Something Great

Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

El Clasico

I must have looked out of place. With nearly one hundred thousand people screaming and jumping around, there I was silent and relatively still. It was Xavi's goal in the 10th minute, and if you didn't know any better you would have thought I was catatonic.

The guy to my left, probably confused by my reaction, grabbed me and shook my shoulders as if to wake me up. I gave him a high-five so that he would stop bothering me and I continued to soak in the scene.

The truth is that it didn't work. I was as capable of absorbing the moment as a deer is capable of absorbing an F150.

There was so much uncertainty leading up to El Clasico that I wasn't prepared for a goal that quickly. My body was in the Camp Nou, but my brain was still on the metro, wondering if I would even get a ticket.

My journey to find a way inside the Camp Nou for El Clasico began two weeks ago. Well, technically it began within three hours of finding out I had been accepted to The University of Barcelona five months ago, but realistically it began two weeks ago. I talked with season ticket holders, friends, locals, friends of friends, and the response was always the same - a laugh, a shake of the head, and the obligatory "don't count it on it kid" speech.

In short, I blame them for my reaction. I blame the whole city in fact. The tension and anxiety for this game reached tangible levels three weeks ago. Did you know that the game was originally scheduled for Sunday? The same Sunday as the - depending on who you ask - local elections of Catalunia. Perhaps it was the surgeon general that realized you can't have 5 million people finding out the result for both El Clasico and the "Presidential" election on the same night.

I rent my apartment from a wonderful Catalan couple who would tell you that the election was "national" rather than "local". The husband is a life-long season ticket holder and a Barça aficionado, though that's an understatement. He told me once with a straight face that his All World Starting 11 would include Eric Abidal at right back. I hadn't signed the lease yet so I thought it would be impolite to storm out.

In the first week of November, I was at their house to pick up an extension cord and El Clasico came up. Ten seconds into the conversation the wife stormed into the room saying, "No no no! No more talk about football! I've had it up to here(!) with this damn football match!!" So, yes, the tension was building.

Fast forward three weeks and there I was, 100 dollars poorer with 98 thousand people singing the hymn; it's no wonder why I was so overwhelmed.

You can hear me singing in this one.

I think it's important to note that neither manager had an incentive to go out and win 2 or 3-nil. This game had zero-zero or 1-1 draw written all over it, and both managers would be delighted with one point each, considering the stakes. The managers before the game (I'm paraphrasing):

"If we win, tomorrow will be Tuesday. If we lose, tomorrow will also be Tuesday." - Jose Mourinho.

"Win or lose it will be 1 match of 38." - Pep Guardiola

So with a pleasant 1-1 draw looming over El Clasico, you can imagine my surprise when Iker Casillas blew this game wide open, fudging a routine cross from David Villa, and defrauding Madrid fans everywhere to allow a 2-nil lead within 20 minutes of the kickoff. Yikes.

I would be lying if I said Sara Carbonero didn't cross my mind:

"What happen honey? Why you ruin Mourinho's day?... Were you cold?"

Fine. Two-nil. Remember, we're still only 20 minutes into this game.

Both goals had a very real element of fortune about them, but all the same, this just got more interesting. Phrases that don't really make sense but are cool to say come up at times like these -- The next goal will be the most important one. (Yeah totally!!... ...wait what?)

After two-nil and before halftime, Madrid fans could claim there was a moment of controversy when Cristiano Ronaldo was brought down in the box by Victor Valdez. The reason it was not a penalty, not in Barcelona or in Madrid, was because the original burst by Cristi to get into position was a reaction play. Moments before the ball squirmed free, Cristiano was standing, or relatively still. Once he saw the opportunity present itself, only then did he fly in front of Valdez. The ref noticed this as well and I'm of the firm belief that if Cristiano, by chance, had been running or sprinting from the outset, as if trying to get on to a through-ball, it would have been called. But since it was a broken play, and the intent to beat Valdez to the position was fairly transparent, the referee didn't buy it. I'm not blaming Cristi at all, or the referee since I think it was the correct decision... if that makes any sense at all.

