11th February 2012. A seemingly Liga-deciding loss against Osasuna that resulted in a 10 point difference to La Liga table leaders Real Madrid. “Barca threw away the League in 45 unrecognizable minutes” lamented the covers of Sport and EMD, which is a little mild given their fondness for hyperbole. “It’s a conspiracy!” pointed out some cules, just as a few of us convinced ourselves that Pep Guardiola was deliberately throwing away La Liga so that he can concentrate on winning back-to-back Champions League titles. You know, because, having won 13 out of the last 16 possible tournaments, he might have suddenly forgotten how to multi-task. “It’s Shakira!” cried some others, there were also the “It’s Cesc with his Hamstring Curse and Trophy Jinx!” believers, not to mention the “Xavi should shut up about superior football, it’s bad juju” brigade. Oh, and we almost forgot the “Pep’s experiments are ruining the team” cliques.
Pep Guardiola: “We started the year with the obligation of winning the six titles. We have to live with this obligation. (Now that Liga seems out of reach), it seems that unless we win the Champions League, this season would be a failure. The Champions League is a major challenge, it is tremendous. We couldn’t have won the things we have the last four years if we’d been throwing titles away. That shows we care for every title we fight for. We do not think there is a game or a competition more important than another, but I am not one to convince people we haven’t thrown La Liga away. I made the decisions that I think are the best for the team.”
Case for Hope
Fast forward two exact months. Ten consecutive La Liga wins and fifth consecutive Champions League semifinal qualification later, the situation is slightly different. The La Liga race is much closer than we anticipated it would be at this stage. A mere 4 points separate the top two teams, with a home Clasico (which is definitely not a guaranteed win) in hand. There are six more games left. Winning sixteen games in a row is next to impossible, but we sure as hell can compete hard to win the next game – seems to be Pep’s and hence the team’s mantra. It’s simple enough in concept, like telling a person with vertigo not to look up or look down, but just to concentrate on putting the foot on the next rung of the ladder. Like a horse with blinders on, they keep their focus on the next game. And just the next game. Everything else is a distraction.
“Can this team win sixteen league games in a row?”
“A bit too much to expect.”
“What about the next game?”
“Why ever not?”
Case for not-so-much Hope
Pep Guardiola: “I have the impression that we will not win La Liga, the point difference is very big, these games give us the opportunity to be the team we are, to play like we have. “I don’t think we will win the league, but we’ll compete to [be the team] that we have been in the past. We will continue competing in every match.”
Much has been made of Pep Guardiola ‘conceding’ the league while ten points behind. Pepssimism is a well-researched and understood concept. “It’s a mind game” is another interpretation, and it’s generic enough to be shaped into fitting any passing theory. Guillem Balague feels Pep has devalued Madrid wins by this stance, hence with all the resulting pressure on Madrid to not lose the league from a position of “already won it”. Nobody is buying that Pep has really conceded the league. Not a man who said “I will not convince those who say the Liga is lost, but they will not convince me to stop fighting for it” not so long back. The simple reality comes down to this. We are still in a position where winning every game is not enough to win the league. As observed on Revista, the league is not Barca’s to win, but it is Real Madrid’s to lose at this point. The team goes about its business well aware that even winning the next six games to make it sixteen in a row might not be enough – we would lose the league by a single cruel point unless Madrid drops additional points as well.
Pep has always maintained that he never guarantees trophy wins, but just complete all-out effort for every single shiny cup they aspire for. One gets the feeling that the ever-rising expectations that sometimes seem to convey the fans taking the team’s brilliance for granted, really irks the coach. “No team has ever won back a 10 point difference with Madrid”, he pointed out a few days ago. “These players have had no rest for four years”. “We have three defenders left, and we’re playing games every three days”. “Everyone seems to be assuming that we will win the home Clasico, and it’s not easy”. By assuming we will win games that are yet to be played, we as fans might be doing the same thing to our team that some accuse Pep of doing to Madrid – devaluing our wins. There are nine games left this season, and hopefully ten if we get through to Champions League finals. Nine finals, and possibly a tenth. Each victory represents a glorious opportunity. Every draw or loss most likely represents a trophy lost for the season. We are lucky to be watching this generation of players, this team, navigate the final stretch of season-defining games. Let’s revel in it while it lasts. And celebrate the team for keeping us in the running in every competition till the last game irrespective of how many trophies we win when it all ends and the dust settles. Because Pep and his team have come through on their promise for yet another season even if we don’t win anything more in the end.
Pep Guardiola: “I know that in sport you have to test yourself every day; every moment. And I don’t think there’s a greater example of that than these players. This team dignifies the sport. I always think that we’re really lucky to have this generation of players
* – pictures via fcblj
* – Quotes via totalbarca and barcastuff.