An emotional journey – part 1
Barça 17/18 – The notes of a humble Culé!
Summarizing a FC Barcelona season as a Culé is difficult, trying to do so objectively is almost impossible. Still I wanted to have a dig at last seasons rigidly unrigid season with no other agenda than to hopefully provide some interesting points and an enjoyable read.
The transfer window started with Barça supposedly wanting to add that «Xavi’sm» to a struggling midfield, Verratti being the main option. Right back was also critical and after being linked with several options Barça surprisingly pulled off a rather swift transfer of the young promising Semedo.
Then it all went tits up from there. Neymar unhappy, Verratti locked up in the PSG «jail», and players seemingly unaware of Neymar’s plans. Not only did Barça hit a brick wall trying to lure Verratti from PSG, they basically got Trojan horsed by the sheikh and his merry oil pumping helpers. The whole Neymar saga had already stolen all the headlines from what was in fact a rather promising summer tour, and after weeks (that felt like months) of speculations, rumors, and interviews, Neymar decided to twist that ragged edged knife around in the already wounded heart of the Culés with his Parisian move.
And so, began the post-MSN days with Barça now flaunting the 222 million sheikh euros in a market that would prove to be very much inflated. Price tags were suddenly doubled, even tripled, and with the new season ominously knocking on the front door Barça needed to act fast.
The two-legged Supercopa clash with arch enemy Real Madrid started at the Camp Nou, with a FC Barcelona balls deep in negativity and talks of crisis. It became clear that all that off the pitch noise had impacted the players, and that Ernesto Valverde still had work to do. Barça got demolished both on the pitch and on the score board, both at home and away – an embarrassment of some proportions some said.
Meanwhile the Coutinho saga went from almost signed to supposedly totally unavailable, Dembélé took forever and suddenly Paulinho’s crooked smile was on every cover. Optimism, realism and skepticism went flying out the window, and in came a pessimism stronger than adamantium. The signing of Paulinho didn’t do the already unpopular Barça board any favors.
Now the only piece that could seemingly prolong an uprising was Dembélé, especially now that Coutinho was deemed impossible. Jean Michael Seri was another popular demand from fans, having received high praise from former Barça legend Xavi himself, but also Seri’s signature got cancelled last minute. When news arrived of the very talented youngster Ousmane being on his way from Dortmund, the slightest of hope reached the desperate eyes of the Culés. The immensely talented youngster was a glimmer of light in a bleak and disappointing summer for the Barça fans.
With the inclusion of (just) Deulofeu, Semedo, Paulinho and Dembélé it seemed the Barça board felt like they needed one last top signing in order to survive as head of the Catalan giant. However, prices grew out of control on deadline day and nothing happened.
In the aftermath of a historically disputed summer transfer window for the Catalans, yet another embarrassing story emerged in the media: Barça board lying about Liverpools pricing of Coutinho, rapidly discarded by spokesmen from the north English club. This on top of the already large amount of lies, conspiracy theories and negative noise culminated in a flying start for Augusto Benedito and his vote of no confidence towards Bartomeu and his accomplices.
Culés were fuming, the city trembling, even the players had looked jaded from all the outside rumble, and poor Valverde had inherited a totally different squad than what he was promised when signing his contract. How could this possibly go well even facing a mediocre team at home in the opening game?
Thinking of the onslaught at the Supercopa still made people sick, the bitterness of having signed a 29-year-old Brazilian bulldog from a Chinese make believe league for a whopping €40m., and the desperate need to remove the sitting president of a club seemingly in shambles, all these points faded compared to the news that Lionel G.O.A.T. (more on this later) Messi had in fact NOT signed his new contract and was merely months away from possibly joining another team for FREE.
It soon became clear that Bartomeu and everyone involved had yet again been caught in a lie, this time graver than ever. Could Messi really be thinking of greener pastures in a different league? Would he be tempted to re-join his former Barça boss in the baby blue parts of Manchester or was this all a statement just to help ensure the dismissal of Barça’s dysfunctional board?
Benedito kept racking up votes, working endlessly with the support of possible president candidate Laporta. Even after winning game after game after game, the Culés still felt betrayed by Bartomeu and lined up outside Benedito’s voting booth before and after games.
Losing CL finalist, the team that poured that last layer of manure on top of Barça’s crappy last season, yes even the mighty Juventus got hammered at the Camp Nou with Messi finally breaching through Buffon’s wall with a brace. Still people went straight to vote at Benedito’s stand. Not a vote against the players, but a vote towards a brighter future more in tune with the Cruyff’esque soul that once filled the air at the Camp Nou.
Performance wise Barça didn’t excel nor stumble, in fact they looked pretty solid at the back with a magic number 10 up front. Semedo immediately looked like a class A signing whilst Deulofeu struggled to take advantage of playing alongside Messi. Then Paulinho got to play and even scored an important winner away to Getafe to keep Barça’s impeccable run in the league. When he then followed that with another goal and a fine assist in the next game against Eibar he slowly began to turn fans around. Dembélé looked a little shaken (not stirred) to begin with even though one could easily see high potential reeking trough those skinny legs. Unfortunately, the French winger limped off with a bad injury that would keep him out for the remainders of the calendar year, meaning he’d miss almost half the season in his first year for his dream club. Hopefully he’d return stronger, both mentally and physically.
In the league FC Barcelona had a flying start topping the table with 5 straight wins and an impressive goal tally, mostly due to a certain Argentine master. Sevilla (2p) and Atlético (-4p) were trailing closest, whilst Real Madrid had a surprisingly shady start to the season with only 8 out of 15 points. However, a long season had barely began and we all know that the white galactic train could be hard to stop once gained momentum.
Barça looked even more dependent of that luminous left leg than ever before, especially considering Dembélé’s injury and L. Suárez struggling with both body and mind. Deulofeu held on to his ‘close but no cigar’-trademark, Iniesta had never been one to rack up goals and D. Suárez looked promising but not dependable. However, Valverde seemed to be edging closer to a recognizable Barça with higher pressure and lost balls regained in a hurry. Both Umtiti and Semedo looked sharp as samurai swords at the back. Ter Stegen looked more and more like Peter Parker after the famous bite, and even Alba could be mistaken for a new player storming down the left flank like a jet fueled squirrel. Piqué on the other hand had been more of a liability than an asset, but as the saying goes; when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. He would most certainly rise to the occasion later on.
In the weeks and months that followed, Barça didn’t play amazing football, but they won. They won almost every game. The day before Christmas, Valverde and his team walked onto the picturesque field of the Santiago Bernabeu unbeaten in the league, with a gasping lead of eleven points down to Real Madrid. The hosts had to win this El Clásico to keep a last shriveled straw of hair to grab onto, but could they? – The short answer: NO!
Admittedly, the first half could’ve gone either way, but ended in a goalless draw. The second half however was all Messi, Suárez and Barça. 0-3, a red card for RM and a whopping 14 points lead in La Liga Santander was not only astounding and almost unheard of, it defied logic. A very merry Christmas indeed, and what a way to start off the new year of 2018, having almost won the league already, being huge favorites to win the Copa del Rey (again) and certainly in a position to rest players for the biggest Champions League clashes?
To be continued…