Athletic Bilbao 0, Barca 3, aka “Going out in grand style”

Ultimately, there are no words. For the first time ever, I am sitting down to write with no notes, fresh off watching this amazing team play an amazing match for its amazing coach, for the last time. I work with words for a living — write them, edit them, make them sing in the voice of others, in my own voice.

But this club, this remarkable, beautiful club, leaves me utterly speechless.

I reckon that’s the danger of sitting down without notes, but more than any of the matches that I have on my DVR, or that I have recorded to DVD, I will watch this one over and over again, because it perfectly encapsulates the ethos, the quality, the style of this club, a way of being rooted in bravery and intramural challenge. Never, ever has this club and its players, in the four years under Pep Guardiola, stopped asking each other, “Can you?”

— Guardiola asks Mascherano to man-mark Llorente, solo, freeing up Pique for the attack.
— Iniesta positively spanks a pass to Messi, that he controls and roofs for the second goal.
— The close-quarter passing made it seem more like they had been practicing in a phone booth, rather than on a pitch
— Guardiola, on the sidelines, always demanding more

Poor Bilbao didn’t have a chance. For all of their amazing, amazing fans and remarkable effort that made the first half-hour of this match more track meet than football match, they didn’t have a chance. Because the best football club in the world was rested. All of those niggling injuries were dealt with, there was no fatigue, no next match, no nothing — and its players had something to prove, something to play for. On this night, no opponent would have had a chance.

Because for all of those extra reasons, the meaning with which this match was imbued for FCB, the Copa was a major, as major as they come for a club that wanted it for the man who, in asking them always, “Can you,” made them better than they ever knew that they could be. “Run, you bastards, run,” exhorted Guardiola from the first practices. Now as then, they did. Incessantly.

And this match was as much about the celebration as it was the football. Witness our players doing laps with the Catalan and Basque flags; running over to salute the Bilbao fans, who didn’t leave the stadium; celebrating this trophy for the beautiful thing that it was, their 14th of 19 possible under Pep Guardiola; putting the No. 22 shirt on the trophy, to make it clear that Abidal wasn’t there in person, but he was there in the hearts of every player, every member of the coaching staff. It was a family affair, that expanded to allow the world in. Bilbao fans responded to our players’ salute, in what became a mass love-in. If you got through it dry-eyed, you’re far stronger than I am, even as it should also be noted that for me, the tears weren’t of sadness, but rather the only possible reaction to something so beautiful, so heartfelt. Rather than giving something material to their beloved coach, the players gave something priceless: everything.

And my other favorite:

It has been a couple of weeks since we have seen this club kick a ball in anger, almost enough time to make you forget how remarkable, how good this club is with and without the ball, with no fatigue or pressure, nothing except an opponent that demanded its best. That, like its coach and like their teammates, asked “Can you?” The answer, as usual for all except a few occasions this season, was “Yes. Of course. Watch this.”

There were many, many finales: last trophy under Guardiola, last Guardiola presser for FCB (for now), last match of the Guardiola era, lots and lots of lasts. Guardiola left the pitch to let the players celebrate, rather than becoming a media distraction. He congratulated each one, each member of the coaching staff, each and every one of them, before he left the pitch to the players.

Were they feeling uncertainty? Sadness? Nostalgia? Impossible to know, but we can doubt they were feeling anything other than joy, as they had outdone themselves in a footballing display, like so many over these four wondrous seasons, a display for the ages. Bilbao was fast, physical and aggressive. And we were faster. It didn’t even take 3 minutes for the first goal to come, as our turbomidgets scurried around as if they had little jets in their shoes. And perfectly, it came from one of Guardiola’s projects, Pedro, a player who struggled this season but finally, as it ended, found his form.

Sure enough, for the goal, Pedro was Pedro. He found space, and smacked an unerring shot. No dribbling, no fancy stuff, no trying to beat a defender. Space. Ball. Goal. And his second goal was just as opportunistic, both goals rooted in movement — constant, high-speed, incessant movement. At times in this match, Pedro almost seemed to outrun his own feet, such was the alacrity of his movement.

