Monday, March 26, 2012
Insult or contempt?
Before you read this piece, please be warned, as they say on English TV before a programme starts, that "this article contains strong language". So look away now if you prefer.
While shopping on Saturday morning, I nipped out of the local supermarket to be greeted by the phrase 'Phil! Hijo de puta!' (son of a bitch). Odd though it may seem, even before I managed to get a visual, I knew exactly who the perpetrator was, and what he was implying. And although this may not happen on the streets of LA or London, it is fairly common for the Spanish to greet one another in the street with a volley of swear words, as if the mutual tolerance of such behaviour were an implicit sign of confianza (trust). And anyway, as I've said, I recognised the voice as belonging to a friend of mine, the manager of the reserve side of a Spanish third division team.
As to the deeper meaning behind the phrase, I knew that he was referring to Real Madrid, the fact that Real Sociedad were playing them in the Bernabeu the same afternoon, and that Pepe had been given a two-match suspension for telling the referee the previous Wednesday night Vaya atraco - hijo de puta! (what a robbery, son of a abitch!). Pepe already had a yellow, but the phrase was written down in the ref's report. Paradas Romero, the man in question, sent off Mesut Ozil, Sergio Ramos, Jose Mourinho and Rui Faria, Madrid's physio, in the 1-1 draw at Villarreal in midweek, a game in which the leaders once again conceded a free-kick in the dying minutes and dropped two points as a consequence - the excellent Marcos Senna repeating Santi Cazorla's trick last Saturday in the Bernabeu.
Anyway, the point of the street greeting was obvious. Pepe could have been suspended for three or four games, if the Comite de Competición had deemed his phrase to be an insulto. As it turned out on Friday, they only gave him two games, because they decided that hijo de puta was a menusprecio (contempt) and not an insult. Slapping me on the back and looking down from a great height (he's a big dude), the football manager made sure there was no misunderstanding; "I wouldn't insult you my friend! I'd just call you Englishman or something if I wanted to do that. And hey - Sergio Ramos is playing today as well. Did it surprise you?"
No, not really. It didn't surprise me. The main threat to Real Madrid's prospects that afternoon resided in their having to play a pair of improvised centre-backs, the young Raphael Varane with Raul Albiol, most likely. Despite Real Sociedad's inoffensive nature, the hosts preferred not to leave anything to chance. If Barcelona won at Mallorca (and they did), Real Madrid would step onto the turf only three points ahead. Things were getting scary. And so bringing their legal team to the table, magnifying glasses and all, they managed to find a degree of verbal inconsistency in Paradas Romero's report, which said that Ramos had been given his first yellow for 'consistently infringing the laws of the game'. Real Madrid (correctly, it has to be said) challenged the general vagueness of this sentence, and Ramos was allowed to play Saturday's game. I was quite pleased, as you can imagine, when Real Sociedad's only goal, struck by Xabi Prieto, cannoned of Ramos' head and looped over Casillas into the net. If Ramos had been in the stands, we wouldn't have even scored.
Of course, it's more than likely that if Real Madrid had put out their 'C' team, they would have beaten Real Sociedad, so timorous were the visitors, as if they'd abandoned all hope before they even stepped onto the pitch. But last week's post-Madrigal events represent a real problem, and La Liga really has to get its act together in this respect.
The committees who decide on the punishments and who act on clubs' appeals remain anonymous, probably for reasons of their own safety. On the BBC a few months back, talking about this topic, Robbie Savage asked the ex-referee who was responsible for coordinating the EPL's committees, who the 'muppet' panellists were. Savage, always keen to offer 'considered' opinion, was put in his place by the ex-referee who calmly replied that they were ex-referees and ex-players, 'just like you Robbie'.
If this is the case in Spain, then it is difficult to see how justice is being done, objectively and fairly. Phillipe Montanier, Real Sociedad's coach, pointed out last Friday that his team had far more to complain about when it came to poor refereeing decisions - which is very true. But nobody cares as much, and the media do not clamour from their keyboards about the smaller sides in La Liga. Real Madrid's behaviour, both during and after the draw at Villarreal last week, brings the game into disrepute and threatens to make a farce of the competition. Pep Guardiola said as much on Saturday night, but he was referring to the inconsistency of the committee, not to his rivals' behaviour. He even suggested that a 'serious' committee would have sanctioned Gerard Pique for saying that his sending-off against Sporting had been 'premeditated', a point that is unlikely to improve the allegedly chilly relationship between the two, whose original roots are apparently the 'Shakira effect'.
