Atletico Madrid's Copa Del Rey win over Real on Friday wasn't just about short-term glory, says Tim Stannard, but a chance to build for better things ahead...
Atletico Madrid haven't beaten their bitter rivals in almost 14 years. But Tim Stannard says that if anyone can help the Rojiblancos end that curse, it's Diego Simeone...
The average game of football is only interesting for about 15 minutes, what with all the stops, starts and stumbles. Matches normally take place just twice a week during a ten-month season, leaving quite a lot of dead space in between to fill. It's no wonder, then, that so much of our lives are spent fretting endlessly over naughty tweets, transfer speculation, the notion of Leo Messi being a bottler or arguing about the worthiness of Arsene Wenger's coat. In the past, this kind of nonsense chit-chat was done in the pub or by writing stern letters to Match or Shoot magazine.
Then the internet and message boards came along. Then it was Twitter, a forum where 140 characters are allowed, pretty much the same time in milliseconds some take to consider what they are writing, especially throughout much of Wednesday on the sensitive topic of Tito Vilanova.
Depressingly, it was a day that saw many a speculation on whether Pep Guardiola would be returning to Barcelona from New York, even before anyone knew anything remotely concrete about the condition of the figure who replaced him at the Camp Nou. At 10.50 in the morning, the club made a short announcement through its website that a speech by the president, Sandro Rosell, had been cancelled. As had a Christmas lunch for the local media.
Soon after, Barcelona-based newspaper 'Mundo Deportivo' published the news that Vilanova had had a relapse in his cancer battle and a new tumour had been discovered in a salivary gland, requiring urgent removal. It was a sad repeat of what Vilanova had endured in November the previous year. Fortunately, the Barça boss was to make a full recovery, with his doctor declaring last May that he was in excellent health.
After the report was published on the website of 'Mundo Deportivo', speculation began on why the club had not made any kind of confirmation of their manager's health, if Tito Vilanova would ever go back to work and whether Pep Guardiola would make an emergency return to the Camp Nou. As it turns out, the reason why the club didn't formally communicate until 18.30 is that the condition and next steps ahead for the Barça boss were not yet clear, considering the issue had not been identified until the day before during a health check-up and that Vilanova himself wanted to talk to friends, family and then the Barça footballers ahead of a scheduled 18.00 training session.
Half an hour after this took place, a brief message appeared on the Barça website announcing that Vilanova would have to have a further operation on Thursday morning, spend up to four days in hospital, six weeks in radiotherapy and chemotherapy but may be able to continue to work during this period. At 19.45, Sandro Rosell and the Sporting Director, Andoni Zubizaretta, announced in a press conference that a full recovery was expected and that the existing coaching staff would remain in place with assistant manager Jordi Roura on the bench for the next match against Valladolid.
No Pep Guardiola, no end of Tito, no fuss, no panic and certainly no suggestion that football results were of any importance. The kind of calm, dignified, prioritising, fact-based thinking that went AWOL in the Twitter-verse and indeed in the more institutional world with well-meaning communications being issued prematurely by fellow professionals and clubs to the Barça boss despite no hard facts about his condition.
The following morning, thoughts turned to a more sporting direction whilst Vilanova was undergoing surgery, although a communication in the afternoon from the club said that the surgery had gone to plan and also asked that people respect the privacy of the patient, something that was all too lacking the day before.
Carles Puyol went before the press and revealed that "today, the dressing room is feeling up. Yesterday, we had a chat with him and this boosted our spirits. You have to pick yourselves up and keep on fighting. The team has always done it and will do it now as well."
The defender left the impression that the footballers weren't going to let their manager down during his absence - bad news for all upcoming opposition facing a team that had already made a record breaking start to the season. ""his is a very responsible dressing room. You have to carry on the same, training as hard as possible and that's it. We can't wait for him to come back. The best way to help him is for the team to keep on going in the same way and facing the matches to come."
It should have been a joyful week for Barcelona. The dropped points of Real Madrid against Espanyol, José Mourinho's admission of defeat in the title race, the victory over Atlético Madrid to give the Catalans a nine-point lead at the top of the table, the contract extensions of Leo Messi, Puyol and Xavi Hernández, and most importantly of all, the return to training of Eric Abidal.
However, Barcelona have reacted to such challenging times with patience, calm and grace, unlike many out there who were unable to see the difference between transfer gossip and news of a man who was having to explain to friends, family and his children that the horrendous experience of last year was about to repeat itself.