It's amazing how there appears to be an unwritten code that demands footballers to get on with it despite being kicked around. Apparently it's a bigger crime to stay on the ground when you're fouled than it is to commit the foul in the first place. So who cares if your most precious asset, your legs, are constantly stamped on and/or poked at by elite athletes even though it's the ball that they need to be kicking? I mean what's the big deal if an Eduardo or a Ramsey breaks his leg? Who cares if a player misses multiple months due to an injury? They knew what they were getting into, isn't it?
Sure, everybody knows football at the highest level can be a very risky game where you're one bad tackle away from having your career ended. But why hold it against players when they do everything they can to ensure it doesn't happen to them? I dislike the exaggerated reaction to fouls as any other person, but it can never come close to a malicious foul even if that foul didn't result in a serious injury. One of them can influence the course of a tie, the other can influence the course of a tie and a player's career. People would do well to maintain a sense of perspective in such cases.
It is in this context that I would like to view last night's game between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Anyone who knows a thing or two about football should have seen it coming. There was no way in hell Real were going to allow an open game, even though it might just have been in their favour to be more aggressive on the ball rather than on the opposition players. Barcelona were missing all three of their left backs and had to slot in a semi-fit Carles Puyol to play in that position. It also meant they were without their first-choice centre back, and Diego Milito was also injured. As a result, they had to play a defensive midfielder in that position. They were also missing Andres Iniesta, who just happens to be one of the best creative midfielders in world football.
Why then would you put out a side at home to just sit back and absorb whatever Barcelona throw at you, especially when you have spent hundreds of millions on players who are supposed to score goals for a living? Lassana Diarra was penalised twice in the first half hour for tackling from behind and not getting a piece of the ball. He was pushing the limit all game and on another night he might have been booked. But when you as the opposition player see the referee not do anything about such tackles, why wouldn't you protest? If kicking players is a legitimate tactic to intimidate them, surely making the most of such challenges and pressurising the referee is just as fine? Unlike Rugby or American Football where contact is essential, it is only incidental in football. Don't tell that to most of the fans though, who think kicking players is an absolutely legitimate tactic.
Ofcourse the flip side to this argument is that players like Alves and Busquets made the most of the fouls committed on them. But does it change the fact that those fouls were committed? Pepe's studs up tackle on Alves is the kind that ruins careers. I remember UEFA banning Michael Essien for two games for a similar tackle on Jamie Carragher in 2006, and I bet people would be quick to point out that those two games happened to be against Barcelona.
I could say a lot about Mourinho and his one-eyed view of incidents, but I'll leave that for another post. For now, I'm going to enjoy this piece of brilliance from Messi and I hope that whoever I marry lets me name my first-born Lionel.