Barca 2, Chelsea 2 (2-3 agg), aka “What now?”

In thinking of images that would lead off this post, which will be short, this one strikes as perfect. Because here it is:

Support your club. I know. You already do. Go deeper. Dig like the players did to bring us so much happiness.

When you signed up to be a cule, irrespective of when you signed up, you signed up for this, the same thing that every football fan in the world signs up for: That time when your beloved club just can’t get it done.

And you know what? It’s that time, more than any other time, that your club needs you the most.

You bet the bandwagon is going to get a bit lighter. Next season, there aren’t going to be celebrities sitting in the posh seats, rock stars visiting rock stars. There is going to be a club that didn’t, for the first time in three seasons, win major silverware. And no disrespect meant to the Copa del Reig, but it isn’t major. Not like Liga or Champions League major.

So sit for a moment and think about when you were down, when you were thinking “Man, life sucks,” and the value of a support network. Yes, the players have home lives, friends, spouses, etc that they will go home and mope around. But they also have us. You wonder what this mes que un club business is about. It isn’t about piousness, as some allege, or about this notion held by outsiders that we are somehow more special. It references history, struggle, the club’s place in Catalanisme, the cules who love and support it and the socis who, in effect, own it. It’s a proud, beating heart like that of every club, but with something more. And that’s not just if you ask me. History says that.

And it’s that pride that makes it easy to say that Chelsea played brilliantly over the two legs, just like EE played brilliantly on the weekend. And in both cases, even not at our best, we almost got it done. But it just didn’t happen. And that’s that. So NOW what? It seems weird not contemplating next steps this season, doesn’t it? To be playing out the string, giving young players a run out and exhausted veterans rest, but there it is. Second place is secure, assuming nothing catastrophic happens to EE and we don’t vault our way to the top.

And wouldn’t that be crazy.

So it’s time for rest, time to consider an off season in which moves are going to be made, players are going to come and players are going to go, and we will spend hours and hours debating the value of moves, rumors and other business, how much someone costs and whether that player is worth it. And yes, it’s time, for those that choose, to battle trolls and haters, to remind people that you know what — we didn’t get it done this year. But for three years, we did. And how. That nothing, no matter how much hate someone spouts or bile they can muster, will change that.

For me, I just have a little something for now, about a turning point. I don’t know about anyone else, but somehow, weirdly, it seems right that this club didn’t win major silver without Eric Abidal there to hoist the trophy. Last season, on the Champions League podium, the moment was so indescribably beautiful and poetic, that anybody who got through it dry-eyed is far, far stronger than I am.

Last season was about redemption and unprecedented success. Abidal beat the big beast, or so we thought. Little did we know at the time that he was just delaying payment of the piper, that the club would renew him even as it knew that he would never again prowl that side of the pitch like an ebony gazelle, owning, shutting down and being Le Roi Eric.

When I heard about the transplant surgery, I didn’t think “Shit, now what about the left back slot?” I thought “I hope he doesn’t die. I hope that he beats this, goes home to his family to watch Barca matches on TV, able to actually fulfill his wish to retire with the club that he loves.”

So in a weird way, this season that has taught us so much about humanity, with Abidal, Fabrice Muamba, Piermario Morosini, the incidents that reminded us that life is life, that a game is a game, it’s somehow correct that the most enduring recent memory of this club should be of a player whose struggle and comeback became the story of last season, hoisting the trophy on the biggest club stage in the game and roaring in exultation.

It’s also an elegant bookend to a sequence of amazing, unprecedented successes. So when I think about last season, and this season’s ending, I can’t be anything except proud and joyful to have witnessed this all. We forced the absolute best out of each opponent who laid us low this year. Chelsea defended like lions, took their chances when they had them and had to turn themselves inside out to beat us. And the strength, the power of this club is that we weren’t at our best, its best players weren’t at their best, a key link in the game plan carted off to the hospital after an ugly-looking collision in our box.

We danced, we played our game, we threatened, spurned chances as usual, yes. And what we are left with are memories of glory, and a current feeling of love and pride.

But when I think about the turning point of this season, for me it was when we knew that Eric Abidal wasn’t going to playing left back for us. Emotionally, it was brutal. I cried. Couldn’t help it. The human side of it was awful, even as we are now buoyed by the knowledge that the operation was a success. He loved this club so much that he practiced with the first team, right up until the day of his surgery.

And tactically, returning to the field of battle, a player who wasn’t at all liked when he arrived, reminded with his absence that he is one of the most important players on the club. When he was gone, Puyol had to run more, Mascherano had to run more, spaces were open, danger was more present and holes were found where previously, they were rare. Was Abidal underrated by a lot of cules? I’d say yes, even as I say that he is the best left back on the planet, and not just the best left back for our system.

So physically and from a human aspect, that was the turning point for me. I Tweeted that the season didn’t mean as much for me at that time, that I was reminded of humanity, and life and wanting nothing more than for him to be home with his family. So I can’t be sad about this outcome of the season.

From a broader sense, I can’t be sad because of the absolute, immense joy that this club has brought me, has brought us all. So when you sit, maybe or maybe not daring to watch this match again via digital means, as if there will somehow be a different, happier outcome, think of Abidal, and the teammates who worked like dogs, fought like lions to bring glory to the colors that so many of us wear with pride. Think of a coach who wrung the best from them, until finally, the vast reservoir of genius, magic and tika-taka, was empty.

Think of all that, and don’t be sad. Support your club, and be proud.