I have never seen a Greco-Roman wrestling match between a ballistic missile and the world’s most prolific knitter of blankets, but I imagine it looks something like yesterday’s El Clásico, a.k.a. Wichita State–Kentucky, Except Everyone’s Getting Paid, a.k.a. WHY CAN’T I STOP MYSELF FROM SCREAMING IN LATIN?
These games, as the cliché goes, are never just about soccer. And even Los Clásicos that seemed like they were mostly about soccer in recent years always ended up being a referendum on an ideal, a style of play, a managerial approach, and all of the above. For two teams that traffic so heavily in narrative, this is inevitable. The games were memorable — the Barça 5-0 in 2010, the spiritual triumph of tiki-taka; the Madrid 2-1 in 2012, the spiritual death of tiki-taka — but because of what they meant as part of some wider arc.
Try to find the larger narrative from Sunday’s game, and you’ll end up with this burned into your brain:
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There were the first 40 minutes of Ángel Di María applying a blowtorch to the left side of the Santiago Bernabeu and Karim Benzema eating the flames and spitting them back into the face of Victor Valdés. Andrés Iniesta creating a new kind of geometry with more than 360 degrees, spinning and turning on an axis that’d never before been accessed by a human. Messi — Messi! — quietly scoring a hat trick. Gareth Bale looking like a Visigoth sacking Neverland, the few times he ran through the Barça midfield. And Cristiano Ronaldo maneuvering a high-speed train through a corn maze to draw a penalty …
And then driving the train directly into the goal to score said penalty.
As is the case in a world inhabited by Sergio Ramos, Pepe, and Pepe’s hair, beauty and/or fun cannot last forever. That it took more than an hour for the game to lose its blinding shine seems like some kind of special achievement.
This all may be just a long, or romantic, way of saying, “These two teams have a lot of money, which they have wisely used to buy very good soccer players, if not defenders,” and the lack of grand statements to be made definitely stems, in part, from the league standings now being wide open. But Sunday’s game seems like the first Clásico in many Clásicos where: “Hey, soccer is really fun!” was the only logical reaction.