Unprofessional Foul


November 29, 2010

Five Reasons to Watch El Clasico

Managers: they love to point!

It’s Monday morning, it’s the fierce culmination in a long, lost weekend punctuated by alcohol, carbohydrates, gravy, and sports, and we still have one pungent dose of methamphetamine to force down before we can consider this glorious run as being complete.

It’s El Clasico, the match that conjures dreams and nightmares in Madrid and Barcelona, the head-to-head that has for a while carried La Liga aspirations on its broad, tattooed shoulder, and the game that restores and robs our faith in soccer all in a 90-minute span.

So what’s doing for this latest installment? You know, besides the obvious reason to duck out of work early.

1. This might be the last derby with so many stars
Friends of ours are reading the tea leaves and seeing that the UEFA guidelines are on the horizon, soon to chafe any budding oligarch looking to dump a cool billion in loan notes on a club in exchange for immediate, ill-gotten glory.

These Spanish giants have been riding the waves of cool, anonymous banking benefactors for a while now, watching their books sink deeper and deeper into the red without ever feeling the urgency or pinch that such circumstances are supposed to bring about.

Whenever the profits droop or sag under the weight of extra expenses, there is another friendly loan to keep things on a somewhat even keel, but such graces won’t help either titan once Michel Platini’s magic bus of fiscal responsibility rolls into town.

Not that these sides will dump each and every star on the books for pennies on the dollar any time soon, mind you; instead, we’ll likely see some creative contract restructuring, a few kind loan deals to assuage salary burdens, and a rapturous end to the time when Barcelona could simply unveil their mes que un club rhetoric and have every player’s blood bubbling with the thought of joining the Nou Camp collective.

I don’t know about you, but I really can’t wait for that last bit.

2. How many buses will Jose Mourinho park?
Since making many bold statements with Internazionale last season, we’ve seen a slightly more nuanced Real Madrid under the cool gaze of that Portuguese wizard. They score a little less, on average, they retain a bit more defensive nous, and they’re able to conquer teams without always having possession, all of which differs somewhat from Pellegrini’s Real, so lethal with the wind up their sails yet unable to ever conquer adversity on the pitch. Bit like Arsenal, really.

After Jose’s suffocation of the Blaugrana in last season’s Champions League semi-finals, we’d be smart in expecting similar stiflings from his new team, and why not? Guardiola didn’t handle Mourinho at all in that last head-to-head, so why should this afternoon be any different?

Swap out Mesut Oezil for Lass Diarra, or a steady diet of Fernando Gago masquerading as attack-minded fodder, and the patterns will emerge. If the Galacticos are hiding some canny vet a la Javier Zanetti in their ranks, you can bet The Special One has him primed and prepped to perform.

3. Messi, Messi, Messi
The great intangible, all half-formed smiles and flop-top hair. He has such fun, doesn’t he? And, as with all things Barca, he’ll need to be revving at top speed in order to crack Mourinho’s formidable convoy. (Thanks, @elecseanica, for furnishing me with that image)

He does have the benefit of an absurd El Clasico scoring record—seven goals in eight matches—on his side, as well as the fact that Barca have won four on the trot, including a 6-2 beatdown at the Bernabeu in 2009.

4. Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldo
On the other side of the coin, you’ve got that preening Portuguese poser, the man responsible for Real’s dynamic charge and every bit as vital to their cause as Messi is to the Blaugrana’s. However, he’s got weightier burdens on his shoulders than just another game against a vicious rival: there’s the fact that he hasn’t managed a goal against Barca in five attempts. He might lead La Liga over Lionel with 14 goals to Messi’s 13, but a sustained drought against their biggest competition makes me think of that other iconoclast who gained a reputation for not scoring in big games. Zlatan something?

Oh, and with rumors swirling that fellow frontman Gonzalo Higuain is out with injury, C-Ron’s class will be needed even more. (Though we could be witnessing a Mourinho gamesmanship special, naturally…)

5. Look at the fans! How can we not get excited?
They’re stoning team buses, and they’re just warming up! Nice that Mou-Mou’s first brush with the Spanish derby involved projectiles, mild injuries to a member of the security staff, and psychological warfare.

Let’s face it; when other leagues or teams let us down, the safe (yet exciting) distance from Real and Barca make their feisty face-offs even more enjoyable for us. We can live vicariously through their rage, their mayhem, and their visceral hatred for one another without feeling it soak into our marrow like it would if our team was involved.

The Spanish pair always serve up high drama—and high quality—so we mark our calendars with giddy reminders for afternoons and evenings just like this one.

