Thursday, April 14, 2011

El Cuatro

El Gran Clasico x 4
The uninitiated can have a quick look-in into this article which explains the basic concept of the mother of all matches; known simply as El Clasico – The Classic. Every single one of them has been a case of heart break for either one sect of fans, or both. And we’re at that point in time when we’ll watch four of these matches in a gap of four weeks. El Cuatro – The Four. The Four Matches, played by the same two teams, with the same set of players in different competition; truly a smorgasbord of footballing talent, excitement, heartache (cardiac arrest in some cases), passion and tears.

The tale of the blood spilling (quite literally) rivalry goes long back; way back in fact. If history interests you, you can read a surprisingly unbiased piece done by a friend of mine, Kaushik, at The Real Offside. What interests this blog though, is the amount of ego massaging the two clubs are upto these days, backed up by their media stooges in their respective cities. Media in Spain, and more so in Catalunya, have already gone apeshit labeling the upcoming four matches as Cantera vs Cartera (The Youth Academy vs The Moneybags). If you ask APTW, you’re more likely to get a dismissive wave of hand with an engaging smile to boot. Barca have been no strangers to spending in the last few years as Sid Lowe justly pointed out in one of his articles. All in all the blog feels that this is yet another attempt funded discreetly by the Barca marketing machine to ante up its Holier than Thou, self-important image. The “More Than A Club” adage only serves to beef up this understanding as far as the blog is concerned given the fact that Real Madrid too has a successful basket ball team in addition to a football team, has got almost the same number of footballing institutions, foundations and academies around the world as Barca does, a deal with UNICEF amongst other charitable organizations and more number of players from their youth academy playing in the Primera (obviously not for Real Madrid). But Real Madrid are no saints either. In fact, they with their imperious attitude have been at this game longer than Barcelona; who while Franco lived, were truly downtrodden. Image is very important to Real Madrid and the club’s well oiled marketing machine takes utmost care to caress this image and seeks to enforce it upon an unwary football fan. This is where a coach like Jose Mourinho is a maverick to a club like Real Madrid. Jose Mourinho’s image is based upon the Bling, creating an aura around the team that makes its fans love it and others hate it. This is very much in contrast to what the club endeavors to do and to be truthful, Mourinho hasn’t really enjoyed full support at Real Madrid as his recently publicized bust up with Jorge Valdno testifies. He was brought on for a sole reason; to win trophies AND to win against Barcelona. At this moment, both objectives are not at all mutually exclusive. If Mourinho is to win any tournament with Real Madrid this season, he has to defeat Barcelona. Barcelona stands in his way in the league (albeit an “objectively impossible” league as he himself admitted a couple of weeks ago), Barcelona stands in his way if he’s to win the Copa Del Rey and Barcelona stands in his way if he is to make the finals of the UEFA Champions League. As much as Mourinho tried to dismiss it after the first clasico in November quoting that he was not signed to defeat Barcelona, it seems to be his only destiny; the reason why he was hired in the first place making him the most expensive coach in the world: To defeat Barcelona. Which is why there is reason for Madridistas all over the world to worry, given how the match panned out when Madrid last faced Barcelona at the Camp Nou: getting an almighty ass thumping in the process and five little fingers or El Manita as they call it in Spain – 5 goals; one for each finger. It was, through Mourinho’s own admission, the worst defeat in his entire career. But it wasn’t just the Manita for Madridistas; it was a Manita of victories with the final fifth victory served up in a humiliating 0-5 scoreline. The only thing why it wasn’t perfect was that it was Real Madrid’s fourth coach (and not the fifth) who took the fifth loss with the 0-5 scoreline.

Cantera vs Cartera in recent times
The history of both clubs is drenched in opposite cycles. More often than not, one club has been fairing quite poorly while the other has been doing rather well. Both teams have had an equal emphasis on their youth academies; though for the past decade, the fickle fanship in Madrid has been spoilt by the eccentric Florentino Perez and his Galactico policy. Floppy’s second tryst with the club, complete with the disposition of the second coming of Jesus, ushered in a fresh wave of Galacticophilia and saw a wave of superstar players joining Madrid over the last two years. To be fair and objective though, the only real galactic signing that Madrid made in the summer preceding this season was Mourinho; the player signings succeeding Mourinho’s signings being overpriced, but sensible ones. Jose Mourinho has since then, powered the young but experienced Madrid squad into its best season for the past few years through a combination of some genuine coaching, luck and moaning, the first El Clasico aside. This is what makes EL Cuatro a spectacle of epic proportions. For the first time in a long time, both clubs are doing equally well, not only domestically but internationally. The stage is set for both clubs to go to war simultaneously on three fronts and in such a situation, the first tie can very well set the mood psychologically for what is to follow. A romantic may look upon it as a “Winner takes all” contest, but like Johan Cruyff pointed out a few weeks back, Pep Guardiola only needs to win two out of the four matches comprehensively (one being the Copa Del Rey and the other being one tie in the UCL). Well, so does Mourinho. With the Madrid based media cooing all over Mourinho since the time he joined Madrid with all the “Orgasmous”, “Podemous” and “Moudrids”, the moment of truth has finally arrived for Mourinho and the verdict will be delivered in the next four weeks. The guillotine can yet fall over Mourinho if he loses two important ones out of the four. Mourinho can get as cocky as he did a few weeks back proclaiming that he can go on and lose all the matches against Barcelona this season and it won’t change a thing, but the truth is that at Madrid they have started smelling blood and if the season ends with exits from all competitions to Barcelona, it will be dubbed as a catastrophic failure inspite of it being a relative success and Mourinho will be off to that land of overcast skies.

And Pigs might fly...
Having said that, if there is one man who can rescue Madrid from the clutches of the circus it has descended into of late and deliver, it is Mourinho. Mourinho has always learnt from his mistakes, has always emerged as a wiser man from his defeats and will probably be ready to face the increasingly edgy Pep Guardiola for the upcoming matches. The players will be too, though isolated cases of nervous or physical breakdowns cannot be discounted on both sides given the sensitivity and the profile of the matches being played out. Both managers are excellent at man management; both know their roles very well and both will be prepared. The blog will try to get a window into the gray matter of both opponents in succeeding articles as a fine build up to the El Clasico miniseries, but for now, this is it.


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