You may recall, whilst still on this topic, that David Beckham was sent off for Real Madrid (I think at Murcia) for calling the linesman hijo de puta. This was a famous incident because it showed the Spanish that Becks could be a bit edgy if the occasion required, but also because he'd actually managed to make himself understood, for the first time, in the language of Cervantes. He even seemed quite pleased with himself over the incident. Also, when John Aldridge returned to England after two years in La Liga in the late 1980s, he claimed that the only Spanish he had ever learned was hijo de puta because 'it worked for everything' (sic). Quite. But now, according to the Spanish football committee, it's not an insult - which was good news for Pepe.
I don't wish to bore you with linguistics (the day job), but you might be interested to know that there are two types of meaning. One is called 'denotational' and the other is called 'connotational'. The former is literal, the latter is murkier. So, for example, if I say to you 'It's cold in here', you can take it on two levels. It might be cold (denotation), or I might be asking you to get off your butt to close the door (connotational). This is why Luis Suarez was always guilty, because to use the word 'negro' several times on the pitch was never going to be seen as denotational use. Patrice Evra knows, presumably, that he is black. The FA had no need to call in a panel of Spanish-speaking experts. I could have saved them the money. The context was always going to condemn Suarez, and it should have condemned Pepe too.
Real Madrid made such a massive fuss after the Villarreal game, refusing to talk to the press, literally sealing the walls of the Bernabeu and imposing the law of omerta that we were supposed to feel that the world was against them, and that their action was aimed at making the conspirators reflect on their sinful actions. All because they'd dropped four points in two games, as a result of two free-kicks in the final stages of a game? The ethics of such a posture are questionable, in the context of sport. Villarreal themselves had two decent shouts for a penalty turned down, but this was conveniently forgotten.
Real Madrid have played some fantastic stuff this season, and despite Barcelona's present form, should still make it to the finishing-line with their noses ahead. Their season could represent an admirable, record-breaking campaign, but all this sourpuss stuff is really undignified, as was Barcelona's similarly annoying suggestion last month that the refs were against them this year. One can only laugh at them both, as they sit pretty at the top of the league, several kilometres beyond their nearest challengers, with their legal teams paid to intimidate and their high-profile whingeing a sure-fire route to concessions. Get a life chaps.
Meanwhile, in the less privileged craters of Planet Liga, Javier Clemente was returning to his beloved Athletic as Sporting de Gijon's coach (he's been there for a month now), and extending their recent crisis by forcing a 1-1 draw in the final minute. Clemente said to the press this week that Athletic were 'a Ferrari' whilst his own squad were a '600', by which he meant the 'Seat', the original Spanish version of the Italian Fiat 500. Personally, if I was playing for Sporting, I'd be upset by this (connotational) comparison, whether it's true or not. How strange for such an experienced manager to misunderstand the basic thing that makes players tick - namely a lack of self-awareness.
As a player, you have to believe that you can improve, and that you can be as good as the next (Ferrari) guy. To be told that you're a Seat 600 is akin to being told that you're a donkey, but hey, never mind. Ah Clemente! With Michel back at Sevilla and Mourinho installed at the Bernabeu the only guaranteed soundbite-man still missing is Bernd Schuster. One wonders if he fancies the Valencia job, since Unai Emery's position there is being increasingly questioned, especially by the supporters who have never really taken to him. Consecutive defeats at home to lowly Zaragoza in midweek and away to Getafe on Saturday night have increased the pressure on him, especially after he implied in a press conference that the Mestalla was a part of the problem, with their apparent reluctance to get behind the team. Next week's derby against Levante in now crucial for his prospects, with improving Malaga threatening the third-place spot.
Champions League coming up too, with Real Madrid at Apoel and Barcelona at Milan, plus a tricky visit to Osasuna for the leaders next Saturday. Let's hope for fewer insults and a bit more football this week.