And Messi, playing as a 10 instead of a false 9, defending and attacking, losing a ball and utilizing the fastest first 20 steps in the game to win it back. No conservation mode for this match, no thinking about tomorrow or mid-week, and he was remarkable.

Guardiola asked Montoya “Can you,” and our RB of the future responded with an excellent match.

Busquets was indomitable in the midfield, but you had to watch him closely to realize the havoc he was wreaking, in the box, in midfield, sliding simple passes along to keep the attack moving, another Guardiola project like the team that reached its flower under the tutelage of a man who is so much more than a coach, a man whose beauty and sensitivity, even as it made his time at the helm almost indescribably beautiful, also limited that time at the helm as sure as if he’d flipped over an egg timer when he first picked up his whistle.

The most beautiful flowers bloom fast, smell exquisite, delight the eyes and then wither, leaving you to smile at the ever so faint, residual whiff of the lustrous fragrance. Though Tito Vilanova will be at the helm next season, he will be coaching Pep Guardiola’s team. Like that wonderful flower, his presence will linger in hearts and minds.

So at the end of this match, a match, celebration and performance that felt like the first season Guardiola took over, all that we are left to do is marvel at the spectacle, celebrate its beauty and mourn the interminable weeks before it reunites, to start next season as it did this one, with a pair of Clasics against the newly crowned La Liga champions.

That time will be then. For now, even as we note that history is the past, cules will remember this match. The outcome, the way it was played, the comportment of the players before, during and after makes a perfect bookend to the conclusion of a glorious era.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. nia
    May 25, 2012

    I felt like crying during this match. The team was absolutely wonderful, even Pinto :). The fact Pep is leaving, the way the team played for him and to see the way the whole team celebrated every goal like this is their first final they’ve played was wonderful. The celebration and the gesture for Abi and the capitas holding flags from both clubs was just class. Mes que un club!!!!

  2. May 25, 2012

    Dammit, Kxevin, I wasn’t crying when I watched it but I am now. Rewatching. Pedro was fantastic. Iniesta was…otherworldly. That PASS for Messi’s goal. The whole team–no way were they going to let Pep down today.

    And the post-game celebrations. Puyol commanding John Terry Xavi to raise the cup. Abi’s shirt draped over the trophy. Puyol and Fontas wearing each others shirts. The Basque flag being paraded along with the senyera and placed in the centre circle along with the cup.

    I feel very privileged. Thank you for everything, Pep, and I look forward to what Tito will bring!

    • providence
      May 26, 2012

      OFF TOPIC: THE FA hands BARTON 12 match Ban.this speaks for the level of discipline they look for in their league. the Spanish FA would hand HITLER a 2-match Ban for eye poking, and ridiculously give Tito a 1-match ban for something he didnt provoke. what did they do to RAMOS during their 5-0 demolition at the camp nou when he pushed Puyol and Xavi?.This Barton decision is a shame to Spanish football.

      Blitzen wats up? your John Terry thing how did you do it?pleeeeaseeee

  3. hansh
    May 25, 2012

    This game… this… game. I love this team. I am out of words.

    Unfortunately I missed most of the celebrations, anybody have a link? I’ll pay for it in eternal love and internet brownies!

  4. mom4
    May 25, 2012

    It was a beautiful game. I was so hungry for a beautiful game, a beautiful memory to take me through the barren football desert that is the summer (thank God for the Euros, friendlies, and Olympics—but it’s not the same).

    This is what insanely talented men can do on a soccer pitch when well rested and relatively fit. Wow. And it was even more impressive when Athletic Club was hounding the living daylights outta us in the second half because not only our skill, but out tenacity came through.

    The fans, of both clubs, were spectacular.

    Vincent, didja see Pedro!? Maybe he deserves his NT spot back?

