A COUPLE of weekends ago we had a 24-karat sizzler of a match between Barcelona and Atltico at the Camp Nou.
It held every element invention, intensity, four goals, raucous crowd noise, controversy, drama, anguish, top-table technique, enmity. Quality.
The only reason you couldn’t see how much the 22 players were sweating in their efforts to win the teams’ first league meeting of the season was that it was masked by them all simultaneously oozing so much class.
Barcelona’s attacking trident of Leo Messi, Neymar and Luis Surez each scored.
Ivan Rakitic excelled while the Spanish champions clung on and fought for a draw to the bitter end showing proper “cojones” and no little intelligence as they worked like beasts to continue Diego Simeone’s run of excellent results against the big boys.
This week we had round two.
The first game having been seen by 82,000 fans at the Camp Nou, logic dictated the crowd would be at least the same again, possibly greater, given the champagne-excellence of that precursor.
Think again, this is Spanish football.
I’m going to take my life in my hands here (having spent many seasons since early childhood shivering at Pittodrie) and talk to Aberdonians about cold at a football match.
But it was Baltic at the Camp Nou last Wednesday evening as Bara eked out a 1-0 victory to take to Atltico’s Caldern stadium on Wednesday. Yes, the castrato monkeys were singing falsetto. And the match kicked off at 10pm. I know, I know.
For those of you who hit the sofa with a wee bottle of lager and a plate of cod ’n’ chips then tuned in to see my colleagues Scott Minto and Guillem Balague analyse the match on Sky Sports 5, a 9pm Scottish-time kick-off wasn’t any great hardship.
But 10pm (Spanish clock) on a freezing winter night with school (for the younger fan) and work (for the grizzled remainder of us) waiting menacingly the following morning is it any wonder the attendance was 20,000 down on a couple of weekends ago?
Over recent years both Barcelona and Spain have produced some of the most technically brilliant, uplifting and scintillating football ever.
What’s attractive about those achievements is that they were largely the product of planning, the application of intelligence, patience and a recognition of the central importance of starting from a basic philosophy.
So it’s ironic that Spanish football, notwithstanding its ability to reach out for and achieve excellence in other areas, can regularly be full of the most half-wit, inexplicable, unpardonable lack of intelligence or awareness.
One such area is La Copa.
In an over-crowded football era when players, and fans’ wallets, could do with any positive break available, the Spanish FA insists on having home and away Cup ties (as opposed to the Scottish Cup, FA Cup, French Cup, Coppa Italia, German Cup) instead of the (g)olden days when the smaller team would be seeded to play at home and it was a one-off match.
So, ties arranged so that (over two matches) there’s next to no chance of a major shock and regular 10pm kick-off times on dark, freezing cold midweek nights. Ludicrous.
One of the other stand-outs of that La Liga match between these two teams a fortnight ago was the bad blood and the hot blood.
There were personal feuds breaking out hands and voices raised, studs resorted to, handbags sometimes but I swear I saw the glint of a knuckleduster somewhere out on the pitch reflecting back off the glaring floodlights.
I’d argue we were well within our rights to expect more “mala leche” which is what the Spanish call what Willie Miller used to practice when an opponent “did” one of his Aberdeen team-mates.
“Set your watch,” we’d all say around Pittodrie, then within two minutes, there would always be an “equaliser” challenge.
Reminding the offender of territorial rights and greater punishment to follow if the first warning were not heeded.
But, in the end, it was so cold, so late and the atmosphere was neutered by both those factors and the missing 20,000 fans that the Camp Nou became a temperamentally tepid affair this week.
More of a Gunfight At The I’m OK, You’re OK Corral.
Not that this kick-off was the most glaring example of Spanish football’s rampant eccentricity.
Back in 2003 Barcelona and Sevilla fell out over the date of a fixture with Bara looking for a bit of brotherly help so their squad wasn’t asset-stripped by the Dutch international side for the match.
Sevilla’s (now jailed) president refused to help, insisted that the game must take place on Wednesday, September 3, as scheduled.
Bara President Joan (Will Ye No Come Back Again?) Laporta was irate but complied.
He ordered that the Camp Nou match kicked off at five past midnight as Tuesday 2 became Wednesday 3 several hours before his Dutch stars would have been obliged to leave the club and head off on international duty. But on the appropriate day.
Sevilla, apoplectic with rage, discovered there was no rule against this skullduggery and were forced to play.
Over 80,000 turned up, Ronaldinho scored his debut goal at very nearly 1.40am and the primal roar from the vast crowd, set against an otherwise quiet city, made gentle squiggles on the local seismographs in the earthquake monitoring centre.
That night a certain Luis Enrique unsuccessfully asked a couple of Sevilla players if they’d like a square-go.
And all these years later here he is now poised to reach the cup semi-final in his debut season as coach if Marc Andre ter Stegen can keep a clean sheet next week in Madrid.
Back in 2003 the Deportivo La Corua manager, Jabo Irrureta, handily commented about the kick-off time: “If I went out at midnight my wife would think I was having an affair.”
This week, at about 1am on Thursday morning after Wednesday night’s match, Lucho Enrique told me: “I don’t want this kick-off time, the players don’t want it, the fans don’t want it and I can see by all your faces (his media audience) that you don’t either.”
But were the Spanish FA listening? Nah, all tucked up in bed.