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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 28, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

    Messi an antidote to Mourinho’s menace

    Carl O'Malley

    Two down, four to go.

    This evening the third and fourth semi-finals of the week will take place in the Europa League and will go some way to sorting out who will meet in the final at the Aviva Stadium on May 18th. Will it be Benfica or Braga to face Porto or Villarreal? Ireland awaits – with about as much anticipation it affords the prospect of an ECB interest rate hike.  If the example set last night by the ‘standard bearers’ of world football is anything to go by, it may be worth unplugging the television altogether lest you put your foot through it and risk missing the Heineken Cup semi-finals at the weekend.

    The fifth and sixth semis of the week will undoubtedly emerge as the highlights of what should have been a memorable helping of sport over seven days.

    Manchester United cannot be faulted for their dismemberment of a callow Schalke side on Tuesday, nor can Uefa because the Germans followed a similar route as everyone else to that stage of the competition – won their group and ousted the defending champions – but it was hardly a game worthy of the occasion.

    It’s always good to see the odd outsider spirited into the dying stages by a combination of moments of class (see Raul), desire and luck, but the risk they might freeze in the spotlight is constant and centre stage proved too debilitating for Ralf Rangnick’s hopelessly outclassed side.

    Nevertheless, despite their vapid performance they, each to man, emerged with more credit than practically everyone involved in the last night’s game between two teams who feel it is their divine right to contest games at this stage of the year, every year.

    Practically, because yet again Lionel Messi proved himself to be the antidote to modern football – a new hope to the dark side of the beautiful game that has become so overly populated it is barely recognisable from its previous incarnations.

    Xavi, too, remains a joy to watch, but their team-mates should not escape criticism for the part they played in an embarrassing spectacle – whether or not provoked by the tactics of the cynical Jose Mourinho, whose victories are joyless for the neutral and whose graceless defeats lower his stock with each passing year.

    One could cope with Mourinho’s pre-match hype and provocation of Pep Guardiola and Barca if, like a boxer, say, he admitted afterwards he was beaten by a worthy and, indeed, superior adversary. The pantomime in the prelude is not the problem with Mourinho, because sport is as much in the head as anywhere else, but his refusal to acknowledge the incontrovertible evidence after the game has been played is beyond pathetic and an insult to those of us who expect the talking to end and the best players in the world to play.

    Instead, he actively stops them from them from doing their job. In his efforts to prevent a weakened Barcelona side from doing what they do best, he prevented his side from doing the same. He left talents like Kaka, Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema on the bench. At home. If anyone has the armoury to take on Barca, it’s Real, yet he started without a striker. Granted, he is wary of a repeat of their 5-0 league drubbing at the hands of Barca, but there has to be a happy medium and one feels those Real stalwarts – like former Argentine international Jorge Valdano – disciples of the ‘whatever you score we’ll score more approach’, will be sharpening their knives for Mourinho again this morning.

    Of course, none of it was entirely unexpected and Mourinho has history in this regard, but Barca are under his skin more than even Liverpool were while he was at Chelsea and his tactics, as a result, are both negative and cowardly.

    The lucky ones – if that is the right term – who started the game last night, were seemingly instructed to abandon what it is that makes them the players they are. Xabi Alonso, for instance, turns destroyer, as opposed to the practically peerless playmaker he is known to be.

    Pepe is instructed to go out and live on the edge, thereby either physically bullying and fouling Barca into submission or fulfilling Mourinho’s prophecy that one of his players will be sent off. There was nothing unjust about his dismissal, by the way, anyone who goes into a tackle in that manner, with studs up when his opponent is clear favourite to win the ball, must know what to expect. That Dani Alves made the most of it is a regrettable and points to the worrying decay of sportsmanship within the Camp Nou as well, but Pepe and Mourinho can have no complaints. Yes, a yellow might have sufficed but players get sent off for dangerous, reckless challenges all the time and this was just another example. Forget the slow motion replays and the post-match analysis, the referee gets one look at these things and players should know what looks good and what doesn’t.

    Elsewhere, Alvara Arbeloa has turned into a snarling henchman, despite not needing such attributes when marking Messi out of a game against Liverpool in 2007.  So too, Marcelo. Against any other team he is a potent attacking weapon from deep on the left. Against Barca, he kicks, pulls and stamps when he can – as Pedro, who was infuriatingly theatrical at times, found to his cost.