To see which footy philosophy reigns supreme—the flair and fun of Barca, or the grim, possession-is-irrelevant machine of Real—simply perch yourself near a TV or computer around 3pm ET.

About the Author

James T


  1. Lennon's Eyebrow

    I’m tired of Barcelona being held up as the shining white knights of world football while Real Madrid plays the part of the Galactic Empire. Mixed metaphors aside, come on Merengues.

  2. James T

    I am too, LE, but the media creates it and we just spin it off into oblivion.

  3. austinlong1974

    i love this soap opera. just when you think it can’t get any more epic, crazy, world altering, it does.

    the mourinho factor cannot be talked about enough. can’t wait for 3pm ET.

  4. corky

    @ LE. Agreed. Something about Barcelona doesn’t quite fit. Maybe it’s the massive debt which gets swept under the table (same issue for RM). But, hey look, they’re the model football club!

  5. Ryan

    6. Because really, what else are you going to do on a Monday afternoon?

  6. Andrew

    @LE – I’ve tried to quit Barca, but since they were my first exposure to soccer, I can’t. I’ve grown tired of their mes que un club crap and the whole Fabregas situation has grated on me, but damn it if I don’t find myself watching them when I get the chance.

  7. austinlong1974

    @LE @Corky if you take away the debt, which most big clubs have, how can you not admire a club that plays the right way and actually uses it’s youth academy?

  8. James T

    Is that The Stig? Because if so… well done

  9. Andrew

    @JT -

    Yep, that’s The Stig. I decided to change from “Thome Is My Homey” since baseball season ended almost a month ago.

  10. Oh. Thome. I thought it was a picture of Homer Simpson with a baseball bat. I could only ever see “Homey.”

  11. Also, Barca is more than a club. Like it or not. See history. Also, I unapologetically love watching Barcelona play. Blow me if you don’t like it. Finally, Purseboy can suck it and keep on sucking it.

  12. Brian

    Is anyone else rooting for this game to be absolutely craptastic just to shut up everyone who claims that Barcelona and RM play such beautiful soccer.

    Also I’m personally hoping for CRon to break an ankle, or a leg, heck even tear a ligament or 2, I’m not that picky

  13. (1) Barcelona does play beautiful soccer. Just like Arsenal, on their day, play nice soccer (although Arsenal, on their day, are a pale shadow of Barca). (2) I’d be happy with watching Purseboy fail, yet again, while Messi succeeds. Just because you know that’s probably infinitely more painful for him than physical injury. Wanker.

  14. @anon: by those standards so are lazio, partisan Belgrade, red star and numerous other clubs that have affiliations with political movements.

  15. @TFA: Yes, indeed. What’s your point? My point was just that it’s silly to deny that they are more than a club, just because you don’t like them or think that they use that slogan to steal players or whatever.

  16. @Anon: Well, because I don’t think any of those clubs are “more than a club” let alone Barcelona.

  17. Brian

    @Anon, very true I do enjoy watching Barca especially because they actually try and score as opposed to Spain in the WC who just dinked the ball around without realizing the objective is to score goals. The biggest problem with Barca is how they act like they are Gods gift to the soccer universe. If they stripped that act out then they would be an extremely fun team to watch, and I wouldn’t have any reason to wish them ill

  18. Andrew

    It’s not that I don’t think Barcelona is “more than a club” or deny that their history is incredible and very interesting (I am a sports historian, after all). It’s more the “holier than thou” attitude that some in the club and some of the supporters take when invoking it.

  19. Ryan

    Sporting Kansas City, also more than a club.

  20. Lennon's Eyebrow

    Don’t get me wrong, Barcelona are a great team who play beautiful football. But they are not the footballing saints they pretend to be. I hope CRon destroys them.

  21. @TFA: So you deny that the Barcelona football club had any significance, meaning, or impact for Catalans beyond their football fandom? That’s… an interesting perspective.

  22. @LE: And I hope CRon dies in a fire. :*

  23. @TFA: No, because it is some arbitrary attachment to an organization devoted to sport. it’s not that important.

  24. James T

    For me, the “mes que un club” sarcasm isn’t due to me trying to deny their “mes que” status. I just think it’s funny. I imagine them pasting it into official documents and powerpoint presentations to Fabregas’ agent.

  25. @TFA: Well, you’re entitled to your wrong opinions. ;)

  26. corky

    Barcelona does play beautiful football. But I also happen to think what Mourinho did with Inter last year against Barcelona last year also qualified as beautiful football.

    It’s the holier than thou attitude which bothers me.

