| 12.9°C Dublin

Ian O'Doherty: El Clasico was a classic -- for all the wrong reasons

It was going to be the game of the season -- a veritable feast of football pitting the best team in the world against the best manager in the world.



The very prospect of El Clasico, the most glamorous derby in world football, is enough to get even the mildest football fan drooling with anticipation.

And given the genuine hatred that many of the Barcelona staff have for "The Translator", as they rather witheringly refer to Jose Mourinho, allied to the fact that they are playing each other four times in such quick succession, Wednesday night's match was going to be unmissable -- and indeed it was, for all the wrong reasons.

The build-up had been truly fascinating -- Mourinho, the master of the mind game, looked like he had nobbled Pep Guardiola when the normally laconic Barca manager seemed to have completely lost the plot in a press conference on Wednesday.

The Portuguese coach seems to be a combination of devilment, mischief, brilliance, arrogance and fierce intelligence, a potent cocktail that divides opinions everywhere.

In fact, the only people who don't seem to be divided on the issue of Mourinho are women -- because every woman I know who likes football loves Mourinho.

He has, as one human of the female persuasion I know said wistfully: "Come to bed eyes." And then she added, frankly rather ominously: "And that's just the least of it."

But back to the game: we got an hour-and-a-half exhibition of why football can be such a bloody hard game to love.

Look, I know it's the best sport in the world and like most blokes brought up in working-class Dublin, I had an English team, Man United and an Irish team, Shels, to follow.

The most exciting day of the year was when Shoot magazine brought out the special pre-season issue which had the cardboard cut-out of the league table with tiny little cards with all the teams' names on them.

Being a particularly clumsy and absent-minded and, it must be said, easily distracted child, I rarely managed to last more than a week or two before losing all the team cards or simply forgetting or not bothering to fill in the changing league table every week, but that was the football we grew up with.

I'm no fan of nostalgia -- it ain't what it used to be etc etc etc -- and I really hate the "will someone please think of the children" argument when it comes to how footballers behave.

After all, in Britain and Ireland particularly, when you take what is usually a working-class kid out of school at 15, give him more money in a week than his father earns in a year and surround him with sycophants, agents, business managers and general hangers-on that go with the territory then you can hardly expect them to be exemplary figures, can you?

Indeed, my argument on this issue is that if you worry that your kid is being set a bad example by Wayne Rooney, then you're not exactly doing your job as a parent.

No, the only place a player has to comport himself in an instructive manner is the pitch.

And that is why Wednesday night's match was not just a disgrace but an embarrassment. It was an embarrassment to the game itself and it was an embarrassment to those of us who love football.

Everyone who witnessed that awful World Cup will have been minded to believe the line that, actually, the Champions League provides the finest quality football.

Instead, with the obvious, glittering, joyous exception of Messi, we got one of the worst games of football we have ever seen.

Having said that, you couldn't take your eyes off the match -- but not for the reasons we had hoped.

Barcelona, held up as an example of all that is good and pure and life affirming about football, were a disgrace to their jersey.

For a team that prides itself on representing its region proudly and being morally superior to the Franco-supporting Real Madrid, it really was quite an astonishing performance.

I doubt any of us have ever seen such a collection of obvious dives.

To see a team which has brought all of us such immense pleasure over the last two seasons cheating in such a way was thoroughly depressing.

You expect that kind of behaviour from a sneak like Ronaldo, who didn't get to dive that much last night for the simple reason that he wasn't getting the service.

But from Barca? The team with UNICEF on their shirts?

They may have won the game, but they will have won no friends with their behaviour.

And the other big loser on the night was Mourinho himself.

There's no shame in losing a game, particularly against your arch rivals.

And, likewise, there is no shame in engaging in mind games. After all, he has made a career out of completely freaking his rivals out, and, with the exception of Ferguson, they usually tend to fall for it.

But there was nothing but shame in his tactics and what he said after the match, prompting Barcelona to seek legal action, was a disgrace: "Guardiola is a fantastic coach, but he has won one Champions League which I would be ashamed to win after the scandal at Stamford Bridge and this year, if he wins it again, it will be after the scandal at the Bernabeu."

It was small and petty and only made him look bad.

Indeed, as John Giles said, he may be a fantastic coach; I just don't like the man.

iodoherty@independent.ie

Irish Independent