T.S. Eliot had it all right, except for when it comes to Barcelona football. Happy April to you. Good luck with your taxes. Watch the flowers in full bloom. Enjoy the sunshine whenever it pierces through the clouds. And witness the unprecedented El Clásico X4, in the spring of 2011…Ohhhhh!!!
Both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, the winningest club football (aka soccer) teams in Spain, are continuing to rack up wins this season. Hence, why both teams are in the Champions League – only for the two (or few) clubs with the top wins in each league: English, Italian, German, Spanish, and so forth. That’s why you see Arsenal – a club team from London, England – playing against FC Barcelona – from Catalunya, as the Barcelona people prefer to call the Mediterranean land to the south of France.
Real Madrid has 9 Champions League titles to Barcelona’s 3 Champions League titles. However, it is Barcelona that is now the more dominant team in all competitions due to the homegrown talent produced from the club’s youth academy, La Masia, which transformed boys named Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Gerard Piqué into the men who now play for the first team at Camp Nou – the home stadium of FC Barcelona that seats more than 100,000 fans. During the 2008-2009 season, FC Barcelona won all 6 competitions that the team could enter: La Liga, Copa del Rey, Supercopa de España, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.
Barcelona and Real Madrid already played against each other once this season, in a game at Camp Nou that ended as a humiliating loss for the team representing the capital of the country. Barcelona – or the Blaugrana, meaning “blue and deep red” in Catalan – scored 5 goals; and their goalkeeper, Victor Valdes, kept a clean sheet. Cristiano Ronaldo, the global super-star striker from Madrid with a pay package of more than $100 million, vented his frustration by pushing Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola, while retrieving the ball for a throw-in. The coach had the ball and threw it to his player instead of to Ronaldo, who responded with a shove. A skirmish between the players erupted with a yellow card being shown to Barcelona’s goalkeeper for rushing out of his box and vociferously demanding an apology from Ronaldo for his unsportsmanlike conduct. Of course, Valdes may have been saying something else much more colorful while gesticulating and being restrained by other players. Ronaldo also got a yellow card (two yellow cards in one game equals a red card). Sergio Ramos, the Madrid defenseman who plays with Xavi, Iniesta and Piqué on the Spanish national team – which just won the country’s first World Cup over the summer – received a red card (immediate ejection from the field) for later in the game sweeping Lionel Messi’s legs.
The amazing Argentine – who won the FIFA best player award, the Ballon d’Or, two years in a row – did not score that day but he created chances for his teammates and assisted on 2 goals. Thus, Messi was a thorn in the side of Real for this frustrating affair, from the beginning to the excruciating end. After cutting down Messi but before leaving the field, Ramos pushed the face of his fellow World Cup Spanish teammate, Carles Puyol, who is also Barcelona’s captain and stalwart defender. For good measure, Ramos also pushed the face of his other World Cup Spanish teammate, Xavi, who masterminds the midfield for Barcelona.
Messi scored 2 goals for the Catalans over the weekend during Spanish League play; and so did Kaká, the Brazilian star who slotted home 2 penalty kicks for Real on Saturday. Both teams continue to score multiple goals per game. Barcelona won in the Champions League last week by a score of 5-1; Real won their game 4-0. There are many more goals to come in all competitions. Messi leads La Liga with 29 goals this season; Ronaldo is in second place with 28 goals. If those two players don’t score, there are always Kaká, David Villa, Emmanuel Adebayor, Iniesta, Karim Benzema, Dani Alves, and many other players from both teams who can strike the ball decisively into the back of the net. If goals were fireworks, these games coming up are going to be like the 4th of July and Bastille Day, and then maybe double finales of two crazy-cool rock concerts in the Champions League.
Barcelona currently holds the #1 spot in La Liga; Madrid trails in second place by 8 points (win = 3 points; draw/tie = 1 point; loss = zero points). However, according to Deloitte, Real Madrid is the richest football club with 2009/2010 revenue of $633 million; Barcelona is the second richest football club with profits last year of $574 million. For perspective, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Arsenal rounded out the top-5 wealthiest football teams, coming in 3,4, and 5, respectively. Jose Mourinho – the coach of Real Madrid, who called himself the “Special One” when he coached at Chelsea before leaving to lead Inter Milan to a Champions League title last year and winning Coach of the Year from FIFA this year because of it – makes more than $10 million a year on the sidelines. Guardiola, Barcelona’s coach, makes about that, too. Some of the players on the field make more than their coaches do.
There’s a lot of money at stake in this game that the English invented and called football. There’s a lot of pride at stake in this game, that the two richest football teams have taken to a whole new level. And there’s going to be a lot of high-priced talent on the field for multiple Clásicos in the next few weeks. The best-trained footballers on Earth (and some of the most naturally gifted athletes alive today) will be scoring goals the likes of which the world has never seen; and maybe we never will see the likes of them again. The difference is Barcelona has a core of local legends, whereas Real Madrid – like the Yankees – goes out and buys the best of the best, if they can. That’s why Madrid is loaded with the best coach and best players money can buy. When these two teams meet, the Spanish League title, the Spanish Cup and the Champions League title are all on the line. Something very special is happening in Spain this April. Like the famous line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: If you don’t stop and look around, you could miss it.
Barça and Real Madrid play against each other April 16 in La Liga (at Real’s home stadium, the Bernabéu, in Madrid) and then they play April 20 in Valencia for the Final of the Copa del Rey (the country’s domestic cup competition). But depending on what happens today and tomorrow – when Barcelona and Real Madrid compete in their respective Champions League games – we could see BarçaReal in the Semi-Finals of the Champions League April 27 and May 3, once in Barcelona and once in Madrid. The most goals wins! This is the way the month of April ends, with a bang and not a whimper. April is the coolest month! (Especially when extended into May.) El Clásico X4…Ohhhhh!!!

When sport transcends to the point of Art, it is called “The Beautiful Game.”©

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