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Dad, why does Barney Ronay hate Barcelona?

Barcelona - mes que un club?


Dad, why does Barney Ronay hate Barcelona? He keeps writing articles about them in The Guardian, using words like “annoying” and “bloodless“, although that was all before the Champions League final so he probably feels a bit silly now. He also seems really irritated by Barcelona’s motto “mes que un club” (“more than a club”). But I thought they were supposed to be the greatest team ever.

Well, y’know son, I’m not sure Barney hates them as such. Hate is such a strong word; such a visceral word. I think his attitude towards them is much more intellectually rigorous than that. You see behind all of the silly fast food metaphors, the whiny posturing about their bland club motto and the ludicrous suggestion that Barcelona players are processed and robotic, there is a great analytical mind at work. These articles he writes are not just pseudo-intellectual window-dressing for his own fractured attention span and his gnawing inability to experience joy and beauty. They are much more than that.

Some say he longs for a lost time when things were simpler. This was a time we know now as BPS (or Before Prawn Sandwiches). It was a time when the working class custodians of the game – who Barney knows so well from his time spent in press boxes up and down the country – demanded not skill, but commitment and work rate. A player could lack any discernible ball skills, he could be deficient in pace and possess myriad character flaws off the field. Yet if he occasionally ran at full speed for ten yards then lunged at an opponent, doing no more than preventing a long clearance by a full back, he would be hailed as a cult hero. It was a better time; when burly men could launch more skillful opponents four rows into the crowd and the referee would barely raise an eyebrow in disapproval. You may know this time as the 1990s.

Besides, who are these broadsheet intellectuals, these tiki-taka fundamentalists to tell the great British football fan that trying to keep possession under extreme pressure and making intricate passes of such exquisite weight and precision that they leave the greatest defenders in the world helpless is the best way to play football? How dare they tell us that trying (and succeeding) in elevating football beyond what it has been before and constantly striving to be better than they are, somehow makes them superior to the honest yet flawed professional journeyman, plowing his furrow down “the channels” like some brainless metaphorical bovine stumbling towards the killing floor. How dare they insist that a defence-splitting pass by Xavi or Iniesta is any more the “right way” to play than the raw and primal Reepian ideal of pumping long diagonal balls into your opponents penalty area, then fumbling for the crumbs of knockdowns from strategically placed tall men?

You see some British football fans think it is only fair that a team wastefully gives the ball back to their opponents on a regular basis. To do otherwise is not sporting, in fact it is tantamount to bullying, even though the ultimate aim of football is to stop the other team scoring, while also scoring yourself.

But Dad, surely if you’re a football writer, you love football, so shouldn’t you want to see the game played as skilfully and exuberantly as possible? Shouldn’t it be a glorious experience to see players who have sharpened not only their ball skills but also their spatial awareness and their muscle memory to such an extent that they can make even the very best opponents look foolish with their intelligent movement off the ball, their graceful dribbling and their extraordinarily imaginative passing? Why would you champion the less skilled? Why attempt to put those who try to play the sport in a way that requires less talent, less practice and less teamwork on an equal footing?

Well, you see son, some people think that there’s something inherently wrong in agreeing with the majority. They feel a gnawing unease when placed in such a position. They have to publicly demonstrate that they alone know some obscure and unknowable truths that the lazy homogenous masses have failed to notice because they don’t think deeply enough about what they see before them with their own eyes. The stupid fools. This is what leads intelligent men to claim the moon landings were faked, that 911 was an inside job and that Elvis Presley is alive and working at the Wolverhampton branch of B&Q. They will never yield to evidence because what they know in their bones is more real, more primal.

Are Barcelona robotic and inhuman? Processed and refined? What could be more human than planning a collective triumph years beforehand; showing such empathy with young players that they can spot each man’s virtues and nurture them individually as required so that they may be better equipped to join a collective endeavour that knowingly challenges each member of the group to overcome such human flaws as selfishness and sloth? Is it inhuman to attempt to be super human?

Then again, perhaps Barney’s just trying too hard because he hasn’t had an article published in either of the first two issues of The Blizzard. That must have really pissed him off.


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