One grey-haired Zubiza wipes a tear with the tip of his glove – quite lovely gloves too – and mutters, “If dear Cruyff were only here.” The pair of beady eyes at his side turn on him sharply. “What’s that Zubiza?”
“Nothing sir, I said if my dead wife were only –”
“Quit moping Zubiza, we’ve got my personal agenda to attend to.”
A flare lights up outside the window and a voice yells, “LONG LIVE CRUYFF!” Zubiza watches as ten guards built like barrels promptly body slam into the protestor and drag him off.
“If they’re so lovelorn after him they can join him in banishment,” RoSell says cheerfully, slurping up a spoonful of blood-red jam.
“DOWN WITH ROSELL THE IMPOSTER!” someone yells outside the window. Zubiza listens to the thud-thud-thud of bodies as RoSell cackles and licks his spoon.
When Zubiza meets with the army generals later they’re all unsettled. “Zubiza, did Cruyff really deserve to be banished?” asks Lucho, commander of the B squad soldiers in training, looking sad.
“Zubiza, RoSell in charge doesn’t sit well with me at all,” says Pep, leader of the head army, looking angry.
“Zubiza, I’m worried about his interference with our armies,” says Tito, Pep’s second-in-command, looking tired.
Zubiza sighs. “Gentlemen, please. We’re at war and the Merengue’s new general is really nasty. I can’t have you distracted. Take care of our soldiers and let me worry about RoSell.”
The generals heed him gruffly and Zubiza wishes he knew what to do.
On a restless night there is a faint knock at Zubiza’s door and he approaches it cautiously. “Who’s there?” he demands in a loud whisper.
“I used to rule the world, seas would rise when I gave the word,” comes a distantly familiar voice. Zubiza’s heart takes off, racing in his chest, and he swings the door open. “Cruyff!”
“Don’t let anyone hear you say that,” Cruyff says, throwing back his hood, “I hear it’s akin to a swear word around here. Now let me in quick.”
They talk and drink and even laugh a bit like old times, but a dark cloud hangs over them and Cruyff has not snuck back into the city merely to make merry with an old friend. “Tell me Zubiza, is it true? Is RoSell no longer allowing immigrants into the city?”
“Barca used to be a beacon for all those searching for a place to belong; I’m afraid he’s closed it off now, yes,” Zubiza says sadly.
“But he doesn’t hesitate to bring in foreign soldiers, how is that?”
“They are a means for military success, they are an exception.” Zubiza shrugs, hardly understanding it himself.
“But surely the B squad men coming through our ranks are more than capable? We’ve reared them for this for years and Lucho trains them so well.”
“RoSell hasn’t much regard for them, and they are getting fewer and fewer calls to the head army. Lucho is frustrated – I fear he may resign his position.”
“Oh, Zubiza. How did we let this happen?”
They exchange sad looks, and then Cruyff steals away.
When Lucho resigns, RoSell’s cackling seems louder than ever. “About time too! He and his little B squad. What a pest.”
“But sir, we count on the B squad. Who will train them now?”
“Don’t you worry your grey head Zubiza, I’ve got a man who’ll do for the job and make no fuss. It’s not like the B squad are a priority, anyway.”
When Zubiza next meets with the head army generals they’re both upset. “Zubiza, this Eusebio is a joke. The B squad are hardly developing under him,” Pep says, still looking angry.
“And for the love of Cruyff, why are our soldiers wearing jam sponsors on their armor now?” Tito asks, still looking tired.
“I’m suspicious about that jam,” Pep adds, crossing his arms. “It’s... unnatural. And way too red.”
Zubiza shakes his head and walks past them both, rubbing his temples.
When Pep resigns, RoSell is infuriated. “That arrogant twit! Who does he think he is, walking out on me? Zubiza, where am I going to find someone to replace him?”