    BTW, 73 goals for Messi. What can you say about Messi? We’re privelidged to be seeing this. guys. Anywho, it’s a wonder he could still play after Ini’s flying leap into his arms after the goal.

    Lovely post, Kxevin.

  5. Barcaleya
    May 25, 2012

    Yes, Kxevin. Lovely post, indeed. As lovely as the match we saw and classiness displayed by our players and team.

    I am (we are) very privileged to have this team as our team.

    Will comment more later.

    I am rather sick.

    • BarcaOwl
      May 26, 2012

      Get well soon, Barcaleya.

    • Barcaleya
      May 26, 2012

      Thank you, Owl!!!

  6. ak
    May 25, 2012

    Sad to see Dani missing out on the celebrations last night.
    Everyone was there, injured or not(except Abidal of course).

    Really don’t want him to leave.

    • Laurentiu88
      May 26, 2012

      don’t think he will leave, we could see last night what it meant not to have him in the team!

  7. K_legit in Oz
    May 25, 2012

    So, Pedro gets back his ‘!’ ?

  8. BarcaOwl
    May 26, 2012

    Thanks a lot for the wonderful review, Kxevin. I enjoyed reading it.

  9. kinukinu
    May 26, 2012

    The amazing thing is, while the team was rested, they were not fully fit as a group. They pulled off this performance without Puyol, Dani, Abi, and Villa. (And an Alexis who was not yet back to his best) And with a defensive line that included Adriano and Montoya, neither of whom are chosen starters, but held their own. And Pinto in goal! (For once I agree with’s assessment: “Always looks like he is a moment away from calamity, and while Pinto had his moments in this game once again his shot stopping was next to none.”)

    More than anything, this match proved (as did the 2011 CL final vs. Man Utd) that we can get through without the ideal lineup, but fatigue is our worst enemy. When there’s only one game left and everything is riding on it, this team can dip into the reserves and pull out everything they’ve got, but they can’t run on fumes for a whole season. The injuries, illnesses (Abi and Tito), and AFCON (we missed Keita at a crucial time!) came at such a cost, and the compounded effect was just too great.

    If we had had tonight’s Pedro all season, things could have been very different. But so many ifs. At least it ended on a good note, and the future is bright…

  10. Messiah10
    May 26, 2012

    Nice review Kevin. I was hoping you’d mention Messi putting it into the roof w/his RIGHT foot! I hate when I hear commentators say he’s so left footed. Uhmm. Yeah. He is. Because he can. When he needs to he pulls it out of his bag of tricks and unleashes a screamer into the top of the net. Ghostface’s pass was so lovely. Messi’s set up to Pedro for his 2nd was team work at it’s absolute pinnacle. Hard to put into words the celebrations. Putting Abi’s shirt on the trophy was so moving. This team is a family. Grabbing the Basque flag was touching as well. This young Bilbao team has given neutrals some great moments. I feel privileged our team recognized their effort and their fans efforts this year. Wow!

  11. nzm
    May 26, 2012

    I’ll check in later with my comments as I’m flat out today, but wanted to share this pic with you all.

    Look at Cuenca on the left – this is what Pinto (and Alves too) brings to this team. The loco-ness, the unbridled celebration, letting your hair down and stylin’. 😀

    How much do I love this team.

    Kevin – couldn’t have said it any better. 😡

    • nzm
      May 26, 2012

      what the hell is that emoticon on the end?? Not what I intended!

  12. Laurentiu88
    May 26, 2012

    from Guardian mbm report, so nice

    “19 min: So far, this has been a perfect exhibition of what happens when tiki-taka impersonators meet the real thing”

    !! nicest compliment..

  13. yana
    May 26, 2012

    omg, did Pinto have these made for each player with their number? I so need to see a team pic!

  14. May 26, 2012

    Spain vs. Serbia now playing. A lot of tiki-taka, but no goal yet. Negredo and Soldado start up front. Albiol and Ramos as CBs. Ramos starts most attack from the back. Alba plays very high up. Oh, VdB uses three defenders, and Navas on the right wing.

