Real Madrid Campeon, or Real Madrid Champions of La Liga
Sunday, June 17, 2007
La Liga, one the best football (soccer) leagues in the planet, came to a conclusion today. A final that few expected. Real Madrid won it all.
Two years ago, I switched my fan colours to Barcelona's red and blue, from Real Madrid's white. In truth, I cheer for the winning team, however, I started following Barcelona after Real Madrid stopped winning titles, even with all the expensive players they had.
They used to call them "los galacticos." But with so much talent, they didn't win anything. What was the problem? Almost everyone has a theory, but the most obvious one is that the team didn't play as a team.
And so, the European football season started last year and we all knew that Barcelona was going to win more than one title. There are so many in Europe and Spain combined: UEFA Champions League, La Copa del Rey, etc. In total there are 7 titles to win.
Then something unexpected happened. It is one of the worst things that can happen to a team: the top goal scorer injured himself at the beginning of the championship. Etoo was out for 6 months because of a meniscus injury*.
But this was not the worst for Barcelona. Mere weeks later, after Etoo's injury, Messi broke his right foot, and that meant that he was out for 3 to 4 months. It also meant that the team had to do without two of its best players.
Of course, Ronaldinho was, and is, still part of the Barcelona club. But the dude doesn't train anymore. Or at least this is what the Spanish press writes about him. They write that he is busier filming Nike commercials than practicing and bonding with the team. This, they write, has had an effect on the best player of the world.
If you recall, Ronaldinho has also been saying that he is in bad physical shape and that he needs to improve. In fact, Ronaldinho hasn't been the same since the humiliating performance of Brazil in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, in Germany.
The question is that if he knew he was in bad shape, why didn't he improve or try to improve? Maybe it's too much to ask of a super-human being to be in top of his game for a whole career. And even though he admits to being in bad shape, he did score the most goals in his team, and made the difference in many important games. But it wasn't enough, and now, I'm sure, he will be blamed for the lost of La Liga. The reality, though, is much more complicated than that.
Etoo and Messi came back to the team in time to make a difference. And what a difference they made. When Barcelona plays with its best players (and all players are some of the best in the world), the team is a goal scoring machine. And they outscored every team. Even Real Madrid. (Barcelona scored 78 goals and Real 66.)
In the last 3 years, Real Madrid has had the worst streak in the club's history. The team hasn't won a trophy for 36 long months--not one. At the beginning of this season, things didn't look so hot for Real. But half way through, the club started winning games, and managed to tie Barcelona on points.
Some attribute the turn around to Capello's coaching stile; others to the team finally being able to play as a team now that it doesn't have many "galacticos" left: Figo was gone 2 seasons ago, and Ronaldo was pushed out mid season (they still have Roberto Carlos and Beckham, but they are gone after today).
So why didn't Barcelona win La Liga, if both teams ended up with the same number of points?
This is a good question, with a very unfortunate answer. At least for me, as I wanted Barcelona to win again.
The answer lies with La Liga's regulations.
Before explaining what the rule is, let me draw a parallel with the USA's voting system: the popular vote doesn't win a presidency; it's the electoral college vote that wins a presidency. This means, as I understand it, that the candidate with the most citizens' votes doesn't necessarily win a presidential election. (I know, it sounds counterintuitive, but I'm sure there is a really good reason why this is so.)
Now to the rule that gave the championship to Real Madrid. In any other league in the World (well, most of them), Barcelona would have been the champion by goal difference--meaning that when two teams have the same number of points, the winner is determined by the team that has scored the most goals during the season.
However, in Spain's La Liga, a weird rule is in place. It goes like this: if two teams are tied in points, it is not the goal difference that determines who wins, but the differential number of points between the two games each team plays against each other. In Spain, all teams play against each other twice throughout the championship, and it is these two games that determines who wins La Liga in the case of the two top teams tying by points. In this case, Real Madrid won once and tied once against Barcelona. This gives Real an advantage in points of 4 to 1. Meaning that out of 6 possible points, real has 4, and hence it comes out with an advantage. (Note that if both teams are tied on points and tied on the number of points on the games against each other, then and only then the goal differential would determine the winner.)
Today, it meant that Real Madrid won La Liga.
Of course, rules and regulation don't win championships. And Barcelona had plenty of chances of winning La Liga. They just couldn't do it. They tied or lost too many "easy" games, and this made a difference in the end. (Easy is relative, as there are no easy games.)
So who's to blame? Fans will always find fault in the players and the coaching staff. Perhaps this year everyone is too blame, or no one is to blame.
I say we blame football: it's just part of the experience. And in La Liga, with so much talent, small mistakes and bad luck streaks end up determining winners from losers. Regardless of who is to blame, one thing is for certain, tonight I would rather be celebrating in Madrid than drowning the pain of loosing in the pubs of Barcelona.
* In regard to Etoo's injury, in an way, I can relate. I had the same type of meniscus repair he had. Of course, he is a professional player and I play twice a week at the city league, but the frustration and the pain are probably similar. This is my third month recovering, and I'm not able to play until September.
The healing process of a meniscus repair is slow, as the procedure is done to a piece of cartilage that has little, in any, blood supply. This means that it takes a long time for it to heal.
Fortunately, everything is going as planed with my knee, and I have been able to start running without any pain. I ran 5 km tonight and 4 km yesterday, and I'm all right. I can't bent it all the way yet, but I have learned to take things one day at a time.