Here is my bold prediction for this weekend’s Clasico: whichever team loses will be “in crisis.” In fact, if you follow the press, both teams have been in and out of crisis all season (and for all eternity). When Barcelona was in second place earlier this season, it was in crisis. When Real Madrid lost a league game after going months unbeaten, it was suddenly in crisis.
So what exactly constitutes a “crisis?” Has the term lost all meaning? Are things overblown? Does the term even apply when we talk about the La Liga giants? Not exactly. Rather, the term “crisis” in regards to Barça and El Real (and the crisis headline-loving press) has several subtler, special meanings.
First, let’s talk about real, indisputable crises that have affected Barcelona and Real Madrid. In the early 1900s, FC Barcelona almost went broke. Its founder, Hans Kamper, had to go and beg for donations. Decades later, when Francisco Franco won the Spanish Civil War, he installed officers on the club’s board and was initially a butt about letting exiled players come back to play. That was a crisis.
As for Real Madrid, the siege of Madrid during the Civil War left the club in total disarray. Desperate nationalists had torn apart the club’s stadium to use as firewood. Star players had been imprisoned by anarchist militias and fled to France. That was also a crisis.
So what about the modern meaning of the term? You can give thanks for the monotony to triteness of the press. Basically, two competing forces have stretched the meaning of the term: first, both clubs have won everything and thus fans expect to win everything every single year, if not every single game. The media too often buys into this hype and feeds the unrealistic expectation beast, sometimes digging up seemingly relevant snippets of gossip, other times totally fabricating bullshit.
The digging is neither particularly profound nor even. Lo and behold, soccer clubs are like any other business where employees and bosses sometimes disagree. No shit!
The telling fact, though, is that the press only cares about this information after things go couth on the pitch. You never hear a “Messi hates Luis Enrique” story after Barcelona wins a Copa or La Liga title. It’s only after a loss to a rival that the locker room allegedly implodes and coaches tangle with superstars.
Thus, we can break these fabricated crises down into a few neat groups – go-to categories whenever a Madrid or Barcelona-based tabloid needs to fill a few column inches:
Crisis #1: Star Dips in Form -> Wants Transfer/Hates Coach
Remember when Leo Messi was probably going to Chelsea? And how he was trailing Cristiano Ronaldo in La Liga goals? Notice how now, since he’s pulled ahead in goals, Messi no longer on his way to Stamford Bridge?
Soccer is this funny sport where when a superstar hits a dip in form (aka is a human being), really smart people start concocting elaborate explanations that go beyond “few bad days at the office.” My personal favorite is “star player does not like new-ish coach”. Remember when Messi disliked Enrique? Those were the days.
In April, when Messi goes two games without scoring, expect to hear about fatigue and a desire to move to Paris Saint-Germain.
Crisis #2: Team Loses -> Locker Room Implodes
Carlo Ancelotti led Real Madrid to its long coveted decima last season, and the club made some great summer signings, ushering in an era of beautiful, attacking soccer. Still, earlier this winter, when Real Madrid had the gall to lose a league game 1-0 and tie another 1-1, you just knew that the locker room had imploded and players were only talking to each other in shouts (at least, according to the gospel of Marca).
Too bad Carlo steadfastly backed his players, not falling into the finger-pointing game in pressers that truly signals the beginning of the end. Last weekend, Garteh Bale rewarded his faith with two goals. The BBC attack may be back on track …
Unless Real Madrid loses, in which case rumors of a rift between Ronaldo and Bale will cover Spanish sports dailies like white on rice. Of course, all co-workers at all businesses have disagreements, but they don’t have to deal with AS churnalists sniffing around for post hoc explanations. After all, when a team wins, you never hear about locker room discord.
Crisis #3: Team Loses -> Coach Has To Be Sacked
This is a slight variation on number two, but given the coaching carousels at both clubs, it has a bit more basis in fact. However, what makes Real Madrid special is the other side of the coin: even coaches that have grabbed titles have been sacked. Just ask Fabio Capello.
Still, unless a team gets stuck in a month-long rut like Manchester City, the knee-jerk reaction of “sack the coach” is usually hot air. Even Barcelona and Madrid have learned that changing the coach midseason accomplishes nada. Juande Ramos. Vanderlei Luxemburgo. Carlos Quieroz. Those are scars like that may heal, but they are never forgotten.
Thus, my prediction for this game. The team that loses will be trust into crisis, suffer from an imploded locker room and have its star player a request transfer, all while a pink slip is being prepared for its coach.
How much do you care to wager? You know where to find me, because I’m all in. Crisis is the only guarantee come tomorrow’s Clásico.