This all started a few weeks ago in the stands at the Camp Nou. Barcelona was on a romp in the second half of a Champions League tie against Panathinaikos and Pep signaled to Bojan to get loose. Some of the crowd in my section noticed him warming up and started a chant, “Queremos la marica! Queremos la marica!” That means, “We want the gay kid! Put in the gay kid!” This surprised me because it’s unusual for any citizen to criticize Barcelona FC. A video could surface that showed Leonel Messi setting fire to kittens and the Catalunian papers would claim the kittens were spreading the plague, so naturally, Messi had done the right thing. Pep Guardiola has a book, people buy this book; again, I was a bit surprised that Bojan was heckled by the home crowd. But why were they on edge?
This has many roots, one even stems back to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his struggles last year, but the main cause for tension was the Hercules – Barcelona game. Barcelona opened their home campaign against wet-behind-the-ears Hercules, and lost 2-nil. They lost one La Liga game all of last year. And this was a flattering 2-nil loss; Hercules having missed a sitter and Trezeguet hit the bar. For reasons I don’t understand yet, it is a special kind of insult to bring up losses to a team that has spent time in the 2nd division. The old, surly, drunk men at the bar that accused me of being a Merengue (“Eres Merengue!” they would say in their scratchy voices, decaying from emphysema) had memorized all the ties or losses that Real Madrid suffered to newly promoted teams in the past few years. They listed them off as if reading some secret document at a court hearing. All of this is to show that the Hercules loss was not just an unexpected thorn in their side, but rather a permanent scar that is no longer spoken about. And it was that game that reopened the small nagging wound Barcelona FC fans have chosen to ignore the past two seasons; they don’t have enough finishers.
Keita has not panned out, Ibrahimovic was practically a bust, not to mention trouble in the locker room, and Bojan has not developed as fast as some would like. Yes, they have David Villa, with his dreamy dark eyes and neat haircut, and yes, they have Leo Messi, with his witchcraft and sorcery. But when Villa got a red-card, and Messi nearly had his ankle snapped in two, guess what happened? The next game domestic game, Barcelona dropped points, again. The game before that, in Russia, they drew zero-zero. The papers the next day read, “Ruin Kazan”. Awkwardly, the passes that Xavi and Iniesta complete per game by the fifties, produced no end product. Four points gone and Barcelona isn’t even seven games through La Liga. Let me repeat; they lost one game last year and won the league by three points. One!
Obviously, that game Bojan missed a sitter (he was subbed off at half!) and Keita was/is/may always be abject. Even Dani Alves might be in a mini-slump as he too has missed open nets. Pedro, another untouchable, who has been bailed out with a groin injury, causes some grumbles here and there. And just as an aside, since this is a delight to report but has nothing to do with their finishing woes, Javier Mascherano fits into that team like Ron Jeremy does in a porno. It’s a smart crowd here in Barcelona, and I think they are starting to realize.
Now that Cristiano Ronaldo appears to be out of his funk, and Real Madrid survived it and leads them in the table, Pep’s 5 o’clock shadow grows in a little grayer. There is a feeling around city that Barcelona may not be the treble winning team they once were. When you’ve spoiled your fans as much as Barcelona has, there are surely going to be some moans with any sign of decline. But this is different. The domestic league means more here in Spain than the Champions League – or at least a lot more than it does in England. I hear all the time EPL players and their dream of winning the Champs League, but not here, at least not yet.
The key is that Real Madrid has emerged from their dark ages with their German midfielders and their Portuguese manager. This is to the horror of Barcelona fans. They won’t admit it, but Real Madrid actually scares them this year, unlike previous few years. And they should. I think Real Madrid wins La Liga this season. Just don’t tell anyone I said that.