During the Clasico apocalypse, and the SuperCopa tie that followed, behind the (sometimes irrational) rage a Clasico with Jose Mourinho brings, I had a nagging sense of déjà vu. There was something in the back of my mind that was telling me there was something unconnected that was setting me off. Graham Hunter touches upon it in his review of the first leg at the Bernabeu:
Above all, let’s hope these teams treat us to another enthralling display of football like the one we saw on Sunday, a match stained only by two glaring negatives. Pepe, in particular, represents a growing ethos among Mourinho’s players that they can foul Barcelona’s players, then fake indignation that their victim is somehow exaggerating or acting. There was a tackle by the Portuguese international on Alves […] that I thought could easily have merited a red card for Pepe. Yet some Real Madrid players felt free, after the match, to slam Alves for what they think is his tendency to feign injury.
But it really goes further back than that.
When I was a kid, some of the other neighbourhood kids, my siblings and I used to play football in a small cement cage connected to a playground. There was one kid who brought the ball and we would all divide ourselves into loosely-defined teams and we’d slug it out. For a time, it would be very enjoyable. The other kids on the bench would cheer, parents ignored us unless there was some bone-crunching tackle or unseemly hair-pulling, and all was well.
Eventually, though, the difference in ability would become a bit obvious, as all the talented kids were on my team (hey, gotta say it like it is) and so the scoreline, not that anyone was really counting, would show that difference. More importantly though, was that the other team was being out-played and couldn’t compete. And so, after huffing and puffing and much screeching, the kid would simply pick up the ball and huff away. “Pahtooey! I didn’t want to play with you guys anyway!”
And we were left without a ball and without a pastime.
(Naturally, being kids, we would vent this frustration into a new pastime: ringing the doorbells of unsuspecting neighbours and giggling away before being caught).
As I got older, there were random matches played on the schoolyard during recess. When making teams, generally speaking, the more technically gifted kids would band together and be on the same team, while the other kids would be on the other. As usual, the games would start out fun before the other kids realized they’re not getting a kick. Annoyed, the kids stop the game and make their feelings known. An argument ends up happening, and it all gets very silly.
The not-getting-a-kick kids complain that the gifted kids should stop showboating and let them play too. The gifted kids end up huffing that the other kids shouldn’t be playing if they aren’t good enough to compete. Being the peacemaker, I would say that football is for everyone and we’re all playing the way we can and know how to. And the game would resume.
So what does this long-winding trip through memory lane have to do with El Clasico?
Post match, after being the victim of a vicious scissor tackle from Marcelo, Cesc Fabregas had dismissed the reporter’s question with regards to the incident with a shrug:
“Madrid? Well, they’re very competitive. Every team plays the way they want and can.”
But the connection still wasn’t made in my mind. It needed a discussion between new reader adopted cule and tactical whiz Euler on a part of Madrid tactics for me to finally understand what it was exactly that made my blood boil about these particular set of clasicos. An excerpt:
adopted cule: Madrid took an absurdly high number of hard, professional fouls in the first game. Any time that a Barcelona player threatened to break containment and get the ball into gaping spaces between the Madrid lines, a Madrid player would hack him down from behind with no potential play on the ball.
Euler: You bring up a very good point that I didn’t want to get into to much because it starts overlapping into areas where Madrid played in a very vile fashion. But your specific point is very correct. It’s very clear that in this set up Mourinho is using tactical fouling as a defensive technique.
Basically the Madrid players are left 1 vs. 1 across many parts of the pitch. If one gets beat the rest of the team behind them is at numerical disadvantage.
So what they are doing is this: tackle the ball and if you don’t get it – wipe out the attacker. Make sure that the attacker cannot progress. If you have to take the foul (or even the card) so be it.
[…] Madrid is using their pace to defend. They have good to outstanding pace all over the pitch now except in two spots – Carvalho and Xabi Alonso.
The reason why Xabi keeps making all of these awful tackles is that he is a poor athlete. He cannot close down the ball to defend. In turn he constantly has to wipe out the player to stop the play. He is constantly tactical fouling because he doesn’t have the foot speed to defend.
