LET’S create a hypothetical situation here. You sat down with your two kids tonight to watch Real Madrid pit their wits against Barcelona in what is the third ‘El Clasico’ in the last ten days. The kids are hypothetical, the match definitely wasn’t. One child is aged ten. His name is Ian. No, scrap that. His name is Horatio. The other is seven. Your wife named your second child Raymond, but you insist on calling him Dave. You call him Dave because your wife won’t let you have a dog, and you always wanted a dog called Dave.
To all ISPCC-supporting readers, although this is a hypothetical situation, Dave is treated much better than your average dog. He gets hot meals and has his own bedroom. This hypothetical wife you have, Rihanna, is truly a saint. She also makes the best ham and cheese sandwiches. Not too much butter, just the right amount of ham.
Anyway, you’ve just forked out almost half your wages on new football boots for both Horatio and Dave. Dave is also getting a terrible time in school the last year or so because he’s a Liverpool supporter, but you tell yourself that he’ll become a stronger man for it. To compensate, you let him wear his new Adidas Predators tonight while he sits on the couch. Horatio throws you a hairy eyeball because he’s relegated to his socks. Countering this, you nod, almost as if you have a telepathic understanding with your eldest child. But you don’t. You’re not even sure he’s yours. He is suspiciously tanned.
It’s Wednesday night, and the three of you sit down to watch the football. Your wife is in the kitchen making some delicately crafted sandwiches again. Saint.
RTÉ TWO gets turned on just after seven. This is the first family bonding experience you’ve had in quite a while. Dave quickly finds Liam Brady’s voice very funny, and you nod in an encouraging manner. Horatio then points out that John Giles is very old, to which you respond disgustedly.
“John Giles will live forever. It’s Bill you’d want to be worrying about.”
Rihanna peers in from the kitchen. You smile. She better not be experimenting with that jalapeno cheese again. It left you in an awful state last week.
About five minutes into the coverage, Dave politely informs you that Iniesta is out of tonight’s game with a calf injury. My God. You didn’t even know that. How does he know that? This little seven-year-old is wise beyond his years, sitting there like a miniature Buddha in football boots.
Horatio goes and fetches some snacks from the kitchen. By the time the game starts, all three of you are equipped with nachos, dip and miniature Lion bars. Your weakness. “Moment on the lips, lifetime on the hips,” according to your wife.
You have a quick look into the kitchen before making any rash decisions. Rihanna’s on the kitchen floor practising Ashtanga Yoga, so you sneak one bar, quickly followed by another, into your mouth while she’s not looking. As you chew away, your sons look at you like you’re a demented old man. You’re convinced they can smell your guilt.
But Horatio has no right to look at you like that. You’re his football coach. You stand around every Tuesday and Thursday night for over an hour while a bunch of ten-year-olds chase a football around like, well, a bunch of ten-year-olds. And that’s before even mentioning their Sunday morning matches. Sunday mornings were once quiet affairs where you woke up the wrong side of noon and watched the football in a semi-comatose state from the comfort of your couch. Not anymore.
Back to the game. Jose Mourinho swans down the tunnel like, well, like a swan. So there he is, swanning away, and he’s everything a 48-year-old man like yourself wants to be. Take away your beer gut, your beard and your receding hairline and you’re almost him.
He shakes hands with Pep Guardiola, another ridiculously good looking specimen, before the game kicks off. You look over your shoulder to make sure your wife isn’t witnessing any of this. She would definitely leave you if she feasted eyes upon these footballing Adonises. She’s an aspiring 23-year-old singer with unrivalled sandwich-making abilities, and you sometimes wonder how you got her in the first place. Although, in fairness to your now 20-stone frame, your moves in that hypothetical nightclub the night you met her were truly awe-inspiring.
You’re hoping that either Horatio or Dave can learn something from tonight’s game. It has been billed as a classic, and rightly so; the tactical nous of a Jose Mourinho-led team versus the systematic passing brilliance of Barcelona. It’s as if the gene for incredible passing is injected into their veins at an early age.
