Turning of the tides!
2018, happy new year and all that. Barça started the year like they ended the last, winning games. Admittedly there were a few draws here and there, but hey, they were still going invincible. Real Madrid kept losing points, so did Atlético Madrid, while FC Messi even hammered Real Sociedad at Anoeta (2-4). How could this go wrong?
In the Spanish Cup Barça went through to yet another final. There they’d face Sevilla who looked dangerous both in the CL and climbing the table in La Liga. In the domestic league it was no longer a question of winning it, but winning it unbeaten, undisputed, invincible. The Champions League was in many ways the only question left in a story filled with astonishing answers and feats, mostly by Messi, Stegen and Umtiti. Oh, and Philippe Coutinho, who (thank God) arrived at the Camp Nou in January, having gone through a soap opera manuscript worthy of a Golden something. The brilliant Brazilian baller had come as a beacon of hope, like the green Lantern’s ring (do NOT watch that movie) and was expected to help Barça secure another treble. Coutinho slowly started looking better after a few months, still in need of improving, but nevertheless showing prowess and flair that was (almost) absent with the likes of Rakitic, Paulinho, Gomes in midfield.
Chelsea got beaten, yet another team flogged by the G.O.A.T., then came the draw for the quarter finals. Barça avoided teams like Real Madrid, Manchester City, Bayern München etc., and when given Rome I suspect most Culés to be rejoicing rather than dreading an early exit. Actually Rome was probably half packed, ready to stay home after getting hammered at Camp Nou in the first leg (4-1). The result however wasn’t really a fair reflection of the game itself, now was it? Rome had looked sharp, Dzeko lethal, Barça sloppy and nonchalant, yet they won, convincingly. The return leg was in fact all about not taking a shit where you eat. All they needed to advance was to take the game seriously. We all know how that went. Rome came flying out like starved dogs seeing raw meat and tennisballs, while Barça walked around the pitch looking distant and unfocused from the start, and jaded after only half of first half played. Rome gave Barça the very same lesson the Catalans gave PSG last season, and went deservingly through to the semis. Messi and the rest went home in disbelief having shocked an entire world and disappointed Culés and themselves.
Playing a CdR final only days after getting hammered by the Italian gladiators had two sides of a coin. On one hand most fans (myself included) were still disgusted and mad from having given away a semifinal ticket for free in the biggest club tournament in football, and on the other hand this was a good way for the players to show some fighting spirit and cojones. This would most likely be Iniesta’s final finale in a Barça shirt, the eternal nr. 8, the illusionist. And my oh my did he perform in that finale! A stunning, breathtaking and masterful performance filled from our nr. 8, getting standing ovations from the entire crowd. Messi was also magical, as he’d been the entire season (except for a few games, one of them being in Rome), but watching Messi assist Iniesta as Andres so many times has served Lionel, seeing them celebrate it together knowing this was their happy ending… That punch-in-the-gut-while-being-caressed-and-lovingly-embraced type feeling you really can’t explain but try to anyway. Holy all that is holy! I simply LOVE Andres Iniesta.
Barça won the double, having looked more wobbly than a blind man at sea during the summer, and it was indeed a fine performance. Even more impressive was the fact that they’d gone all but two remaining league games unbeaten, and coming up was Levante (away) and Real Sociedad (home). Could Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ finally be outdone and outshone? Could Ernesto Valverde, who’d been walking a thin line throughout the entire season, especially after pissing his figurative Barça-pants vs. Rome, lead this flock of wild donkeys untarnished and untamed throughout 38 games in the best league in the world? Yes he had Lionel Messi, Marc André ter Stegen, Samuel Umtiti and several others that had helped immensely along the way, but surely a feat like this would merit a wide spread in the history books?
Well, it probably wouldn’t get the praise it would’ve deserved, but we’ll ‘never’ know now. Valverde fielded a starting line-up away to a hard-fighting, wellplaying Levante that sent chills down Culé spines even before kickoff. Not only did Valverde throw away the hunt for an untouched, never before seen (in a full 20 team league) golden trophy, he did it seemingly knowingly, fielding headless chickens with zero aspirations, inspiration or motivation, when in fact all that was missing was that ONE potentially tricky away game. Barça lost 4-5 in a game that despite the result, in reality was over before it begun.
Having won the domestic double wasn’t enough, was it? Will it ever be? Well, that depends. On what, you wonder? On which team wins the trophies that FC Barcelona ‘fail’ to win. If the answer is Real Madrid, then no, a domestic double will never be enough, not for the Barça players, not for the managers, not for the board and certainly not for the spoiled Culé heart. Real Madrid were lucky to advance from the semifinals, but in the finale they were destined to win it due to heaps of experience, lots of skill, a dash of (well deserved) cockiness, some fortune and a stone-crushing mental grasp on the Liverpool-player’s fragile minds.