Tactical fouling is always a high risk strategy as you are always at risk for picking up cards. When mixed with reckless anger it’s a recipe for disaster. The tackles stop being tactical at some point and just become violent.
But [Mourinho] knows this – which is why he has been constantly complaining about referees since he came into La Liga. He knows he needs to pressure the refs to play this style of football – otherwise he’ll constantly have players sent off.
Basically, Mourinho is using tactical fouling as part of his system. Why is this worth noting? Because tacticans, when reviewing this match, want to keep their work as ‘objective’ as possible, or are taking the high road in this regard, and are choosing not to delve into this aspect of his tactics. Thus, in my humble opinion, an incomplete picture is painted and misguided conclusions are reached. This is explored in some ways in this article.
And this leads me to another thing I wish to discuss.
CHEATING and FC Barcelona
A rant I wrote in frustration in the comment section pretty much represents my feelings on the matter, and so I will paste it here:
Something I find interesting is the use of diving and cheating when talking about Barcelona.
Diving, in my view, is getting a foul when there is no contact made. Embellishing is making a meal of contact. And yet, the two are blurred together and simply referred to diving; in England, very often with outrage on TV and forums/blogs/message boards, as CHEATING — with capital letters to emphasize the point. Joey Barton on Twitter being the latest to use the term when talking about the Gervinho incident.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting.
Barcelona, as a whole, is accused of being divers and, by extension, cheaters. This is as if the whole team, on a regular basis, gets fouls in their favor when there is no contact made. What I will say, as a cule who has no problem admitting (if that is the right word choice) it, that Alves and Busquets, and sometimes Iniesta and Mascherano, are embellishers. They make meals out of contact made. Every single game? Definitely not. After every Clasico? Still no. Why? The biggest example is the 5-0 manita at home. Notice how little embellishing there was in that game – and both Alves and Busi played in the game, as did Pepe, Khedira, Ramos. In the CL final, there was also little to no embellishing. There are reasons for that. But do they do it? Yes. Yes, they do.
Which brings me to the next thing I want to rant about: the use of this embellishing as a method to look more balanced than one actually is. Somehow, this embellishing is equal to and, in the view of others, much worse than anything everyone else does, including potential career-ending tackles. “Bad tackles happen and it’s a man’s game anyway,” they say, “but diving/embellishing is CHEATING.”
Let me get a couple of things out of the way. Firstly, diving and embellishing suck. It is cheating as it unfairly gains an advantage that is not deserved. However in my world view, terrible tackles are so much worse. At worst, diving and embellishing can get someone sent off and you can lose the game. Tackling, on the other hand, can end careers – end a person’s livelihood; how a person makes money to support themselves and others around them; with many not having a back-up career. (The obscene amount of money they make in the first place is a different topic for another discussion).
Secondly, we don’t use embellishing as part of our tactical system. That is to say, Pep does not deliberately ask players to make meals of contact. If they do, they are acting alone in their behaviour.
The only time I can think of where embellishing was used as part of a deliberate, tactical approach, was the first leg of the CL semi-final after the Copa del Rey final. It was used as a direct response to the on-pitch mugging that occurred in the aforementioned final – to bring attention to the types of fouls that were no called due to the psychological pressure put on referees by a certain coach.
Now, in England, with their hatred of CHEATING and envy of Barcelona, inevitably chose to focus on this part. Because the media, which has a large reach in the football world, is annoyed their top teams keep losing to us and fans of those teams we’ve beaten feel the need to try and take the ‘gloss’ of the shine of the club in envy. There is no other possible point of contention on the pitch with regards to Barcelona, so one part is taken and then blown out of proportion. After all, doesn’t every team have at least one embellisher?
Has any manager or team complained about these so-called ‘theatrics’ other than one? There is a reason for that. For every action, there is a reaction; in football terms, for every tactical implement, there is an opposing one.
