Unsightly theatrics dim Barca’s brilliance
To be remembered and respected as a truly exceptional team,
perhaps the best ever, Barcelona must stamp out the play-acting
that tarnishes its oh-so graceful football.
Tuesday against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou would be a good
place for its players to let their ball-skills, not unsightly
theatrics, do the talking. By rising above what is expected to be
an ill-tempered match, Barcelona can redeem itself.
Rolling tumbleweed-like on the pitch in feigned mortal agony or
exaggerating the pain of a brush to the face from a rival isn’t
just uncool and unmanly, it’s also cheating if designed to get the
referee to whip out a yellow or red card.
That means you Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez.
That Barca trio all looked guilty of making needless drama from
admittedly bruising challenges in Barcelona’s 2-0 Champions League
semifinal, first-leg defeat of Madrid last week. A dollop of
makeup, lights, cameras, action! and the setting could have been
Hollywood, not the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Slow-motion video that aggrieved Madrid posted on its Web site
suggested that Pepe may not even have grazed Alves’ right calf with
his studs-first tackle that earned him a red card in the 61st
minute, altering the course of the match.
Even if there was contact, Alves made the absolute most of it,
rolling across the grass like a 4-year-old in gym class.
Perhaps unfairly, the melodramatic way in which Busquets
collapsed, clutching his face, from a throat-high slap from Madrid
defender Marcelo reminded me of Robert Capa’s famed ”Falling
Soldier” photo. The black-and-white image supposedly captured the
fatal shooting of a Spanish Civil War rifleman but some Spanish
researchers think it may have been faked.
Pedro for some reason also clutched his left eye socket after a
thumping body-check from Alvaro Arbeloa, although Madrid’s video
again suggests that the aforementioned eye did not touch the Madrid
defender. Capping the dismaying ugliness of it all was the way in
which both sides’ players repeatedly harangued and surrounded
referee Wolfgang Stark like squawking dolphins around a trainer
with a bucket of fish.
Such tactics and behavior should be beneath a team that makes an
art-form of kicking and sharing a ball.
This blowout of ”clasicos” – four Barca-Madrid matches in 18
days – hasn’t been much of a spectacle. Absorbingly tense but not
pleasing to the eye. Fear of losing to their classic rival seems to
have suppressed both teams’ drive to win. Still, Barcelona has won
the moral high ground by largely hewing to its philosophy of
attack, attack, attack. That has had the corollary effect of making
Madrid’s understandably defensive tactics and play-blocking
physicality look as nasty as a kid trying to tear the wings off a
But winning cleanly and honestly is important, too. That’s what
Barca manager Pep Guardiola should tell his players before sending
them out Tuesday night for that place in the Champions League May
28 final at Wembley. Their expected opponents are Manchester
United, a team which doesn’t regularly resort to shameful theatrics
to trick referees, especially since Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2009 move
Hard to imagine United strongmen like Wayne Rooney or defender
Rio Ferdinand pretending they’ve been blinded, maimed or otherwise
poleaxed by a rival player’s faint touch. To be fair, Barcelona’s
Lionel Messi also isn’t in the habit of making an oversized fuss of
the many rough tackles he’s subjected to, which is another of the
many reasons to like and admire the Argentine heir to Diego
The stain of play-acting lasts for eternity on YouTube.
Rivaldo’s Razzie-worthy dive at the 2002 World Cup – when the
Brazilian pretended to have been struck in the face by a ball that
actually hit his thigh, getting Turkey’s Hakan Unsal sent off – has
been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. Millions have laughed
at the young Chilean player who made a fool of himself this year by
grabbing the arm of an Ecuador opponent and whacking himself in the
face with it.
Barca’s Busquets has also accumulated a big audience with his
thespian turn in the Champions League semifinal last year, when he
made a mountain of a backward hand to the throat from Inter Milan’s
Surely, Barcelona doesn’t want to be cast as a team of whiners
and divers. The high quality of its football deserves honest play
of the highest order, too.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The
Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org