    Serbia defends deep and looks to counter.

    Caught del Bosque napping on the bench 😀
    And Soldado wears #7 🙁

    • nzm
      May 26, 2012

      It was so boring that we switched over and watched Switzerland tronce Germany! Those Swiss will be worth watching in the Euros – they’re young, hungry and pressed high all game. Terrific to watch. The only ones to give Spain grief in the World Cup too!

    • May 26, 2012

      Yeah, I chose the wrong game. Adrian played well though, better than Soldado and Negredo. Based on that game, I’d pick Adrian over the other two.

  15. May 26, 2012

    After using a little boy called Ibai’s ikurriña (Basque flag), Puyi returned it to him this morning and also gave him an autograph. [MD]

    Grande Capi! <3

    • hansh
      May 26, 2012

      That’s amazing! 😀

  16. May 26, 2012

    The team will debut the new kits in the charity futsal match, which happens tomorrow at 19:00 Barcelona time (1 pm Eastern).

    I really hope someone will be streaming this!

  17. mega_tajh
    May 26, 2012

    Both Derdiyok and Adrian really stood out in today’s friendlies. Derdiyok was brilliant for the Swizz today, scoring a hattrick and doing everything needed as a true #9, his 1st touch isn’t even that bad either, to bad he signed for Hoffenheim.

    I only caught the end of the La Roja game, but from what I saw Adrian was all over the place. Being involved in scoring the goal and caused the Pk.

    • nzm
      May 26, 2012

      Wow – there’s hardly anyone there – and those that are there are pretty much all wearing old shirts. Only the tourists are in the QF shirts!

      We didn’t go because we thought that it would be packed. We tried to go last year and got stuck outside the stadium for hours unable to move and unable to see anything except when the bus went past!


  18. nzm
    May 26, 2012

    Barca B just went 1-0 up against Las Palmas.

    Kiko scored.

    • BarcaOwl
      May 26, 2012

      Personalized glasses for all. Got to love Pinto. 😀

  19. nzm
    May 26, 2012

    Ha! they’re all rocking wahin makinaciones!

  20. May 26, 2012

    This is from @barcatheoffside: “To recap: Cesc out for 10-15 days, Cuenca out for 15, Thiago out for an indeterminate amount of time.”

    Is this for real?

    • May 26, 2012

      Cesc Fàbregas

      Cesc Fàbregas acabó el partido contra el Athletic Club con molestias en la zona posterior del muslo derecho. Las pruebas realizadas han confirmado que tiene una elongación en el bíceps femoral del muslo derecho. El tiempo aproximado de baja es de 7 a 10 días.

      Thiago Alcántara

      Thiago Alcántara presenta dolor en el tercio distal de la tibia derecha provocado por un traumatismo directo. Las pruebas médicas han confirmado que presenta un edema y que necesita reposo y tratamiento específico. La evolución de la lesión marcará el tiempo de baja.

      Isaac Cuenca

      Isaac Cuenca presenta dolor en la cara articular de la rodilla derecha. Las pruebas realizadas han confirmado que tiene un quiste meniscal externo. El tiempo aproximado de baja es de 15 días.
      Ver más contenidos

    • May 26, 2012

      Cesc – hamstring. Shouldn’t affect the Euros.

      Thiago — edema (severe bruising). Doesn’t sound too serious.

      Cuenca — external meniscal cyst on his right knee joint. Probably the most serious of the three, but he wasn’t going to the Euros anyway.

    • May 26, 2012

      Thanks for the info. Sight…our players can’t stay healthy 🙁

  21. May 26, 2012

    Lol…did not know they have a Catalan version of “I gotta feeling.”

    • culegirl3
      May 26, 2012

      lol that was an interesting rendition.

      Wonder if they’ll have someone sing “Viva La Vida” in Catalan as well 😉

    • May 26, 2012

      Maybe 🙂

      Villa looks skinny!