For example, Athletic Bilbao play physical football. They stay compact and are no-nonsense in their tackling. When they exceed the boundaries, they are given cards and accept them without much fuss or outrage and continue on. Likewise we take the tackles, or dish them and get cards, with little fuss or complaint. Why is this? Because the games are hard fought, tackling no-nonsense but not cynical.
Now here is the thing I really want to get off my chest.
If a team uses an aggressive approach as a part of a tactical system, which often exceeds the boundaries set by the rules of the game, are they not also CHEATING? After all, they are acting dishonestly/unfairly in order to gain an advantage. They are deliberately breaking the rules set by the game and are ‘conning’ the ref into believing there was little to no contact, that the player was diving, and/or it was their ‘first’ foul, and therefore go unpunished.
If the team who uses an aggressive approach as part of a tactical system which often exceeds the boundaries set, also contains players who, often and serially, go to ground easily with little to no contact, does that not make them CHEATING hypocrites? After all, they are claiming to have moral beliefs that they do not conform to while acting dishonestly/unfairly by deliberately exceeding the rules of the game in order to gain an advantage.
If the team’s coach who has implemented this aggressive approach as part of their tactical system, goes in front of the media and complains of players being dismissed are unwarranted, therefore saying said-players never exceed the boundaries of the game, and whose players claim it is due to the play-acting of the opposition team, make the coach’s team sanctimonious CHEATING hypocrites? After all they are making a show of being moral superior than others while being morally self-contradicting and are acting dishonestly/unfairly by deliberately exceeding the rules of the game in order to gain an advantage.
Adopting a physical approach is fine. There are boundaries, and the referee is there to enforce them. Ballet dancing this ain’t. But to play right up to, and beyond, the rules of physicality and fail to accept the consequences of your actions is demeaning, juvenile and dispiriting to witness. – Graham Hunter after the first leg of the SuperCopa
At this point, one would say ‘Barcelona say/do this on the field and in post-match comments’ to make the comment seem more balanced.
Which leads me to the next topic.
Building Up the Straw Men
As fans we tend to operate partly as fanatics of our team and partly as internet warriors wielding our keyboards in indignation at things being said about our team on a variety of blogs and/or articles. “WHAT?! Someone dares to say Xavi is overrated?! Ohhh, just you wait. I will be on you like pale on Iniesta,” fingers are cracked, words are typed at a dizzying speed, and an online battle between fan and other fan begins.
In El Clasico, with Mourinho as an added factor, these battles become more and more ugly as the frequency of Clasicos increase.
Make no mistake, El Clasico never used to be tame. Older fans will remember the infamous pig head thrown at Luis Figo’s return to Camp Nou after his transfer to Madrid. The boot has always been left in for a fraction longer than it should have, like a derby between rivals but with morbo making it about a million times more passionate. However, with the added use of social media and blurry YouTube videos to spread unseemly rumors, it has become even more toxic.
In these online battles, as the anger, frustration and indignation increases, the use of straw men arguments become prevalent. Reader Jose sums up the logical fallacy here:
[The use of the straw man logic fallacy]’s when you take an argument against you, hoist up a similar but far more superficial and flimsy argument (a straw man), and then refute that.
So when you turn “Barcelona believes that the dangerously aggressive style that Madrid has resorted to is creating a toxic environment in the Clasicos” into “Barcelona believes that nobody should play anything other than beautiful football and to do so would be an act of immorality” you’ve just changed your opponent’s argument into something that it isn’t, so that it is easy to refute. Many cules believe the former, a limited few believe the latter. The players have commented on the former, none have stated the latter.
Same goes for when “Barcelona’s current recruitment policy places an emphasis on promoting canteranos far more than Real Madrid’s policy which has favored purchasing most of its talent in recent history” somehow becomes “Barca’s recruitment policy has always been about promoting from La Masia while Real Madrid’s is only about Galacticos.” Many cules believe the former, few cules will actually argue the latter.
Of CHEATING, Straw Men, and El Clasico
The thing that was most frustrating about these Clasicos was the sheer childishness of it all. From fans, media, but more damningly, from the players and clubs themselves.