    And if you love Barcelona for the Catalan thing, you damn well better love Athletic Bilbao for the Basque thing.

  27. I don’t love Barcelona for the Catalan thing. I don’t particularly love Barcelona, for that matter. I just love watching them play, because my dog, they play pretty, pretty soccer (that, plus I don’t have a rooting interest in Spanish soccer, so my allegiances don’t get in my way of enjoying watching them).

  28. (That said, though, I do rather admire Bilbao. I have a soft spot for the Basque.)

  29. @Anon: so, you, like the majority of Barca “fans”, enjoy Barcelona because they play winning football and not because it is something bigger? that’s why it is not “more than a club”.

  30. @TFA: So my attitude towards a thing determines the nature of that thing? Nice. I am sooper powerful.

  31. Andrew

    I think it is important to note the differences between Barcelona “the club” and Barcelona “the team on the pitch”.

    The club does have a historical and cultural relevance, from which the “mes que un club” motto is derived. But to say that somehow their playing of soccer (regardless of the level of “beauty” one considers them to play with) elevates them to a higher plane of importance is clearly overstating things.

  32. @Anon: your attitude is emblematic of the vast majority of Barca fans who know not or care not about any tenuous past political connection to the club that is long since gone into the wind, which is why the whole idea that it is “more than a club” is ridiculous.

  33. @Andrew: Nobody cares if they don’t win. It is nothing more than a sporting club.

  34. @TFA: You’re conflating my reason for watching them with my defense that they are, just as a simple matter of historical fact, more than a club. The first is purely subjective. The second is simply not being blind to history.

  35. @Goat: More useless: history or Peter Crouch as a striker?

  36. Lennon's Eyebrow

    C. Alan Hutton.

  37. Sed contra, sir. Alan Hutton is a first-class defender against Aaron Lennon.

  38. @Anon: No conflating here. They simply are not “more than a club”. People like the club because it wins, not because of a tenuous political connection that was of import half a century past. It’s history, other than winning, is not important to it being relevant today or yesterday or tomorrow.

  39. Lennon's Eyebrow

    I’m going to agree with TFA on this one, puppy. Yes, Barcelona were embroiled in some serious political doings and served as a symbol of Catalan rebellion. By the same token, Real Madrid was seen as a symbol of fascist oppression. Does that make them mes que un club too? I’m not saying Barcelona don’t have a significant history, but it’s irrelevant to the current sports business landscape. Regardless of whatever significance it had to an oppressed people 70 years ago, Barcelona is now just another moneymaking sports team like the rest of them. And what makes this particularly galling is that they take their ‘mes que un club’ bullshit which once meant something and have corporatized this as part of their Beautiful Football brand identity. They market themselves as this Oh So Pure and Above It All institution that rings so hollow in light of the massive debts and shady business dealings that mark them as just like every other fucking team out there, and cheapens whatever mes que un club they may have once been.

  40. corky

    If Barcelona didn’t win, they’d be a lot like Athletic Bilbao, but without the strict Basque-only player policy.

    They’d probably be similar to Real Sociedad.

    And very few outside of Catalonia would give a damn.

  41. People like the club because it wins, not because of a tenuous political connection that was of import half a century past.

    Who said “being more than a club” has anything to do with why people like them? It’s just an historical fact about the club. Which is why it’s incredibly bizarre for people to deny it. I notice, by the way, that LE does not, in fact, deny it, like TFA has. LE’s point is that they’ve cheapened whatever unique, transcendent identity they once had. I’d agree with that. Much like I’d agree that Christmas has very little to do with Christianity any more. But I don’t deny the connection.

  42. Andrew

    @LE – You’ve said what I tried to get out, only better. Most sporting clubs can claim some level of greater significance, whether it’s a something as simple as a neighborhood identity or as grandiose political ties. Real Madrid, Atletico Bilbao, Belgrade (Red Star & Paritzan), Lazio have all already been mentioned. The important bit is to separate “the club” and its history (as facts) and place in society (real and perceived) from the fact that as TFA said, they’re football clubs that people are more likely to follow if they’re winning. In Barca’s case, I think the line gets muddled far too much.

  43. Tno

    Go to my job interview? Watch El Clasico?

  44. They’re good for cutting your grass so you don’t have to.

  45. Arkie

    I had a goat once. Named Ferguson.

  46. Tno

    “Much like I’d agree that Christmas has very little to do with Christianity any more. But I don’t deny the connection.”
    Anon just said Lionel Messi was Jesus.

  47. @Tno: Nah, Messi’s bigger than Jesus. Metaphorically speaking, of course, the little shrimp.

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