Ten minutes in, and it’s almost like watching Stoke take on Stoke, in what would be a very strange scenario that could only take place in some sort of parallel universe where Rory Delap ruled supreme. Real are kicking Xavi, Busquets and Keita around the middle of the park and it’s stifling all creativity. Your kids are beginning to get edgy.
One minute later, though, and David Villa emerges with the ball. He unleashes a vicious left foot effort, only to see it fizz past the wrong side of Casillas’ right post. Barcelona are beginning to ease into the game, says the softly-spoken commentator. You agree. Dave agrees. Horatio even agrees.
Halfway through the first-half and Lionel Messi is beginning to show what he’s capable of; nothing too spectacular though, just a couple of neat passing exchanges with Xavi and Villa. Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Arbeloa are intent on bullying him off the ball, but hassling Messi is possibly the worst thing to do. He’ll just get back up and run at you again, yet somehow he’ll be even faster. Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s almost like the ball is glued to his feet.
Despite the obvious lack of action, the game is beginning to take on all the drama of a typical Clasico, with Di Maria and Alves clashing towards the end of the first half — creating a wall of players protesting to the referee over Alves’ potential punishment. The ref remains strong however, with no yellow shown and the resulting free-kick eventually wasted.
A minute later, Arbeloa checks Pedro’s run with his shoulder, leaving Pedro in a heap on the ground, all the while mysteriously clutching his face as if he’d been felled with an invisible elbow. It quickly escalates into uproar. Gerard Pique tries to chokeslam Ramos, Guardiola is pacing up and down the touchline and Messi just stands around looking rather confused. Arbeloa then gets booked, and his confused expression could easily have rivalled Messi’s only thirty seconds previous.
On the stroke of half-time, Ronaldo takes a shot from just outside the box. Valdes is forced into a save, and the loose ball arrives at the feet of Mesut Ozil, who inexplicably sends it into the stands. The linesman already flagged for offside anyway, but nobody seemed to notice.
Half-time, and just when you think it’s safe to make a sandwich, a fracas erupts as the players make their way down the tunnel. Barca’s sub goalkeeper Pinto, clearly inspired by Pique only minutes earlier, tries to chokeslam Pedro. It appeared that the chokeslam was fast-becoming the finishing manoeuvre of choice on the night at the Bernabeu.
Dave and Horatio look perplexed, but Dave, being the little stats-guru that he is, points out that Barcelona had 71% of the ball in the first half. Which, for any away team at the Bernabeu, is impressive – unheard of, even.
You second-guess your idea of sandwiches, instead spending the fifteen minutes talking to your kids about the match. Dave and Horatio aren’t impressed. They’re saying that it was a bit boring. You are forced to agree, but remind them that lessons can be learned from watching teams like this. “They’re good role models,” you say.
Just before the second half starts, Rihanna comes in from the kitchen with a bottle of red wine and sits down beside you. This is the fifth night in a row that she’s drinking. You shoot a look of disapproval her way, and she looks right through it. You can’t stay mad for long, though. You’re twenty stone and ugly. She’s not.
The second half begins, and it’s as if Barcelona have made a decision to increase the tempo of their play. Messi has a shot blocked, and is also brought down by Sergio Ramos’ shoulder a couple of minutes later. “It’s Messi you need to be learning from,” you say to the lads.
Madrid respond, coming back into the game as it reaches the hour mark. Ronaldo and Di Maria are combining well, and the former hassles Valdes into making a slight mistake with a backpass. Nothing comes of it.
You begin to worry that the game will finish nil-all. Horatio even says: “Dad, I want to go upstairs and play FIFA. This is boring.” You’re no son of mine, Horatio. You don’t say that, but you do tell him to be patient.
And you were right. Two minutes later, Pepe, who has been a general nuisance with clumsy tackles all evening, goes in against Alves with his studs raised. Despite replays showing that there was minimal contact, it’s now well known that you can’t raise your studs in the modern game — unless you’re Nigel de Jong.
