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El Clasico? More like El Fiasco!

by Michael Huguenin on Dec 16, 2011

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It only took 23 seconds.

23 seconds and the first El Clasico of the 2011/12 La Liga season had already provided what each of the estimated 500 million viewers worldwide were waiting for.

Action, goals and a healthy dose of unpredictability.

Karim Benzema’s goal was the fastest in El Clasico history and sparked joyous pandemonium inside the Santiago Bernabeu. It was just the beginning.

Barcelona’s 3-1 victory over Real Madrid was a pulsating, topsy-turvy match that had just about everything. Unlike seven of the past twelve El Clasico meetings, there wasn’t a red card but it was enjoyable to see this much-anticipated clash unaffected by a sending off.

But despite the incredible skill, fanatical support in the stands, and football star after football star on the pitch, this match didn’t just feature the best football can offer. Unfortunately, it also displayed some of the worst aspects of the world game. El Clasico? More like El Fiasco!

I know I’m not the first to make the argument. In fact for a while I’ve tried to deny it. But it really is impossible for me to ignore anymore.

Barcelona may be the best team in the world. But they’re also the biggest whingers!

It took less than ten minutes for the first Barcelona player to spring from the ground after a mistimed Real Madrid tackle, brandishing an invisible card, demanding action from the referee.

This has got to be one of my biggest pet hates at the moment. I’d love to see yellow cards handed to the players who wave their pursed fingers around in a plea for some cheddar.

Generally, however, the above issue comes under the biggest problem in modern football. Referee intimidation.

Just about every decision, particularly in the second half, led to a massed argument that makes the Ukrainian parliament look like a ladies’ book club. It wasn’t just the Catalan club either. Real Madrid’s players were just as culpable.

It’s not just the displays of disagreement that ruined the spectacle; it’s the physical harassment of the referee as well. Football could do worse than import other sports’ treatment of referees.

In rugby union, only the captain may speak to the referee and the referee is always addressed as ‘sir’. In Aussie rules, touching the referee leads to a suspension. The treatment of the referee in the weekend’s match between Barca and Real makes a mockery of FIFA’s RESPECT campaign that promotes, amongst other things, the fair treatment of match officials.

Barcelona is starting to become world leaders in whinging. Lionel Messi, undeniably the best player in the world, is starting to show an ugly side of his game. His yellow card in the first half was for a disgraceful tirade at the referee. Not only was it over the top, it was just plain wrong. The referee’s decision was on the money.

Carlos Puyol, Daniel Alves and Xavi are often the other ringleaders in a cacophony of whinging. It leaves a sour taste in the mouth that seriously affects Barca’s reputation.

Barcelona is the best team in the world and the players in red and blue are a joy to watch with the ball at their feet. I can’t help but appreciate how good Barcelona is even if my enjoyment is no longer unconditional.

After the aforementioned early goal, Barcelona looked shaky against Real Madrid. However, in a match they desperately couldn’t lose, Pep Guardiola’s side continued to adhere to their well-known tiki-taka style. Especially in the second half, Barca’s possession in tight spaces was breathtaking. As The Guardian’s Sid Lowe mentioned, it’s not just that Barcelona pass the ball, it’s when they pass it. Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Messi all have incredible courage, waiting to the final moment to release the ball and taking the opposition player out of the play. (As a brief side note: this is one of the problems with Brisbane’s current play without Thomas Broich. It’s way too slow.)

Messi again proved his big match pedigree. The Argentine phenomenon could have tied the match as early as the 7th minute when he flew into the penalty area and was only denied by a great save from Iker Casillas. Then, just before the half-hour mark, he did it again. Messi picked up the ball at halfway, dribbled straight at Madrid’s goal, taking four players out of the play with his driving run and then set up Alexis Sanchez for Barca’s first goal.

Messi’s performance was made all the better by how it contrasted with Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo was again disappointing in El Clasico and missed two sitters in either half. In fact, the only Madrid players who could really hold their heads high were Xabi Alonso, Lass Diarra and Benzema.

By the final whistle, El Clasico had more than a number of people scratching their heads. This was a Barcelona side that was supposed to be vulnerable. This was a Real Madrid side that was supposed to be unstoppable. Instead we saw a very familiar story. Madrid chased, tackled and eventually collapsed. Barcelona persevered and won the day with undeniable skill. Barcelona and Real Madrid are now tied at the top of La Liga, although Madrid has a game in hand. The title race is still up for grabs.

El Clasico is a football rollercoaster. If only the players could dump the whinging and harassment of the referee and then everyone could enjoy it without that sour taste in the mouth.