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Epitaph

This was the night when everybody lost something. FC Barcelona lost their grace and respect; Real Madrid lost their legacy. And football lost its beauty. Rest In Peace.

‘Hell’ Clasico

Perhaps in 4 weeks’ time, when Barcelona may win the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley, they might play some beautiful football and would be hailed by the entire world. In another 4 weeks’ time nobody will remember ‘how’ FC Barcelona won, but only that Barca won.

After all history is made by the victors and not the vanquished. And Real Madrid lost their chance!

But this was supposed to be El Clasico – a classic. It was however, more than a match. It was supposed to be an advertisement for football. About which people would talk for ages. But it turned out to be anything but a classic.

This match was supposed to be a spectacle. It certainly was. It was supposed to be a no-holds-barred game. It surely was. This match was supposed to be the biggest game on the planet. Well, to a certain extent, it was!

But it was not supposed to be the ‘spectacle’ it turned out be. Because this game was about everything that is apparently anti-football. And this was true for both the sides. Madrid refused to be drawn out and played in their own half. Barca refused to play unless Madrid stopped their physical football. With players shoving each other and coercing the referee, a game of football hardly took place.

The end product that the world saw was completely different from the one which had them salivating. A mockery of everything that football is supposed to stand for.

Thou Shall Not Concede At Home

A few days before, AS – the Real Madrid mouthpiece – published as to why Mourinho was the king of Knock Outs – because he does not concede at home. This was precisely the strategy of Real Madrid, when they stepped onto the pitch. They did not want to concede a goal and their efforts in the first 45 minutes were directed towards achieving that. Thus ended a dour first half, with Madrid looking to have achieved their objective. During this time Mourinho’s men rarely ventured out their half and employed physical tactics to break up the opposition’s play. Game was secondary and not conceding was primary.

Gamesmanship, Theatrics and Fisticuffs

On the other side were FC Barcelona, who after failing to win the first 2 Clasicos, were determined to win by hook or by crook. Every time a Barcelona player was roughly tackled, he would go down like a tree slashed at the bottom. Then all the 22 men  would surround the referee, coaxing him to show a card to the opposition – either for the foul or for play-acting. This was the tactic that Barca were employing to combat the physical nature of Madrid’s game.

Eventually some thing had to happen. And that something was the expulsion of personnel. It started with Pinto, who got expelled after slapping Arbeloa, for his lunge at Keita! And then Pepe too was shown the door, after an apparently stud-up challenge on Dani Alves. Sparing a thought for the referee, these were not normal circumstances and certainly with all the pressure on him, the card  to Pepe, was not really his fault.

After that, Real Madrid were never going to win. With the nemesis of Messi – Pepe – red carded, the diminutive Argentine got the freedom he was craving for and showed his class by scoring twice against Mourinho’s men, thereby scoring for the first time from open play against the Portuguese! The second goal was a moment of magic, as Leo slalomed past five Madrid players and slotted the ball home, coolly over an onrushing Iker Casillas.

Two Very Apprehensive Sides

Some observations were apparent from this match, that are easily applicable to both of the sides.

Both Real and Barcelona have invested too heavily to lose the game. Real have invested dollars and Barcelona chiefly their philosophy and a fair bit of money along with it.

  • Real have sold their all-star cast all over the world and the loss will simply not be acceptable to their marketing managers.
  • Barcelona have sold themselves as ‘true’ guardians of football for too long. The idea that every time they lose, it is ‘football’ that loses, has bought Barcelona worldwide acclaim. Losing is also not acceptable to their marketing managers.
  • When it comes between winning and choosing to play the game, both will always choose the former over latter. Philosophy is just the shield to hide behind and can be shelved whenever convenient.

Both Coaches Are Victims Of Their Own Success And Their Clubs’ History

Mourinho’s and Guardiola’s rise to stardom has been nothing short of a fairytale. One started as a ‘translator’, who later on coached Porto, Chelsea and Inter to giddying heights before ending up at Real Madrid.

The other is a club legend, who was brought in to stem the rot from inside and he did much more than that. He brought Barcelona on a level never seen before.

But both of them are all that and more.

Guardiola turns on the sprinklers after losing and asks his players to dive.

Mourinho raves and rants and tries to turn football into a wrestling match.

Last night, Guardiola used his Plan B to counter physical tactics: play-acting. They touch, you fall!

Victims of their own success

Mourinho too used his Plan B – If we can’t play like FC Barcelona, let us bully them and hit them on the counter. Then we will win.

But behind all this, is the burden of history that both clubs carry. Not only do they have an obligation to win in general, it is unpardonable to lose against each other. This is no longer a rivalry. It is a war and in a war there is always collateral damage.

Conclusion – Collateral Damage

More than on the field this game was played off the field. It is difficult to say who lost more after this game. Real certainly did lose a lot – they lost their legacy. They lost their claim to be propagating attacking game, when Kaka, Benzema, Higuain and Adebayor were sitting on the bench and 5 defenders were on the pitch. Right now, when they have already won a trophy this year, they should have taken more risks. But perhaps 5-0 and 6-2 were playing on their minds. They lost the match and with it maybe their dream of ‘La Decima’.

FC Barcelona on the other hand lost their halo. They lost the very thing they crave most apart from trophies – the moral high ground. For all their claims of the beautiful game, they never played it last night. Play-acting and referee manipulating was more on the cards. Last night they threw away their respect. Might not seem much, but from now on, whenever they will talk of a clean game or for that matter a blatantly wrong decision by the referee, it will sound hollow and hypocritical.

The Way Forward – End It Together

Both the clubs and their top brass have to understand that this has gotten way out of hand. This was not what  El Clasico was all about. They need to sit down and have a chat and sort out this mess among themselves. Right now it is entertaining, as it is happening for the first time. Keep on repeating it and soon both the clubs will end up mocking themselves. Paranoid schizophrenics, who see conspiracy everywhere and who talk of football and end up playing everything else.

Finger pointing at each other will do them no good. It doesn’t matter who started it first – Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola.

If  one uses playacting to counter physical play, then one is as bad as the other. Then one cannot say to be a pioneer of beautiful football. It is no better than politics.

What matters is that they need to end it together.

Mourinho might love his mind games, but he needs to be controlled. This much bad blood is simply staggering and unacceptable.

Bad blood

Bad Blood Boils Over

On the other hand, FC Barcelona need to control Valdes, Busquets, Alves, Pedro and David Villa. Their behaviour is disgraceful. They play act too much and give the game as whole a bad name.

No referee in the world can give a correct decision, if every time a tackle is made and the player starts rolling on the ground. Not Stark, not Busacca and not Overbo. How is a referee supposed to judge the extent of injury in the heat of the moment? For Alves acted yesterday like his career was over.

It is the players and the clubs, who have to show that they can rise above the petty gamesmanship and for this steps need to be taken from both the sides.

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The Way Forward Is To Talk And Sort It Out

Otherwise, only teams will change and one loser will always be constant – FOOTBALL