Football, Folly, and Philosophers

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!”

A couple weeks ago, after Sevilla lost to Villarreal, I was finding myself once again in the depths of despair. As I noted in the preview, that game had a lot riding on it because we’d been so inconsistent, and a win, would feel like we were emerging from the dark times. A loss, however, would be another setback and would signal that Sevilla was still struggling to find itself and its identity. And then we lost and there we were, once again reeling. It had me feeling a little philosphical, seeking solace or insight from that old philospher, King Solomon.

In the post-match interview, Emery reflected on his club’s chances in la Liga and the Champions League:

We can dream and throw a lot of resources at the Champions, but the important thing is la Liga…The reality, the first thing, is la Liga. The Champions is very nice, yes, but we’re not going to win the Champions League.

That is, of course, a plain fact. “Show me a Sevilla fan who thinks we can win the Champions League and I’ll write you a tragedy about a very disappointed and possibly delusional person”, as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said. So no argument with the sentiment there! But it was still hard to hear, after so many years of struggling to get to the Champions League, to arrive and say “well it’s nice being here but let’s be realistic.” And it’s hard to think about that statement without putting some thought into the implied inverse: we’re not going to win the Champions League, sure, but…well, we’re also not going to win la Liga, are we? Of course not! But we have to play really well and work really hard so that we can…make it back to the Champions, which we’re never really going to win. What is this all for, anyway?From a certain standpoint, cheering for Sevilla is pretty much an Ouroboros of futility.

Of course there are factors like the money and prestige that comes from participating in Europe’s elite tournament, and I guess you can argue that that could ultimately lead to picking up more and more and better and better players until one day Sevilla is a big club®, consistently challenging for all the cups. The only problem with that argument is the stark reality that no club has accomplished that in the modern game, unless you want to count Atletico riding years of debt and tax evasion to a solitary deep run in the Champions League. There is exactly one way to be a big club in Europe: always have been big money, or get a sugar daddy to make you big money. Assuming that never happens for Sevilla, what are we cheering for, anyway? I was still in despair, so I turned to another famous philospher, Arsene Wenger.

Wenger recently gave a fantastic interview to L’Equipe Sport and Style, which Arse Blog helpfully translated into English. The whole thing is a fascinating look into a smart, thoughtful legend, but this passage in particular resonated with me as I pondered Sevilla and The Meaning of it All.

AW: The expectation has risen. The philosophical definition of happiness is a match between what you want and what you have. And what you want changes as soon as you’ve got it. Always more. Always better. Hence the difficulty to satisfy. An Arsenal fan, when you finish fourth, will say, “Hey, we’ve been in the top four for twenty years. We want to win the league!”. They don’t care that Manchester City or Chelsea have spent 300 or 400 million euros. They just want to beat them. But if you finish fifteenth two years running, they will be happy if you finish fourth after that.

It’s not only the fans that are impatient. Even Thierry Henry said on Sky Sports : Arsenal must win (in English in the original text), this season.

AW: “Must” can be used for death. We must all die one day. In my life, I prefer replacing “must” with “want”. Wanting more than having to. If you tell me, you have to go out tonight, I don’t want to go out as much. If you tell me do you want to go out? Yes, I want to! That’s love for life. Must, must… I mustn’t do anything!

At least, that’s said now…

AW: For me, the beauty of sport is that everyone wants to win, but there will only be one winner. If you put 20 billionaires at the end of the twenty English clubs, there will only be one champion and nineteen disappointments. My grandfather used to say “I don’t understand, at the 100 metres, one runs in 10.1 seconds and the other one in 10.2 seconds, both are very fast. What’s the point?”

Today, we glorify the one that ran in 10.1 seconds, and say the one that ran 10.2 seconds. But both of them are very fast. That’s dangerous for sports. We have reached an era in which we glorify the winner, without looking at the means or the method.

I suppose a Chelsea fan might say “well he would say that, wouldn’t he?”, but I think he makes some excellent points. Sevilla will probably never challenge for big titles every year, and frankly that’s really not why I watch. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “winning isn’t the point”, but it’s also worth exploring what else is the point. Beauty? Joy? In the first half vs. Real Madrid, Konoplyanka hadn’t done anything that directly led to a goal, but his play was so damn exhilarating, and I found myself just glad he was out there because he’s a blast to see on the field, goals or not. Of course this season has been frustrating for Sevilla fans, but it’s also had some resounding success, including several sublime moments from Konoplyanka, Banega’s marvelous midfield passing, and definitely this.

What do you guys think? Why do you watch, cheer for, and love Sevilla? Has this year changed any of that?