Friday, April 29, 2011

A Match that No One Wanted...Or Won - Part I

Los Putos Amos

Way back in early 2011, when Real Madrid & Barcelona both made it to the finals of the Copa Del Rey, the world was already frothing at its mouth with the prospect of seeing the two biggest institutions, wickedly termed as “Cantera y Cartera” going head to head in April, twice, in a matter of four days. A Real Madrid vs Barcelona encounter was, has always been a victory for the beautiful game. Not just because of the amount of crowd it pulls in worldwide but simply because any of the matches played between these two sides usually have 2-3 players in the reckoning for the Balon D’Or (now FIFA World Player of the Year) award taking each other on. This season almost the entire elite list of 10 players was going to take the field for this match, twice over. A collection of stars, no a galaxy of superstars, all on that odd square of green, ready to battle it out for the game. Then in the UCL, Real Madrid dispatched Lyon & Tottenham Hotspurs imposing their character in this tournament and earning the favorites tag; Barcelona made it against Arsenal under controversial circumstances, dispatched Shakhtar with utter dominance over two legs to set up a titanic two legged semi final; Real Madrid facing Barcelona two more times. Fixture creators in La Liga strive to ensure that the two Real Madrid vs Barcelona league matches often have enough time between them simply because of the nature of the match, and its general aftermath. So, more often than not, it is the second El Clasico that generally decides the title, given how much of a two horse race the league is. Yet while the league encounters were kept pole apart, some weird quirk of destiny ruled that Real and Barca would be now playing each other four times in just under 3 weeks. And if the world was frothing at its mouth earlier, now it was positively drooling. Everyone wanted to have a piece of the action, be a part of the great movement, be associated with the mother of all encounters; four times over. So it started; players and managers steering clear of making any untoward statements that might be misinterpreted, reading bland one liners respecting their opponent, undoubtedly handed to them by their respective club’s PR departments.

Wrestling meets Drama

There were some who believed, or rather hoped, that each tournament that the clubs were squaring off in would be taken, prepared for, and executed one by one. However, APTW amongst other smarter ‘uns, felt that no matter the quality of professionals playing for and running the club, the four encounters would simply fuse into one miniseries, epic in proportion, which would render the tournament trophies to be won utterly pointless. These four matches were going to define the season for both teams. Irrespective of whether the teams won any silverware, whoever came top over the four matches would be the real winner, the one whose season was successful. So it began, first with the league encounter and then the Copa Del Rey final. In the first match the world saw, to quote The Joker, “an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object”. The fans cheered. In the second match they saw the immovable object move and stop the unstoppable force. The fans were delirious. And so it was when Real Madrid welcomed Barcelona at the Bernabeu for the first leg of the UCL semi final. Except that this time, there was neither an unstoppable force, nor an immovable object. This time it was a “Wresting Tag Team meets Cheap Roadside Entertainment Troupe”. This time, the fans despaired. This time there were no bland one liners. This time everyone ensured that they would do anything to be the “Fucking Boss”, the “Puto Amo”, on and off the field. This time, the superficial veils of Respect and Image were not just blown away, but ripped off. This time the match, the teams, the players, the managers and everyone else involved were teleported into the epicenter of the very negation of Utopia. This time Anarchy won. This time, the only loser was the game itself…

What was displayed on the pitch was not Passion of this kind

The seeds for this buildup were sown right after the first match where Barca took offence to the physical nature of Madrid, ranting on about how only one team played football. The excuse was as feeble as Robben’s right foot, but it helped divert attention from the fact that Barca had still not figured out to find its way through disciplined sides which defend deep. The frustration was exacerbated when Madrid not only played physically, but dominated Barcelona fairly over 120 minutes to win the Copa Del Rey final; prompting Guardiola to complain wryly about Pedro’s decision being correctly called offside. Agent provocateur Jose Mourinho jabbed back with a theory that until then he had known that there were two kind of managers in the world; a large group like himself who complain about wrong referring decisions and a small group who did not complain. But now he had met the third kind in Guardiola who complained about decisions being correct. This was the beginning of the collapse and as the Spanish media built itself up into a furor Joesp Guardiola sat down for his pre-match press conference.

As soon as the inevitable question about his response to Mourinho’s comments was posed to him he replied that he would not compete with Mourinho in the press room, because he’s, and I quote Guardiola here, the “Fucking Boss”, the “Puto Amo”. Guardiola said that he would like to gift his admittance of defeat in the press room as a little Champions trophy to Mourinho and would meet him on the pitch at 20:45 that same day. And then he left for his hotel room where he got a resounding welcome from his players and staff. Meanwhile Pep’s comments ran like wildfire across the ether, with many prompted to think that he may have finally broken in the season long psychological battle with Mourinho. However, there was nothing spontaneous or casual about Guardiola’s comments. A student of psychology, nicknamed The Philosopher, each of Guardiola’s comments was measured and intentional. In that instant, he converted a team that doted on him to a team that would die for him, or act for him.

Two different teams, different tactics. One common thing: Dirty

And act they did. The physical footballing parlance of Madrid was met by Barcelona with cheap, a penny per show, playacting. While Madrid seeked to absorb Barcelona’s attacks and break them down with a combination of cunning, discipline and aggression, Barcelona sought to look for fouls, sometimes, non-existent ones, from Madrid. The fluid Barcelona passing had intentionally reduced to an untidy, labored rigmarole where instead of passing the ball around Madrid, they sought to run through Madrid, inviting body challenges, going down in a crumpled heap clutching their faces as if they’d been shot, hounding the referee in a mass bunch, shoving him and screaming at him to show the damn card. And he finally did.

Madrid’s best player over the last two clasicos, who has always had an unfortunate reputation for being a thug in defence clashed with Barcelona’s best playactor over the years, Dani Alves. While the challenge was a 50-50 and deserved a yellow, the incidents following it influenced referee Wolfgang Stark to award a straight red who walked off smiling sarcastically and utterly bemused. As soon as Pepe supposedly made contact, Dani Alves took an almighty somersault and landed in a crumpled heap clutching his right shin. Barcelona players called for the stretcher and Alves allowed himself to be stretchered away. Meanwhile Barcelona’s players hounded the referee who handed Pepe the red. Dani Alves happy to see his team’s mission accomplished jogged back on the pitch barely a minute later, all smiles. If Madrid’s gameplan was to let Pepe destroy every attacking threat that Barcelona posted, it was Barcelona’s gameplan to get Pepe sent off. After the successful dismissal of Pepe and with a man advantage, the ref hounding stopped and Barcelona started to play. Afellay came on for Villa and drilled a low cross to Messi who slotted it home under minimal pressure to score his first goal from open play under a Mourinho coached team. Messi took it further few minutes later, slaloming his way past the entire Madrid defence to score a second and the contest was well and truly over.

Messi’s genius might have given the game a semblance of a football game and perhaps that is what prompted Xavi to say that “Football won in the end”. As far as the blog is concerned, No sir, it did not. Just as Football isn’t about having a tactical gameplan of professionally fouling opponents, Football also ins’t about tactically getting players sent off. The blog’s just surprised that despite playing a drama group squad for 90 minutes, Xavi still didn’t let go of the typical Catalan moral high ground.

And to think the second leg is still to be played.

To read the post match negative propaganda on part of both clubs, read the second part of this article here


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