Athletic and the black legend of Barça

The Basque team adds the third Super Cup in its history thanks to a goal by Williams and exasperates Messi, who was sent off
Athletic Bilbao players celebrate after winning the Spanish Super Cup football final between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club Bilbao at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville on 17 January 2021

AFP/RFEF/PABLO GARCIA  -   Athletic Bilbao players celebrate after winning the Spanish Super Cup football final between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club Bilbao at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville on 17 January 2021

Marcelino exited Valencia as champion of the King's Cup. He arrived at Athletic, trained for 12 days and won the Spanish Super Cup after beating Real Madrid and Barcelona. A perfect story that would be signed by any modest coach who lives with his suitcase packed.  


Gaizka Garitano restored the identity of a team whose idiosyncrasy makes it live in a rollercoaster ride that goes from avoiding relegation to playing in the Champions League. There is no specific line of work set by the signings or by the coach. The youth team is the one that supplies players to the first team. Like the wine harvests, there are better and worse teams. For the house coaches it is a success to lead Athletic, and it is a challenge for outsiders.  


The Athletic that beat Barça and unsettled Messi is the one of the past season. Marcelino had nothing to do with it. He himself has been in charge of remembering those who are not there, but they made it possible. His strategy will come later. The Basque team will have to redirect its game in the league to have peace of mind, at least in the sporting field. The Super Cup must not hide the fact that Athletic Bilbao is an internal powder keg since 2018, when Aitor Elizegi won the presidential elections. A cook before being president, Elizegi is a renowned gastronomic businessman who decided to turn his club around with Rafa Alkorta as sports director. Tensions have not stopped since he arrived at the position. Llorente's return to San Mamés was frustrated after Alkorta made the negotiation public and Elizegi denied it. In addition, the last assembly brought down all of his expectations. Internal fights augur a complicated future for the Spanish champion. 

El entrenador del Athletic Bilbao, Marcelino, con el trofeo de la Supercopa de España
RFEF/PABLO GARCÍA - Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelino with the Spanish Super Cup trophy

Barça does not play as a champion. Messi already said it and Koeman assumes it. Casualties such as Pique or Ansu Fati can be noticed in the finals. Messi's invisible injury that allowed him to celebrate New Year's Eve in Argentina caused the final in Seville to fail. Messi was missing. He was not a referent because his teammates cannot play for him. Pedri is his best partner, but he was diluted in a game which is beginning to shape his career as a footballer. Messi ended up being expelled for an aggression against Villalibre that he didn't even protest. The first one in Barça's 753 matches. The frustration of playing where he doesn't want to and seeing how the instability of Barça is prolonged because there won't be elections until March 7. As a result of games like this one and the Champions League play-off against PSG, it is possible that the decision to leave will be communicated to the new president. And it will be irrevocable.  

El entrenador del Barcelona, Ronald Koeman, observa a Antoine Griezmann en acción con Ander Capa
REUTERS/MARCELO DEL POZO - Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman watches Antoine Griezmann in action with Ander Capa

Barça's problems are defensive. They are so evident that even Marcelino will have worked on them in two video sessions. Ter Stegen wins games, but he is not infallible. In front of him was Raúl García, especially motivated after his expulsion in Valdebebas and his goals against Real Madrid. There was Williams, who has been showing for years that he is one of those few players who treats well anything well-rounded that falls at his feet. And there was Muniain who is one of those pillars that support Athletic since its birth.  

El delantero del Athletic de Bilbao Iñaki Williams (Derecha) celebra después de marcar el tercer gol del Athletic durante el partido de fútbol de la final de la Supercopa de España entre el FC Barcelona y el Athletic Club de Bilbao en el estadio de La Cartuja de Sevilla, el 17 de enero de 2021
AFP/CRISTINA QUICLER - Athletic Bilbao striker Iñaki Williams (right) celebrates after scoring Athletic's third goal during the Spanish Super Cup final football match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club de Bilbao at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville on 17 January 2021

Barça has no use for Griezmann or Dembelé. Neither of them is able to assume that role of leader, of scorer, of indispensable player. Year I after Messi may be harder than the one they are already suffering. Griezmann scored two goals in a final and lost. He has plenty of talent, but he has Messi so deep in his head that he will never break down to play. Dembelé is a running machine. Nonsense. A headless chicken. Koeman neither wants nor can tame his potential so he allows Dembelé to play to see if he gets lucky. Playing the next Champions is all that Barça should aspire to for the rest of the season.  

Asier Villalibre del Athletic Bilbao marca su segundo gol
REUTERS/MARCELO DEL POZO - Asier Villalibre of Athletic Bilbao scores his second goal

The Rubiales Super Cup is a good tournament. It has improved a lot on those two dull August games. There is not much left of the millionaire contract with Saudi Arabia. There is the promise that it will return when the pandemic is over and the public can return to the stadiums and some publicity in the empty stands of Malaga, Cordoba and Seville. To keep track of the petrodollars, the RFEF has included advertising from Aramco, a Saudi oil company; Saudia, Saudi Arabia's national airline; Quality of Life Program, a Saudi Vision 2030 program that aims to improve the individual's lifestyle in that country; and the logo of the Saudi Ministry of Sports. Not to mention the sponsorship of the Andalusian Government as European Region of Sport 2021.  

El árbitro Jesús Gil Manzano muestra una tarjeta roja a Lionel Messi, del Barcelona, el 17 de enero de 2021
REUTERS/MARCELO DEL POZO - Referee Jesús Gil Manzano shows Lionel Messi of Barcelona a red card on 17 January 2021

The 2020 Super Cup was the one that ended up with Valverde. The 2021 Super Cup will be remembered as the Empty Cartuja, Williams' goal and Messi's expulsion. On April 4, Athletic will return to the same venue to play the final of the 2020 Copa del Rey against Real Sociedad. Without an audience there will be no Cup and figures are not good.