For so long, in so many forums, there has been talk of “Barça DNA,” of that kind of pure, irresistible thing that defines a club team and how it plays. It’s overused, misused and so often full of shit. But today, Barça Femeni, in wrecking Chelsea 4-0 to win the Women’s Champions League, put that idea on display.
It was a wrecking that had roots in the same things that the best Barça teams of recent history have had: hunger, energy, physicality and the kind of technical prowess that not only made the game look easy, but made a skilled, powerful opponent at times look helpless. There are analogs, in the second Manchester United defeat, when Sir Alex Ferguson said it was best football he had ever seen, or the iconic Real Madrid manita. Femeni played the kind of match that makes culer hearts swell with pride because it was everything that the club purports to stand for, writ large on a global stage.
After the match one of the analysts, Aly Wagner, said that with all that has been going on at the club and with the men’s team, Femeni was a beacon of light. This couldn’t be more true. And on a day when the men lost a desultory 1-2 match to Celta, two meek, inept goals that also put paid to any delusions anyone had about a league title, Femeni showed the world how the game should be played.
How many culers watched it is unknown, but there is so much talk about how the game should be played. THIS is how the game should be played. The first goal was a fluke of sorts, an own goal that history will record as such. But Femeni started out with a bite and edge, a relentless press that time after time got them possession in the Chelsea side of the pitch. They opened them up like a rusty old can, and Lieke Martens, who it is fair to say has been spotty this season, unleashed a crossbar-rattling blast. Graham Hansen, taking a break fron snatching souls, pinged the ball right back into the box where every Barça player nearby was drawn to it like a magnet. Pressure made that own goal, and excellent play created it.
The same thing happened with the penalty — soft though it was, penaltites are digital, rather than analog — turned possession and fast, aggressive attacking opened up the Chelsea defense again. It was 2-0 before anyone was really even settled into the match, then 3-0 off an exquisite piece of conrtol from Aitana, who then smoked a sumptuous finish between the keeper’s legs. And then it was Martens again, off on a tightrope-like dance up the end line, leaving Chelsea players in her wake, feeding Graham Hansen who made the hard, hurtful run for the tap in. It was 4-0, and the parallels were being drawn between last year’s final, when Lyon was up by four before anyone knew it.
Lluis Cortes talked about being ready, talked about understanding and learning from last year, talked about knowing the Chelsea weaknesses and being prepared to exploit them. But you know what? EVERY manager says that before a final, which always brings to mind the Mike Tyson quote, that “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Having a plan and executing that plan are two quite different things.
People talk about playing the right way, but so many of them have forgotten the foundation of that mythical right way. We can hope they watched Femeni poleax Chelsea. We can hope the men’s team watched Femeni polex Chelsea. Playing the right way is about work. It isn’t about filigrees with the ball, and backheels and shouts of “Ole” as another pass eludes another opponent. It’s about work — running, pressing, tackling, putting in a shift and standing up as part of a team, rather than a group of individuals waiting for someone else to do the work. Femeni put on as pure an example of the idealized Barcelona style of playing as we have seen, probably since that United beatdown.
Not sure about the rest of culerdom, but it was an exceptionally emotional experience for me, blubbering in the man cave, and when you think about it, the analysis ain’t all that hard. This has been a shitstorm of a season at the club, that began really with an 8-2 beatdown, a manager’s firing, a team in turmoil, a club legend coming in to take the helm. He worked with the now-disgreced former board to send 20 goals to a direct Liga and European rival, before that president faced a successful censure motion that resulted in Joan Laporta being elected to serve. Again.
Meanwhile, the men’s team spent a lot of time working to find its legs, but find them it did. Sort of. And then came the heartbreak of the SuperLeague, a Sisyphean quest for all the money that still finds the club that we love as one of the three resolutely pushing that rock made of hubris, greed and black-hearted avarice. Since that Super debacle, the team has hit bottom, talking of “five finals” in an improbable turn of events that found it with a hope of a Liga title. Of those five finals and 15 possible points, the team garnered five. Five.
At the end of all of that was Femeni, a perfect example of a team, backing each other up, seeing a teammate make an error and busting a gut to get in position to help. It’s pure. And in the midst of the ugly, money hungry shit trench that is football, purity isn’t just appealing or desirable. It’s a salve. Most of us watched every second of that celebration, of the moment when our amazing Capi raised the trophy. We didn’t watch every second of it because we had forgotten what celebrations felt like. Or maybe it was just me. Every second was greedily consumed because it felt like a perfect rainbow at the end of an ugly, violent storm.
Femeni stomped everybody in Liga. Won everything with a goal differential of about 48,000:2 or some such. They rolled into this final as an underdog for some unfathomable reason, probably becuase people don’t spend a lot of time watching other leagues. The English Women’s SuperLeague was on NBC in the U.S., a big ol’ network. It’s ENGLAND, home of the game, and of course the winner of that stern battle royale will be the favorite. Those of us who have spent all season watching Femeni knew better. Some matches were easier, but pushovers were rare. Femeni took everything, grabbed it by the throat and shook until it yielded. Nobody who watched that amazing group expected anything less from the Chelsea confrontation.
You know a team put in a performance when any of five or six players could have been named player of the match. A performance for the ages? For me, but there is bias there, along with context. Femeni seemed removed from all the crap raining down at the club, seemed to just go about the business of cutting throats with style and technical excellence. When all else was going to hell, we could watch them beat someone else by a gaudy scoreline, and it felt good. So good. And this. THIS. As a capper, there isn’t anything better, or purer. Football won in every way today. No greed, no super crap, just a team. An amazing, pure, exceptional team, trained to snatch souls and to do it the right way.