Culture Magazine

Ghostly Vignettes (Bayer Lev. 1-3 Barca)

By Sgulizia @catch22soccer

Ghostly Vignettes (Bayer Lev. 1-3 Barca)

The burghers of Leverkusen found themselves stranded in Guardiola’s labyrinth, incurably experimental and almost frivolous, like the character of this winter illustration. At rare intervals in a series of years a German team meets Barcelona during the knock-out stages of the Champions League, and inevitably looses itself into this 19th-century maison hantée of football, these implacable disturbers of peace. It’s as if a dentist from Westphalia went to see a production of the opera Lulu only to discover that the work is scored exclusively for a small ensemble of horns and reeds; it’s as if modern soccer had begun to study the features and muscles of life as though it were necessary to cut open an old cadaver or to hang out a dusty carpet and give it a good whacking. The damage the Catalans do is cumulative; a few goals, and the morning after, normality returns. Once the rousing surprise of their appearance warns off, they are cabaret turns, trifles rather than genuinely disturbing tales. And yet—partly because there is no first-person narrator—there is a genuine worrying quality to Barcelona, an ambiguity for which the word ‘haunting’ fits.

The OED derives ‘haunt’ from the French ‘hanter’, which is said to be of uncertain origin. But etymology aside haunting is a matter of habit; frequency is of its essence. The ghostly connection comes after. Look at Sanchez outrunning Fabregas while chasing the same ball: it’s at least as old as Shakespeare’s Richard II, when he tells us that kings are “haunted by the ghosts they have deposed”. I should note that Bayer Leverkusen’s strenuous display (in truth they should have equalized with Castro, or nearly so) brought football into some dark, sensuous, austere places from which it’s hard to emerge unscathed. Real ghosts, like Messi, who throughout the night was in brilliant form and played with an almost childish curiosity, are always irresponsible. They don’t go away when they are told to. This is why they are best kept out of the burgher’s lodge. ♦

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