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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

El Clasico: My recipe for the perfect football feast


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  Sqf Heaney

Woodstock 69’: love, freedom and prosperity. Wimbledon: elegance and tradition. For me, El Clasico is up there with these occasions as the greatest spectacles on earth. The two most successful sides in the history of Spanish football ripping chunks out of each other. And I love it. I love every glorious, indulgent second of it.

I love the way there are stiff-upper lipped fans who condemn the way it drips with shock value and play-acting, as if they have the right to tell person X what person Y thinks about X, and anyone who does not follow that code is a football-opposer or morally wrong.

I like El Clasico the way it is, thank you. It is shocking and filthy. Filled with the play acting of professionals and the hatred of two clubs who constantly duke it out for the one top spot. Pretty it ain’t. But that’s okay. I and many of you too love shocking moments in football. I want it tough, mean-spirited, angst-ridden and peppered with the scorn of the sanctimonious football media who I dare say love the shock value themselves. You call this my recipe for success, if you really want to.

I want to bask as the cool figurines of Pep Guardiola and Mourinho do skulduggery from the touchlines, and dream of one day being so wealthy that I could own a suit so expensive yet not give a monkey’s if it is ruined by sliding in the mud. I desperately want to be shocked and shout vermin as the enigmatic Busquets falls over at a feather’s touch, and a fight breaks out because of it and then the midfielder miraculously recovers to defend his teammates. I hear Pinto may be starting. I want people to lob rocks at his awful hair!

Perhaps after writing a piece on Balotelli and his stamp it is hypocritical to say this, but I love these dramatic occasions as much as anyone. It is beautiful, enthralling, rousing and bizarrely funny.

And that is what football is. It is there to p*ss us off and make us to throw our season tickets in the bin, to make us feel. I’ve said this one too many times on good old SquareFootball but our lives are set by rules and rigidness. Football opposes that beautifully. It is most certainly not about walking mannequins who only play the game the way the rules set it out. Where is the fun in that? Where is the essence, the substance? The witnessing of the breaking of rules is glorious. It is shocking, different to what we expect. And unpredictability is what makes life worth living, and makes football worth watching.

But NOT just in terms of great play and goals: yes, the actual football, sporty side of football has substance; it is my first and foremost reason for watching the game. But what about the added flavour, the added seasoning? The competitive, shocking nature? That makes it more…alive. And what is this utter tosh about ‘the name of football being dragged down by El Clasico antics’? Oh please. Football has already been dragged down. Football isn’t a moral game. It is built on money and exaggerated celebrations and off-field rivalries and one-upsmanship.

I would be lying if I did not say I loved Mourinho striding up and gouging the eye of one of the Barcelona staff team, having his head pushed away and smirking back with a face you want to roundhouse kick into oblivion, just as much as I love (and I do) a good game of football. I quite like Mourinho – I love to hate him. I like how fans despise him, yet still knowing the footy world would be a more moral – but infinitely less entertaining and dramatic – world without him.

I want both sides of my football bread buttered. Perfection would be if it was played out like the two legs of the Spanish Super Cup: that was an example of football at its finest. The match was filled with drama and confrontations but also with brilliant football from both sides. It was ninety minutes of elation, of fixating viewing. And that is what I believe football should be like.

The modern game increasingly ‘acts out’ its drama rather than just letting the sides play football. It is a sport that is so mysterious: to think we were able to create a game which has so many negatives such as money and mercenary footballers. Yet we still watch. We still watch every further descent into moral oblivion. And El Clasico is where this mystery is epitomised. It’s muddied, but I still love it, and the rest of the world still watches.

The game will be played in almost cinematic fashion. After all, anything your rivals have makes you want it even more – and Real Madrid are the current cup-holders. Barcelona defeated them nonchalantly in the first leg, simply waiting to break the Whites down. The obsession Mourinho and Real Madrid have will always possess a venomous attraction. Real Madrid even this season, who have been more consistent than Barcelona, have been defeated four times this season already. They will be embarrassed if it is made a fifth time.

It’s a chance for the Catalans to stop the notion of a change in dominance yet again – because Madrid are five points clear at the top of the league – and derail Madrid psychologically with another brilliant showing. I want hatred, bitter clashes of pride and cinematic offerings where these two face each other, knowing the victor will get bragging rights for the next few weeks, and equally knowing the other side will shockingly do anything to stop it.

So that’s my wish-list. I dare say it will be dramatic, angry and shocking. But is it so wrong – and am I so shameful – to say I couldn’t love it any other way?

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Colin Illingworth

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