“I don’t know, sir,” Zubiza says miserably. “I mean, I think Tito capable but after that scare with his illness – ”
“Tito! Of course!” RoSell settles back into his seat and digs into a fresh jar of jam. “Oh, it’ll be perfect.”
“Well, sir, hadn’t we better see that he’s up to it?”
“Shush now Zubiza, of course he’s up to it. Now go and take these – uh – tax announcements – to the local news crier.”
When Tito falls ill again Zubiza is at a complete loss. “I don’t know where we’re going to find a replacement,” he moans.
“Replacement? Ha!” RoSell takes a gleeful slurp of jam and wags his spoon at ZubiZa. “So he’s laid up in bed, who cares? Roura will report to him and he can still give orders.” He licks some jam off the rim of the jar and grins. “Pep gone and now this. No more generals getting all up in my face about things. Oh, it’s perfect.”
“Sir, Roura is not prepared – ”
“Bah! Roura’s fine.”
“The soldiers won’t – ”
“I’ll talk to the soldiers. Now hush your mouth and go take these – uh – updated immigrant regulations – to the local news crier.”
“… and though dear Tito is laid up in bed and can’t possibly be able to run things properly or be anywhere near as involved as a proper general should, who are we to turn against him in finding a replacement? Tito needs our support right now and we trust him to lead us to success, no matter how ill he may be. This is a sign of our devotion to him. Isn’t that right?”
“The nerve of that man! I tell you Zubiza, some people just have no sense of respect.”
“Sir, it was only natural Pep would take up a post somewhere else.”
“Well he’s gone and made himself our enemy!”
“We have no quarrel with – ”
“And have you been hearing all those stories about him? Why, it doesn’t seem like he’s the man we knew at all.”
“Surely you can’t believe – ”
“He’s just Cruyff all over again, isn’t he? Such a shame. Now then Zubiza, go and take these – these – uh – jam advertisements – down to the local news crier.”
Zubiza can’t quite believe his ears when Pep speaks against RoSell in public. At first he’s just defending himself against all the stories that have been circulating about him, which Zubiza had always found fishy, but when Pep suggests that RoSell is behind planting the stories Zubiza is flabbergasted.
“If he wants to say something about me let him show his face and say it, and not hide behind anonymous news tips,” Pep says firmly. “There have been many things, and things I can forget, but using the health of my friend Tito against me? That’s just low. They said I never visited Tito when he was sick but I did, and if I didn’t see him more it was because I was kept from doing so.” He pauses, and yawns. “Look, I really don’t get why RoSell is so obsessed with me, or threatened or whatever. But he needs to get over himself and focus on his own people and leave me to do my job here. All I ever asked of him was to leave me alone.”
“LIES!” RoSell squawks, hurling a jam jar in Zubiza’s general direction. “LIES AND DECEPTION, EVEN!” Zubiza sidesteps the jar and scratches his head nervously. “There, uh, there’s actually more, sir.”
“What MORE could there BE?” RoSell bellows.
“He – Pep – uh – expressed a desire in drafting one of our soldiers, sir. Thiago is one of our brightest young men – ”
“Never heard of him.”
“Well, he was promoted from the B squad when – ”
“AGAIN with the B squad!”
“Sir, the situation is a bit dire. The B squad men are frustrated that they’re barely getting called into action. Several have already left. Three have joined up with the army Lucho’s taken charge of down in Vigo.”
“When the heck did Lucho take an army in Vigo?”
“And Thiago, he’s also frustrated at not being called into action and now I’m afraid the chance to go and serve under Pep will entice him away. I feel guilty about this myself, I should have paid more attention to the terms of his service when we agreed t – ”
“Am I supposed to be losing sleep over this?”
“Well, I – sir, I firmly believe Thiago is crucial for the future of – ”
“Good riddance is what I say. Bloody B squad.”
The negative stories about Pep don’t stop, and just when Zubiza feels like he’s about to strangle the local news crier, RoSell decides to come out in public and respond to Pep.
