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Panic at the Nou Camp

Thursday 20th February 2020
Rational thinkers: Lionel Messi can do other things besides score. Social media: OMG! Messi is washed up!!
Rational thinkers: Lionel Messi can do other things besides score. Social media: OMG! Messi is washed up!!

Cartoon by Dmitry Abramov

I don’t speak Catalan but I can imagine the voice calling out over the Camp Nou public address system, attempting to sound confident while fear creeps in at the edges.

[Translated] Alright people, please proceed to the exits in an orderly fashion, two-by-two. Gentlemen, please make way for women and children. Walk calmly. Do not run. There is no need to panic. I repeat; there is no need to panic!

No fire, no earthquake, hurricane or other impending disaster bears down on Catalonia but there is mass hysteria nevertheless. Lionel Messi, a god among men, has not scored in La Liga for four games. The streak extends to five when you add the Copa del Rey defeat to Athletic Bilbao. It’s Casey at the Bat all over again. “There is no joy in Mudville.” Surely the end times are here.

Oh, no. Not you too. Relax. Sit back. Take a deep breath. Can I get you something? Some hot tea? A cold towel for your forehead?

Seriously, the level of concern raised in print and social media is ridiculous. The six-time Ballon d’Or winner went from ageless to a 32-year-old past his sell-by date virtually overnight.

It began with the 2-0 defeat at Mestalla. Barcelona were last beaten at that fortress in 2007. Messi played the full 90 but fingers pointed at new manager Quique Setien who admitted the squad struggled to interpret his tactics. “Evidentment!” Cules sneered, wondering how they had been duped by club president Josep Maria Bartomeu into believing a former Real Betis coach without a single trophy to his name could restore the club ethos. “Més que un club, el meu cul.”

Normalcy appeared to resume in the following three matches. Barca won them all. Levante fell 2-1 at the Camp Nou. Quique then returned home with his new club to defeat the old. Real Betis put up a fight but were beaten two goals to three regardless. Finally, it was back to the homestead to dust off upstarts Getafe 2-1.

Initially, fans were concerned the Blaugrana couldn’t keep a clean sheet any better than a Malibu housekeeper caught in a mudslide. Barcelona aren’t Atletico Madrid but six goals shipped in four matches is poor even by FCB standards. Nor was Setien hired to firm up the rearguard. At least they’d scored seven in the last three themselves. Then someone noticed Messi’s name missing from the goal list and sounded the alarm.

Déu meu! A Messi goal drought couldn’t possibly occur now. It’s the worst time. Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele are lost for the season. Antoine Griezmann logs a meagre [by FCB standards] 13 goals in his 33 Barcelona matches to date. Everyone knows the Frenchman and Argentine don’t see eye to eye for reasons beyond the former’s two-inch height advantage. Antoine is not passing to Leo and vice versa. Through ten matches in 2020, Barca failed to defeat any opponent other than lowly Leganes by more than a single goal, apparently dropping valuable bonus points in the table along the way. The attack is obviously in disarray. Falling to pieces. Broken beyond repair. Apologies but Google Translate doesn’t provide a Catalan equivalent for shambolic.

Ignored in the general panic, these two professionals who apparently cannot separate personal feelings from the business at hand connected in sublime fashion for the second goal against Getafe. Messi’s inch-perfect pass left Griezmann with nothing to do but score. The goal ended a two-week dry spell for the French international which followed a Messi-anic four goals in three January cup games.

Also unnoticed are five other assists Il Maestro contributed during the four-game stretch in which he refrains from embarrassing goalkeepers himself. Who knows? Perhaps he underlines his anger with sporting director Eric Abidal’s comments that the squad quit on former boss Ernesto Valverde. By spreading the wealth, El Capità effectively demonstrates how committed everyone is to the cause.

While Google Translate occasionally struggles, the search engine happily churns out endless opinions on how Barcelona relies too much on Messi, then just as many on how desperate they are for his drought to end. Yet, when he failed to create an assist for a teammate in the previous four Liga contests, no one clasped hands over mouth, shocked to witness reality coming apart at the seams. He scored twice; all was well with the world. Apparently, Messi directly involving himself in two goals rather than six is preferable to the mathematicians in a certain autonomous region of Spain. Clearly, my mistake was thinking it would be the one which housed Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.

Please proceed to the exits in an orderly fashion.

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Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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