Two days after El Clásico, the postmortems have almost all been given, and what strikes me is how different they all are from one another. Perhaps this is because Real Madrid had been so heavily favored by… everyone really, but especially by the media. This was to be the year they broke Barcelona’s stranglehold over Spain, and proved the Blaugrana were no longer the world’s best side.
Obviously things did not go the way thy were expected. Rather than beat Barcelona, Madrid lost. 3-1. At home. While this was not quite as bad as the 5-0 from last year or the 6-2 from a few years ago, make no mistake, this lost was just as distressing. This year was supposed to be Madrid’s year (it still might be; a season is a long time.) Yet, this “Madrid’s year” meme was exactly the same story that was told last year when Jose Mourinho arrived at the Bernabeu. It was the same story two years ago when Manuel Pellegrini, fresh off his successful stint with Villareal, arrived alongside two overpriced superstars: Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka. It was the same story the year before that when Juande Ramos took over in the middle of the season and restored Madrid’s swagger following its collapse under Bernd Schuster. Yet since Pep Guardiola took over three-and-a-half years ago, his Barcelona met Real Madrid 12 times. The results? Eight Barcelona victories and three draws (and two of those draws were all the Barcelona really needed.) Only once did Madrid win, in the final of last year’s Copa del Rey. During Guardiola’s reign, Barcelona won 12 trophies; Madrid won one.
Believe it or not, I come neither to praise Barcelona nor bury Madrid. I actually plan to write about the fact that I have yet to read one consistent explanation for why, after being given virtually no chance, Barcelona still beat Madrid so convincingly. On one hand there is the theory that Barcelona have a never-say-day attitude that comes from their philosophy, conviction, and belief. This is the reason put forth by Sid Lowe and by Barcelona players and personnel. Conversely, there is the Madrid choked explanation, which Phil Ball alludes to and which Graham Hunter put forward on today’s World Football Daily. Naturally the tactics wonks like Jonathan Wilson and Michael Cox of Zonal Marking credit Guardiola’s tactical acuity and subtly blame Mourinho. Mourinho, who never fails to take the credit or parry the blame, naturally claimed it was all luck, and nothing separates the teams. The Madrid faithful (including Marca, the club’s Pravda-like media mouthpiece) blame Cristiano Ronaldo, formerly been their golden boy. Goal.com’s explanation is all things to all people (and can’t go without mentioning Messi v. Ronaldo). No doubt Bleacher Report has some idiotic fan boy explanation, but the days are too short to see for myself.
It’s the like the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Everyone can describe a bit of the phenomenon, but cannot realize any greater truth. Sports journalists (including commentators and bloggers) are a funny breed. On one hand they know everything about the history of the sports and the individual and collective statistics of all teams and players there have ever been. The sport is their lives. On the other hand, they struggle with the concept that history is not destiny. When something happens, these same journalists live so much in the present that they cannot or will not see the possibility that this occurrence could be a mere temporary phenomenon. They rush in to judge the greatest this or the best that because of this myopia. It’s what leads to declarations that in hindsight prove to be very foolish. (“This is Madrid’s year.” “Manchester United will undoubtedly beat Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League final.”)
It’s a stark reminder: never look to sports journalism for any great truths. No one knows what he (or she) is talking about.