And now, the end is here.

The last game of the season. The last Liga game for Pep before he leaves for a life of not being bear-hugged by Pinto, or being tossed in the air each time the team wins another damn trophy.

What the heck are we going to do over summer?  Feed Cuenca? Thank goodness for the Euros.

Barça travels to Seville to play Real Betis Balompié who are going on a promotional pre-season trip to China in July.  I’m sure that Roque Santa Cruz would much rather spend time on the beach working on his tan, but this is the price when you make it into La Liga.  There are bigger bills to pay.

Betis is mid-table with nothing really left to play for except pride, and the chance to brag about beating Barça on the green, green grass of home.

Puyol, Pinto and Alexis are out and injured. Blaugrana thoughts are already on the Copa del Rey, so they just want to get the game done and dusted, without further injury.  Messi will be looking to score at least 10 to match the number on his back.

The game happens at 22:00 local time.  Use this link to see what time that will be in your little corner of the world:  Real Betis Balompié vs. FC Barcelona

If you need to watch the game and it’s not on a TV channel near you, look here:  Links

If you were Barça Manager for tomorrow’s game, who would you play from who is available?  Should Pep play in midfield?

Go wild in the comments.

Of meteors, fandom and Yoda

A quick one, on migration, from casual viewer, to fan, to lover, to cule. I can imagine some long-time FCB fans, making this speech that Yoda made as he dismissed a young Luke Skywalker:

Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Cules. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Cule must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away … to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Cule craves not these things. You are reckless.

If, tomorrow, your local news program said that a meteor was going to be visible, streaking across the night sky, what would you do? Damn right, you would. You’d get yourself to the best observation point, and watch that once-in-a-lifetime sucker, gawking at it like the marvel that it is. Now imagine this Barcelona team as that meteor.

Not only here at BFB but in the world at large, we fans are many, spanning a range from “They lost. Whatevs,” to “They lost. I’ll be in my room with a pillow over my head.”

And constantly, whatever the sport, long-time fans scoff at bandwagon fans, as if they are these silly Johnny Come Latelys, who have no right to discuss or enjoy a team. But you know what? Many years and a pile of soci cards ago, I too was a newbie, stumbling across a highlight of a wonder goal and thinking “Boy, what the hell was that!”

Today, I love my club. Over everything. Players, presidents, boards, sponsorships, comings and goings. It is always, and always will be, the club. Does that make me any more of a fan than the person who saw that meteor streaking across the footballing sky, and said “I’m in!” No. Many of us, at the end of this season, have said “Well, the bandwagon will be a little lighter, now,” and we’ve said it for different reasons. I wrote a while back that you know you’re a true fan when a team can break your heart. And I believe that. But you can still be a fan.

Further, the glory that is Barca isn’t diminished because people are flocking to it because suddenly, our club is all the rage. It’s pretty funny to go from wearing a Barca shirt and having nobody react, to having strangers scream “Meessssiiiii,” at you, or give you the thumbs up. And that’s good funny, because casual fans become devoted fans become cules become (if someone decides to undo what RoSELL did) socis. And the club’s beating global heart continues to get stronger.

There is a certain arrogance endemic to sport, contained in the “Oh yeah? Well I’ve been a fan since even before the club was born. When the Big Bang was about to happen and that first piece of matter split, I was a fan. Neener!”

I have a seatmate at work who is a crazed Chicago White Sox fan. She has followed the club her entire life, as has her husband. One part of me wouldn’t be surprised if it was a condition of marriage. Her three children are all Sox fans. She has had a season ticket for decades, and bought a townhome in the shadow of the ballpark, as soon as they went on offer. In 2005, the White Sox won the World Series, and they did it in a swashbuckling, home run-bashing way that for many, was as captivating as our Barca is for casual baseball viewers. And she said of those casual fans, “Good! Bring them on. Even if they don’t become real fans, the team that I love deserves the attention.”

And it’s true, even as it runs deeper. Every now and again, during a particularly heated battle with a Premiership club, we will get some of those divine fans, who say “Hmph, how can you be a fan of Barca. You don’t even go to matches and probably don’t live in Barcelona! Hmph!”

As if that freakin’ matters. This season was the first in some time that I didn’t have a chance to get to Barcelona for a vacation, and matches. Life, circumstance all conspired to deprive me of the singular joy of clutching that ticket in my hand, sliding it under the scanner and having my heart leap as it beeps and goes green, even now, as if this is somehow a dream that can be snatched away — the scanner will buzz, flash red and I will wake up from my nightmare. And you walk into the Camp Nou …. and even when it’s empty, you swear you can hear things …. screams, bellows of rage, echoes of long-gone joy and sorrow. I didn’t go, and I miss it so.

