The Moderator’s Opening Remarks

The game lived up to all the hype surrounding it, didn’t it? There were controversies, moments of brilliance, general pandemonium, shambolic refereeing and some incredible post-match comments. But did it live up to the tag of ‘El Clasico’, reputed to be that greatest of footballing expositions? Not many will say that it did, Barcelona took the field determined to teach Mourinho a lesson for his earlier comments. Pep Guardiola had indicated, with the odd bit of profanity thrown in for good measure, that his team would do just that. And it certainly looked like Barcelona had added that extra dimension of cynicism to their brand of football.

Interruptions littered the 90 minutes, and Madrid soon found themselves down to ten men. Mourinho’s men had never really woken up that day to play football, a scoreless draw would have suited them just fine. But a red card to Pepe, meant Los Blancos were well and truly staring down the barrel. Lionel Messi then came up with two fabulous goals, the first one poached, and the second a statement to why he’s often called the best player on the planet. It served to deflect some attention off the poor sportsmanship and the unfortunate influence the referee exerted over the game.

Joining us today to flog a dead horse, and debate this eternal question, are a bunch of resident authors on TheHardTackle forum. So was the result a relatively fair one? Did the end justify the means? Is there a referee-control switch somewhere in Pep’s coat pocket? Is Mourinho delusional? Is Barcelona the best team in the world – against 10 men?

In my capacity as moderator, I present the topic to be debated

Barcelona, Self-Styled Proponents Of The Beautiful Game, Deserved Their Win Over Madrid

Nipun Malhotra

(Manchester United fan, against the motion, believes Madrid were hard done by Barcelona)

An avid football fan, I started watching THE most hyped game ever, as a truly neutral observer but by the end of it all I found myself wanting the Catalan team to fail. Built up as the clash of the titans, the game produced a number of fights, with players feigning injuries and just about all that we hate about the game we love so much. What really got my goat however is the belief by sections of the Barcelona faithful that as Jose Mourinho and Madrid refused to play football a “certain way”, Pep Guardiola’s men were right in doing what they did.

Mourinho’s game plan was different this time around; he wasn’t looking for a goal upfront. Instead, he preferred to stay cautious in the first half and then probably have a real go towards the end. A 0-0 might have been an acceptable result for Mourinho going into the second leg. However just before the ridiculous sending off of Pepe, thanks to the adorable Alves’ Shot-by-a-Sniper impression, Madrid had had their best period of the game. Who knows with 11 men each on the field what the result might have been? Barcelona have known to tire towards end of games, they do tremendous amount of off the ball running which obviously has an effect in the dying moments of games.

Barcelona like to see themselves as sole proprietors of the “beautiful game” trademark. But I beg to differ – there just isn’t anything beautiful about diving, faking injuries and brawling with opponents. With all that talent in their armor, why would they choose to resort to this? Madrid are no saints to be fair, but I’ll stand by the lesser of the two evils. It’s the decent thing to do, in an indecent time for football.

Anustup Sikdar

(Barcelona fan, for the motion, believes Barcelona ran out deserved winners)

They say – “Everything is fair in love and war.” FC Barcelona’s strategy certainly did not afford them any place for the former. And if one man can change the entire philosophy of one of the biggest clubs, then is there anything wrong in fighting fire with fire? As much as you despise play-acting and diving, recurrent fouls, intentional physical brutality are also equally deplorable. In fact they are two faces of the same coin. Turning a blind eye to one and highlighting the other is nothing but sheer hypocrisy!

Real Madrid fielded an extra-defensive line-up with as many as 5 defenders (Pepe included). The burly Portuguese was handed just one instruction – to break up Barcelona’s rhythm with his brutality. Jose Mourinho had successfully used him in the last two matches against FC Barcelona. In the latter, Pepe received a yellow card and could have received a second. The referee chose not to. Secondly, David Villa too was denied an absolutely legitimate penalty in the first game, which could have led to Real Madrid’s loss and eventually see their La Liga dreams crash and burn. As for the Alves-Pepe clash, from the comfort of our homes, seeing the replay several times from different angles, it’s easy to pass judgment! However, spare a though for the referee, who is in the midst of all the action and doesn’t even have a chance to see a replay. Decision making is an art and every individual makes mistakes!

A studs-up challenge should always be given a red-card; Dani Alves might have just escaped a serious injury. But had Pepe been successful in his endeavor (to injure Alves), FC Barcelona could have lost the mercurial fullback for the rest of their season. And if the Pepe red-card is held up as the reason, as to why little Leo Messi notched up a brace, then the most obvious question is – in a team, which has almost $250 million worth of offensive players, including Cristiano Ronaldo & Kaka, is there no one competent enough to notch up goals? Despite having played in their own backyard, using extra-long grass and breaching the agreement of watering the ground, 1 hour prior to the match, Real Madrid lost to the brilliance of Leo Messi! What, then, is the use of that ridiculously expensive ensemble cast?

Akarsh Sharma

(Liverpool fan, for the motion, believes Mourinho’s complaints are for the most part unwarranted)

There is a saying that goes “If you can’t beat them at their level, bring them down to yours”. Mourinho brought them down to his level but Barcelona were dirtier than Jose’s squad at his game. This doesn’t mean that Barcelona’s play-acting, clutching of the faces as if they were being shot and other such theatrics should be accepted by the world of football. They were unacceptable pieces of behaviour and certainly did take the gloss away from the win.

