I broke my most important sports commandment. The five commandments are as follows:
- Always root for Syracuse.
- If Syracuse is not involved, root for an Upstate New York Team.
- If not Upstate team, root for Team America.
- If not any of these, and the teams are evenly matched, root for a good game.
- In all other games (99% of them), Always Root for the Underdog.
Then along came Barca.
FC Barcelona has only two games left this season, but they are about to cap a season that some claim to be the best ever. They have won 42 games, drawn 10 times, and lost 5. They’ve won the La Liga title, and they are one win away from being crowned Champions. They are not underdogs.
I came to Barcelona via Ronaldo, the top-class striker for Real Madrid. I played Ronaldo constantly on my PES 2009 video game as he was always quick with a goal. ESPN 3 (one of the Internet’s greatest non-Netflix related gifts) was showing a match, known as El Clásico pitting Real Madrid against Barcelona.
Ronaldo was serious. The whole game. Every game I’ve seen him play in I doubt he has cracked a smile. Then along came Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. His hair was shaggy, and he always seemed to be smiling off the pitch. On the pitch, he was incredible. The whole team was incredible. Their time of possession was over 60%, passing the ball precisely, slowly working their way up the field, slowly looking for a player to break through. While Ronaldo earned a yellow card for pushing Barca coach Josep Guardiola, Barcelona routed Real Madrid 5-0. I became a fan.
I’m having a tough time reconciling my love for Barca with my total hatred for the New York Yankees (note my “upstate” commandment clause). The Yankees, for the last century, has been the dominant team in baseball. And don’t get me wrong, I idolized their heroes in my childhood. But the Yankees of the last 30 years have left me cold. It probably has a lot to do with money. They consistently have the highest paid team in the sport, grabbing superstar after superstar to puff up their chances of victory. Barca, similarly, doles out huge salaries to their superstars. But it’s, uh, different. Barca has a youth system that help condition and improve most of their superstars from a young age. Messi, Iniesta, Puyol, and Xavi were all members, and have rewarded Barca’s early investment by staying at the club. Also, Barca’s sponsor is UNICEF. The team actually pays UNICEF for the rights to have their logo on their jerseys, a rare deed (unlike some notable corrupt bargains in the news).
Or maybe it’s just I’m relatively new to association football, and thus I gravitate to the team that does the best. Or maybe I like Barca because it’s European. Or maybe I hate the Yankees because I’m jealous of their success.
Or maybe it’s how they play. Incredible. That’s how. Great plays, pristine passes (as Dick Vitale would never say “Fundamentals Baby!”) and never a dull second in a game regularly mocked for dullness. On Saturday, May 28th, Barcelona will face Manchester United in the Champions finale and I will be stressed out the whole game. Should be a close game (no, not all soccer games are close). I seriously can’t wait.
I was in a Paris shop a few weeks ago, when, for the first time in eight years, I bought sports merch. Now, quietly resting in my dresser for nine more days, is a red jersey. On the front, the FCB badge and the UNICEF logo. On the back, a #10 and the words MESSI. There’s no turning back now.
I must ad a sixth sports commandment: To root for Barca until they turn evil — next year maybe.