A lot of you guys don’t care about soccer. I get that. As Aaron Gouveia, a GMPM contributor, commented:
[H]onestly, this is just one more reason to absolutely despise soccer. I played it for 12 years but holy hell is it boring to watch.
Well, OK then.
It’s the greatest sport in the world—and I’ll stand by that—but I won’t try and make you like it. If you, like Aaron and so many others, can’t stand the sport, good for you. That’s fine.
But every once in a while a team comes around that produces a performance that even Jim Rome can appreciate. Yesterday, against Real Madrid, F.C. Barcelona produced one of those performances—and more.
Here’s some context. Coming into this game, Real Madrid lead Barcelona—two-time defending Spanish league champs—by one point in the standings. It was a match-up of the two best teams in the world. Real, now under the watch of the greatest manager in the world—a man they call the “Special One,” who dethroned Barcelona earlier this year—possessed the most expensive squad in soccer history, more than three times the cost of Barcelona’s.
On the other side, Barcelona regularly trots out eight starters from the World Cup–winning Spanish national team, plus Lionel Messi, the best player in the world.
On top of that, this is the biggest rivalry in all of sports—that I won’t concede. It’s a combination of Yankees–Red Sox, Duke–North Carolina, Lakers-Celtics, and Federer-Nadal—multiplied by a thousand. During the Spanish Civil War, Real was General Franco’s team, while Barcelona represented Catalonia—the independent, separatist liberals keen on breaking away. There’s much more than just sport here.
What happened was a surprise, only in the sense that one can never expect perfection. Barcelona won 5-0, and it could’ve been more. Real is probably still the second-best team in the world. And that doesn’t speak to the lack of competition elsewhere, but rather to the greatness of this Barcelona team.
The understanding between all of Barcelona’s players astounds all who watch. They don’t play with set positions, but rather in a fluid style capitalizing on individual abilities, with a constant interchange between positions. Pairs of players are often described as “dovetailing” in soccer, but—whether or not it’s possible—Barcelona’s whole team dovetails. The fluidity between the players isn’t just functional, it’s beautiful. When the rest of the team knows exactly what the player with the ball will do next, there’s no way of stopping it.
Xavi, Barcelona’s diminutive playmaker, didn’t play a full game; he scored one goal. But the telling stat is that he completed 114 passes—without playing the entire game. What have you ever done 114 times in one day, let alone in less than 90 minutes? Blink? Breathe?
And that’s where we can all come to appreciate Barcelona’s greatness. When you do something well, you can almost do it without thinking or without breathing. That’s how Barcelona’s team works. They play instinctively, but it’s the combination of individual and collective instincts that makes it so profound.
It’s a machine that can improvise; yet all 11 players seem to expect the improvisation. Yesterday’s win was the ultimate product of this system: near-perfection we’ll probably never see again, not in any sport.
There are some things you just have to stop and appreciate, even if you see no apparent connection between you and it. Barcelona’s victory is something whose beauty we can all relate to: 11 guys doing their job as best as they can, understanding each other on an indescribably subliminal level, and coming as close to perfection as we’ll ever see in any other avenue of life.
And maybe Aaron is right. Perfection is boring, isn’t it?
—Photo Daniel Ochoa De Olza/AP