So, Pepe gets a straight red card, Mourinho’s game-plan is undone, your two kids straighten up from the couch with an air of interest and Rihanna has fallen asleep on your shoulder after her second glass of red wine in fifteen minutes. What a night.
Following on from the sending-off, Barcelona begin to toy with Real. Mourinho is sent to the stands for arguing with the officials over Pepe’s sending off, which was exactly what everybody expected from the Madrid boss. Pedro has his knee accidentally trampled on by Marcelo and is replaced by Ibrahim Afellay.
Fifteen minutes left, and Ronaldo steps up to take a free-kick. He stands there in his typical stance, legs miles apart. “Don’t ever stand like that on the football pitch. Don’t ever stand like that ever, actually,” you warn your kids. Rihanna wakes up from her wine-induced slumber. You must have raised your voice without realising. She says something weird in a Barbadian accent before nodding off again. Phew.
Ronaldo wastes the free-kick and, within seconds, Barcelona break. Afellay is fed a through-ball on the right wing and beats Marcelo before releasing a dangerous cross into the six yard box. The ball reaches the flailing foot of Lionel Messi at full-flight, and he has the precision to poke the ball through the legs of Iker Casillas.
1-0. The kids are jumping on the couch. Rihanna doesn’t even know her own name at this stage (I would say she started singing ‘What’s My Name?’ but this is only a hypothetical situation, not a cheesy hypothetical situation) and Lionel Messi has just consolidated his position as one of the world’s greatest footballers.
“See,” you exclaim. “He’s the right person to learn from.”
Adebayor is booked shortly afterwards for almost poking Masherano’s eyes out with his fingers, and Barcelona continue to enjoy the majority of possession. 76% now, Dave points out. You have no idea how he knows this.
“We want to be like Messi,” your two boys say. Of course they do, he’s the best player in the world.
“Stick at it, and anything is poss………..” but before you can finish, Messi gets the ball as the game is reaching its closing stages. From a seemingly innocuous position, a one-two with Xavi takes him past Lassana Diarra. Raul Albiol then comes to challenge Messi, but the Argentine just skips right by him. Sergio Ramos tries to make up for Albiol’s shortcomings, but Messi utilises a unique turn of pace to leave Ramos, Albiol and Marcelo trailing behind him. He then comes face-to-face with Casillas, and despite being stuck at an awkward angle he slots the ball over the legs of the Madrid keeper with his weaker foot, leaving the entire Madrid defence standing in their own box, dazed and confused.
2-0. You can hear some Madrid fans clapping. You look to Dave and Horatio. They’re both crying. “I want to go to bed,” Horatio says. “We’ll never be that good,” sobs Dave. You turn off the match in a show of solidarity with your two hypothetical progeny. “Go on then. Go to bed, kids,” you tell them, dejectedly. You offer them further support in the form of Lion bars. They refuse.
For once, you are speechless. They WON’T be that good. Ever. It’s impossible. The little Argentine is, quite simply, a phenomenon.
In your role as their hypothetical father, you tell them they can never watch a Barcelona or Argentina match again. You refuse to allow it. Rihanna is wide awake now. “We need to do this for the kids’ sake,” you tell her. She’s looking at you like you’re suddenly attractive again.
“He’s affecting the morale of kids around the world because of how good he is. It’s not fair Rihanna, and I’m going to put a stop to him crushing my children’s dreams,” you bellow. Her drunken eyes light up even further.
You stand up with an air of intent.
Look at you. You are assertive. You are a rock. You are not just an alpha male, you are THE alpha male. You are shouting loudly. Then suddenly, mid-rant, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the hallway mirror. It is then that you are reminded, as Rafa Benitez would say, of the ‘facts’ — you are a 48-year-old, twenty-stone mess with Lion bar leftovers in your beard.
Time for your real bed, Ian. Time to put an end to this hypothetical scenario, however sexy your wife may be.