It's been a pretty rough winter, Arsene. I get it. Sometimes things don't go according to plan. One day you wake up in Cancun with puke chunks covering the stucco walls and wonder if the party was as intense as the headache. The feeling sucks, and I don't sympathize with you.
I don't know how to connect with you at your level, but listen, man, let me tell you a story. It involves baseball, which I know isn't soccer. But hear me out, please.
I was 11 years old and on this Little League team coached by this guy named Larry. Looking back, I'm about 99% certain Larry was coaching the team because it helped fulfill some sort of community service probation terms, but still. This seminal teaching moment that will forever stick with me came early in the season, maybe a couple games in.
We had been on the end of some brutal beatings, we sucked at the plate, and we were faced looking at a long summer spend shuffling our feet in the outfield, or on the infield dirt, with our gloves on our heads, counting the minutes down till we could go home and play Nintendo. Larry, with his potbelly and mustache caked with remnants of gas station hot dogs, showed up late to this particular practice, as was the norm, but this time he came equipped with a pitching machine.
Normally, Larry tossed us batting practice; apparently, on this day, he thought he needed to do more. And did he ever. He set the pitching machine up in front of the mound, and told us we were hitting all practice long. Yes! The best! Hitting was always my favorite part of practice; working on fundamentals were for suckers (and winners). Thing is, Larry being Larry, this wasn't going to be any normal batting practice. The first kid put his helmet that was far too big for his head, grabbed his bat, and waddled up to the plate. The rest of us took the field. Larry held up the ball before placing it in the pitching machine. The kid dug into his batting stance and awaited the pitch.
Swear to God, that crazy bastard Larry must have had the pitching machine set to 100. The kid's swing was about five seconds late. The ball nearly embedded itself into the chain-link backstop. The noise the ball made as it torpedoed through the air was audible in the outfield. We played on smaller fields back then, so the distance between the machine and the plate couldn't have been more than 30-40 feet, which made the pitch seem even faster than it was. Larry held up another ball. And the same thing happened again. Over and over, kid after kid, hack after hack.
Until the breakthrough occurred.
After what felt like a couple hundred swings and misses, this one skinny kid - probably with his eyes closed - made contact with one of Larry's fastballs. It sailed about 50 feet foul, into the parking lot, but where it went didn't matter. The foul ball felt like a home run to us all. It gave us the belief that we could do something we'd never thought possible just an hour prior. And slowly, each one of us scrawny, disbelieving kids made contact with one of these baseball missiles. I can't really remember how we finished the season, but I know that none of kids were ever afraid of the ball again.
All of this is to say, Arsene, please play the damn kids at Barcelona. Yes, they're going to get annihilated. Yes, it won't be a fair fight if they start a strong squad. But let those kids play at a level they never thought possible at such a young age. Let JEFF find out what it's like to face Lionel Messi, to get shook by Neymar. Let Polish Michael Cera feel Luis Suarez's teeth dig deeply into his shoulder. I know you like to give the kids a glimpse of the bright lights by giving them run in shit competitions at an early age, but you went out this summer and fall and picked up some incredible talent that look to be future first-team players. Show them what their future looks like now.
I don't expect this to be a regular thing. But with the way our squad is sorely hurting, the league being a much-bigger priority at the moment, and faced with a 2-0 deficit heading into Nou Camp, this might be the time when you take the kids on a Spanish adventure. So grab your proverbial pitching machine and set it to Aroldis Chapman levels, Arsene.
Do it for the kids.