It’s You, Not Me: How Finding a Villain in Football is Always the Easiest Explanation

It’s You, Not Me: How Finding a Villain in Football is Always the Easiest Explanation

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” – Albert Einstein

A perfect quote to begin with – featuring a level of ambiguity similar to the topic that’s come to my mind today. How else can you address the eternal cycle of basic diagnosis shared by football (sports) fans around the world when it comes to their seasonal search for glory.

Regardless of the sport, the location, the level; the minute that something comes in the way of the collective ambition of a team’s simple – at least from a fan’s perspective – quest to achieve honor and accolades, all hell breaks loose.

The trend is instantly noticeable. Before the disbelief/concern is echoed, yet another failure makes its round eventually leading a name to be attached with the said problem. Common quotes we come across in football begin to reverberate around the lounges

“It’s that stupid player again. How can he even start.”

“How in the world is this $%#@ managing this club?”

“There is no leader!”

And it continues. The opinions of the average fan, handsomely paid pundits, and members of the media are scattered across the far ends of the universe via television, radio, or online. Masses huddle in an attempt to find answers to their misfortunes that seem as simple as sacking a manager or buying a top-notch player.

What these dedicated and passionate spirits seem to lack in knowledge during this chaotic sense of outrage is that problems teams face are in fact layer in complexities that aren’t as clear as they seem to all, or aren’t easily comprehended.

Take Luis Enrique for example. A former esteemed and well respected Barcelona player, and proven manager with Barcelona B continuing on the success of his predecessor Pep Guardiola. He secured the Segunda División. Short stints with Roma and Celta Vigo followed wherein both were met with mixed reactions by fans most of which were leaning towards obscurity.

Lucho would then follow in his friend Pep’s footsteps by accepting the opportunity to lead Barcelona whose foundations led by the not-so-popular Tiki-Taka had begun to see a decline due to its aging cornerstones. Among all that, came the imminent departure of one of the club’s most decorated players in Xavi Hernandez. Several other players had departed in the transfer windows while several were brought in. The entire structure of the club was anew with Messi being the flag beare

Like any new opportunity, it always begins with identifying challenges and overcoming those. In Lucho’s case, he had to deal with Suarez’s 4-month suspension for his moment of cannibalistic reflex on Giorgio Chiellini, Neymar was healing from a fractured vertebra, and the club was undergoing a one-year transfer ban starting in December barring them for any transfer activity throughout that time. The stakes were high, and the pieces were barely enough.

Enrique endorsed a lineup with Messi being flanked by youth academy product Munir El Haddadi and Rafinha. Yet Lucho’s men persevered. The integration of Ivan Rakitic in a midfield that went from possession play to a more direct approach was both remarkable and refreshing. It was pleasing to observe his system being quickly adapted. Suarez finally returned to the lineup to form the trio dubbed as MSN to the world forever. In his first season, Barcelona won the treble and had lost only six matches throughout it.

Surely, this would have justified instant immortalization with some sort of commemoration to symbolize the triumph of a man who beat an enormous amount of pressure. But the world as we know it would not be so kind. Enrique’s men came back to win four of six major trophies in the following season, yet headlines of his inadequacy began to surface after heavy defeats to Bilbao in the Supercopa, Celta Vigo in the La Liga (which they eventually won), and being eliminated from the Champions League quarter-finals at the hands of Atletico Madrid.

Fans and media were beginning to turn on his approach, blaming the clubs losses solely on him, and attributing the club’s triumphs to his players’ suggesting an effort in preparing against their opponents. Some sources would go on to imply of rifts between Lucho and his star player, Messi symbolically proclaiming himself as an overall leader on the football pitch.

This season, to a certain level, is not any different. Enrique, added the Supercopa as his 8th major trophy to list of titles won, is currently second in La Liga, just behind their arch nemesis, and his team has made one of the most remarkable and unforgettable comebacks in the club’s and Champions League history – coming back from four goals down to beat PSG 6-1 in the return leg. A breathtaking match that sent a euphoric shockwave across the globe regardless of the time zone.

Yet, there are a few individuals who would not attribute this triumphant “remontada” to a man that cannot be called anything but courageous – if not even genius in how he lined up his eleven men on that night. Just prior to that historical night, Lucho announced he would not seek a contract extension. Citing reason of “rest needed” from the unimaginable time that he invests in his preparations.

Enrique yet again will be following his longtime teammate’s steps in leaving the club on their own terms. The same two men who are categorized as the most successful managers in club history since 1996 when the late Johan Cruyff who departed the club with 11 titles to his name – beaten only by Pep ever since. A treble from Enrique this season would put them at equal standing.

The examples of these judgments, which do not allow objectivity within a shouting distance, are aplenty. Managers and players constantly under the belt for any misfortune a team may face throughout their seasons. It is after all the mentality of either “hunt or be hunted.” We are after all individuals who seek refuge in this crazy sport from our own complicated lives. Therefore, it is nearly a knee jerk reaction for us to not overcomplicate our thinking or reasoning.

But in times like these, football fans (myself included) should understand that the world that they know of with all its lavishness, and endless amounts of money, is as complex as ours when faced with problems in finding the right solution. The spontaneous reactions a sports fan experiences during times of rage and/or frustration can in no way be treated as a guide in dissecting the lingering or temporary issues that a team may face.

At times of high emotions, our conscious is altered with the magnitude of a heavy defeat; one which can take its toll on a fan for hours, days, months, or even years. Therefore, the easiest way to avoid accepting failure is to deny the existence of a complex set of circumstances on fate. Yes, fate.

Finding a single target and tossing ill-advised words to justify everything that is wrong on a particular individual never solves anything. Claudio Ranieri won the Premier League with Leicester as his first league title in a career that expanded over 3 decades with names Leicester would never have dreamt of playing on a European stage. As of today, Claudio is out of job.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t any problems in football that can be solved with personnel change. The most effective solutions however, have been those, which were addressed meticulously, over time (see: BVB, Atletico Madrid, and Sevilla), and with a self-reflecting clear state of consciousness.