hat will become of us now, The People Who Couldn’t Enjoy It? The people who almost wanted the flag to go up on Sergi Roberto, but who knew that it was never more certain that a flag would stay down, asks Larry Ryan
At this time of profound existential crisis, how can we ever again get in touch with what we have lost?
If you are sat, shaking your head, while a career pragmatist like Michael Owen is galloping giddily around a TV studio, is it time to wonder if there is anything left in sport for you at all?
In fairness, the week gave us much. The miracle of the Camp Nou truly united the world in rapt attention for the first time since the Racing 92 v Saracens Champions Cup final last May. Sorry, no, dreamt that.
It gave us a fresh, emerging force in the great game, men who have finally grown tired of suppressing their powers and decided to let it go, not to hold it back anymore.
We may not know what to call them. We may not be sure if it was the fifth official or the sixth official who made the big calls at the Emirates and the Nou Camp. But finally, these guys have waved their little wands and magicked themselves onto centre stage.
Even if we may soon hear one of them quote George W Bush: “I have opinions of my own, strong opinions, but I don’t always agree with them.”
Maybe, too, the scale of Barcelona’s achievement in seven minutes shall encourage football men to ask themselves what exactly they are doing with their time, to recalibrate what might be possible over that long expanse of 90 available to them.
Like those showoffs who study two degrees at the same time and learn Chinese on the side, men like Messi and Ronaldo have long torn up old notions that one in two is a decent return for a frontman.
So might we also be due a return to the regular 7-4s and 6-3s of yesteryear?
The night also gave us that Neymar cameo to savour, seven minutes of defiance and brilliance and composure; a perfect abstract of his talent.
And it gave us controvassy, which is where some of us parted ways with the celebrants.
Not that all of The People Who Didn’t Enjoy It were moralising about cheating and dark arts.
All is relatively fair in love and the penalty area and there is much to enjoy in the ingenuity of the great contemporary divers, even it was a pair of common-or-garden collapses that were rewarded at the Nou Camp; a Vardian deviation into Meunier’s plunge by Neymar and a chocolate legs buckle by Suarez under Marquinhos’s heavy breathing.
But the range and ingenuity of Suarez’s simulation is a delight, notably that lovely little hitch kick, turned salchow, turned nosedive in the second half that deserved better.
Robert Lewandowski did get his due, the night before, for another genuine piece of innovation, a magnificent addition to the cannon; levering himself to the ground off his own push.
No, The People Who Didn’t Enjoy It on Wednesday night were not necessarily outraged at the shenanigans, perhaps just subdued by a sense of inevitability.
Maybe their minds wandered to the passage in Howard Webb’s book, where he recalls booking Leo Messi for diving and sending Pep Guardiola to the stand.
“Suffice to say that I didn’t make many amigos in Barcelona that night; in fact, I was never asked to officiate at the Nou Camp again.”
Or the line about Howard’s big break at the Bernabeu. “Take your chance,” the Uefa official told him. “I think the implication was, we’ve given you this opportunity, ref; don’t mess it up.”
It is no small task for an official to break into the circle trusted with the elite’s ties. Even trickier to stay there. On Deniz Aytekin’s first knock-out Champions League visit to the Nou Camp, there was only so many times you could expect him to say “no, get up”.
So, when Di Maria when through, he wasn’t sure, and when Suarez went down, he was sure enough. And those moments turned Neymar’s consolation free-kick into something very different.
It has seen the ranks of The People Who Didn’t Enjoy It swollen by some former romantics.
“Last night’s fightback has shown the importance of two main factors of these kind of games, it’s the referee and very big players,” said Arsene Wenger, the morning after, a man who once saw Robin van Persie sent off at the Nou Camp for kicking the ball into the goal.
Others, the morning after, may have found some compensation for the innocence we have lost in the words of Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, a year ago, outlining his Dr Evil-style plans to earn the club ‘one billion dollars’ in revenue.
“We want to develop in a way that not everything hangs on victories or defeats,” pledged Bartomeu.
On Wednesday night, the richest footballers in the world, all suitably insured against the vagaries of victory and defeat, were demented in their pursuit of victory and paralysed by fear of defeat. That’s where the glory could be found, in how much it meant.
“They do the best they can, maybe they could have done some more,” said Bartomeu, the morning after, of the match officials, trying to maintain the win some, lose some vibe.
But his players were prepared to do whatever it takes.
Wednesday suggested that the emergence of a new leader at the Camp Nou.
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