We’ve been treated to some spectacular Champions League football over the past week with the drama reaching a crescendo in Barcelona’s comeback against Paris Saint-Germain and Leicester City’s fairytale at the expense of Sevilla.
While those two matches provided everything you could hope for in football (high-stakes, improbable comebacks and a myriad of storylines), they also came with their share of controversy and pantomime villains.
For those that weren’t too enamored with Barca’s six-goal achievement or Leicester City’s never say die attitude, Luis Suarez and Jamie Vardy served as the individual flash-points as practitioners of the dark arts.
Suarez, according to PSG defender Thiago Silva, “tried to slip in the area for the entire game”, resulting in one booking for simulation and another in a controversial penalty that Neymar converted, allowing Barca to pull off their miraculous finale.
On Tuesday, it was Vardy’s turn (although Samir Nasri played right into his hands). Nasri had earned a stupid yellow card in the 18th minute with a cynical challenge on Wilfred Ndidi in a harmless position.
Then, after being shoved twice by Vardy, the two heavyweights met like hens, Nasri’s neck plumage slightly brushing Vardy’s which sent the one-time bricklayer stumbling.
It’s all theater of the highest order on the grandest stage in sports. From a neutral perspective, it’s such an embellishment of drama that it becomes hilarious; it's entertainment seemingly built for television. But for those with vested interest, it’s acutely unbearable.
So, in the hopes of providing levity to the week’s squabbles, here’s, for me, the greatest goal celebration of all time and, at the same time, a moment when an awesome footballer told everyone to cut the s**t. It was performed by a player who was renowned for his intensity and ruggedness: Carles Puyol.
For anyone that hates Barcelona, take joy in the fact that this celebration transpired days after Barcelona had been defeated 2-1 at the Camp Nou by Real Madrid, giving the La Liga title to Real. Three days later, they were eliminated at the Camp Nou by ten man Chelsea in the semifinals of the Champions League.
And so, just five days after Gary Neville let the world know just exactly what he thought of that incredible Fernando Torres goal, Barcelona travelled to Rayo Vallecano in the lowest of spirits.
Up 4-0 in the 77th minute of that moribund experience, Thiago Alcantara scored a goal and proceeded to go and celebrate with Dani Alves. The two performed an elaborate, choreographed dance routine . . . 5-0 up against Rayo . . . after having lost the league to Real Madrid at home . . . and having been eliminated from the Champions League at home.
Captain Carles Puyol wasn’t having it.
We hope that the quarterfinals of the Champions League transpire without hugely contested incidents, but that’s never going to happen. Football is now Puyol-less (and we don’t have instant replay).