1) “This victory has been 15 years in the making, as they (Cryuff and Rexach) have believed in the way we played football.” Pep Guardiola
2) “Cartera contra cantera”. (Wallet vs. youth system)
These two statements succinctly capture the story of ‘El Gran Clasico’ on 29th nov, 2010. On this day Barcelona produced a display so characteristic of ‘shock and awe’ that George W. Bush, would’ve been proud of it.
Writers and newspapers have been waxing eloquently about the Catalan performance and rightfully so. But it may also be true that these very writers wouldn’t be as poetic, had Real Madrid won by a similar score line. Heck, Barcelona could have lost 10-0 and yet it wouldn’t have mattered because they were playing ‘their’ way: the ‘beautiful way’ AND they were using ‘their’ players and not superstars bought from outside. The actual battle had been won by Barcelona long before the actual match had started when the match had been dubbed as ‘Mou’drid vs ‘Barcelona’.
Such had been the buildup before the match, that had Real Madrid won, it was either their money (‘cartera’) or Jose Mourinho which had triumphed, not Real Madrid. And here itself, by being relegated to sidelines by Mourinho, Real had lost; because now one single person had become greater than an institution. When Barcelona won, it was its ‘cantera’ and ‘tiki-taka’ which had won over the “€292m”, the costs associated with this Madrid team. There was no mention whatsoever of Barcelona being the losers, in either case.
Unlike the great rivalries in the other countries (Inter Milan vs AC Milan and Juventus or that of United vs Liverpool), this specific match has an added element: the intense, all-consuming, extraordinarily vehement political overtone because of Spain’s troubled past and General Franco.
‘El Clasico’ is not for the faint hearted and it is certainly not for someone who does not believe that he truly belongs and that he has the divine right to be there and play in what is unquestionably biggest game on Planet Earth. When the time came to perform, the uninitiated were the ones, who were undone most quickly. Di Maria forgot how to run at defenders and pass. Ozil couldn’t complete a single pass in the first half and truly became the invisible man. Khedira lost his composure, Carvalho looked every single year of 32 and Benzema was, well Benzema.
The 98000 fans at Camp Nou baying for your blood can do that to the best of the best and it clearly showed. San Siro is also renowed for its hostility. But with all due respect to AC Milan, its team of aging warhorses was simply not enough to inspire fear in Real. But combine the Camp Nou factor with a frontline boasting Messi and Villa, and it is enough to fill anyone with a mortifying feeling of dread.
The only players who showed that they could handle it were Casillas, CR7, Alonso and to a lesser extent Ramos, Pepe and Marcelo. To play in the ‘El Clasico’ either you have to have the swagger and confidence of Kaka and CR7 or metaphorically speaking, be a ‘Madrista’, a ‘son of the system’. Ozil, Khedira, Benz, Carvalho, Di Maria possess neither of these qualities. And this is where the ‘cantera’ comes into play. Only a Spaniard or a ‘cantera’ can understand the hostility that exists between these 2 behemoths. Even in the San Siro, in the galaxy of superstars, it was Pedro Leon who snatched a draw right under the noses of AC Milan, at a time when everyone had given up.
Canales and Alcantara were the brightest and most exciting stars of Spain and U-19 and U-21 World Cups. For a sample, I present you with this freekick –
Here Alcantara passes to Canales who scores. The sheer audacity, verve and creativity of this freekick can never be described adequately in words. This is the kind of a special player Real Madrid can afford to call upon and yes, inexplicably didn’t have even on the bench on Monday night. Maria was clearly a bundle of nerves suffering from stage fright. This begs the question – could Pedro Leon and Canales (assuming Mourinho had the cojones to select him) have changed things at half-time? It was still 2-0 and the situation could have been easily salvaged. Two ‘Cantera’ products at half time instead of 2 outsiders would have spiced up the proceedings. Why not gamble it all and throw Granero in the fray instead of Lass? The lad, despite his obvious lack of match practice, would have definitely played with more pride and passion than ‘Lass’ did.
To evaluate that proposition, one need not look any further than last season’s Clasico. That match boasted 5 Spaniards. Real went on to lose 1-0, but unequivocally deserved to win; and who walked away the ‘man of the match’ amongst the caliber of Messi, Kaka, Ronaldo, Xavi, and Iniesta? The answer is none of them. It was Barca’s ‘captain courageous’ Puyol, who threw himself in challenges and would have run into a brick wall and chewed on iron nails if the situation so demanded. That passion cannot be bought.
Watch the faces of Ramos, Casillas and CR7 in the first 20 mins. They were not the faces of men who were overawed by the occasion. Casillas’ face especially had fury written all over his face after the shambolic display of his defense in first 20 mins. CR7’s push on Guardiola only served to reinforce that fact. They wanted to win and they believed that they could do it. Even though Ramos was playing poorly, he was not being helped by Di Maria’s ineffectual display. His frustration clearly boiled over in the end. Casillas and Ramos bleed white. The former has been the player of decade for Real. That is because he is a ‘cantera’ product. It was only after the third goal, his fury gave way to resignation to his fate: nothing could be done and this match was lost. Real need their ‘cantera’ and contingent of Spaniards. Young players like Ozil, Khedira, Di Maria cannot understand the significance ‘El Clasico’ holds for the whole of Spain (and maybe the world).
Based on yesterday’s match, one thing was obvious. Real can defeat any team, except Barcelona. ‘El Clasico’ is not a derby. It is a war. And only true ‘soldiers’ can go and win it. Real and Perez truly need to understand it. Because even if Real Madrid win 10-0, they will still have lost where it matters, because their game would have been won by ‘mercenaries’ and a ‘mercenary’ general and not by true ‘soldiers’.
Real may go on to win the next ‘El Clasico’, maybe even the UEFA Champions League and the Copa Del Rey to go with it, but it can never defeat the current Barcelona squad, till it wrenches back its ‘soul’. Until then, Real will forever be condemned to Lorenzo Dow’s fate: “Damned if they win, damned if they don’t”. They will be castigated no matter what: Win or Lose.
~ Prakhar Deep Gupta