    How must it feel, deep down, for players like Alonso, Benzema and Kaka to have been roped into what is essentially Mourinho’s angry deluded mob? Surely they ask themselves whether their manager has faith in them as players and whether this Real Madrid side is coaxing the best out of them in their short careers.

    Even Ronaldo, who once seemed the perfect on-field foil for his arrogant countryman, must have doubts over where Mourinho is taking his game. At United, he and his manager feared nobody.

    Surely they all hoped for better than this when they arrived at the Bernabeu, just like we all, perhaps misguidedly, hoped for something special when sitting down to watch another disappointing instalment of El Clasico last night.

    Roll on Leinster and Toulouse.

    • John says:

      Roll on Munster Vs Harlequins at Thomand Park, home of rugby :-)

    • David says:

      Great piece.
      Deluded they most certainly are. If you play on the edge of the law, there’s a good chance you’ll get sent off.
      Thanks God for Messi though.

    • Paul says:

      I don’t agree with you Carl. Barcelona are becoming notorious for their diving and general behaviour. They seem to go out of their way to get players sent off and the referees are totally biased. Remember Arsenal last round and van Persie?

      I formed this opinion a couple of years ago when they played Chelsea. They really are taking full advantage of the referees. The rolling around and peaking through their hands to see if the player got sent off really puts me off them.

    • Brian says:

      Agree with most of what you say, Madrid have a group of players that really show up Mourinho’s limitations as a coach but I can’t let off some of Barcelona’s antics so easily. Not just Pedro and Busquets but the hounding of the ref by most of the team to produce cards for challenges that they didn’t see (because they didn’t exist) left a bad aftertaste. Mourinho is intolerable but Barcelona players put far more psychological pressure on a ref than any coach could hope to.

      Madrid playing ugly is within their right irrespective of their squad or their traditions – the fact that they do so, of course, makes it more likely they’ll get a player sent off, a point that probably should be put to Mourinho. I don’t think it was a sending off last night but neither was it a disgraceful decision. It was a decision made more likely by the conduct of the Barca players up to that point. Which definitely is against the rules but none of them were booked for it.

    • James says:

      This is ridiculous. Everyone has a go at teams like Stoke, Real Madrid under Mourinho, Blackburn etc. and then lauds the likes of Barcelona. All Barcelona do is another form of killing the game – 100s of passes in their own half, tippy-tappy kind of stuff for minutes on end. They then cheat, dive, “get fouled or hit in the face” (Alves and Busquets, as far as I’m concerned should be banned from football for far longer than Cantona was for assaulting a fan), surround the referee more aggressively than any side – even Man Utd – and win against an exhausted and frustrated opposition.

      You suggest Mourinho is killing the game but on that logic it’s completely unjustified to praise Barcelona. Yes they are the anti-Stoke if you like; but extremes are almost always undesirable. They stifle adventure until Messi is on the ball. They are all technically exceptional, but lack the adventure that he has. They do nothing exceptional until they attack, which is inevitably when Messi is involved, yet get disproportionate amounts of praise.

      Their form of play is no more the beautiful game than Wrexam’s as far as I’m concerned. Teams like Arsenal, Man Utd, the Milan of old, the Liverpool of new – these are the teams that have adventure and go forward (although Man U only when Rooney, Giggs and possibly Nani are playing and they are also outrageous cheats for other reasons). They are more direct, they look to probe, attack and actually play the opposition. Barcelona hate to play their opposition. They prefer to play amongst themselves and go crying to the referee should the other team have the sheer audacity to interrupt their keep-ball.

      What Pedro, Busquets and Alves (and Villa in the Copa del Rey final, amongst others) did was unacceptable. They should not be allowed anywhere near the second leg.

      I’m with Mourinho. I have never bought into conspiracy theories but now I don’t know. Chelsea in the semis; Arsenal when Lehman was sent off; Arsenal when RVP was sent off; now this. I have never seen them win a champions league they deserve. They have protection at every level of the game – Rijkaard got a medal of honour or something from UEFA for basically cheating after the Chelsea farce. I hope they get stuffed by Real in the second or, almost as satisfyingly, annihilated by Utd in the final.

      Sadly football is not that fair. Not in 2011 at any rate.

      Rant over.

    • Liam says:

      I think Mourinho’s right. Uefa and referees really do favour Barcelona and with all that diving going on its bound to have an impact.

      Seems to me that Barcelona can’t beat a top team with 11-men and that its part of their game-plan to get people sent off.

