Copa Final Preview: Wednesday 3:30pmEST, GolTV
Grass. It’s green, it’s actually a weed. There’s nothing special to it; no one spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on it just so it looks nice. Except it’s everything and yes they do. Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is planted with Desso GrassMaster, an artificial and real combination. The Mestalla in Valencia, where Barcelona and Real Madrid will play the Copa del Rey final tomorrow, is real grass. The Camp Nou is completely real as well.
Having never played on the manicured lawns of a professional stadium, I have no idea how different it would be. No doubt I’d rainbow fools and chilena golazos left and right if given such a surface. But then again, I have played in grass that is far too long, that holds the ball up. I have played bumpy fields that cause random bounces. I have played on patchy fields, undulating fields, and even a field in Guatemala that was went uphill in one direction. And that’s kind of the point: the state of the field matters.
I don’t know if Mourinho really grew the grass at the Bernabeu longer or if he’ll do the same for the Champions League match in a week, but if he did, if he thought that would help, then not doing so, having shorter grass, would logically be a boon for Barça. And if it is true, if a putting green is what we need, then the Mestalla’s slick field, well-kept and certainly prepared for the big stage, will help immensely.
Again, I don’t know if RM really did that. I don’t particularly care because anything that slows us down slows them down too and if they were working with a counter attacking tactical approach, then they sort of shot themselves in the foot. Or maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about and I should go back to my rural Ohio fields covered in crab grass and the occasional golf ball that will turn your ankle. But what I do care about is that we, the sporting public, the cules, the ones who want to know, pay attention to whether or not the ball moves more quickly in Valencia. If the team looks less sluggish, if Villa is suddenly the world beater we all know he is again, and if Messi slides by opponents with ease again.
If those things happen, if Barça is Barça, then you’ll know it’s the field. You’ll know David Villa loves to play with speed, through the back line with pace, rather than holding the ball up and playing slow motion tiki-taka over silly putty turf. Fun to fall on, but not so great for surface passing. Or maybe it will be Guardiola’s team talk, his tactical approach. Will Pedro suddenly have another gear to get into? Will his menace return full force? Again, playing surface or Guardiola? Will Xavi get space and time because you can’t hold that pivoting, hair-gelled midget down 2 games in a row or because Valencia’s groundscrew set the lawnmower to a shorter setting than their Bernabeu counterparts?
Tactics. Approach. Grass. Who gives a rat’s derriere?
Someone will end with 10. Someone will end crying foul. Someone will say it’s a conspiracy. Someone will play act. Someone will cheat. Someone will foul and get away with it. Someone won’t foul and will get booked anyway. These things are preordained because they’re always preordained when you get the 2 most absurd teams in the world together. And yes, I said absurd.
If your president jokes that you’ll win 5-0 and it’s considered a lack of respect and he’s forced to apologize, then you’re absurd. If you’re obsessed with speaking or not speaking at press conferences, with pointing out that you’re ignoring certain journalists for perceived slights, then you’re absurd. If you’re a snazzy dresser who keeps it real all the time and never gets emotionally carried away, then you’re, well…well then you’re Pep Guardiola. But your team is still absurd.
And then when you get those two absurdities together as enemies, as willful combatants in an infinite fight to the death, then the absurdity reaches the point where it’s greater than the sum of its parts. You begin to dissect what grass is used, which ball is in play (Jabulani, renamed Powercell or something of equal marketing fail status), whether the ref has given more penalties to one side than the other: it won’t be fair to one side. It’s never fair, not when your team is on the losing end. Shrug of the shoulders if you did. Thems the breaks, you know.
It’s the circus and the ringmasters are battier than the clowns, the show must always go on, even if there’s nothing new. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the Big Top, to where the elephants in the room dance for all to see, where the twirling and prancing is just the precursor to the bloodletting of the lion taming. Did you witness that? It’s the old man letting his team have it. Did you hear that? It’s the young star shouting in the tunnel about your king who isn’t his king (even if he may not have said anything, it’s audible).
Copa del Rey final. Barça-Madrid. This is as good as it gets and, really, why not just enjoy it for once? Are we so far beyond the pale that we’ll have to restrain ourselves from throwing things through TVs when the Evil Opposing Team is on screen? I am, but there’s no reason you need to be.