FC Barcelona 3-1 Paris St. Germain

Rooting for Barça over Real Madrid allows for a level of moral satisfaction, but it's important to remember that they're the second biggest bully in the room. Real Madrid will always spend more, and do so because winning is the only thing that matters. Madrid, all too happy to wrap itself in the mantle of Spanishness and Catholicness, will remove the cross from its logo to appease Middle Eastern sponsors, and no one has to act surprised that whatever slight values the team nominally holds get compromised in the name of more money. But Barcelona's problems are of a similar nature.

On offense, the relevant questions are: "Should the striker who carried his nation's World Cup team get most of the shots? Or the striker who carried his nation's World Cup team? Or the striker who carried his nation's World Cup team to the final, scored half of its goals, and is generally considered one of the best players of his generation/ever?" and the answer is "Why not all of them?" This game also featured a goal by another former Barça player who scored for PSG, dumped by Barcelona after one season--despite also being a world-class striker--because the manager did not particularly like him. They may be mes que un club, but that means sometimes they are just like un club--playing people with big contracts rather than promising youngsters, paying to buy good players and fix mistakes in talent development and planning, and all the rest.

It's a breath of fresh air after the environment of American sports, where each team does its best to play perpetually aggrieved, with a small loyal cadre of followers who are surrounded by 'haters' who Just Don't Get It, a role both trite and obvious that is, nevertheless, the default script for almost every team in almost every sport, amateur and professional. They Don't Believe In Us is maintained even by the teams everyone expects to win, i.e. the ones people believe in whether they want to or not, which suggests that coaching and motivation remains primitive. The only alternative script is The Team Is Bigger Than Any of Its Members, which is marginally better but just as reductive and simplistic.

I think Messi's "Derek Jeter, but better, of a sport people around the world actually follow" act is at least partly a calculation, if a smart one*, and I don't have any illusions that the seeming compatibility of Neymar, Suárez and Messi is based on the fact that they all realize they must get along with each other whether they like it or not. If things go south, it won't last. But I'll enjoy it while they do.

*And actually a brilliant bit of personality management, fulfilling two basic needs: crafting a personal narrative that allows him a maximum of space and freedom to live as much of a private life as possible, and driving people who don't like you crazy. As Jeter showed, there is nothing a lot of people hate more than a very good professional who keeps his head down and refuses to say anything shocking. How anyone can think Maradona better than Messi I will never understand, except that people seem to think that appearing emotionally unstable and volatile in all situations is a sign of genius.

1 comment:

Chris Lawrence said...

I think Maradona got his rep as the "best ever," or at least someone in that conversation, in large part because he played in a period when arguably there were no other players of equal caliber in world football. He was so much better than what everyone else was putting out that inevitably he looked more awesome than he perhaps really was.