None of which makes me a damn bit better than a Barca fan who lives in Canada, or India, or Nigeria, who might never get to a match, who follows matches on a craptastic Web feed and would say “Gesundheit!” if someone walked up to them and said “Benvingut!”

This place is extraordinary, in that there is none of that institutional arrogance. A fan who just decided to follow the club this season is as welcomed by the family as those who watched Gaspart grow up. And this is as it should be. Because nobody owns a meteor. It’s there for the world to look at, marvel at and discuss for years to come. The more the merrier. Welcome. Ain’t it pretty?

blitzen awards, the antepenultimate edition!

You didn’t think I could let this game pass without handing out a few awards, did you? Only two more games to go this season, though. I’m going into withdrawal mode already.

Pintocalypse Award: Javier Mascherano, for his brilliant headed save in the box after Pinto got caught out metres outside his box. Yet another reason why Masche has been worth every cent they paid for him.

Barça DNA Award: It’s always good to see former players doing well. Victor Sanchez has played for a few clubs since leaving Barça, first on loan in 2009, then permanently in 2011. He joined Espanyol in January 2012 after being released from the disastrous Swiss club Neuchatel Xamax. He knew Guardiola well from his days as part of his B team, and I’m sure he appreciated the sendoff Pep was given. He had a cute moment during the game when, after picking up a yellow card for barrelling into Iniesta, he trotted over to pat him on the head in apology. Because everyone loves Iniesta.

Room For Improvement Award: Speaking of Iniesta, he takes free kicks now. Because he needed to be even more awesome than he already is. This is one of the (many) reasons I love this team: No one rests on their laurels. Everyone can still learn things, can still get better. That’s what Pep brought to the club, and what I expect to see continued under Tito.

Perpetual Motion Machine Award: Pedro, who is darned close to earning back his punctuation, and had another excellent game with full windmill action activated. See, he just needed some consistent playing time to get his groove back! Sadly, he will likely miss out on going to the Euros as VDB has plenty of other options to choose from, and these last few games may not have been enough to get him back in the running. I think Pep actually feels a little guilty about that, as he mentioned something in a recent press conference that he thinks he could have played Pedro more. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Keita Face Award: Huh? What?

Closing The Barn Door After The Horse Has Bolted Award: Four Penalties in 2 games? Little late to start getting those calls now, guys. I’m waiting for Marca to break the story that we are bribing the refs to get penalty kicks now just to drive up Messi’s pichichi stats. I’m sure that’s what they are thinking. (And on a serious note, something has to be done about these ridiculous handball penalty calls. Whether for us or against us, there have been so many bad calls where it was a clear case of unavoidable ball-to-hand. It’s madness.)

Resistance Is Futile Award: Pep, pretending to throw a punch at Puyol in an effort to avoid being given the bumps. Trust me, if Puyol wants to throw you in the air it’s going to happen. Just resign yourself and enjoy the ride!

Next Generation Award: Marius Guardiola i Serra, who has already been practicing his coaching technique on the sidelines of Camp Nou. Future head coach? Watch this space!

Cast A Giant Shadow Award: What do they do with those giant banners after the game is finished? Put it in the museum, I suppose. I would love to buy that Gracies Pep banner and just drape it over my house. It would keep the sun off in the summer and retain heat in the winter. Most importantly, I could continue to live under Pep’s beatific gaze and pretend nothing has changed. Nothing at all. :D

Never Gonna Give You Up Award: Messi, for That Hug. The hug that wasn’t only a sign of personal affection, but a public acknowledgement of just how important Pep has been to Leo as a player. Messi would probably still be the best in the world under any coach, but it was Pep (and Tito!) who guided his genius, found out how to get the best out of him, and allowed him to develop into the absolute monster he is now. 72 goals. In one season. Messi isn’t stupid. He knows exactly what Pep has done for him, and for the game he loves to play. Oh, and also? You have all just been Rick Rolled. :twisted:

Barca 4, Espanyol 0, aka “Now THAT’S how you throw a party!”

You’re having this party, right, and you’re thinking of every possible thing that can happen, every permutation that can go into making your party a memorable one. You have all the right foods, great music, the occasion is right, it’s all working, all planned to perfection. You have all the bases covered, then something happens, and the party is suddenly elevated from sensational, to once-in-a-lifetime.