But every team does that, don’t they? More than half of Madrid’s team would have done the same, but they couldn’t, not because they prefer to win the right way but simply because they never had the ball. People are questioning Barcelona’s ability to beat 11 men, when they have done the same in 99% of their matches. People are questioning Barca’s influence on referees when teams are setup to ‘rough up’ Barca for 90 minutes, which makes players vulnerable to be deservingly sent off. Perhaps, not in Pepe’s case since we now find out that he did not touch him. However, I wouldn’t see it as Barca’s influence on referees as under the assumption that he did make contact – an assumption that was made by the world – the referee was right in sending him off. It is only later that we all found out about Alves’s sickening act.

But I don’t understand how Mourinho has come out to be the righteous angel. The same manager who ignites a game of verbal provocation, starts berating referees even before the game, sets up his teams to entice opponents and get under their skin, deploy tactics that makes his best player throw frustrated tantrums fifteen minutes into the match and plays away at home – 158 passes to 588, 29% to 71% ball possession.

Not many were bothered when Arsenal’s unbeaten run was ended with a dive from superstar Wayne years ago, and not many will be bothered when Barcelona’s success will be ended, either. That’s just how the world is – seeking to end a dominant dictatorship at any cost. But good on Barcelona – they mix up the most beautiful of football with absolute dirt to fight what all that is thrown at them.

Karan Yadav

(Chelsea fan, against the motion, believes Madrid deserved a draw at the very least)

Being a Chelsea supporter, I can’t help but roll-back the years to May, 2009. Prior to that, FC Barcelona was just another club for me. My club was on the verge of setting up a Moscow final rematch with Man United. Having never won the Champions League and coming excruciatingly close the year before, this was to be a chance at redemption. However, the disgraceful manner in which the dream was crushed left a perpetual scar on my mind.

Last season, despite being reduced to 10-men, Inter prevailed over Barcelona by the sheer virtue of their determination. This season, Madrid will most definitely succumb to injuries – injuries that they sustained last night at Santiago Bernabeu. The match, which was billed as the biggest clash of the season, turned out to be a farce. In the last three years, I’d witnessed Clasicos that were either ridiculously one-sided or utter drab affairs. This one, however, will forever inspire the utmost revulsion in me.

Lionel Messi will never achieve the status he so desperately craves, considering he thrives on the ill-gotten gains of his fellow mates. It seems to me, that in a clash with a superior defensive side, Barcelona and their talisman are embarrassingly clueless, until the rival has had one of its players sent off. The image of Busquets peeping out from behind his hands during last season’s Champions League semi-final, while on the ground, is a disgraceful reminder of how this team has conned the world into believing that they epitomize the beautiful game.

Mourinho may shoot his mouth off, and engage in chess-like tactics unsuited to the beautiful game, but it is Pep Guardiola and his bunch of holier-than-thou pretenders who have shamed the game, beyond redemption.

Rizwan Ahmed

(Madrid fan, strangely non-committal, believes El Clasico would do better without Mourinho)

As a Madrid fan, I was disappointed with the result. But as a football fan, I want Mourinho to be sacked. Not because of his tactics or defensive tactics or his press conferences or anything of the sort. That’s just secondary.

Barcelona despise Mourinho. Pep and Mourinho despise each other. That is spilling onto the pitch. The players trudge onto the ground only to fight, to play-act, to brawl in the tunnel, and to plead for cards. Barcelona’s players hurling insults at their Spanish players, and Real Madrid players fouling their own team mates without remorse. This is not football, this is madness. And it is killing football. It’s killing people who want to see some proper football played for once.

The nerves, the pressure must be killing the players. The media attention on these players and the criticism on them is too big to even fathom and my heart goes out to Real Madrid’s players. They have to play like Mourinho says otherwise they’ll get treated like Leon was. And if they do what the coach says, the club’s honorary president criticizes them. It must hurt them to no end to get criticized by legends like Cruyff. As much as this hurts me to say this, all this is only because of one man – Jose Mourinho.

Barcelona and Real Madrid have always had animosity but it never was descended to such obscene levels between managers and players. Players respected each other and played for their team, to assert their superiority. But now, players have lost respect for their opposition, players now want to show up their rival team at press conferences, on the pitch, off pitch and every where else. This has to stop and it can only stop if we can separate Mourinho and Pep. Let Mourinho return to the tough talking, brash English Premier League and win some trophies if he wants that.

I am willing to sacrifice all our chances of trophies and endure all that talk of Barcelona’s dominance, if I can watch a Clasico in which the players can enjoy their own game without the media hype and unwarranted criticism. I just want this bad blood on the pitch to end. If you want to settle scores, do it with proper football. I don’t want any Special One at the club I adore. I know the Cules adore Pep and want him to remain at Camp Nou forever, so I say – let him continue, with the spectacle he dishes out every week. On the contrary, we Madridistas know for certain that Mourinho is always a temporary figure. So I, personally, have no problem in letting him go. I lived 6 years without a Champions League quarterfinal. I am sure I can live with 6 more.

Moderator’s Note

All comments are moderated and flagrant content will be deleted by the moderator without prior warning. We encourage critical thinking and questioning, but please don’t let your anonymity on the internet get the better of you.

We welcome you to join the debate, and speak your heart out.

The Moderator’s Closing Remarks

It’s ironic that sports is often seen as a medium that unites, and yet its those very passions involved in sports that can serve to create even further divisions. On the surface, the views expressed here by our regular contributors and by our readers could not be any more opposed to each other. However, reading between the lines (an art we’ve cultivated here at TheHardTackle) would indicate there is quite a bit of common ground even on such a divisive topic.

Most, if not all, agree the third El Clasico this season was shambolic in itself – and served only to disgrace the two teams, and bring disrepute to the game. It’s almost a criminal offense that teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid, with their glittering array of talent, chose the wrong way out. But the page has now been turned, and the two sides would do well to redeem themselves at the Nou Camp.

It’s been a lively debate, and on behalf of the crew at TheHardTackle I’d like to thank you all for the hits, the comments and the votes.