x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sorry to tread on you, Barcelona fans

As Barcelona continue to receive adulation from the world over, our columnist feels for their true followers.

A Barcelona fan holds a portrait of Xavi while others take pictures amid tight security after the team’s arrival in Minsk on Tuesday. Barca, who beat local favourites BATE Borisov on Wednesday, have a huge fan following all over the world for the brand of football they play.
A Barcelona fan holds a portrait of Xavi while others take pictures amid tight security after the team’s arrival in Minsk on Tuesday. Barca, who beat local favourites BATE Borisov on Wednesday, have a huge fan following all over the world for the brand of football they play.

So many of the rest of us residents of planet Earth owe an apology to longtime Barcelona fans, for our belated enthusiasm must be mildly annoying.

They suffered through entrenched Real Madrid supremacy plus other relative ills of which we were and are not especially aware. Then, come the 2000s, they found themselves a heyday, and here we come stampeding in with our support (fans strewn across the world) and hosannas (columnists and bloggers strewn across the world).

Unfortunately, for them and their peace and quiet, their heyday happened to be one of the great heydays in the history of heydays, a heyday-and-a-half, a heyday of such gorgeous football that people who decades ago barely knew Barcelona, Spain from Barcelona, Venezuela, nowadays strain to watch FC Barcelona (the one from Spain) playing football.

Hardly a day goes by on most any continent without the sighting of somebody in a Barcelona shirt, and these far-flung people do not even play for Barcelona.

Well, we're smack amid that heyday now, and it's a heyday we're - gulp, but it's true - lucky to get to see, although nobody knows whether we're early-amid, mid-amid or late-amid, even if "late-amid" seems improbable. For all the manager's worthy concerns around the dawn of this campaign, Barcelona have nibbled often at the outskirts of perfection, peppering three 2-2 draws with wins by 5-0, 8-0, 5-0 and 5-0.

While the world got through Carlos Tevez Week - and, wow, did an executive of a sport really just recommend that no team in that sport sign a certain player? - Barcelona flew out to Minsk.

Now, nobody on crowded planet Barcelona would have expected Barcelona to lose or draw in Minsk, although struggling on the sodden, unfamiliar turf might have seemed feasible. Still, completed pass by completed pass, Barcelona diligently and alluringly constructed a 5-0 Champions League group win against the Belarusian champions, BATE Borisov, earning the admiration of the manager.

In his news conference, Pep Guardiola said he hoped that his players would not "lose the competitive spirit they have shown this Wednesday, and that has characterised this team for so long … this spirit I've been seeing for years".

The still-young man with the hurriedly amassed silverware collection said, "I'm very clear that they feel it. It doesn't matter if we win or lose, but we always have to keep doing the same things."

And so, win or "lose", the tide of beauty rising over recent years seems ever upwards through 2011. In this setting, a 2-2 home draw with big ol' AC Milan on a stoppage-time header counts as a "surprising" hiccup.

Of course, Barcelona made Manchester United resemble something utterly other than Manchester United in a Champions League final with a Wembley Stadium performance that ought to stand as some sort of museum piece. That still sits prominently in memory from late May.

Months on, a whole series of fresh impressions struck on September 17 while Barcelona slaughtered Osasuna 8-0. One was that you probably need some sort of hobby if you sit inside on a Saturday watching somebody make lambs of somebody else by 8-0. Another was that even way back here in September with the long slog ahead, everybody already knows pretty much who will win the Primera Liga unless Jose Mourinho manages to gouge the eyes of the entire Barca squad.

Still another was that the eye-pleasing sight of Barcelona might excuse sitting indoors on a Saturday watching somebody mulch somebody else by 8-0. The hopelessness of Osasuna's defence came as a reminder that defence often is in the business of staunching creativity and spoiling fun, so occasionally it's just better befuddled. And still another was that even if the Primera Liga does prove even more uncompetitive than its oblong usual, it's worth it for the chance to watch these artists.

Of course, those words such as "artists" often irk supporters of other clubs, but that does not make them overwrought.

Of greater concern as we settle in to watch another season of the most flattering version of the game would be the Barcelona supporters, especially those with facial creases. All their queues must be longer, their occasions more crowded, their gatherings imperilled by know-nothing outsiders, their travel pockmarked by newcomers professing love and asking goofy questions. In some establishments for away matches, they probably must sit alongside those who wear blue and red yet whose only suffering for it might have stemmed from some weird Icelandic volcano.

It's probably a meagre price, given the circumstances, but still, we're all sorry.

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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