Tonight sees the first encounter this season between’s Spain’s big two. This edition of ‘El Clasico’ is being billed as the biggest and best one yet. The Guardian’s Sid Lowe called it ‘the biggest club game of all time’ on ‘Football Weekly’ last week, and maybe he’s right. You can get the stats elsewhere, suffice here to say that this is a massive, massive game and I’m looking forward to it.
Weirdly though, I’m not looking forward to it like I usually would a football game. In almost all cases, sport spectatorship of any kind inspires in me some sort of partisanship. Often it is decided, like yesterday’s excellent Tottenham Liverpool game, in terms of whom I would most like to lose (I was disappointed yesterday). Regularly, this results in a preference for an underdog. Occasionally, as in the case of the Rugby World Cup Final in 2003 or The Open Championship in 2009, my allegiance switches unconsciously and uncontrollably from side to side. In the case of the Clasico, however, that rarely happens. I genuinely don’t know whom I want to win, and I can’t see that changing.
My usual apparatus just doesn’t apply here.
Both Madrid and Barca play stunning football right now. In a surprisingly un-Mourinho like move, Mourinho has got Xabi Alonso and Mezut Ozil directing play in such a gloriously symphonic style that it would be churlish to suggest that Madrid are their rival’s aesthetic inferiors. Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi are each prevented from singular greatness by the feats of the other.
There is also a pretty obvious lack of an underdog since the two teams are separated from one another by a single point and from third place by four (with tonight’s game in hand). I can’t even fall back on the question of historical dominance since Mourinho’s treble of last season is cancelled out by Guardiola’s of the season before.
I could make the decision on political grounds and declare for Barcelona on the premise that my homeboy George Orwell was a fan of theirs whereas their rivals were patronized by a murderous, Fascist dictator. But that didn’t stop me hoping that Germany beat England at the World Cup in the summer.
I could make it for anecdotal personal reasons. But while I have only been to Barcelona I have only owned a Real Madrid shirt (two in fact).
I could make it for perspectival Fabregas related reasons. Except that I’m not sure whether Barca would be more or less likely to buy him if they win, and maybe he’ll go to Madrid anyway.
I just don’t know. So I’m approaching tonight’s game like I would a visit to the theatre or the renting of a movie as a singular experience encased in its own singular narrative.
The rarified stratification of these two above the rest of the Liga landscape just now almost demands this approach. This is an A-List game (or perhaps two games, the return leg’s in April) with almost no meaningful context. It invites you to suspend your disbelief for a couple of hours. Just as in the cinema you forget that the bloke who is playing Truman Capote so brilliantly is the same guy who introduced you to the word ‘shart’ in front of the Clasico you forget that Ronaldo is always a whiney tosser and that Fergie didn’t think Pique was good enough. Sport doesn’t let us do that very often so let’s enjoy it.
I can’t wait.