It’s not often Real Madrid get painted as the good guys, but Sunday’s derby clash with Atletico was one of those few occasions.
As Carlo Ancelotti’s Los Blancos left the Civitas Metropolitano with a 2-1 win, there was little doubt that they were the better side on the day.
But, strangely for a fixture of such magnitude, the actual football was sadly almost a sideshow as Spanish football’s racism problem reared its head once again.
Through no fault of his own, Vinicius Junior had been the chief focus in the build-up after Pedro Bravo, an agent who appears on Spanish football show El Chiringuito, made a racially insensitive comment while on TV.
Referencing Vinicius’ harmless tendency to celebrate goals with a little dance, Bravo suggested the Brazilian should “respect your mates and stop playing the monkey”, comments that unsurprisingly drew criticism from all over the football world.
It was heart-warming to see how many people rallied around Vinicius in the wake of Bravo’s ridiculous outburst. Many of his international team-mates and Brazil great Pele issued messages of support urging him to dance on.
Vinicius himself made a statement vowing to keep dancing, and Arsenal star Gabriel Jesus dedicated a similar celebration to his colleague earlier on Sunday.
That should have been the end of all the pointless debating about whether the celebration is disrespectful or not (it clearly isn’t), but unfortunately it wasn’t.
As Atletico ‘ultras’ queued on their way into the stadium before kick-off, offensive chants targeting Vinicius were being sung by hundreds of fans. Not a few, hundreds, and video footage brought the scenes to attention on social media.
What makes those chants even more disappointing is that few would’ve been hugely surprised. Atletico ultras have a history of disgracing their club. In 2018, 30 of them were apprehended in Bruges for making Nazi gestures, according to Marca; and as recently as April, they were hit with a partial stadium closure in the Champions League due to similar behaviour from fans against Manchester City.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) September 18, 2022
Ultra group Frente Atletico were banned from the club’s old stadium the Vicente Calderon in 2014 after clashes with Deportivo La Coruna fans led to the death of ‘Jimmy’, a member of the latter’s Riazor Blues, who was attacked and thrown into the Manzanares river.
Despite that ban, the group’s attitudes were never completely banished, and Sunday’s pre-match scenes were a grim reminder of Atletico’s failure as a club to stamp out far-right ideologies within its fanbase.
Thankfully, though, Vinicius is a brave young man who wasn’t about to suppress his personality and mentality to appease some Neanderthals.
As the pre-game chants foreshadowed, Vinicius’ first touch was vociferously jeered by Atletico fans. But the Brazilian amusingly responded with the most extravagant six-yard pass he could think of, dragging the ball back with his right foot before flicking it back down the flank to Ferland Mendy with his left all in one motion. Essentially, it was as close to dancing as he could’ve got in that moment.
It wasn’t long before he was dancing for real, though. Vinicius wasn’t even involved in the goal, as Rodrygo produced an emphatic finish from Aurelien Tchouameni’s gorgeous pass – the scorer then darted towards the corner flag and began to strut his stuff.
Vinicius was quickly on the scene, gyrating with extra exuberance as Atletico fans threw objects on to the pitch around the celebrating Madrid players, most of whom embraced the former Flamengo talent with greater vigour than they did Rodrygo.
There was no mistaking Vinicius’ influence just after the half-hour mark, however. The winger left Marcos Llorente in his dust and darted into the left side of the penalty area before prodding an effort goalwards. It fell kindly to Federico Valverde, who smashed in from close range.
Atletico players dished out rough treatment to Vinicius, perhaps as you might have expected as their biggest attacking threat in the absence of Karim Benzema, though he continued to play his natural game, toying with Llorente on several occasions and even attempting an audacious rainbow flick over Axel Witsel, which certainly angered the home support.
In the end he never quite got the moment of personal jubilation many might’ve hoped he’d have, with Atletico spending much of the second half on top as they tried to produce a comeback.
But Mario Hermoso’s shouldered late goal proved only a consolation as Atletico failed to rise to the occasion, with Madrid holding firm enough to continue the excellent start to their title defence.
The action, and even the result, won’t be the post-match focus, however. The vile scenes from earlier in the day will be what this match is remembered for – Atletico’s response to that is far more important than how they ultimately react to this defeat.
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