Saturday, April 30, 2011

Far From 'El Classico'

It was to be expected really, it's almost impossible for such fierce rivals to play each other so often in such a short space of time and for such high stakes without it degenerating into a war of attrition. It is not to defend the actions of either team, merely to understand it is the nature of the beast and it is that tribalism and mutual hatred that stokes the fires so hugely in the first place making it the compelling spectacle it is.

Barcelona will take what plaudits are left on offer as first and foremost they won the game, they kept eleven players on the pitch and because they have Lionel Messi. His 52 goals this season (so far) whilst plying his trade for the best footballing team in the world make him a shoe in for this year's ballon d'or, it will be well deserved.

This blog is a huge fan of Jose Mourinho and has made no secret of that in the past, in his own way he is equally as entertaining as Lionel Messi and football would be a lesser place without him, that being said there are times when he - like the man he wishes to emulate, Sir Alex Ferguson - does overstep the mark and this time it is to a very large degree.

Much of what Mourinho does is calculated, even after being sent off on Wednesday night, he chose to sat behind bars, passing written notes to his staff, a man in purgatory, it is pure theatre and nothing less. His post match rant was equally enthralling, his way of getting around the rules by stating 'what he cannot say for fear of sanction' will no doubt be challenged by UEFA this time. Barcelona have threatened legal action and whilst Mourinho can probably feel a little hard done by with Pepe's sending off, his questioning of the legitimacy of this current Barcelona sides' achievements is a step too far, he should learn to lose far more graciously.

Barcelona are not without blame in this episode. This blog has written before about their talents in the dark arts and again they have shown themselves to be incredibly adept at landing their opponents in trouble. We would add however that is not to Barcelona's detriment, quite the opposite as it makes them a more complete team, football is about winning after all. Dani Alves seems in particular a rather disagreeable individual but that does not make him a less effective player. The British media in particular takes a very dim view of 'simulation' whilst at the same time seemingly thinking it fine to potentially end someones carer with a bad tackle, it's deemed a more honest way to cheat. Regardless of this, Barcelona are incredibly good at winning free kicks and conning officials in all manner of ways whilst claiming the moral high ground with their brand of fantasy football. For every Messi, Iniesta and Xavi however there is a Busquets, an Alves and a Puyol, it is a very well balanced side and an incredibly effective team, Monsieur Wenger could learn a lot, the key word being 'effective'.

So however should Senor Mourinho take some instruction, to whinge and complain at the tactics employed by Barcelona is nonsensical. Mourinho is the ultimate pragmatist when it comes to football tactics, he does whatever is required to win. Gamemanship is not something he is averse to and professionalism for want of a better term is part of nearly all professional sport be it sledging in cricket or doping in cycling. Nowadays sporstmen and women do whatever is required to win at all costs and people, as regrettable as it may sound need to accept this. Mourinho in this instance should be spending more time instilling to his own players the need to stay in control and not to be sucked into making the mistakes made by this provocation that lead to the red cards they continually suffer.

It is doubtful that Mourinho believes half the things he says, most is done for effect and to remove the pressure from his players. By stating the tie is dead and that the dark forces of UEFA will not allow Barcelona to be beaten he already has the Madrid based press banging his drum for him, repeating his soundbite 'Why?' which he repeated over and over at the post match press conference. It has effectively removed or at least attempted to do so all blame from himself and his players rendering the match at the Nou Camp meaningless in their eyes. He would argue that at 0-0 and with eleven players on the pitch they were in good shape and it was a result consumerate with the tactics that he was employing. All this however falls flat by what did happen rather than what might have happened. Mourinho, seen as the master of mind games and the media saw his comments on Barcelona, Guardiola and officialdom this week backfire on him quite spectacularly with the tie now all but over before the return at the Nou Camp has even kicked off.

It would seem that even for Mourinho overturning this deficit will be several bridges too far but the reality is that in this instance he has outmaneuvered himself. Whilst the current Barcelona team is a staggeringly good one, the sight of such an expensively assembled (and good) Real team, with players available such as Ronaldo, Ozil, Benzema, Kaka, Higuain, Di Maria - the list goes on - playing so defensively at home should also be called into question. It is a team that has huge attacking talent so to balance the team so much to the contrary could well be a rare tactical mistake from the Portugeezer. It would appear for every team that plays Barcelona, doing so with open tactics is suicidal but Real are more equipped to play Barca than almost anyone else, they are no talentless paupers. To have the talent that he had kicking their heels on the bench seems peculiar. These matches draw obvious comparisons between Ronaldo and Messi but at this juncture that is simply unfair on Ronaldo, asked to plough a furrow as a lone centre forward starved of any opportunity or possession. Barcelona ensure Messi sees the ball regularly and in good positions, it seems an obvious tactic to employ, two goals thank you very much. The prospects of either of these Portuguese enjoying their evening ahead in Catalonia are remote - No Nonsense