The taxi driver curses as his cab nudges through the post-match traffic on Madrid's grandest avenue. The giant shell of Santiago Bernabéu slips away behind, empty but for 800 delirious Barcelona fans.
"Cristiano is only here for the money," says the driver in a monotone which echoes what's being said in animated voices on radio. "He's not Madrid. He only cares about himself or that girl who can't keep her clothes on."
You might be surprised to hear criticisms of the world's second best player from Madrid fans. Criticism for the team's top scorer, the star of the top of the league team, the man who shattered Madrid's goalscoring record for a season only last term with an astonishing 53 goals. 53 goals. In one season.
Real Madrid fans are almost impossible to please. As Jose Mourinho pointed out this week when he was booed by his own fans for the first time in his career, the 70,000 regulars who usually fill football's grandest stadium jeered Zidane, booed Ronaldo and now they're booing the man they call Cristiano.
Ronaldo has scored 23 league goals in 19 games so far this season. Granted, nine of them were penalties, but he's ahead of Messi and is on target to break his own 40 goal Pichichi record from last season.
It's not enough.
Ronaldo's critics on the terraces, in the cab and on the radio point to him not shining in numerous games against Barca, yet on this night he was one of only two Madrid players who could hold his head up high. The other was the goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
"Iker is Madrid," says the driver. "He's 50% of that team. He's the one who matters. Mourinho? I'm not so sure. Some days I like him, some days I don't."
This was a night when the Madrid-supporting taxi driver wasn't liking the Special One. Holders Madrid had just been beaten 2-1 at home by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey quarter final and 79,000 home fans were going home disappointed. They're annoyed that they keep losing to their greatest rivals, even in the Bernabéu. Since Pep Guardiola took charge of Barcelona in 2008, Madrid's home record against their greatest foe is: P7 W0 D2 L5. That's about an emphatic as Barca can get as they regularly destroy Madrid away, yet Madrid have historically dominated with more league titles and more European Cups. Barça's recent surge has seen them draw level with 86 wins against Madrid, the same number Madrid have against Barca.
It was almost midnight when the game finished following a 10pm kick-off. The temperature had dropped to zero in Europe's highest major capital and the mood had shifted markedly from before the game, when cartoon figures of Messi and Ronaldo walked around the Puerta del Sol on a sunny January afternoon. This was the eighth clasico in ten months, with Madrid winning just once. Tourists, drawn by the global appeal of the game, bought half and half Madrid/Barça scarves — to the anger of home fans wearing scarves with slogans like 'Anti-Cule'.
The tourists came to see stars like Messi, Pique and a suited Guardiola posturing on the touch line. Barca are lauded around the world for their talent and achievement, but in Madrid, they're loathed precisely because they are responsible for Real not being the best team in the world. The families of the Barcelona players would not like to hear the songs about them amid the whiff of sulphur from flares and the pleasing aroma of castañas being grilled on outdoor stoves around the stadium.
This Madrid side should be good enough to dominate world football, but they can't because Barca are consistently superior.
Madrid could lose gracefully, but then grace and Pepe shouldn't appear in the same sentence. The Brazilian-born Portuguese national, with more previous than most in clasico matches, stamped on Messi's hand with the game balanced at 1-1. His actions brought widespread condemnation and indignation, a ridiculous apology, marks of '0' in the following day's press and he was dropped for the next game.
All should be well in the Madrid camp. They have so much going for them, a great side coached by a Mourinho. But they don't look like a great side when they play Barcelona because the Catalans don't let them play and enjoy 72% of the possession, an absurd statistic. So that causes tensions, fall outs, accusations and counter claims.
The second leg is on Wednesday in Camp Nou. To see the brilliant white shirts of Real Madrid walking out at Camp Nou remains one of the great moments in world sport. The players usually have the self-assured arrogance to carry it off as they sarcastically applaud the vast tiered banks of seating. On Wednesday they'll be met by 22,000 fans holding cards to form a mosaic on one side of the stadium which will be part Catalan flag, part Barça's colours with the words SOM-HI BARÇA! (We Are Barca! - in Catalan). Madrid don't need any reminder.
- Sports & Recreation
- Sports & Recreation/Soccer