.

Admit it.

At some level, as an English Premier League follower, you’re really glad it happened.

There are over a billion of us on the planet, who follow the English Premier League. We think it’s the epitome of sports and of football in particular, and we’d bleed for the flags of those clubs we support. So imagine our chagrin, when supporters of the Spanish game come along and disdainfully turn up their noses at us, lesser folks. For them, football is only beautiful if it’s played by two Spanish clubs. Mention an English side to them, and the Spanish footballistas invariably exchange knowing looks with each other and snigger away at our apparent lowliness.

To them, the English Premier League is to football what the World Wrestling Entertainment is to real wrestling. That is, to them the English game is an accidentally popular avenue for entertainment, but not really a sport and just an utter disgrace to purists and real fans. And every time, they talked to us about the Spanish game, you couldn’t help but detect they felt they were casting pearls before swine. Wasting their precious energy trying to civilize a bunch of chavs like us. Trying to explain Monet to a graffiti guy. Or discussing Bach to the guy who only sang in the shower.

How The Mighty Fall!


So you kept your mouth shut around them, just grateful they (the Spanish elite) were graciously letting you breathe the same air as they were. And you made sure to walk around with a little stoop when in their company, because you felt your Chelseas and your Liverpools and your Arsenals and your Manchesters were not up to the mark of the pretty, tippy-tappy, pitter-patter style of football that the Spanish clubs had set as the standard. You really didn’t understand the Spanish game, or even find it interesting, but you kept that opinion to yourself. Because voicing it in public would signal to all that you were incapable of even recognizing the beautiful game. So there you were, embarrassed at the lowly standards of the Barclays Premier League in comparison to the exalted, elite Spanish league. The goth girl in front of the prom queen.

Then April 27th, 2011 happened.

The Emperor lost his clothes. The monk was caught giving his maidservant a good time. The husband of the year was caught canoodling with the baby-sitter. The classroom genius was caught cheating on the quiz. And…oh my Gawd, the prom queen’s a guy!

You get the drift right?

Barcelona and Real Madrid, those powerhouses of Spanish football, played out 90-odd horrendous minutes of an El Clasico that left most people shaking their heads in dismay, and me quaking in my boots with glee. Suddenly, there was nothing glamorous about the Spanish game anymore. The ballroom had turned into a bordello. These were players at the peak of their powers, knowing full well their actions would be relived in a million replays, and yet they behaved precisely like they had nothing to lose. So they cheated, dove, moaned, fought, lied, threatened and pillaged their way through our consciousness on live television, as they utterly destroyed those tiny remnants of Spanish nationalism and threadbare unity. It’s safe to assume this disjointed bunch, constantly at each other’s necks, won’t be winning the next World Cup as part of their national duties.

Don't Call Me Pretty


Hark back to the English Premier League. Sure, it’s got its fair share of divers too.  But there’s something fundamentally different here. Nobody in the English game pretended to be even remotely interested in playing beautiful. They wore their black hearts on their jersey sleeves, for all to see – from youth player to reservist to substitute to captain. There was never any pretense with any of them. You knew, from the start, just who the loony ones were, who the scandal-magnets were and who the few saints were.

Take Wayne Rooney, for example, here’s a guy who doesn’t pretend in the least. You know when that red mist descends all around him, you’re lucky if he decides to take his rage out on the corner flag. So he’s got a few scandals to his name, the red-card every now and then, and a burning desire to nail you to the goal post – in good times and bad. There he was, going months without scoring, playing for a club he himself stated would win nothing, and yet a PR exercise was the last thing on his mind. He’s never led you to believe he’s a dainty little butterfly, with an interest in only playing the beautiful game. In fact he goes out of his way, screaming expletives into a camera that did nothing to him, just to remind you just how truly unpretentious he is.

And then you have Didier Drogba, who spends every game rolling about on the grass. So how does that make him different from the Spanish touch-me-nots? Well, for starters, he’s never had one decision go in his favor. Nor does he even expect a decision to go in his favor, when he hurls his 6’3” frame to the ground under the slightest of contacts from a 5’7” opponent. That’s Drogba for you – nobody knows what he really wants. He’s really not concerned with getting his marker a red card, like Dani Alves and Angel di Maria are. Didier just wants the whole game to stop, so that he can feel important lying about on the ground, while Chelsea’s medicos huddle around him and tell him to cut the act out. So he’ll get up to his feet a minute later, grimace at the chorus of boos, and then complain loudly the next minute that Fernando Torres, whose very existence on the field he’s ignored all day, didn’t thread the ball to him past 5 defenders. You won’t see him try to win hearts, by projecting a beatified apparition of himself elsewhere.

Told You, Didn't I?


And they’re just two of the most colorful characters of the two teams leading the most unpretentious league in the world- a league where men understand it’s a game and not a place to settle political scores, a league where clubs are seen as entities and not empires, a league where referees know better than to stop the game for every silly foul, a league where men play like they were meant to, a league where the motto may as well have been ‘avance toujours’ and a league where clubs shift strategies every day without so much as a murmur of discontent.

The Premier League is a dysfunctional family. Nothing surprises anyone there, anymore. And yet, behind all the obvious nastiness on display, all the clubs have an understanding in place to share their TV revenues. That’s what is truly beautiful. There’s a time for war and a time for business.

It’s when you haul yourself, your style and your legacy atop a pedestal you fashioned for yourself, that the fall is bigger. And it’s then the rest of us, of lesser tastes like the English Premier League, sit back and enjoy that warm feeling that only schadenfreude can bring.