Eric Abidal raised his hand.
Gerard Piqué raised his. And then the crowd that engulfed Jeffrén Suárez raised theirs. Víctor Valdés raised his, latex glistening in the light and soon the rest of Camp Nou joined in. So did the fans who gathered down the Ramblas — palms open, fingers outstretched.
Not far away, a hand was being raised on the front cover of Sport. On the back, its cartoonist was taking the easy way out. “Today, instead of drawing,” he wrote, “I have decided to scan my hand.” So he did.
Meanwhile, right about the time Andrés Iniesta was posting pictures in his pants, in a warehouse somewhere they were already rushing off a batch of T-shirts to go with the Barça tupperware, Barça knives and Barça tool set. Blue and yellow and yours for just €9.95. On the back it reads: “great theatre”. On the front it does not read anything much. Just the dateline and the score from last night’s clásico between Barcelona and Real Madrid: Camp Nou, 29/11/2010. 5-0. And, above that, a giant yellow hand.
Jeffrén’s late goal made little difference, but it made all the difference. Madrid were already being humiliated. José Mourinho, already suffering his worst ever defeat as a coach, felt “impotent”, barely moving as fans chanted for him to “come out the dugout! José, come out the dugout!” It was already 4-0 and into added time and Almería’s Henok Goitom, thrashed 8-0 by Barcelona last weekend, had long-since noted: “I know how you feel: you just want the game to finish.” But the game had not finished, not yet. The fifth goal had to arrive and when it did, it mattered. It turned a baño — a bath, a drubbing — into a manita, a little hand. A goal for every finger. The most perfect of beatings.
Especially for Barcelona. Because if manitas are symbolic in Spain —and even fans of Racing Santander have their T-shirt — in Barcelona there is something even more emblematic about them. If Abidal did not know exactly what the gesture meant, Piqué, son of a Barça director and a soci from birth, certainly does. Last week, after that win in Almería, Cristiano Ronaldo had shrugged: “I’d like to see them get eight on Monday.” They could have done and eight would have been great, but somehow five, while fewer, feels more fitting.
When El Mundo Deportivo called it a Super Manita, everyone in Catalunya knew what they were measuring it against. This was the fifth time Barcelona had defeated Real Madrid 5-0. Beyond 1934-35 and 1944-45, two linger in the memory: the 1973 team led by Johan Cruyff the player and the 1994-95 Dream Team led by Cruyff the coach. No one could watch last night and not recall Cruyff. Or Romário. Just in case, television programmes drew on the archive.
Last night two epoch-defining victories became three.
Under Pep Guardiola, Barcelona had already beaten Madrid 6-2 at the Bernabéu and this result may ultimately change little. This was a single match and Barcelona’s lead is just two points with 25 games left.
Lessons will have been learnt. Madrid had, Mourinho insisted, “been to blame” too. And as he pointed out: “Last season I lost here with Inter before returning for the semi-final. We were the ones who reached the final – they watched it on television.” And yet last night felt symbolic; another exhibit to present to the jury in the case of Barça v All The Others.
It is as if there is a checklist of things this Barcelona side have to do to emulate their predecessors, to prove their worth. And beating Madrid 5-0 is one of them. The parallel was not lost on anyone. Guardiola dedicated the win to Carles Rexach and Johan Cruyff, “the men who started us like this; laying down the approach we consider non-negotiable”. Xavi talked about this Barcelona team as being “sons of the system” – in Sergio Busquet’s case, literally.
It was not just that Barcelona beat Madrid, or even that they hammered them. It was not just that they defeated Mourinho — although they loved that — and a starting XI that cost €292m. Not that they defeated a team that had been unbeaten. It was not even that Guardiola completed a manita of his own — he has now won all five clásicos as coach, with a barely plausible aggregate score of 17-2. It was that they did it their way.
A way that would be risky for any other team. Busquets produced a drag back despite being under pressure and the last man. If hearts were in mouths, his was not one of them. If Xavi turned into trouble, he invariably turned out of it again. Even Valdés, true to Cruyff’s great obsession, was playing the ball out short.
The second goal came after more than 20 passes and a minute of uninterrupted possession to a soundtrack of olés. If Barcelona scored from their first four shots on target — Messi’s fantastic chip against a post counts as off target — it is because they did not shoot until putting the ball into the net with just another pass.
Barcelona battered Madrid. Not some team of donkeys: Madrid. Only battered is not really the word. Barcelona killed them softly, with precision not power. As Ramón Besa wrote in El País: “Goals fall at Camp Nou like autumn leaves: naturally, beautifully and serenely.” I
t was the control that was stunning, the bewilderment felt by Madrid. “The worst thing isn’t losing, the worst thing is not having a clue what’s going on,” sobbed AS’s mad Madridista Tomás Roncero.
Barcelona completed 636 passes, Madrid 279. “They could have played with two balls,” wrote Roberto Palomar, “and Barcelona would have controlled both.” Xavi, the best central midfielder in Spanish history and the man who ran last year’s clásico, completed 114 of 117 passes. It was the sixth time he has gone over 100. Busquets and Iniesta moved the ball with a pace and precision, usually with a single touch. And then there was Messi.
He did not score for the first time in 10 games. Or do one of those runs. But he gave two perfect assists and laid bare the fallacy that Ronaldo is a more “complete” player, by doing the thing often missed amid the goals and the dribbles: controlling the game. Again.
Even the clinically obsessed Marca, while whining a bit about the referee, admitted that Barcelona had been “too MOUch for Madrid.” But it was not just about Madrid; it was about Barcelona producing what Santi Segurola described as “a symphony” — one of the most extraordinary displays anyone could remember as AS declared Barcelona “still miles ahead of Madrid”.
There is a question that keeps getting asked: Which Barcelona team is the best in the club’s history? On Monday night, the current side raised their hand.— Guardian.