Two wizards conjure up a magic show
El Clásico may be big but Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are simply bigger, writes SID LOWE
THE HOMAGE to Catalonia turned into a homage to Cristiano Messi and Lionel Ronaldo. They say that sport and politics should not mix but sport and politics do mix, especially when it comes to Real Madrid versus Barcelona. There may be no more political match on the planet and this Sunday was billed as the most political match of them all, certainly since 1975. Madrid-Barcelona, Gerard Pique admitted this week, has come to be seen as Spain-Catalonia, even if it shouldn’t. In the end, though, it was another match that captured the imagination: Messi versus Ronaldo.
On the day that Franco died, Joan Granados and Jaume Rosell picked up the bust of the dictator in an office at Camp Nou and began to throw it to each other across the room, laughing. The bust fell and smashed into pieces. Soon after, Barcelona faced Madrid and Camp Nou filled with hastily stitched senyeras – Catalan flags, still officially banned.
Jaume Rosell is the father of Sandro, the current president of Barcelona, the same man who recently attended a march on Catalonia’s national day, September 11th. Rosell insisted that he did so in a personal capacity. But, to a backdrop of economic crisis, failed negotiations over the fiscal pact between Barcelona and Madrid, the calling of elections and talk of a referendum on independence, this was set to be more then a game and the traditional pre-match mosaic, organised by the club, would be a senyera: 98,000 people holding up yellow and red cards.
It was going to be explosive in the stands. It was, as it turned out, much more explosive on the pitch. When the stadium clock ticked up to 17 minutes and 14 seconds, it began. The year 1714 was the end of the siege of Barcelona, when the city was defeated. Up went the chant from a large number of the fans in the stadium: “Independence! Independence!” The game hadn’t really got going yet; it was as if everyone was waiting to get that out of the way first. But then it did. And when it did, it turned into something special.
Not so much because of the game as a whole but because of two men. The gap between the two teams remained eight points and the gap between Barcelona and Atletico in second is now just goal difference. There were some impressive performances – from Sergio Busquets, Martin Montoya, and Pedro, Mesut Ozil, Pepe and Sami Khedira – and yet the final score and the sense of excitement concealed a game that created relatively few clear chances, no truly outstanding saves and occasionally, a strange sloppiness in the play.
It also disguised the fact that Barcelona have not reached their level, a side that builds its moves with patience and precision it is striking that one goal came from a mistake by Pepe and the other from a 25-yard free-kick. Real constructed both their goals, Barcelona did not. There was a sense on Sunday night of Madrid drawing close to Barcelona’s level.