“Are you a football fan?” I asked the taxi-driver, who collected me at the Barajas Madrid Airport.
“Yes,” he said. “Real Madrid.”
His eyes searched mine through the rear view mirror for a few seconds. It resembled the look of a man who had just shown off his girlfriend and now hungered for a sign of approval.
My maiden visit to Madrid comes courtesy of DirecTV’s Madrid Media Tour 2012 and is either good luck or a signal of Wired868’s early inroads into the Trinidad and Tobago’s sporting consciousness. I could live with either explanation at the moment.
Abraham, who looked to be in his 60s, was my first interviewee and he seemed a tad insecure about his love.
“We lost to Getafe last night,” he said. “Getafe?! I would not mind so much (if it was) Barcelona or Valencia or a big club. But Getafe?!”
If the words seem bitter, the speaker sounded more tortured than aggressive.
Real Madrid beat Barcelona to the 2011/12 La Liga title, which should make it unofficially the best football club in the world—even without the European Champions’ League crown or the less heralded FIFA World Cup title. They amassed a number of records on the way too including 100 points and an amazing goal difference of +89.
But a stroll through north Madrid suggested that the “Madridistas” have not completely exorcised the inferiority complex that took hold when ex-Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola took the Catalan club to the capital in 2009 and trounced Real 6-2 en route to the first of two successive league triumphs. The following season, Guardiola’s Barca whipped Mourinho’s Madrid 5-0 at the Camp Nou.
On Wednesday night, Madrid faces Barcelona in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup with the visitors holding a 3-2 lead from their meeting last Thursday. And, although Mourinho’s men will hold the distinction of being defending champions until well into 2013, they did not attempt to downplay the significance of the fixture after starting the season with an opening draw and two consecutive defeats.
“The Supercopa brings us an opportunity to try and forget these three games,” Madrid captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas told the Spanish press on Sunday night. “To beat Barcelona to a title always tastes good for Madrid fans. We want to redeem ourselves.”
Every town has its own personality derived from the pace, colour and interaction of its people.
Downtown Port of Spain, for instance, has grown more self-centred over the years; yet a brightness and intimacy remains thanks to crowded pavements and streets and the inhabitants’ preference for light colours.
In the northern Madrid district of Chamartín, near the famous 85,000-seater Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, there seems to be a nonchalant, breezy air about the place that appears closer to life in the Caribbean than Europe.
On a Monday afternoon, there was little evidence of the purposefulness that defines London, the swagger of Amsterdam or the self-awareness of Frankfurt. Madrid seemed to be on cruise control.
In the malls, workers were drawn together like a cluster of friends rather than spread out like watchful employees. It is best not to be in a hurry at the shops. Each sale seemed to be part-business and part-reunion.
Chamartín’s wide, uncluttered sidewalks—there are several nearby schools and universities on vacation, which contributed to an ease in traffic—allowed everyone personal space but, in the warm summer, the well-dressed residents were happy to stop and offer directions or advice to a tourist.
It was a world away from life in the Bernabeu of late.
Jose Mourinho is one of Europe’s most successful coaches but the Portugal export is almost as well known for pragmatic football, gamesmanship and boorish behavior.
His Real Madrid team has been sanctioned in Europe for purposefully picking up cards to manipulate suspensions and criticised at home for overly physical play when overrun. Mourinho led by example with a bizarre claw at the face of Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova during last year’s Super Cup. Vilanova was Guardiola’s assistant at the time.
Mourinho’s modus operandi seems at odds with the ethos of his employer but it is a relationship that is likely to endure so long as he can defy Barcelona’s hypnotic collection of maestros.
Madrid holds the crown now but one senses that the sporting soldiers in white gear have not completely convinced fans that the war is won.
In the midst of white Madrid shirts with “Ronaldo” emblazoned between the shoulder-blades, there were several black ones that read “Zidane” and, on the small of the back, were the words “we miss you.”
In Wednesday night’s decisive Super Cup match, Mourinho’s Madrid will try to give its millions of fans another reason to look forward.
Editor’s Note: Wired868 is in Spain as part of DirecTV’s Madrid Media Tour 2012