Robbie Dunne on a topsy-turvy week in Spanish football
There is a fairly common line of thought that the format of the Copa del Rey is a waste of time. I am of that persuasion myself but believe that in some instances, it can be the cause of some of the best melodrama Spanish football has to offer.
In a world of binge-watching TV box shows, there is no more real, and surreal, shows on earth than a three-games-in-12 days, mini-series between two of what can now be considered Spanish heavyweights.
In Phil Ball’s book Morbo, he can’t quite describe the word that the book is called after. "Most treat it as a noun and translate it as something like 'disease'", he says before warning that this particular description does not fit. It is a slippery word that eludes translation in English. A quick glance at a dictionary, however, and it translates to ‘arousal’ or ‘excitement’ and while this will do for now, it is so much more than this in Spanish football.
No matter the format of the Copa del Rey is a hotbed for Morbo and we had our fair share of it over the last twelve days. Sergio Ramos scoring a panenka-style penalty kick, gesturing to the fans of his hometown and former team, before saying "those who insult your mother do not deserve respect".
Sevilla came out and backed their fans. Real Madrid came out and backed their captain. All pretty inane stuff if it was a once off with both sides allowed to recoil and return six months later to renew a by-then simmered rivalry. But we had the small matter of a return trip just 72 hours later, in the same stadium with massive consequences should Sevilla stage an upset.
Much like any thriller, it started relatively slow and without too much incident; it was all a part of the set-up. A 3-0 victory for Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, but before it was over, Sergio Ramos’ legacy at Sevilla had been set fire to, Real’s lead at the top of the table was crumbling, Zidane’s 40 game unbeaten streak was dead and we, the fans, were exhausted. This was no cliffhanger though. Everyone knew who the culprit was. It was Sevilla. More precisely, perhaps, it was Monchi. The man responsible for building this crew of misfits, underdogs, failures and burn-outs.
Your cast included a list of stars, whose stars were fading fast before their resurgence in Andalusia.
Steve N’Zonzi. Stevan Jovetic. Samir Nasri. Jorge Sampaoli and the crew. The Unusual Suspects.
Nasri and Monchi
The only twist we had, maybe, was that Stevan Jovetic turned out to be Keyser Sose. The man who hadn’t scored a goal since last April with Inter. Having been brought in by Monchi on a loan until the end of the season, he scored as many goals in three days as he did in the previous 266 when he landed a brace against Udinese in April of 2016. There’s an old cliche that you couldn’t write this stuff when anything particularly interesting happens on a football field. Truth be told, this is exactly how you would write it.
Not to suggest that there is not a reason to go and buy a newspaper every day as it is, but there was genuine excitement when picking up the local sports daily in Madrid to find out what Sevilla were saying about Real and what Real were saying about Sevilla. What the Sevilla fans had done most recently to inject an extra bit of morbo into the fixture. New videos emerged around the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan regularly of the Sevilla fans acting hostile towards Ramos and Real. This was football, drama, thriller with a sprinkle of WWE all wrapped up into one. And then it came time to play football. One of the main protagonists of attacking and fearless football happened to be on the sideline while Zinedine Zidane is proving himself to be a man not shy of making headlines with his tactical decisions; he opted for three at the back for the finale, which is enough to set off a mini-earthquake in Madrid for all the debate and conversation it stirs up.
Give me a three-game saga any day of the week.
The Copa del Rey is not perfect. It’s not close to being perfect. When you look at third division teams take 10-1 beatings at the hands of LaLiga’s behemoths, it’s not fun for anyone. Not the fans, the beaten team, the team doing the beating, announcers and journalists. Nobody. But occasionally, it will provide us with a barnstormer that coincides with a La Liga game that means everything. It’s hard to argue, at that point, the merits of two legs in the quarter-finals.
To make things more interesting. The second series is already in production. Real Madrid will play Celta Vigo - a wildly entertaining, attacking and sometimes erratic side - over the course of the next 12 days starting on Wednesday. Cancel your Netflix subscription. There’s some binge-watching to be done over in Spain.