That was kinda what happened at the Camp Nou yesterday, an extraordinary series of events that elevated a maudlin, sad event into something celebratory and memorable. Pep Guardiola coached his last first team match at the Camp Nou. The plaudits have been raining from the heavens for some time now, some beautiful, some saccharine, some silly, some heartfelt. His players had said many things, made many gestures and through it all, there was also nonsense:

–There was a falling out between Leo Messi and Guardiola
–Messi didn’t come to the announcement press conference for nefarious reasons

Messi answered all of those bits of silliness with a glorious display, his second in a row, laying four goals on our hated neighbors Espanyol, one of the teams that fought and clawed its way to stolen points from us in this extraordinary season. And after the fourth goal, Messi eschewed the usual group hug, as he was a man on a mission. He trotted over to the sideline, and hugged his coach, Pep Guardiola.

And hugged, and hugged, and hugged. Then a few teammates came over, then a few more ….

…. and suddenly, the whole group was over in an ensemble love-in. As usual, the littlest one would lead them, in figuring out exactly what to do, there was really nothing to do or say, only the simplest expression of love and affection that we know: an embrace.

To say that it was a remarkable moment would be an understatement. To say that it was a perfect moment would be about right, because in Guardiola’s last home match, against our bitter crosstown rivals, that our best player, a player who reached his fullest flower yet under the careful steerage of the coach he didn’t want to let go, physically or clearly, emotionally, that player dropped 4 goals. Yes, the churlish will note that two of them were penalties of the softest nature. But the other two were of such joy that, as our very own Isaiah said on Twitter, they should have each counted for two.

Messi was a player that wasn’t going to let anything sully his coach’s last home match. You got the feeling he would have played keeper, had it been required of him, in a match in which players rose above and beyond the call. Puyol rose from the pitch like a rocket on a set piece. Mascherano bailed out a woefully out-of-position Pinto with a clearance for the ages, one that sent him head over heels, rising to his feet almost with a “Did I make it?” expression on his face.

It was clear from the collective enterprise, the vigor at which the club attacked this match, that no player on that pitch was going to be responsible for allowing ANYTHING to sully the Mister’s last home match.

And it’s worth noting that before Guardiola, Lionel Messi was an injury-prone mass of potential. The seasons prior to Guardiola, both injury-hampered, he had 19 and 20 goals. Guardiola came in, put him on a regimen that covered every aspect of his preparation, right down the foods that he ate, specific exercises and other things to keep Messi in the state of Messi-ness. That first season brought 38 goals in all competitions, and a Treble. The next season, 45 goals in all competitions. The season after that, 50. Then this season, with a mind-boggling 72 goals in all competitions, a record that people had to go waaaaay back in time to find anyone who had done the like. Then he passed that dude.

And now, it’s just Messi, a player who has achieved so much under the steady hand of Guardiola, who is probably comfortable with the steerage of Tito Vilanova, and who is still improving as a player overall, in every aspect of his game.

We will leave it to others to question Messidependencia, whether it is wise to place such a burden on such a small pair of shoulders. We will leave it to others to natter about how all that Guardiola did was stand in the right place at the right time, as the armored car doors flew open and those bags of money flew out.

Because we’re too busy marveling at a player who has scored more goals by himself than many entire clubs.

Did the club play a perfect match yesterday, finally handing Pep Guardiola the one thing he had been seeking his entire FCB coaching career? No. But it didn’t matter. The same result would have befallen ANY team that showed up in the Camp Nou on that day, on that auspicious occasion. The players tossed Guardiola into the air, formed a guard of honor for him as he left the Camp Nou pitch for the last time, leaving him and us with memories, moments that he shared with his family as they occupied an empty stadium, a space that was almost certainly still echoing with the cheers of the almost 90,000 supporters that, in unison, showed voceferous appreciation for the man, the Mister, the legend.

What’s next? It doesn’t matter, just like the aftermath of that wonderful, amazing party that you threw, the one where it all came together. Yes, there is work, school or those other real-life committments that scrape away, making our existence a mostly mundane thing. But that is for the next day. For now, it’s the memory, reliving the delight and swapping stories of the night, that amazing night in the Camp Nou when love was so thick in the air that, like the blades of grass that some visitors reach down and swipe during stadium visits, it felt like you could have just scooped some up to take home, and preserve for posterity.

What a party, indeed.