Amid the dribbling, the violence, the goals, the drama, the chaos, the fury and the football, one thing stood out, as it always stands out. The unstoppable wrath of everyone not a fan of either team, or a fan of football. The indignation, the disgust and the outrage. How dare they do this to our game? Unfortunately for these people, if there’s one fixture that embodies football, it’s Real Madrid vs Barcelona.
Of course, it isn’t their fault. They didn’t ask to become avatars of The Global Sport, representations of everything we believe and enjoy about the game. We made football the way it is, and then we’re disappointed when it is shown to us. The real reason we hate El Clasico? We’re scared to see our reflections.
How better to showcase a sport obsessed with money? Put together the two best-paid teams in the world, with two of the best paid managers to coach them.
How better to showcase a sport obsessed with glamour and drama? Put together the two glitziest teams in the world, and force them to fight.
How better to showcase a sport obsessed with rivalry? Put together the two most bitter rivals in the world, with Barcelona’s legacy as the greatest team of all time against Madrid’s history as the greatest team of all time at stake.
How better to showcase a sport obsessed with winning? Put together the two greatest collections of attacking talent in the world, and force them to dive, foul, kick, feign and maul their way to victory.
We did this, all of us. When we bought our Sky subscriptions, we forced the clubs to spend more to earn our love. When we started talking about whose WAG was shagging whose teammate, we forced them to spend more on PR departments than on reducing ticket prices.
When our greatest desire became to finish ahead of that lot across town, we forced the clubs to want the same, and tell us that we did too. And when we cared more about enthralment than enjoyment, we forced them to do everything in their power to make it so.
We can point the finger at Pepe, Busquets, Ramos and Alves. But as soon as football became about anything more than having a good time, they were inevitable, a fact of life, to the point where a team can field eleven such players and be justified as long as they win.
The only people to blame our ourselves. Except that we can’t, because the truth is it’s too much fun to watch. The only people who could be even slightly accused of not enjoying Wednesday night are Real Madrid fans, and even they saw their team play as well against Barcelona as they have for years.
While we can spout hypocrisy about that game for as long as we can draw breath, anyone who didn’t enjoy it is simply incapable of enjoying football. It had everything, the most complete game of football we are likely to see for a while. Domination, missed chances, an unforeseen comeback, possession, counter-attacking, stunning dribbles, bone-crunching tackles. You could have just watched the two coaches side by side for the entire game and still have been unable to tear your eyes away.
We made football into this, all of us. And I don’t know whether to be proud or revolted.