Arrogance, mere mortals, money and Barca, aka “The unfriendly friendly”

If picky press were like actual black eyes, Our Beloved Club would look like it had gone 20 rounds with Mike Tyson, all because of perception, which is often 9/10ths of reality. Let’s have a gander at how a friendly has become a mess, and national pride’s dictates aren’t quite what they seem.

Two incidents, the Hamburg friendly and the SuperCopa Catalunya have, in many quarters of the world, caused the cries of “money-centered arrogance” to rain down from the skies. Cules, of course, circle the wagons and say, “To hell with ‘em, we aren’t risking our big boys for a mere friendly.”

Event organizers, irrespective of the result, say that the team wasn’t up to snuff because paying friendlies are about faces and stars. Hamburg supporters didn’t pony up to see FCB, they ponied up to see Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and tika-taka. It’s a consequence of the fame that precedes us. Prima-facie it’s silly, as every club-level team knows how big clubs operate. They know that right after a big summer competition, everybody goes on vacation until August. So if you schedule a friendly for July in a Euros year, who are you kidding? Expect the biggest stars and instead you’ll get the twins, No and Hell No.

But the complexity here is injury. Messi got dinged in practice, the club took a EUR400,000 precautionary measure and that’s that. We all know had it been a real match instead of a money grab, Messi would have played. And there’s the rub: Hamburg knows that, as well.

More than this is the perception, rooted in part in the way that our club has been governed since our current president took over. “No color copies, Laporta lied about finances, we’re in dire straits, we managed to eke out a wee profit, but will have to sell the shirt, record profits, yay for us, money, money, money, money.” Then we play friendlies, again, for money. No, everything isn’t about money, but you can certainly forgive someone for thinking that it might be. It’s kinda all that our leaders talk about. We could have jetted about the globe and hoovered up lots more dollars, they said over the winter, which would have helped the bottom line. Instead we’re poncing around in Europe, for comparative chump change.

Perceptionally, that’s the wrong message that is being sent out, one that reduces friendly opponents to ATM machines. Does it spit in the face of the clubs we are competing against? Depends on who you ask. But again, to outsiders, it isn’t about a friendly competition that helps both clubs get into match shape. Nope. “Pay me, here’s a kickabout with our Barca Babies, and I’m gone.”

And now comes the Copa Catalunya debacle, in which the Catalan Football Federation has canceled the tourney, because we were going to send a B team. But we’ve always sent a B team. What’s the problem here? Again, there are many levels. Ambition, for one. It’s now the SuperCopa Catalunya, and discussions were held in an effort to make sure that the two big Catalan clubs, Espanyol and us, didn’t treat this thing like what it is. The CFF worked with us and Espanyol to rejigger the competition and the rules so that both teams would be able to sent the “best sides possible.” RoSELL said we’d send the best side possible. Aye, and there’s the rub. With players staggering back from vacation, rocking deep tropical tans and about zero match fitness, the B team is the best side available.

On a deeper level, if FCB is the bright, shining face of Catalan pride, the nominal national team of Catalunya…. Our hearts should fill to the bursting with pride and joy at battling other Catalan teams for the Copa, now the SuperCopa, a name change that came about as part of the “best team possible” rules change. Shouldn’t the Catalan Kings take this all a bit more seriously?

But as with Hamburg, it’s about money. If it wasn’t about money, we’d just practice and scrimmage all summer. But a stronger Barca side brings more ticket sales, which brings more money, which makes the CFF happy. The glamor boys are in town. Wheeeee!

Meanwhile the CFF has scoffed, Espanyol has pooh-poohed us, saying “Hey, we were ready with our best side, blame the fancy boys from the city,” and we have two incidents in which we look like arrogant prigs who don’t have time for lesser clubs, unless we are being paid. Remember that interpretation is 9/10ths of perception, or how people envision a situation. And that perception irritates the hell out of me. Seems like a few conversations could have alleviated hurt feelings. And yet ….

Here’s some reality:

–We aren’t going to risk our best players in meaningless matches. No club with real ambition will.
–Those players will get a better match in the practice scrimmages than against a club such as Hamburg.
–Thinking big picture, it would suck to high heaven if a player such as Messi was injured in a friendly, right?
–The SuperCopa Catalunya, gussied-up name aside, is still a tertiary trophy. At best. We have won 4 of 18 Copa Catalunyas. If we take it seriously …. we didn’t even count the Copa Catalunya as a near-miss in the Year of the Six Cups.
–We are a club with big ambitions, that has hopefully learned lessons from last season about player management and the value of preseason preparation.

So. Reality vs perception. Reality makes us seem arrogant. It’s unavoidable. If the club is hoisting big, giant silver in May, will anyone care? No. Because remember, it’s all about money and success.