    • Kyron says:

      El Classico??? El Farceco more like. Paul left a comment that Barcelona “are taking full advantage of the referees”. That being the case then its the referees who are wrong and makes a case for Murhinho’s rants. Murinho has a fear of failure and anyone who calls himself the “Special One” is arrogant and setting himself up for a mighty fall.
      Roll on Cork v Tipp May 29th, now that’s El Classico or in this case El Clashico

    • I don’t think I ignored the, at times disgraceful, role Barca players played in the game. In fact, I only singled out Messia and Xavi for praise. But I do see their behaviour as more of reaction to the tactics employed by Real, rather than a gameplan. Just as it is within Real’s right to adopt the tactics they did, it is Barca’s right to exploit them.

      I doubt very much that if and when Barca meet United in the final you will see something similar because United are more likely to try and beat Barca without resorting to breaking them first.

      I did, however, fail to mention the Amlin Cup semi-finals and for that I humbly apologise. Roll on Thomond, indeed.

    • Arron Lynch says:

      Is everybody missing the point here?? Neither Barca nor Real were worthy of the place in the semi-final they contested last night. Football as a spectacle between two of the most decorated teams in Europe (most decorated in Spain) should amount to more than an episode of some inferior soap opera splashed with a moment or two of genius. Mourinho may be the one who riles, but Guardiola is not exempt from the part he played in the folly. No-one knows what these two managers said to their teams before the match and at half time, but one can safely say it wasn’t ‘Go out and play with pride, for your club, for your team, and your fans’. Needless to say, it’s highly unlikely that will be the rallying call next week either.

    • Ger Molloy says:

      Bottom line is Mourinho is poor sportsman. Can’t take a defeat and is prepared to ruin a game to achieve a win. Game is better off without him.

    • ciaran says:


      Was that the match they played Chelsea and Abidal was sent off when Anelka tripped himself?

    • M says:

      Mourinho can’t really complain about diving and cheating and Barcelona’s CL wins being tainted. His Porto side that won the CL and Cup Winner’s Cup (can’t remember what it was called then) were notorious divers. I remember Deco scoring a few free kicks from non-existent fouls and some players gave half their time rolling after a tackle as though the pitch was on the side of a hill!

    • Cal says:

      Come on people. you must surely admit that when chelsea, inter and real played barca under Jose that he sent them out to hack and hack. for god sake if you cant admit that then you are blind. i am a big barca fan and i think the diving is ridiculous, it is ruining the game. but what do you do if you keep getting hacked down?? whether or not that tackle was a sending off the other night it was a dangerous tackle whatever angle you look at it.

      Arsenal were hard done by to get a man sent off in previous round but that doesnt mean that barca dont deserve to be in the final. Barca suffer from poor decisions too, copa del rey final the offside goven against pedro was clearly a wrong decision.

    • steve says:

      I’m so happy to see everyone opening their eyes to how disgusting and cheating barca are. a bunch of cry babies. mourinho chose defense barca choose attack. why are people condemning Madrid for playing Defence and saying that’s the reason for barca diving etc. pepe DID NOT DESERvE a red card. you sir are clearly blind or so anti mourinho that your blinded by envy. I see these decisions being made in every CL game involving Barcelona. going as far back as Chelsea where they were Robbed time after time. Messi didn’t even know how to play when pepe stopped his every move …….. what a genius he is to score against a demoralized Madrid.

    • Darragh says:

      Amazingly Madrid don’t have a problem with the dives their own players made in the first half in an attempt to get some sort of set piece chances. While Barca’s conduct is highly questionable at times it shouldn’t detract from the fact that the Special One sent out the 9 time European champions club out to defend en masse, clearing the ball any & everywhere. For a team of such stature that is an absolute disgrace.

      The conduct of both sets of players should really herald the tipping point for this sort of behaviour in the “beautiful game” with UEFA finally adopting a clear position on the matter. Namely that only a captain can talk to the referee and that diving will be comprehensively punished post-match using video technology. The game is becoming more like a theatrical spectacle than a sport at present.

    • brian says:

      Barca players will do that to counter Mourinho’s extreeme tactics.Every teams have some players who dive..dig deal.Who was the biggest diver ever on that pich that night ? Guess what it was Cristiano Ronaldo,Former Manchester United,EPL player

    • Donal says:

      Another couch potato telling us about the ‘death of football’ because he doesn’t like what he sees on the TV. Expecting goals goals goals were we? Support and write about the local game if you’re feeling so disenchanted Carl. Or as you suggest, you can just drop one sport for another, wherever ‘greatness’ takes you – tiddlywinks, the Heineken Cup, whatever.

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