The season that started looking grimmer than any reaper, went on to become glorious, well almost glorious, culminated in a mix between semi-contemptness and full-on despair. Before adjusting the gallows noose to the size of individual players, manager(s) or board-members, what went wrong and how wrong did it go? I might be applying for a trim at the guillotine here, but for me this was far from a catastrophic season for FC Barcelona. If Valverde is to blame for that awkward and embarrassing loss to Levante and that way way WAY worse farce of a shambles of a disgusting performance in Rome (and yes, he probably is), then shouldn’t he also be praised for managing to turn around a ship that was not only sinking but in fact upside down on land several kilometers from shore?
In my (subjective, passionate, perhaps narrow and clueless?) mind, YES! I’d go as far as claiming that without Ernesto’s calmness in the storm, stripped of his tactical rigidness, bar his steady hand, FC Barcelona would’ve crumbled like a stale cookie under the unbelievable pressure that followed the summer’s Supercopa and shocking transfer window. I’m also a firm believer (no, not a Belieber) in giving both players and managers second chances (two full seasons minimum), even though I can’t say that I’m frequently entertained by Valverde’s tactics or style of play. Much needs improving and the club desperately long for top class quality midfielder(s) who might or might not come. Arthur and Vidal are here, undoubtedly improving our squad, yet still we want to see the likes of Eriksen, Thiago, or Hazard. Even though I fear we’re not really heavy contenders for the Champions League, I grab on to my belief in thinking a little faith is better than no faith. Or as Divemar, sorry, my bad, Neymar so elegantly put it: “One percent chance, ninety nine percent faith!”
So, will 2018/19 be yet another season where Messi drags the 5000 ton ship on his narrow shoulders, or will he receive further help up front with some class A signings? Will he need to become a Super-G.O.A.T. like “Super-Ted”, and will Umtiti, Stegen and the others continue to shine? I seem to have more questions than answers these days, but to sum up the season we just witnessed I think I’ll stick to describing my emotional tornado seeing the bearded G.O.A.T. play:
– When all hope seemed faded and nothing but darkness and despair filled the minds of Culès, a God amongst men, a giant of 1.70m, a definition of captaincy and leadership and poise without having to talk, emerged once again to shine his glorious light upon us all and to point us towards a path of cheerfulness and joy rather than grim hopelessness.
Lionel Andres Messi is smaller than most, but greater than all. He captains his teammates not through shouting or waving his arms, but through creating time where there is none, by leading an attack starting from deep inside his own half, by orchestrating a symphony with the most delicate of passes perfectly weighted, by not speeding around for 90 minutes wasting energy when he can kill off an opponent with just a single bursts or directional shift, by always creating room for others to shine just from attracting half of his opponent team onto him like a magnet, by scoring goals on command even when being shadowy watched like Frodo near the Eye of Sauron.
Messi has his own adjective now, the dictionary reads:
«1. Perfect way to play football, an unlimited capacity for self-improvement.» «2. Describes the best player of all time.»
As the world debate who’s the real G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) between Maradona, Messi, Pelé or even Cristiano (yes, I’m not joking. It’s been claimed more than once), I fully respect people’s variation of opinion due to preferences in type of player, team(s), era played, titles won etc. To merit the title as the greatest of all time does not necessarily mean having to be the best there ever was, or does it? A bold claim perhaps, but personally I’d vote for Maradona as the (so far) G.O.A.T. and Messi as the B.O.A.T. (best of all time), and the latter is in my opinion not debatable nor a question of subjective opinions, but rather statistically based facts. Being among the best ever goal scorers while simultaneously being the undisputed best playmaker of all time, is just mad. Maybe the explanation behind Messi being able to drag heavy ships (FC Barcelona and Argentina) onto safe(r) shores is due to the FACT that he himself is the B.O.A.T.?
There’s no need to question the little genius’ abilities, but one might wonder for how long will he be able to carry both club and country on that wearied back? Will Arthur channel his inner Xavi and become a raging success at Barcelona? Will Semedo be the savior at right back to give Dani Alves a run for his money at the Barça right back hall of fame? Can Coutinho be a better fit than Neymar ever was? Can Dembélé recover fully, reboot and rejoice as a creative winger? Will Valverde be a success both statistically and romantically, providing both major titles and reviving that Barça way of playing?
Unless you’re Marty McFly or Emmet Brown I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…
President elections or no president elections, star signings or no signings, this player in form or that player in form, I believe in FC Barcelona, and I believe in Valverde and all his players. Positivity breeds positivity so let’s be POSITIVE!
Magnus Ingier for Blaugrana.no