Barcelona – Sevilla Preview/Thoughts

This is, in true Barça spirit, “més que un preview”, and is sort of a meditation on how I see La Liga these days and how that figures into my thoughts on Saturday’s game. Just like Barcelona, though, in its attempt at “més”ness it is also MENYS que un preview, and important stuff like “Navas isn’t playing, Xavi probably is” is not included here, so I guess everyone can throw in that info in the comments or maybe into a true match comments post tomorrow. This is also long…sorry.

The reality is that Sevilla’s success or failure this year (and every year) will be much more determined by how many points we take away from the 25 or so games we really ought to win than it will these handful of games with the big dogs. Whereas the difference between first and second might in some years be decided by the head-to-head results of those two teams, the difference for us between third and fifth at the end of the year is more likely made up of the sum of all the games that end with the two lost points we dropped at home to Sociedad (for example) than the point(s?) we manage to take from the Nou Camp.

But reality often has very little to do with how we feel about these things, and every year, these games feel like the biggest, most important games of the season. And to the extent that the game itself is about more than results and place in the table and winning silverware, it’s true–these games are the games where we play for the right to be taken seriously not just by Spain’s footballing hegemony but by the rest of the league and the rest of Europe. “WE EXIST! WE MATTER! RESPECT US!!!”, we scream with every win at the Bernabeu or Copa tie stolen from Barca. (“And fucking PAY US!” we probably add, but under our breaths). These games matter because of what these teams represent, and in that sense what we understand these clubs to represent also matters. (Deep breath, this is complicated for me…)

Over the last 5 or so years of closely following La Liga, my perception of teams and the league in general has evolved and matured. I first became aware of the league enamored of the stars shining brightly at Real Madrid, and then came to hate them for how obviously broken their system was from top to bottom, and to then see Barcelona as their polar opposite, the beautiful play little guys who would fight for all that is just in the world against the evil forces in Madrid. I saw the league in very black and white, good vs. evil terms back then, and I liked the narrative it presented to me as I watched games.

But as time has passed, I’ve found it harder and harder to distinguish those two on moral grounds, and I sort of see them both as the same basic entity wearing different clothes. In Madrid they just shrug and continue in their absurd ways, unconcerned really with how they look or what you think, or at any rate not trying very hard to convince you, while in Barcelona the “més que un club” culture demands that they always at least try to look as clean and benevolent as possible (or probably more to the point, the media must tell this story) while the club itself is simultaneously doing whatever it takes to stay on top. Beyond those differences, though, they are both enormous organizations that exist as businesses as much or more than as sporting clubs, who use their financial might to further their greed in ways that smaller clubs can’t possibly hope to combat. The discussions over TV deals of the past couple years have fueled that change in perception, as have various other transfer deals and political scandals, until I can’t be sure which club you’re talking about when you laugh at the insane amount of money a team spent on a player, only to dump him at huge financial loss one year later, as if financial mismanagement didn’t matter because you can always borrow more from the bank.

So my picture of La Liga is much more complex and colored now, and I don’t really see any team as all good or all bad. I now more or less perceive Barcelona and Real Madrid on equal ground now, a level that’s somewhere between “purest goodness” and “unimaginable evil” (but I guess closer to the latter). This averaging of perception means that my feelings about Barcelona are much cooler than they were a few years ago, and I’ve come to see ways in which they, too, are contributing to a slow degradation of La Liga (or at any rate aren’t really doing anything to protect it), in which they are also in some ways the enemy, helping to turn the game into a system of hopelessly unequal resources and using those resources to widen the inequality, even if it sort of ruins the game itself*.

And so with all of those thoughts and all of that subtext, I look forward to our game with Barcelona tomorrow with the knowledge that really this is only 3 points out of the 114 we’ll play for this year, but also yes, a VERY big game, a chance for respect and acclaim and also to score a win in the fight for the good guys.


*To be clear, I’m not really blaming Barcelona (or anyone) for anything specific, nor do I think that Sevilla is the greatest and most pure good ever–our president may yet end up in jail, after all. And like I said, these are ever-changing perspectives, and by that nature are a bit hard to pin down into words, so sorry if this is all inarticulate to the point of incomprehensibility or offense if your blood bleeds more blaugrana than rojiblanco.