    • culegirl3
      May 26, 2012

      I noticed that too…I don’t want to speculate or read too much into that though.

    • AJ_10
      May 26, 2012

      He does…. I’m guessing he’s pissed he can’t celebrate like he wants to. He is a party animal after all.

      At least I hope that is why he looks so forlorn.

    • Laurentiu88
      May 26, 2012

      i hope he is sad that he is under medication and can’t drink…

    • May 26, 2012

      So did Messi. I guess he’s leaving too.

    • mega_tajh
      May 26, 2012

      Could either be sad for Pep leaving or sad he didn’t get to play in a final that was Pep’s last.

      To note he did have that Toure Yaya face on.

    • May 26, 2012

      Probably just the medication. He can’t dance with that arm cast.

    • nia
      May 26, 2012

      I thought i was the only one that noticed that. Hope it was the pain just subduing him and not the fact that he might leave:(.

  22. May 26, 2012

    Baby Valeria sighting 😀

    • nia
      May 26, 2012

      This was the first time i have seen her. She looks just like Iniesta. 🙂 Just cute.

  23. AJ_10
    May 26, 2012

    WHY is the stadium half empty???????

    • nzm
      May 26, 2012

      I’m really not sure and very surprised at that. We chose not to go because last year it was packed and they closed the stadium doors after an hour because it was full.

      Maybe the holiday weekend means that people left town, because our supermarket was super-quiet today also.

  24. May 26, 2012

    Overall, this was a somewhat subdued celebration.
    We’ve had a lot goodbyes, but the real one for me was the home game against Espanyol. It was beautiful, short and sweet.

    Thank you, Pep!
    Thank you, Team!

  25. culegirl3
    May 26, 2012

    According to a commentator on PP, the RFEF gave Atheltic Bilbao more tickets for the final than Barcelona.

    So much for Sandro and Villar being homies.

  26. May 26, 2012

    So this means Thiago won’t play in the futsal game. BOO! Neither will Cesc, Cuenca, Messi or Masche. 🙁

    • hansh
      May 26, 2012

      Aww, Thiago has a good style for futsal!

      I’m still praying to the Football Gods that Iniesta will play.

  27. K_legit in Oz
    May 26, 2012

    Thiago with Pep in the celebrations was such a d’awww moment..

    • Laurentiu88
      May 27, 2012

      🙂 i thought the same…

      somehow Pep made us all feel the same, as we are sadden by his leaving us… all of us could see themselves at the chest of Pep.

  28. nzm
    May 27, 2012

    Barca Women have just won their first league title! They needed just 1 point to seal it against Sporting Huelva, but won the game 1-0. 😀

  29. Dave
    May 27, 2012

    So Thiago Silva has said he is not leaving Ac Milan. Case closed. Who now? – Martinez

  30. Jafri
    May 27, 2012

    Pedro is in!!

    The Spain Squad for the Euros:

    Iker Casillas Real Madrid
    Pepe Reina Liverpool
    Victor Valdes Barcelona

    Raul Albiol Real Madrid
    Jordi Alba Valencia
    Alvaro Arbeloa Real Madrid
    Sergio Ramos Real Madrid
    Juanfran Torres Atletico Madrid
    Gerard Pique Barcelona
    Javi Martinez Athletic Bilbao

    Sergio Busquets Barcelona
    Xavi Barcelona
    Andres Iniesta Barcelona
    Xabi Alonso Real Madrid
    Santi Cazorla Malaga
    Cesc Fabregas Barcelona
    David Silva Manchester City
    Jesus Navas Sevilla
    Juan Mata Chelsea

    Pedro Barcelona
    Alvaro Negredo Sevilla
    Fernando Torres Chelsea
    Fernando Llorente Athletic Bilbao

    • Dave
      May 27, 2012

      While I’m happy he is going, Pedro did not deserve it more than Adrian

    • jordi™
      May 27, 2012

      If Albiol is there people cant really complain about don pedro. In any event most of Adrian’s goals came in the Europa league, in end to end games.Its not the kind of packed defences Spain face.In the league he scored 7 goals and went 4 months between his 6 and 7th.I think hes a good player but Id rather in form Pedro over him.Its Torres who sneaked in for me anyway.

