Why I Watch Barcelona

Witnessing the ideal has its drawbacks.

 

Barcelona cherubs 2Josep de Ribera, Earthly Trinity, 1626

 

Barcelona just beat Real Sociedad 5—0. Any surprise there? After beating Real Madrid by the same score two weeks prior, one could almost safely claim that the season was over. Exciting, ethereal Barcelona would be before, and in the end, just as dull. Instead there's a hyper-focused attention to the present moment of each game in search for signs of a wobble, a hairline fracture, a letdown, some hint of desublimation. But when could it happen? The effort to sustain these heights is put in terms of mental strength, the internal management of individual and team requires dialog and reflection. Barcelona still has to tell themselves that they can do it.

Shaky legs can’t happen of their own doing. Osasuna was next. They fit some criteria of foil: unassuming; a good home record; and the feel of soft relegating sand underfoot. Osasuna could show up with stiff hair and scrappiness. In turn, Barcelona could have looked beyond them to a thorny Rubin Kazan, last year’s Champions League troublemakers. A club from the coldest climes, much colder than a cold day at Stoke, Ruben Kazan had become masters of the draw against them. But there was no letdown, not against sleepy Osasuna.

This year’s Clássico marked the thirteenth league game of the season and Barcelona were now 11-1-1. The Mourinho-effect, those preternatural and incessant waves of light and sound, carried an additional intensity into the fixture. Two games, so highly anticipated that one wonders if the other thirty-six matter beyond their role in delaying gratification.

The lopsided score, if uncommon, was not unprecedented. In May 2009, Barcelona beat Real Madrid 6—2 and Real Madrid’s last win against Barcelona was a 4—1 win in May 2008. A 5—0 flogging established immediate preeminence over their rival and a showed complete irreverence for José Mourinho’s charismatic arrival.

Barcelona has scored forty-six goals and conceded eight. If one tosses out the 8—0 win against Almería, the goal ratio is still an impressive 2.9/1. Barcelona was cruising. Each week the team outscored, out-possessed, out-passed, out-impressed, and took with them anything memorable from these matches. They were looking like the team of two seasons ago. They were arguably the best team ever in the history of the planet.

The search for the letdown would continue into the following week against a more formidable Real Sociedad. No evidence was found. It wasn’t only the usual Barcelona dominance, but the way they dominated. It was as if they descended from another plane of existence, from some realm with a different law of physics that wasn’t the result of evolution, but independently manifested. The ball clung to their feet with magnetized affection and superconducted from one player to another like an air hockey puck. The awareness of each other on the pitch was as sharp as a paranoid's in a crowd. Their woven runs were flawlessly timed and integrated. The TV screen looked like a Baroque fresco full of swirling homegrown cherubim. Barcelona was sublime. Barcelona was breathtaking. In other words, they were totally sick.

Barcelona put on the display of the way the game is imagined. They have become redundantly unearthly. They no longer can be used as a reference to measure the quality and performance of other teams as the best become mediocre, the weaker become depositories of sympathy. Barcelona has been extracted from football and placed in a glass case like any man made object in a museum. They are untouchable, but of this earth once bound among gawking crowds. 

Next up—Espanyol. Could a wobble come in the derby against an increasingly formidable Espanyol? Amid the gushing and fawning, the question has to be asked, even if it sounds foolish, and of course will turn out to be. Profaning is all that’s left to inject excitement into the competition. This is the reason I watch Barcelona –it’s as equally interesting and entertaining to see if they will lose, or almost lose, as it is to see them play the best football in the world.

 

12/17/10

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