen said on Twitter, put away their shovels. Because the hunger is back, and it’s a lovely thing.

osaalves

Posted in La Liga, Messi, Thoughts47 Comments

Barça 2, Manchester City 1 (4-1 agg.), aka “Taking care of business”

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So much doubt, so much worry, so much anguish all at the roots of a moment of collective human frailty. When Barça lost to Valladolid this weekend past, it was more than a loss. It was like the starting pistol in a race to establish culpability. Something is wrong, whose fault is it. And we know something is wrong, because a history-making football club lost to a relegation side.

Whose fault is it, and oh my, Manchester City is coming to down with “only” a two-goal lead to overcome. By cracky, they can do that in their sleep, especially with Aguero back to fitness and in the lineup. Oh, my!
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Posted in Champions League, Messi, Review, Thoughts133 Comments

Believing in beliefs, aka “Welcome to the Barça house of mirrors”

mirrors

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:

Nobody.

The convenience of troubled times is that everyone is desperately looking for three things:
– A way out
– Blame
– 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?

SportMundo 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?

Posted in Analysis, Thoughts56 Comments

Searching for Answers: Barça’s Greek Tragedy

[It's been a bit since I wrote something of value for BFB. Time, you know. Not much of it. Still, sorry!]

As I stare at my laptop screen, I wonder how I should frame this post. Should I explore the blame route where the coach, players, the fandom are taken to task? Or should it be the sadness route where we relive the destruction of the sporting project that has seen an entire core of players either misused or sold? Maybe stroll down anger road and blast this useless board and their financial agenda? Perhaps make parallels between the fall of Cryuff’s Dream Team and the Sir Bobby Robson era, and Pep’s Dream Team and Tata Martino era?

The answer is: I don’t know. I really don’t.

Following Barca these days is a lot like seeing a Greek tragedy write itself before your eyes. You’re the unseen audience and no matter how hard you yell at the hapless protagonists to not do that stupid thing you’re about to do or bang on the window glass of the clueless voting populace to alert them of incoming stupidity, you’re still invisible, the observers without a voice.

It has all the tropes you could think of and all the plot twists and red herrings of popular media. Old foes clash in a battle of ideologues, priorities and wit. Betrayals and alliances. Naive Newcomer Tata Martino jumps into a snake pit of insidious media and skeptical fans to lead a jaded group to new glory; only he’s having a tough time as his incompetent bosses need to appease their non-existent shareholders and make a 30m profit for their dividends. Just when Villain Protagonist Sandro Rosell comes out with a signing of a brilliant rising star, Spanner in the Works Jordi Cases appears with a lawsuit. Oh, but another twist, Anti-Hero Martyr Rosell engineers a resignation so his more media-friendly number two takes the helm. And round and round we go.

There was a journalist on Twitter who quipped a few minutes after the loss to a Valladolid that’s only one four games previously, “By the way, Puyol’s been smart…’ To jump ship, went without saying. But has this Barca had a true exodus yet? On the one hand, you can say yes: Pep, Cryuff, Abidal, Thiago, Valdes, Puyol to name a few. But on the other hand, Messi, Iniesta, Busi, Neymar to name a few are still around to make up the core of the team. We know Xavi, complaints about pitches aside, will go down with this ship — if he has his way, which is still not guaranteed despite his record appearances for the club. And that’s part of it, isn’t it?

To say fans are ruled by their passion is to say Messi might be decent at this football business (or maybe that’s a bad comparison, seeing how people have been talking about him lately…) They demand excellence at all times; this has its pros and cons. It leaves the team with standards. If the local hero isn’t at that level, they’ll turn on him. In the heat of the moment, past glory means nothing. On the flip side, play well and you’re untouchable. When times are good, it’s freaking awesome. When it’s bad, it’s nightmarish.

But like a true tragedy it’s those ruled by their passion that fizzle out the hardest. Pep Guardiola left because he was burnt out. Mentally fatigued Valdes decided he needs to outsource his talents  to new employers after a pressure cooker career. Puyol’s body couldn’t take the punishment the soul it housed demanded it endure. And in the end, no one can change the mind of a passionate and principled individual (except their parents, maybe). That leaves the fans more inclined to thinking trying to make sense of the body of work, of what’s left. Where did it all go wrong? Nowhere or everywhere. Maybe it was a disaster, maybe it’s the natural progression of events. Maybe too much stuff happened off-screen that we’re not privy to.

In a moderately received post I made some time ago, there was a hastily made flow-chart of fan arguments in response to big games. Fans being fans, there is always a way to make any possible scenario turn into some kind of online victory when they are debating an ‘outsider.’

“No matter the outcome of the game, I still win the online battle.”

The cule reactions would be much shorter of course; Did we win? By how many goals? How well did we play? All of that satisfied? Ok, we’re the best in the world. Fail to reach any of those and we go, depending on the aforementioned conditions, from an underachieving, lazy band of dimming icons to the fungus underneath the dying hopes of an entire fandom.

As usual, the answer is somewhere in between. The team definitely has a lot of fat that needs to be trimmed, for those who like stock pundit phrases, it needs to be reinvigorated but more importantly it needs a good head on its shoulders to lead it. No, I don’t mean the coach; I mean the people up top. But that’s just one opinion. For some it’s the manager, others the gutless players.

At the end of a disappointing day, week, season, years, we’re left trying to analyse the work and find some answers. I don’t really know what to say, honestly. There will be an exodus at Barça, but will it be the board or the players? I just pray it doesn’t end in a real Greek tragedy.

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Question of the Day: If you could change one thing at Barça on or off the pitch, what would it be?

Posted in Barcelona, Thoughts168 Comments

News of the day, aka “Despatches regarding the worst team EVAH”

"What a man! This guy bought me dinner. You'd think Neymar Sr would have paid, but whatever."

“What a man! This guy bought me dinner. You’d think Neymar Sr would have paid, but whatever.”

As The Replacements sang on “Bastards of Young”:

God, what a mess / On the ladder of success / Where you take one step / And miss the whole first rung

If I had to choose a word to describe our club right now, it would be “beleaguered.”

– Rumors that the coach has lost the locker room, coming off a 3-1 loss at a place at which losing is kind of a habit of late.
– A board that many culers and socis want to burn in effigy.
– A new stadium vote fast approaching, even though there ain’t hint of a model, etc.
– The tax man is calling, saying that the 40+m paid to Daddy Ney is in fact salary to the player.

Yikes!
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Posted in Team News, Thoughts105 Comments

Real Sociedad 3, Barça 1, aka “A question of balance”

rsomessi

It was the best of teams, it was the worst of teams, this group of players that we gather to support whenever they strap on their boots. From the heights of joy on Tuesday to the depths of despair on Saturday. And on a day when the ancient Vikings predicted the end of the world, maybe they were wrong … maybe they were just predicting what was going to happen in culer land.

Because La Real kicked some Blaugrana ass today.
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Posted in La Liga, Thoughts189 Comments

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