It’s only natural that the biggest rivalry in all of soccer is regularly fraught with verbal jabs and needles back and forth, as Barcelona and Real Madrid fans and players seek to show up their eternal enemies. This season has already offered a few moments ripe for the kind of hilarious sparring everyone should love. The only thing holding it back from being a truly great trading of barbs is how terrible Real Madrid are at playing the game.
Barcelona, as they have done routinely for over a decade now, stand firmly atop the Madridistas yet again this season. The Catalan club is fresh off its second treble-winning campaign in history, armed with three of the top—what, three? four? five?—players in the game who click as well off the pitch as they do on it, are again favorites to retain their domestic and European titles, and demolished Real four goals to none just a couple weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the fellows in Madrid are battling through a spell of internal strife and external scrutiny with players reportedly not getting along with coaches, players not getting along with players, and Cristiano Ronaldo not getting along with anybody. That Clásico beatdown threatened to be the first fallen domino in a possible chain that would take down the whole thing. Right around when it seemed like they’d recovered from that embarrassment, a boneheaded, self-inflicted mistake got them kicked out of the Copa del Rey.
Nobody has enjoyed this discrepancy in fates more than Barcelona player, superfan, and Real Madrid troll extraordinaire, Gerard Piqué. Even though Piqué left his native Barcelona as a teen to join Manchester United, the defender is a Barça product through and through. His whole family is from the area, his grandfather was a club director, he has been a club member from birth, and since he returned from England, he has made clear that he hopes to never leave Barcelona ever again—a commitment he’s maintained through good times and bad. The club president position is basically waiting for him whenever he retires.
So of course this most Barça of Barça players is going to take digs at Real. Repeatedly. Most recently, Piqué has yucked it up about Madrid’s Copa del Rey fiasco, tweeting a succession of sobbing emojis when it became clear that, despite their lead in the match itself, the Blancos were on the cusp of getting bounced from the tournament for fielding an ineligible player:
Later, when it was evident that this was becoming A Thing in the media and with Real fans and players, Piqué doubled down:
Obviously, it’s pretty stupid to get worked up about a silly tweet reveling in a silly blunder that made a rival team look stupid. At the same time, the whole reason we have this kind of good-natured jibing is so we can play up situations like this for laughs.
In that sense, it isn’t a total surprise that current and former members of Real Madrid took issue with this and sought to respond. Thing is, their responses have almost uniformly sucked.
The most prominent attempt at clapping back was done by former Real star Guti. Following the Copa matches in the middle of last week, Barça visited Valencia and dropped two points by drawing them, 1-1. Which led Guti to respond thusly:
(Translation: “Congratulations to Barça for the point.”)
So Guti, you’re crying in laughter that Barcelona—the team that just kicked your team into a bottomless pit, 300-style—drew away to one of the best (albeit currently out of sorts) teams in Spain, a result that gave them the ignominious honor of ... staying in first place in La Liga’s table? C’mon, man. This comes off more desperate than comical. You should’ve held your powder for when Barça actually had an even somewhat embarrassing result.
With that weak jab out of the way, we get to the latest sniping. Both before and after Real’s 8-0 demolition of Malmö in the Champions league yesterday, a few Real players were asked again about Piqué’s tweet. Young defender Nacho said the wisest move was to ignore it all. Ronaldo basically no-commented, saying he didn’t want to give Piqué “free publicity,” whatever that means.
Álvaro Arbeloa, whom you’ve probably forgotten was still on Real’s roster, got one of the handful of starts he’ll rack up in meaningless games this season in the Malmö game and came out the strongest afterwards:
“Piqué seems obsessed with us. One day I’ll see him on [Spanish satirical TV show] The Comedy Club doing an act about Real Madrid”, Arbeloa remarked, adding, “Barça’s last 10 years aren’t enough to match Real Madrid’s history”.
Oooh, we’re closer to something good here, but it still doesn’t hit. Obsessed isn’t quite the right word to use with Piqué here. It’s true that Piqué does love speaking about Real Madrid. Just last season, during the trophy celebration at the Camp Nou after the Champions League final, Piqué thanked singer Kevin Roldan, attributing Barça’s resurgence after a dark first half of the season to the singer by saying, “it all started with you.” (This was a reference to Ronaldo’s lavish 30th birthday party where the singer performed, which was controversial since it came just hours after Real were crushed by their other major nemesis, Atlético Madrid.)
And Piqué did desperately want to score the goal that gave Barça their second manita against Real in the match a couple weeks ago:
But Piqué’s predilection for zinging Madridistas isn’t borne of obsession or jealousy: it comes from his bone-deep Barça fandom and the exquisite joy of knowing, time after time, his team has been able to metaphorically de-pants the capital club and do a little jig around them, singing songs hailing Catalonia and ripping Madrid. He simply loves the fact that he has starred for Barcelona in an era of supremacy that has coincided with Madrid’s relative underperformance.
Which goes to Arbeloa’s second point, that Barça’s ethereal decade at maybe the apex of the sport’s entire history can’t quite measure up to over a half-century of Real Madrid dominance. (A period of ascendency crucially fueled, it must be remembered, by Spain’s fascist dictator, who used Real for propaganda purposes and propped them up while simultaneously crippling Barcelona.) But, well, let’s just check these two players’ scoreboard:
The ancient past is one thing; the present another.
Alas, while it’s perfectly useful to point out the weaknesses in Real Madrid’s diss game, I don’t want to be mistaken as advocating an end to the beef altogether. It’s fun! Let’s enjoy it! As Piqué himself so rightly said in an impromptu press conference in September ostensibly aimed at getting some of the heat from the Spanish national team fans off of him because of how outspoken he is about Real:
“I’m proud of being a part of this Barça generation that won so much and during which Madrid didn’t win much.
“I think [Spanish national team fans] whistle me because of Barça-Madrid rivalry, but I won’t change. I’ll always want things to go bad for Madrid. I wore a Buffon shirt during the Champions League semi final [last season] and always want Madrid to lose. That’s the way the Madrid-Barça rivalry is.”
Let the rivalry remain what it is. My only piece of advice is for the Madrid side to make sure they’re packing some heat before trying to jump into the fray with a man as well-armed as Piqué.
Photos via Getty