There is a stark inability to admit to when their club is wrong that is very prevalent, full of finger pointing and distracting. “That was a very bad challenge from Pepe.” Yeah, well, Alves went down like he was shot. “Di Maria rolled around like a bowling ball.” That was a blatant body check by Pique. “C.Ronaldo went down like a stack of cards.” What about Busquets?
But by far the worst thing that has happened in these Clasico is the use of lies and inconclusive video evidence. It started with the Busi-Marcelo video that surfaced on YouTube, which started as a rumor. It all changed when Real Madrid took a hold of this video and published it on their official website. Here was what was dumb things fans post after a game all the time to stir things up actually taken by club and used publicly. The David Villa rumor — where a Madrid fansite made up a quote attributed to Mesut Ozil saying Villa insulted Ozil’s religion [Islam] — is the latest example of this and was meant to be damaging and hurtful — to hurt and frustrate cules as much as they, the Madridistas, were hurt and frustrated at losing the tie. It had no basis whatsoever and was deleted as soon as it spread.
“Marcelo nearly breaks Cesc’s leg with a vicious tackle.” Yeah, well, Villa insulted Ozil’s religion. “But actually so-and-so just said Ozil stepped on Cesc when he was down.”
And it goes on and on. People find more and more ridiculous things to try and equate things to — to try and draw up a straw man to.
It’s childish, and cruel in its childishness, because as you know: kids can be cruel.
At this point, I would like to address something. As a cule, I know I am far from partial. Love can be blinding, after all. And I can’t say that I’m not guilty of falling into or being influenced by straw men arguments. However, in my world view, what should be judged first and foremost is the behaviour of teams on the pitch and in interviews and coaches in press conferences and interviews.
There are many people equating Barca’s and Madrid’s behaviour in this mess, as if they were the same. They are not. I want to say this as clearly as possible. The share of the blame is not equal.
A portion of it most definitely goes to Barcelona, for raising to the bait. The latest example being the Marcelo tackle. Notice how Pep immediately reacts, then catches himself and then goes to control his players. At that point, when Pep told them to stop, they should have stopped. They did not, and so they have to take their share of the blame. Barcelona are not completely innocent and without fault in this mess.
However, though no rational person is arguing, or should be arguing, that Jose Mourinho is not the largest part of this farce, one should also be reminded he is Madrid’s coach. It’s not just a case of Mourinho being Mourinho and that’s what he does. When he talks in press conferences, or any similar environment, he is representing Madrid. Do I care much for Madrid’s image? No. I can’t say that I do. They hired him, and they knew what baggage they were getting with him. Which is the point I’m trying to make.
FC Barcelona did not hire Jose Mourinho — Real Madrid CF did. And they have to bear the consequences of his actions, and the actions of their players while representing Madrid. That means what they do on the football pitch and in press conferences.
Similarly, we have Josep Guardiola, and we have to bear the responsibility of his actions and the actions of our players while representing Barcelona. It is not FC Barcelona’s fault that Jose Mourinho does not care about Real Madrid’s image, history, or them as an institution. We happen to have a coach who cares deeply about the club he manages. That’s our luck.
Right now, I see a Real Madrid team that does not know how to lose, with a manager adding gunpower to an already charged atmosphere to paraphrase one Gerard Pique.
We beat Madrid 2-6 at home. They beat us 4-1 with us having to do a guard of honor at their stadium. For the second time in a row, we beat Manchester United in the CL final. None were as bad as the last couple of Clasicos. The difference?
If you have a negative model, you do negative things. If you have a positive model, who says positive things, who says you have to onto the pitch to compete and play football, it’s much better. — Dani Alves after SuperCopa win.
There is a source to this added hostility, and he lives in Madrid. And until something is done, the same thing goes on and on and on.
So when I see another Clasico storm come by, I’m struck by yet another nagging feeling of déjà vu.
[There are a number of controversial topics discussed in this post at the same time. Let’s keep the comments and responses as civil as possible. I know I don’t need to say this for a site like BFB but I will just in case.]