“Lies, you know. Deception, even. I honestly don’t understand, after all I’ve done for Pep? I’m like his biggest fan. Pepisme, that’s my motto. Cruyffisme, even. Although Cruyff is a doorknob and I hate him. Frankly, I am hurt – in my heart – that he would accuse me that way. And then he went and poached one of my soldiers. Thiagoisme – no wait. Look, what I’m saying is, Pep is a liarpants and RoSellisme is what it’s all about.”
The two things Zubiza hates the most about the war going on between Pep and RoSell are that it’s distracting people from the actual war they have at hand, with the Merengues making all kinds of radical improvements to their own army, and that Tito is caught in the middle of it. His worst fears concerning the latter are realized when RoSell decides to put Tito in front of a crowd.
“Look, sir, Pep is my friend of over twenty years and I’d rather not do this.”
“Look, Tito, you went and got sick on me and I stayed devoted to you. Devotedisme! No wait. Uh, jam?” RoSell holds the jar out to Tito.
“No thank you.”
“The point, Titoisme, is that you do what I tell you. I’m always righter than you anyway. Just like I was right about getting rid of that annoying soldier who kept getting sick – what was his name?”
“Abidalisme,” Zubiza mutters to himself.
“Anyway,” RoSell says, taking hold of Tito and steering him to the door, “time to make papa proud.”
“Um yes, Pep’s words surprised me and – yeah, I don’t know why he didn’t come to see me, he’s – but Pep is my friend and I – what? What the heck is Thiagoisme? Look, if one more person says the word ‘isme’ I’m going to kick them. Can we just focus on our soldiers and this war?”
Somewhere distant, a soldier treks alone through field and wood until he reaches the high walls of a city, not unlike the one from which he came, although this one doesn’t seem to have the same darkness hanging about it. And there at the gate is a familiar face, one he’s not seen in a long while.
“Ah, Estiarte!” It is none other than Pep’s right-hand man, there to greet him just like old times. “Thiago, welcome,” Estiarte says warmly. “We have been eager for your arrival. Pep is waiting, and we’re going to go to dinner with Cruyff.”
Thiago feels the smile spread across his face and everything feels better already, despite the twinge of sadness that comes when he glances back at the horizon and what he left behind.
My sincere apologies to Zubizaretta and his wife, who is in fact very much alive. Here are some notes on some of the real-life things the story references, hopefully you will have picked up on most of them:
1. RoSell’s first act after being elected president was to strip Cruyff of the honorary title that had been awarded to him by the club during Laporta’s presidency.
2. Cruyff’s “banishment” references the above as well as the impression we’ve gotten that RoSell doesn’t like anyone from the club associating with him; Estiarte’s last line is also a direct nod to a line from Pep’s ‘Just leave me alone’ presser: “If I want to have dinner with Cruyff then I’m going to have dinner with Cruyff.”
3. Manel Estiarte, for those who don’t know him, is indeed Pep’s right-hand man, did indeed follow him to Bayern, and was indeed the one to greet Thiago at the airport in Munich.
4. The line by which Zubiza recognizes Cruyff is the first line from Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, from which the title of this story also comes. Best known as one of Pep’s favorite songs, I feel that it well reflects the mood of the current situation.
5. RoSell closing off the city to immigrants is of course, a metaphor for setting restrictions against non-Catalans becoming Barca socis, while having no qualms over bringing in more and more foreign “soldiers” or players, while youth players get disregarded.
6. Lucho aka Luis Enrique, Barca’s former B team coach, has recently become coach of Spanish club Celta Vigo and his team includes former Barca B players play Fontas and Nolito as well as Barca B’s Rafinha on loan.
7. You’ll have heard RoSell’s recent Barca TV interview; he blathered about “ismes” among other things and the next day Tito said in his presser that the only “isme” he wanted to hear about was Barcelonisme.
So how about we all just listen to Tito now...