On Saturday night Lisbon, Portugal, becomes an outpost of the Spanish capital for the day as Real Madrid face cross-city rivals Atletico Madrid.
There is always a need to create drama within football. Without hyperbolic build up; without our tales of historical jinxes and great escapes, or class struggles and what the Spanish like to call morbo, it would just be 22 men kicking a ball about.
On a twice-weekly basis, the Guardian Football Weekly podcast likes to debate the use of the word “narrative”. It is the golden thread spun from any number of minor details and woven into the fabric of the game we love.
The fable of the underdog is always a reliable old standard. If a match is not to be a “Clash of the Titans”, then David and Goliath will do. And so it is with this weekend’s UEFA Champions League final.
No matter that Atletico can hardly be cast as minnows, nor that they wrapped up the La Liga title last weekend (albeit with a stutter to the finish line); when their rivals are the mighty Real Madrid, the label of underdog will be applied.
Diego Simeone’s Atleti have been a revelation this season. Breaking up the Real-Barca duopoly is becoming a rare event in La Liga. When you take into account the differing budgets of the three clubs vying for the title this year, the achievement is rightly lauded.
Football’s “Robin Hood” was the term that Atletico midfielder Tiago preferred to describe the team. Punished with an income embargo thanks to spiralling debt levels, some might say that they have a similar relationship with the taxman to that which the hooded outlaw did.
Despite the constraints, Simeone certainly built his own band of merry men, a picture completed by David Villa, Raul Garcia and Gabi arriving at last weekend’s title parade hanging out of a van.
By contrast, regal Real Madrid will feel a little despondent that they could not take their title tilt to the last weekend. Any torment will surely be tempered by victory in the Champions League, though. La Liga, has long since seemed a lower priority to a club that is desperate to further cement its place in history with “La Decima.”
It has become an obsession since the first days of Los Galacticos. Florentino Perez will have been convinced that a side consisting of the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Ronaldo, Iker Casillas and Luis Figo would go on to dominate the competition like the club did in the early years of its inception and that ten would follow nine in quick succession.
This time around, Real Madrid have the incredible attacking threat of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, to name but two, a threat that Simeone’s well-drilled players will have to nullify. However, the narrative of this match could well be how both sides cope with the players who will or could be missing from their lineups. Real’s metronome, Xabi Alonso will be sorely missed, as will Atletico’s Diego Costa, should he not be passed fit. If playmaker Arda Turan misses out, too, it will be a severe test for the Spanish champions.
While Hull City owner Assem Allam battles to incorporate the “Tigers” nickname in to the name of the club, two of Spain’s giants, who operate under the rather less inspiring monickers of Los Colchoneros and Los Merengues have reached the UEFA Champions League final.
Some tickets are actually still available for Lisbon’s final match, which is the pinnacle of club football. The descending hordes of Madrileños will ensure that the Portuguese capital will take on a very Spanish flavour for the evening creating a spectacular Iberian fiesta.
And so, we have the Mattress-Makers and the Meringues facing off to be crowned Kings of Europe.
It might sound like a farce that your local amateur dramatic society might act out, but it could provide a more original story than David and Goliath!
However you wish to cast the characters, everything now boils down to one last match and those 22 men kicking a ball.
It’s pushing the allegory to breaking point, but one thing is certain, there has never been a better time to throw in a quote I heard recently, which is from a Noel Coward play.
“Is this a game?”
“Yes, and a game that must be played to the finish!”
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