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It was with more than the usual haste that I strode off from the Nou Camp after Frank Rijkaard’s customary non-committal news conference on the eve of Barcelona’s Champions League match against Schalke on Tuesday. Liverpool against Arsenal was being shown on terrestrial TV here in Spain and it was one of those games that you didn’t want to miss.
So I settled down to my usual Reuters expenses supper of a bottle of beer and a Kit Kat from the hotel minibar and wasn’t disappointed. For sheer breathless excitement, intensity and entertainment the match couldn’t be beaten. The game had the Spanish commentators gasping with delight at the football being played by both sides, the commitment from the players and the non-stop support from the fans.
The next day the Spanish media was awash with tributes to the English game, with sports daily AS even managing to bring in an unexpected reference to Nelson and Trafalgar in their editorial on the match.
The Admiral’s famous “England expects every man to do his duty,” was the motto of English football, said the paper’s director Alfredo Relaño.
On Sunday night, after five years of calm, Barcelona fans finally exploded. The white handkerchiefs — a common way of showing frustration in Spain’s stadiums — were out, against the club president, the coach, the players … anybody involved in what seems set to be a second straight trophy-less year.
More precisely, Sunday’s exhibition was against the perceived apathy of millionaire players who appear to move ever more slowly, as if they weren’t in the match at all.
It was just like old times for me covering Frank Rijkaard’s press conferences either side of Barcelona’s Champions League win over Schalke, as another Dutch coach got the Louis van Gaal treatment from the media.
I was based in Barcelona when Van Gaal finally called it quits at the end of his first spell at the club and listening to the Catalan press and radio hounding out the former Ajax man was at times almost painful.
Marca and the rest of the Madrid-based media seem convinced of it, meaning we could be about to see the former World Player of the Year following the well trodden path of such luminaries as Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Romario, Juan Roman Riquelme, Luis Figo, Hristo Stoichkov, Bernd Schuster and Maradona.
It is has already been dubbed the league title no one wants to win and with its succession of mishaps, slip-ups, fall-outs and injuries, this season’s Primera Liga plot has taken more twists than even the most low-budget Spanish afternoon soap opera.
Leaders and defending champions Real Madrid appear to be caught in a dangerous downward spiral, losing five of their last eight league matches, while Barcelona are struggling to take advantage of their arch-rivals’ errors.