Sunday, March 11, 2007

Thoughts on Soccer, and Puyol

The end of Andrew’s MBA program is approaching, which means an escalation in activities, dinners, parties, and other events. This weekend, MBA students from several other business schools came to Barcelona for a series of parties and team sporting events, leading to a lot of late nights and a few rather interesting spectacles. For example, the students from a school based outside Paris wore black berets the whole weekend. And at the sporting events on Friday, a big London wealth management firm had a presence at the site. “Are they still looking for new people?” Andrew asked a friend. “No,” he was told. “They’re here to offer their services.” In other words, it's MBA graduation time.

Last night, a local club hosted a party for the MBAs. However, informed that no one would come because there was a big Barcelona—Real Madrid soccer match on, the club set up two huge screens and everyone showed up right on time—10pm—to settle in for the game. And it was a great game, each side scoring fast, with Madrid finally up by one when there was just a minute left. Somehow, Barcelona managed to score at the very last second, with their nineteen-year-old prodigy player scoring his third goal of the game to tie up the match 3-3.

I still don’t know all the intricacies of soccer rules, trivia, and rivalries, but I do love watching it—the first time I’ve ever liked watching a sport. There are a lot of reasons why; but mainly, this season, it’s Puyol. Puyol is a Catalan player with a dynamic, leonine mane of curly hair who plays with such fiery passion that it’s clear he would die—or kill—for the team. He does nothing halfway. Each move he makes is extreme; he feels every second of the game—of life—in his very soul. The expression on his face at all times is one of deep, immeasurable intensity. I’ve never seen him smile; indeed, I doubt Puyol has ever smiled, and I have a very clear image in my head of Puyol as a small child, prone to inconsolable crying jags and fits of outrage, gazing out at the world with a permanent look of defiance, challenge, and even menace. He embodies all that is Catalan—the larger-than-life attitude, the unrelenting intensity, that seem to me to characterize Barcelona itself.

Each time I see Puyol on screen, I laugh, imagining his navigating life off the field. Puyol seems to have no modulation in the intensity of his reactions. I can see him confronting day-to-day tribulations—getting the wrong change from a taxi driver, missing a bus, finding that the grocery store has run out of milk—with the same extreme fervor that he exhibits during matches. I cannot imagine what it would be like to date or be married to Puyol. I’m sure every moment would be dramatic.

I like other players too. Last year, my favorite was Ronaldinho, because of his calm grace and his unrelenting smile. This year, I also like Messi, the nineteen-year-old player from Argentina. He is such a good player; yet he always looks like he’s just rolled off the couch, and is on his way back to another nap. He has a slightly rumpled nineteen-year-old’s look, like he would have arguments with his mother about cleaning his room.

The club was full of MBAs, their partners, and other hangers-on, and everyone watched the entire game intently no matter where in the world they were from. I overheard an American remarking during the game, “People in the U.S. would think it was weird to set up screens in a club to watch football. But here, for soccer, it’s normal.” It’s just one of a long, long list of reasons why Andrew and I feel so dreadful when we acknowledge that our time in Spain may be coming to an end in the next few months. There are so many reasons why we don’t want to leave. Puyol and the rest of FC Barcelona are the least of them.

No comments: