Andy Mitten

Colossal Clasico worthy of all the hype

In an attempt to play down the hype surrounding the Camp Nou clash
against Real Madrid, pre-arranged interviews with trusted media outlets have
been cancelled.

Despite many of his players being media savvy, Guardiola fears that, no
matter what they say, their comments will be twisted into a war of words with
Madrid, which he doesn't want.

So players talk through Barca's club media about how the world is
round, how they are happy when their team wins or they score a goal and about
how the next game will be a tough one. Are you still awake?

Guardiola's theory is that any public slanging match would serve Jose
Mourinho's tactics perfectly. He's right. The Special One has taken on
all-comers in Spain this season, launching public barbs and upsetting the
unwritten codes between coaches with his distracting theories and opinions.

It's all a big game to Mourinho, part of the psyche of being a top
coach, but even he knows to pick battles he thinks he can win. Mourinho seldom
criticised Sir Alex Ferguson when he was at Chelsea and he's maintained a
respectful stance towards Guardiola at Barca thus far, describing Barca as "a
great side a team with a shared group philosophy." 

Mourinho talks about being persona non grata at Camp Nou, but he's
calmed down before this game. Almost as if Mourinho's boss has said: "Wind
your neck in, you're taking things too far" after a series of outspoken comments
about rival coaches and the various authorities that may stand in his way of
wrestling the La Liga title back from Barcelona - the job he was brought in to
do.

Privately, Guardiola and his players feel that they will continue to
have the measure of Madrid.

I spoke to Xavi a day before the last Clasico at Camp Nou, and he said:
"FC Barcelona is a school and I've been privileged to be a student.

"It doesn't just educate you to be a good footballer, but a good
person too. It's a good environment which also teaches respect, a working
mentality and discretion. It's different here to Madrid.

"I noticed (Sir Alex) Ferguson say that no matter how many players
Madrid buy, they will never have the moral fibre of Barca. That's true,"
he added.

"Madrid have their system and there are some things I actually envy: their optimism, that cockiness they have that allows them to tell
you with absolute conviction: 'We. Are. Going. To. Beat. You.' But they don't!

"They have some great players, but I know which system I prefer,
which is better for football."

After that interview, with the tape recorder off, Xavi said: "We'll
beat them. Just watch." He was right. And Barca won again at the Bernabeu
in the spring on their way to another title.

Had Madrid managed to win just one of those Clasicos, they would have
won the league. So when Guardiola and Mourinho complain that it's just another
game, they're actually kidding nobody.  

So dominant are Spain's big two, they are dropping fewer and fewer
points each season, a continuing trend where league leaders Madrid have picked
up 32 from a possible 36 points so far this season, with Barca just a point
behind.

Even at this early stage, a loss for either next Monday would seriously
damage any title aspirations. So now you can see why the media are hyping this
game so much.