Cue halftime. Cue the sandwiches I mentioned before. I took a picture to not only prove the culture, but to also show you how in 50 degree weather these spoiled Mediterraneans dress like they're about to ski the Pyrenees.

The second half begins and throughout the intermission I'm secretly wishing this turns into a classic for the ages. I would be right, but not the way I imagined.

Nobody expected five-nil. Nobody. Not Pep, not Puyol, not even my landlord. They are lying if they did, or disingenuous at best. What happened was that David Villa had other intentions. The man feasts on big games. It's amazing that people rave about Messi, Xavi, even Iniesta, when on the front page of every newspaper should be David Villa. It was his cross that Pedro tapped in, and his cold-blooded, world class, enter-hyperbole-here finishes that put this game to bed. If Real Madrid were a beautiful 12-point buck, Xavi shot it in the leg while David Villa calmly walked over with a chainsaw and cut it to bits.

I barely heard a peep about Villa during Spain's World Cup run and nothing has changed during the aftermath of this blowout. I'll air my gripes at another time, because right now it's still 4-nil, there are 30 minutes left in El Clasico, and the match has yet to reach it's highest level of absurdity.

For a ten minute span starting at the hour mark, Barcelona FC decided to cash in on their bets of who could nutmeg the most Real Madrid players. No joke, Xavi had 2 megs, Iniesta had 2, Alves may have had 3 (the winner), Boooosie with 1, Messi with 1... you get the picture. Ticky-tack champagne soccer had begun, egged on by the crowd who were chanting:

Hey-o hey-o hey-o.
Esto es un chorreo.

Chorreo = blowout. Ouch.

That wasn't even my favorite song. To the tune of Guantanamera, the masses hilariously begged Jose Mourinho to, "come out of the dugout":

Sal del banquillo... Mourinho sal del banquillo... Saal del banquiiiiiiiiillooooo, Mourinho sal del banquiiillooo.

The banquillo (ban-key-yo) is the pyrex bubble Mourinho hid inside, with reason, for most of the game. In fact, talking about it afterward with a friend who watched at home, we agreed there was really only one time when Mourinho stood near the sideline. Anyway, they're a clever bunch, the fans, when winning 4-nil.

The greatest insult, and this was a doozey, came via Pep Guardiola when he substituted for Bojan Krkic. Make no mistake, Guardiola was insulting Los Merengues. I'll let my Read Madrid friend explain, (I'm paraphrasing):

"When Pep says, hey, you know what will be great (mock laugh), I'm gonna put in the retard - you know it's humiliating.
[And if he had scored that break-away?, I asked]
God I don't want to talk about this anymore. If Bojan had scored I would have died. That's the only thing I left with man, at least Bojan didn't score. We got spanked and it was terrible, but if that hack Bojan scores it would have been worse."

It sounds harsh but any Barcelona supporter would agree. Half my section encouraged Bojan with, "run Bojan, run!!" sarcastically as if they were mocking Forest Gump. Send the boy out on loan, please; but I digress.

The culmination, besides Jeffren's completion of la manita (pictured here, holding up your mano to indicate exactly how many goals have been scored), was when Jorge Ramos decided he had had enough.

From the moment Messi took off it looked like a bunch of piranhas chasing after a minnow. I started cringing and just about everyone knew what was coming. What happened after the mass of Merengues converged and left Messi in a heap was a blur. A flash of red, Puyol hits the deck, mayhem, Ramos storms off, hits Xavi in the face, the crowd is incensed, thousands of whistles, more mayhem. It all converged into this:

Saludo al campeon!

Saludo al campeon!

(repeat 10x)

The final whistle sounds and the crowd celebrates as if the result were a surprise. The hymn immediately blasts from the speakers and it isn't for another 10 minutes when the majority of fans head for the exit.

The tunnels bottleneck with fans, factions of songs break out, smiles abound. Just another Monday night in Barcelona.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What's That You Say?

We beat them by how many goals? Oh dear, that's quite a lot. Maybe we should have taken it easy on them... I hate it when Mourinho calls me late at night and breathes menacingly into the phone, and you can be sure he'll be at it again tonight. I know it's you, Jose.

Next up (I hope): a summary from our very own correspondent, present earlier this evening at the Camp Nou.