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Read this, this was very interesting

Lance Knight2010-05-08 05:24:33 +0000 #1
Hard men at work

Phil Ball

The great thing about the hard men of Spanish football is that they always look the part.

Nobby Stiles would never have made that opening shot of Reservoir Dogs, but Andoni Goikoetxea, the 'Butcher of Bilbao' certainly would have, as would the present Public Enemy Number One, Sevilla's Javi Navarro.

Along with his equally notorious sidekick, Pablo 'Doctor Death' Alfaro (he is a qualified General Practitioner), these two centre-backs are possibly the most feared and loathed in the whole of Spain, as indeed is their team.

They have taken few prisoners for the last couple of seasons, and their policy would seem to have finally backfired on them after Navarro's shocking assault on Mallorca's Juan Arango a fortnight ago, the consequences of which are still in the balance. Mallorca's issuing of a formal denouncement of the incident last week has delayed the Spanish Federation's verdict on the issue, already complicated by the fact that referee Pino Zamorano only booked Navarro on the day.

As if Zamorano's reputation was not sufficiently in tatters, his refereeing of the Barcelona v Betis game this weekend further confirmed his dysfunctional view of the world, allowing Barcelona to snatch a point with a pass from a player (Deco) who should have been sent off, and a penalty from Eto'o earned by a dive from Belletti which had to be seen to be believed.

It was a thing of great beauty, but it was certainly not occasioned by anything resembling a foul. I know we're not supposed to criticise referees now, but Zamorano needs to be given a wee rest, which would surely be the fall-out if the Spanish Federation decide, as is widely expected, to sanction Navarro with a twelve-game suspension.

This was the scale of the punishment meted out to 'Mono' Burgos, the ex-Atlético Madrid goalkeeper who thumped Espanyol's Serrano in 1999, but Burgos had had enough of Serrano's racist jibes and decided to take the law into his own hands. It is still unclear as to why Javi Navarro went in so elbow-first on Arango. Instead of the barber, we now have the butcher of Seville.

Navarro, although he had a previous reputation for being a bit of a thug, did not feature amongst Spain's worst offenders, statistically speaking. Last season he received 12 yellows, but no reds - and so far this season he has taken no early baths.

His colleague, Pablo Alfaro, complained this week that 'Not even a rapist or a terrorist would have been subjected to such a public lynching', but as a trained doctor Alfaro should know that a wound requiring forty stitches and a three-night stay in hospital is no superficial thing.

The sight of Arango twitching as if in his death throes after the tackle was enough to make the most hardened of TV spectators turn away from their screens.

This weekend, all eyes were on Navarro at the home game against Numancia, whose forwards had not expected to be facing Navarro after the lengthy hiatus between the incident and the resumption of the league this weekend, with their manager, Máximo Hernández, making the perfectly plausible claim that if Sevilla had been playing against Barça or Real Madrid last weekend, the centre-back would have been dealt with more swiftly.

However, the Europe-wide attention that the incident has attracted is interesting for various reasons, one of them being that it comforts the northern European press to demonize the Spanish and/or the Italians, even though there remains this paradoxical feeling that the closer to the Med you get, the more likely players are to 'bottle' when subjected to the rough stuff.

Maybe this idea is beginning to fade, now that so many southern European players are looking after themselves in more northern climes, but something of it persists.

Between Andoni Goikoetxea's famous foul on Maradona and Navarro's elbow on March 20, most northern European journalists would be hard-pressed to point to any true hard Spanish defenders, and apart from Atlético Madrid's López from the 1996 double-winning team (ably abetted by Diego Simeone) and Real Madrid's Fernando Hierro (now in the twilight zone at Bolton) they might well have a point.

So now, maybe we are truly witnessing a golden age when it comes to thugs in the Spanish league? Apart from Seville, Osasuna have Pablo Garcia, admittedly a Uruguayan but definitely a bit of a psycho. He seems to have become even worse this season, as Osasuna's defence has become the most porous in the league. But he really is a scary bugger, and one with whom it would be unwise to cross swords.

Indeed, after Osasunas's 2-0 defeat at San Sebastian on Saturday night, some visiting fans began to jeer their players as they sat glumly on the team coach waiting to be driven back to Pamplona.

According to a security guard, Garcia jumped out of the bus and headed towards two of the most vocal fans. 'Tell me that face to face, you *******!' he apparently roared, at which point the two individuals decided to take exit stage left. Tarantino take note.

Alberto Lopo of Espanyol also seems to be garnering a bit of a reputation for himself, but he has at least contributed to his team's excellent defensive showing this season. Statistically he was in fact the dirtiest player in La Liga last season, with an impressive tally of 17 yellows and 4 reds to his name, but he has managed to cool it a little this campaign.

Racing Santander have a defender whose surname, Moratón, actually means 'bruise', but apart from the occasional rush of blood, he seems a reasonably pacific character.

With regard to teams, Valencia have built a reputation for themselves over the past few seasons for being an essentially physical side, something to which their successes in Europe might attest.

But none of the spine of their defensive solidity over this period - Albelda, Marchena, Ayala, Carboni and Pellegrino, could be seriously described as thuggish. It was said of the Atlético Madrid team of 1996 that they won the double 'a base de patadas' (by kicking people), but no-one has seriously accused Valencia of the same. Last season's championship-winning side only picked up three red cards between them, but the fact of the matter was that you wouldn't have messed with them. Roberto Ayala just looks a bit scary. It helps.

Barcelona are a more fully-rounded team this season for having employed Marquez in front of Carles Puyol. Both of them come into the 'hard-but-fair' category, and their twin absence from the game against Betis this weekend showed just why Barça's improvement this season has been based on their no-nonsense approach. Betis cut through the league leader's makeshift middle at will, and how many teams - reduced to ten men - would you have betted on to go 3-1 up in the Camp Nou this season?

Then again, Betis, unlike their rather harder neighbours, are along with Villarreal fast becoming the team of season. Both of them deserve a Champions League place, as indeed do Espanyol, who won again at the weekend.

Above them, Real Madrid squeezed a win at Albecete to give themselves a faint glimmer of hope, assuming they can beat Barça in the 'clásico' next week in the Bernabéu. That would reduce the Catalans' lead to six points, with seven games remaining. Hope springs eternal.


Equis52010-05-08 05:41:04 +0000 #2
Nice article.

It's true, Spain and Italy are the toughest leagues around here, but in Spain we pay more for an attack-show and the refferees usually show more cards. The problem is that we have a corrupt Federation, and some people, like Pino Zamorano, the refferee who didn't do anything to Javi Navarro.

Nuaro2010-05-08 05:54:18 +0000 #3
Yea didn't he see the blood? Logically,when a player makes a tackle on someone and that someone starts choking,shaking & blood were coming out from the throat.A straight red card imo

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