“Playing this final is a gift and one we will open to make sense of what we do.”
What does it mean for this team to play this final? The ever philosophical Emery has decided to see it as an opportunity to reveal character and show that our actions have made us who we are. I’m not rolling my eyes at this one bit. Emery sees the challenge of playing arguably the most formidable team in the world as a gateway to the team’s realization of itself. A trophy? Ha! A clearer self-image!
I can only imagine how I would hear this in a different state of mind other than the current one following our Europa League triumph. I might laugh it off as the wild arm-waiving of a self-made warlock. I might fear the players were being asked to focus too little on tactics. But the way I feel now, having had the season we’ve endured and having met the incredible demands of the Europa League (and received its payoff), I can understand why this is a incisive appreciation of the team’s current state. The Europa needed to be won for many reasons relevant to the club and its future. This was obvious. The Copa on the other hand does not need to be won. Instead, it is a gift to have a chance to play a final with less than do-or-die stakes.
It makes sense why the Copa del Rey hasn’t always been the biggest trophy. Until the most recent 10 or so years, it was often won by someone other than the big two. Hell, Getafe qualified for the final two years in a row in the 2000s! There was the Espanyol-Zaragoza final (the 15th and 11th place teams in La Liga) in ’06! Since Barcelona won their ’09 treble, however, we’ve seen the big two fight a bit harder in the Copa than they had in the previous decade. It’s astounding that in the 10 years before ’09, only Real Madrid represented the big two in the Copa final (and they lost both times).
So we get somewhere talking about motivations for wanting this trophy when we compare Barcelona and Sevilla’s respective seasons. Barcelona’s seasons are, for better or worse, always seen in light of what Real Madrid do and vice versa. When Barca are winning La Liga, Marca is writing articles about “And now to la liga… the champions liga!” BURN! And as Real Madrid are nearing their 11th CL crown, you see the Barca press put a little more emphasis on their team’s potential double. None of this is to say the players and organizations don’t enjoy each success that comes their way, of course, but it does add layers to the motivations that teams have. By contrast, Emery’s philosophizing casts our motivation in a wholly different light: it is a gift to be here. We’ve finished our forgettable league campaign; we’ve secured our place in pot 2 of the CL draw. And yet, we have one last opportunity for joy. We don’t need it, but we just might believe in it more.
We tend to have memorable matches with Barcelona every time out. Whether it’s former players squaring off against their old teammates or our goals scored average of 4.2 over the last 10 meetings, there is a lot to digest ahead of and following our encounters. Among the other storylines, Kevin G will be given another world stage to make Deschamps look like a dunce, Ever Banega will play what is likely his last game with us, and Barcelona executives will be excited to decide which players to call up from their Southern Masia. We will be without some key players since Tremoulinas has a bum knee and both Kolo and N’Zonzi will be serving suspensions.
The match is a gift and, framed as such, should remind us to savor the electricity and joy it will no doubt produce. Let’s go find out who we are!!
¡A encontrarnos, campeón!