Pride and entitlement. Fans and belief. Football exceptionalism. Arrogance. It’s a bit of a tricky thing, trying to sort out just where the line is between fair and obnoxious; between what’s reasonable and what’s needlessly tribal. Ask any Tottenham fan, say, and they would point to the pride and entitlement and even arrogance of Liverpool fans as exhibit one as to why they aren’t much fond of that club up north. Ask any Liverpool fan and it’s not so much about pride but rather history and belief—and, more than that, that it’s been fully earned.
Move on from Tottenham to ask any Southampton fan, then. Pride and entitlement would surely come up again. Anger at the way Liverpool, even when struggling on the fringes of Europe, would return again and again expecting to get their next target. How Liverpool fans acted each time like it was a foregone conclusion. A belief even, perhaps, that Reds fans were acting rather like Saints should feel privileged; that sending a player up football’s food chain showed what a good job they were doing—in a class beneath Liverpool.
Which brings us, in a rather roundabout way, to Barcelona. Because, if you ask Liverpool fans, Barcelona are a prideful bunch. They’re entitled. Arrogant. They believe they’re better than everybody else. And their fans would say, well, we’ve earned it. And they’d be right. Just as Liverpool’s return to global prominence under Jürgen Klopp—outpacing Spurs almost casually—shows that belief in Liverpool as European giants was justified and that the club really are that big and meaningful and important, so too is Barcelona’s belief earned.
It’s been earned both on and off the pitch, Cruyff’s legacy shined and polished into its current lustrous form by Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi, the game’s current greatest manager and its greatest player of all time who got together to lead arguably the greatest club side the game has ever seen—built, most impressively of all perhaps, on a foundation of club trained stars. Barcelona fans believe they are the best because, in the context of 21st century football, they quite simply are the best.
And just as Liverpool as a club matter more than just for what they do on the pitch, Barcelona as a club matter for what they have meant to their city and to Catalonia historically. They matter as a symbol of resistance to decades of oppression, as an avatar for an entire region—a county, a people—to pour their last defiance into when their language and culture were under attack and when the street signs and bullet holes around the city served as very public reminders of the powers they were up against.
So yes, Barcelona—as a club, as fans—are arrogant. They’re prideful and entitled. They’ve also earned it to such a degree that I, at least, cannot hate them for it. They’re a club that matter and that aspire to a style of football that is, quite simply, good. Or at least they did. They used to. These days, at times, it’s hard to see where that Barcelona is any more, and it’s easier than ever to see the arrogant, prideful, entitled fans whose only interest in and connection to the club is that, well, they win a lot. The latecomers and glory hunters.
It can certainly rankle when this new generation of Barcelona fans—of Messi FC fans—not all that dissimilar from those who clung to Galactico-era Madrid puff out their chests. It feels plastic and unearned, an extension of a present marred increasingly by shady dealings and questionable sponsorships and political maneuvering, rather than in anything organic. Yet, unlike with a club like Manchester City, even the distasteful elements have in their way been earned through that honest history, through that on the pitch success.
They’re the sort of elements that will begin to cling to Liverpool, too—that perhaps already are in places if one goes looking—if the club have the kind of sustained success that seems within their grasp now under Klopp. So I don’t hate them for it. Can’t hate them for it. Not really. At least not Barcelona as an ideal or all the supporters of theirs I’ve brushed past over the years who have seemed fundamentally decent people with a deep connection to what their institution has for so long stood for both off and on the pitch.
Barcelona have earned their moment; have more than earned some measure of pride and entitlement. They’re still in the midst of their glory years, still arguably the best and most successful club this century, even if they’re faded somewhat from their absolute peak. They deserve to be where they are, even if as somebody who supports another football club and has a fondness for all the things Barcelona has historically stood for I don’t necessarily love where they are, in its entirety, right now.
So perhaps I don’t entirely recognise the Barcelona that exists in my memory in the club as it exists today, but I do still remember it, and even if I believe Liverpool owe them a measure of comeuppance for their pride and entitlement—pride and entitlement we have been on the receiving end of just as Spurs and Southampton have been on the receiving end of ours—I can’t hate them for it. For all they were and are and have achieved, if they beat Liverpool over two legs, I’ll want to see them bring home a sixth European cup.
Especially if it’s against Tottenham. Probably even if it’s against Ajax. Because they are giants. They’ve more than earned their place at the top of the game. Their belief in playing football the right way is unmatched. As a club, their meaning to the city they represent and the Catalan people is undeniable. They still have the game’s best ever player. And so many of their fans have been with them all along and will be there even if—or when—they stumble. They’ve earned their pride.