Spend too much time looking back, and you stumble over the present. But sometimes, history can be useful as a reminder.
This season has seemed like one endless squabble. Enrique out. Give him time. The team has lost its way. What is that way. Pedro, Messi, Suarez, Neymar, Mascherano, this and that as a group of supporters becomes the equivalent of a series of armed factions, doing battle with bandwidth and rhetoric.
Still sitting on the home DVR were the last four Liga matches of last season: Villarreal, Getafe, Elche and Atleti. Firing up Villarreal brought everything flooding back, that minute of silence before the match, sitting in a sparsely-peopled Globe Pub in Chicago a weeping mass; the joy at the crazy win helped by a pair of Villarreal own goals, the feeling that maybe, just maybe, the team that had been through so much was about to catch a break.
Then the injury-time equalizer from Getafe, the scoreless draw at Elche and even then, hope against Atleti that was dashed.
And that’s just on the pitch. Off it was injuries, squabbles, a team that knew long before any of us did the real condition of its Mister, a miscarriage, two months off for Messi to get his head right and then the biggest blow of all. Each and every time this team and its supporters got to feeling like it was okay to stick a head above the parapet to catch a ray of sunlight, something came along to hit us in the face.
It’s easy to reduce football to theory, to players who didn’t do what they should have, dammit, led by a coach who didn’t do what he should have, dammit. In reading things from the aftermath of Vilanova/Villarreal, I came across this image, and was floored. There can be no purer distillation of last season, as the strongest among us was laid low like Mahler’s hero of Symphony No. 6 and that last, cruel hammer blow of fate.
This season was business as usual. How quickly everyone forgot in the race to mark people as a failure of just how difficult it all was, how impossible it must have been for humans to do what they do. Teams have players, collections of professionals who gather for ambition or money. Barça has a collective bonded by roots, many of whom almost grew up together as they came through the ranks at the club, familiar teammates managed by familiar faces. Family.
And within a family, so much heartache.
So this year, as normal business resumed and this person, that person or the other person was deemed inadequate and the wars resumed, watching those matches and their bit of history reminded me of those days, and how much joy there should be in these days. If that makes me a cheerleader, I will take my pom-pons and wave them until I drop, but something really fun and interesting is happening this season as a team is adapting to the rigors of time and its opposition. A new coach is making something happen in a season not hamstrung by injuries and tragedy, and you know what? That is worth enjoying. Further, it’s worth enjoying even if Barça comes up short in all three competitions.
At the simplest level, it’s nice to watch a match and not want to cry. But on so many other levels, from players who are smiling again as they play a game that should be fun to the luck of a big signing coming right at the exact time the team needs him. As we wonder why Messi is so wonderful again, maybe it’s simply because his heart isn’t aching. Maybe the players are better because they can do what they do without having to look over their shoulders, wondering what else is going to happen. In our rush to deify players, we often forget that they are as human as we are.
It would be foolhardy to place all this in the hands of fate, to suggest that maybe somewhere there is a closed blaugrana ledger as some life force has decided that there has been enough suffering for this group. Nor is that the point. The reminder of history for me is much simpler: the sun is out again. We see it in the beam of Messi’s smile after his goals, in the unfettered joy of Neymar kicking up his heels. We see it as Enrique exults on the sidelines, we even see it in a club president, relaxed enough on a pretty day to be caught nodding off in the late stages of a 6-1 thrashing. And all I can say is that it’s okay to enjoy it. It’s okay to let a little smile creep in. Because no matter what happens this season, win or lose, it has been worse, and we managed.