This past weekend, Barcelona scored a last-minute penalty to eke out a critical away win against Valencia. The players were very excited, so they celebrated. The Valencia fans were very upset, so they shouted insults. Neymar in particular took issue with this and yelled something back at the fans. In response, a fan chucked a water bottle at Neymar and hit him in the head. Apparently, the real bad guys here are Neymar and his overly celebratory teammates.
This video lays out all the important moments before and after Lionel Messi’s savaging of the mothers of said unruly Valencia fans:
You might think this is all pretty straightforward. Barça were under huge pressure to get the win in what had been a hard-fought, emotional match, did get that win in the most dramatic of circumstances, and felt the understandable urge to give back some of the stick they had been taking from the fans all game. You might also conclude that this was all well and good up until the moment one of the fans decided to toss a bottle at Messi and his teammates, as that is never an acceptable thing for a fan to do under any circumstances.
Aha, but things are not as clear as you’d imagine, at least according to many prominent figures in Spanish soccer. For instance, take this Valencia player’s take on the matter, from ESPN FC:
“Neymar was wrong to taunt the crowd,” Valencia midfielder Dani Parejo told LaSexta. “The fan was wrong to throw the bottle, but so was Neymar.
“It’s a difficult moment and not the time to provoke people. You may be happy because you’re taking three points home with you, but do not think you have to antagonise others.”
You see, what we have here are two equal wrongs: the shouting of a few taunts and the throwing of a projectile. And so both offending parties should maybe take equal responsibility, but also Neymar started it, so maybe it’s all his fault in the first place.
La Liga president Javier Tebas, a man who presumably would be focused first and foremost on protecting the employees of the business he runs, was similarly dismayed with both parties. From the same ESPN FC article:
“You have to go in order and the first and most serious thing is the bottle [incident],” he said at La Liga’s awards night on Monday.
“That’s the most serious thing which occurred, but some of the conduct from some of the players is not what I like [to see].”
When pressed on specifics, he wouldn’t it narrow it down to a particular incident.
He limited his comments to: “What happened at the end I did not like.”
The bottle thrower himself has even weighed in. The 17-year-old kid in question released a letter expressing regret for what he had done, while also making it clear that really it was those Barça assholes who came off worse in the ordeal because they reacted to the bottle as if it was a live grenade. From ESPN FC:
“I am the supporter that threw the bottle, yes, the one that hit the Barcelona players. From the moment it left my hand, I realised the seriousness of my mistake.
“I completely regret it, as it isn’t an act that defines me as a person, nor does it define Valencia’s great fan-base.
“When the penalty was given, I felt very impotent and upset at what had just occurred. When Messi scored and came to the north end to celebrate, I also saw how Neymar insulted and provoked all of those Valencia supporters that had supported the team until the end.
“At that moment, I saw a bottle lying on the ground, and on impulse picked it up and threw it at them.
“It was a water bottle, that despite being practically empty, was enough for not just one but up to five Barcelona players to feign contact.
“I ask Barcelona for forgiveness and also to my lifelong team, who I will continue to support until the end of my days.”
To be sure, no one, not even the bottle-thrower himself, condoned the throwing of the bottle. But you can’t deny that by being too happy, the Barça players were kind of asking for it, and their flopping antics after the toss more or less justified that interpretation.
Ultimately, though, this was all just posturing. The league’s competition committee would look into the matter and offer a clear-eyed and sober analysis, and presumably implement some sort of punishment. Today, that ruling came down. The upshot: a €1,500 fine for Valencia, no punishment for the thrower himself, and some stern words for the ire-provoking Barça players. From ESPN FC:
A report released on Wednesday said: “The reproachable behaviour shown by some of the F.C. Barcelona players, who made certain gestures and expressions to the [Valencia] supporters as they celebrated the goal they’d just scored, should not be overlooked.
“Nor was it precisely an example of sportsmanship the way some of the club’s players reacted — without having come into contact with the bottle — by simultaneously feigning they’d been struck by the object.
“None of the [events] should happen in a sporting competition, which at all times should see mutual respect and fair play between fans and players.
“However, the alleged ‘provocation’ referred to by Valencia cannot be used as mitigating circumstances or to excuse [the fans or the club] from responsibility.
“The aforementioned behaviour by some players from F.C. Barcelona discredits and ridicules [themselves]. But we insist that nothing, absolutely nothing, justifies a violent reaction by the public.”
Certainly the correct tone to strike here. Taking the Barcelona players to task for their behavior leading up to and after the bottle being thrown with some very strong language, while also making it clear that all that reproachable and ridiculous business by the players doesn’t justify or mitigate a violent reaction. Oh and also an incredibly tiny fine with no lifetime or even temporary stadium ban for the fan himself. Everyone learns their lesson. This definitely will never happen again.