    • May 27, 2012

      I’m thrilled for Pedro! His recent form has been excellent and he deserves to go.

      I do feel bad for Soldado. The first part of his season was excellent and he was brilliant for Spain in that game he played a while back. Still, VDB has to judge on current form and I guess Soldado wasn’t that impressive in the training camp. I think Navas is the one who took his spot, he looked great in this weekend’s game.

      Deserving people are always going to get left out, sadly.

  31. Salia
    May 27, 2012

    How on earth can Pedro (although I am happy for him) and Fernando Flop Torres go in place of people who have actually played well and done something e.g Soldado and Adrian. Shocking Del Bosque, Shocking!

    I was also hoping that piggybacker Arbeloa wouldnt not be on the plane but Spain are a bit thin in defence

    • jordi™
      May 27, 2012

      Soldado ended the season in relatively poor form.I believe Negredo with his 8 goals in the last 9 games took his place.Negredo can also contribute outside of the box.

  32. Salia
    May 27, 2012

    Know what you are sayin but maybe Soldado just needed a rest after carrying that Valencia team all season, scoring an amazing 27 goals compared to Negredo’s 14, Torres’s 11 and Pedro’s 11. I mean how could he Possibly have left out? The highest scoring spanish plyer anywhere. Just doesnt make sense!

    • jordi™
      May 27, 2012

      I agree completely , I’m more just trying to see where del bosque might be coming from. One thing that might count against him is his rage moments.It doesn’t happen as much since he went to Valencia but I always feel there’s a red card lurking in him and then you combine the fact that Spain is playing the Italians who try to wind up the opposition, that might play a part. No use speculating though I guess.I do wonder which player will wear the 7 with neither Adrian Soldado or Villa there. Negredo certainly isn’t a 7.

    • BarcaOwl
      May 27, 2012

      That’s so many levels of cute. Looks like Valeria has her dad’s forehead.:)

  33. May 27, 2012

    Via @barcastuff:

    Del Bosque (coach ESP): “We thought about Thiago but he called me yesterday, he has some physical problem and could also miss the Olympics.”

    Awww, Thiago! I hope he recovers in time for the Olympics, he is absolutely key for the U21 team. When do they start?

    • May 27, 2012

      Kickoff at 1 pm EST. I’m going to see Iniesta & Xavi play futsal!!!

    • Momo
      May 27, 2012

      Xavi and Iniesta playing Futsl???????

      Well there go my plans for 1 pm

      Who else is playing?

    • May 27, 2012

      Everyone except the injured players (no Thiago 🙁 ) and Messi and Masche are not allowed to by their national teams.

    • Momo
      May 27, 2012

      No Thiago?!?!

      The man is BUILT for futsal

    • May 27, 2012

      Thanks for the link!

      Questionable Jacket color by Rosell. Not surprised.

  34. May 27, 2012

    Ok, the home kit looks good, but the away kit will take a little time to get used.

  35. May 27, 2012

    What’s the name of this charity?

  36. May 27, 2012

    Valdes has “Messi” taped onto the back of his kit! 😆

  37. May 27, 2012

    Err…what’s going on?

  38. May 27, 2012

    This game will be 40 minutes long (two 20 minute halves). Don’t blink or you’ll miss it!

  39. barca96
    May 27, 2012

    Is the futsal match over?
    I dont see the match, just commercials.

    • May 27, 2012

      No, haven’t started yet.

  40. Momo
    May 27, 2012

    What could they possibly be saying about that toy bus?

    Its killing me…

  41. May 27, 2012

    Lol…the solar system balloons.

  42. May 27, 2012

    Of course, there’s a Coldplay music.

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