When you are told over and over again that something is impossible you absorb it. When everyone is telling you that that the current is too strong, your fear of being towed away grows and your spirits sink. That player looks too fluid to keep track of; their feet too fast; their shot too strong.
F.C. Barcelona have been touted for a long time and many believe that even if you stacked a best-of-the-rest World XI against them, they would still pass and surge around it, tapping their way to glory.
How do you beat the specter of greatness? How do you stop a legend?
We were conditioned in the same way by Tiger Woods. We had a field more varied and vast than ever before but at the head was a lone subject, seemingly unbeatable and able to decimate the optimism of competitors just by mere mention.
It took a mighty fall and a stark realization of just how human Tiger was before everyone snapped out of it and went on the attack. Even as he was trying to strut out with usual braggadocio the field was closing in, confident of their own abilities.
Could similar cracks be showing for Barça?
Last night Real Madrid pulled 7 points clear of them at the top of Spain’s La Liga.
Everyone got caught up in El Clasico midweek, distracted by another Barcelona aggregate win and the supposed lamentations of Jose Mourinho, who just can’t seem to better the bitterest of rivals at their beloved Camp Nou. People even got caught up in the wailings of Mourinho claiming he will quit Real at the end of this season whilst papers printed stories of senior players like Casillas and Sergio Ramos moaning about their coach’s lack of actual soccer experience.
This is a familiar feint from the Portuguese manager.
In 2007, whilst at Chelsea, Mourinho claimed he would quit. He stayed on with great success and signed a new contract. He may not do the same at Real but he certainly wants his opponents to think there is unrest at the Bernabéu. It would also be no small wonder if he had asked his players to publicly criticize him.
Real are on the charge in the league, they are scoring freely and the Champions League is sitting waiting for them as well. They have probably never been tighter as a group.
Meanwhile their Catalonian enemies are flailing and stuttering in the league, digging out draws and failing to lead lesser opposition. Yesterday they drew 0-0 with Villareal as Madrid thumped Real Zaragoza after Ronaldo and Ozil scored quick second half goals. Yesterday Barcelona threw away points.
Valencia in third cannot possibly challenge these two great competitors and it will certainly come down to how Barcelona recover. They need to become more ruthless, because the way Real Madrid tried to damage and slow Barcelona has allowed other teams to see the way to points against them. Once Mourinho let slip with Pepe, fouling, stamping, play acting and jostling his way through a frustrated Barcelona midfield you knew that Barcelona could be got at.
Villareal pulled off a glorious 0-0 yesterday by grace of seven yellow cards. Seven. They clattered into Barça and suffered no repercussions. Away from home especially, this has been the case as Barcelona have drawn a whopping five times away from Camp Nou. They are toothless on the road, right now.
Expect Osasuna to adopt similar tactics on the 11th of February. By then if Real Madrid beat high flying Levante, boosting their confidence further, they could be 10 points clear.
Thankfully for Pep Guardiola his team are still killers in the Champions League. For now.
They restart their campaign in mid February against a Bayer Leverkusen that smashed aside Chelsea in qualifying. They will have to work for their progression. After climbing through an El Clasico Copa Del Rey victory, however, and stretching out behind Real they may find war on three fronts creates too many casualties. Particularly if teams keep fouling them out of points.
Expect more chatter to come from Real Madrid as Barcelona pull together. Do they have the resolve to weather the storm and the stamina to keep bailing out as they leak points?