Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid: Guard of honour? Contrived shows of 'respect' are overrated

By Sports Desk May 07, 2022

Amid the furore of Real Madrid's quite astonishing great escape in the Champions League – well, their latest – it's easy to forget they only won the Spanish title last weekend.

Of course, it had been long foreseen, but Madrid's 35th LaLiga crown was secured with their 4-0 win over Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu, leading to a party that had Marcelo climbing statues, Carlo Ancelotti smoking a cigar and David Alaba getting his chair out again.

With a record-extending 17th Champions League final appearance wrapped up, Madrid can turn their attention back to LaLiga knowing they still have a reason to keep themselves sharp, and they could yet equal their best points tally (93) since reaching 100 in 2011-12.

Fittingly, their first league match as champions comes against the team they ousted, with bitter rivals Atletico Madrid playing host to Los Blancos at the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday.

While that match has taken a back seat over the past few days, in Spain there has been a debate centred on the derby rumbling in the background for some time now.

As champions, Madrid might feel entitled to a pasillo, or 'guard of honour' – but they won't get one.

'A public toll'

While the guard of honour is a tradition with deep roots in sport, there's little doubt that it's a polarising gesture.

A mark of respect, perhaps, but more and more it is seen as a tool of humiliation, particularly when expected in such contests between major rivals.

The decision was down to Atletico's decision makers rather than the players, though captain Jan Oblak made his feelings perfectly clear after their defeat to Athletic Bilbao last weekend.

He said: "As captain, I'm one of those who doesn't like to give or receive the guard of honour, but the club will decide and we'll do whatever is necessary."

Atletico subsequently released a statement on Monday confirming they'll not participate, with their strong response claiming the recent debate was stirred purely to stoke anger between fanbases.

They said: "Some want to turn what was born as a gesture of recognition for the champion into a public toll that their rivals must pay, also impregnated with the aroma of humiliation. Under no concept are Atletico Madrid going to collaborate in this attempt at derision in which the true values ​​of sport are completely forgotten and tension and confrontation between the fans is encouraged."

Additionally, Atletico suggested there was no such debate around Celta Vigo's decision not to give them a guard of honour at the start of this season, with the controversy around the upcoming derby "exaggerated and artificial".

Some might feel Atletico's disdain for the tradition is disrespectful, but there is refreshing sentiment behind their stance as well: not every mark of respect needs to be accompanied by a performative gesture.

In this age of obsessing over social media engagement, there seems a need to turn normal behaviour into a song and dance, the classic example being the tidy changing room photo. "That's class" or "respect [clapping emoji]" litter the replies on Twitter – it's not, it's just common courtesy.

If Atletico players, officials, coaches or fans wish to congratulate Madrid, it doesn't require a forced gesture.

Madrid's refusal

This is by no means the first time Madrid have been involved in guard of honour controversy. Four years ago, the debate around the pasillo was arguably at its zenith.

Barcelona had won the title prior to facing Madrid in El Clasico, meaning there were those in the Blaugrana ranks expecting a show of respect at Camp Nou.

But Madrid refused. Zinedine Zidane, coach at the time, pointed the finger. He suggested they might have reciprocated had Barca given them a guard of honour a few months earlier when Los Blancos won the Club World Cup.

Barca's justification then was that they didn't play in the Club World Cup so didn't need to acknowledge Madrid's success – not that Zidane was buying the excuse.

"It's a lie," he said. "You have to win the Champions League to play in the Club World Cup. I am not the one to decide that we don't want to do the pasillo. They didn't do it, we respect that; we'll not do it because they didn't do it."

Gerard Pique, true to form, found a novel way to get around the issue while simultaneously highlighting Madrid's refusal – he arranged for Barca's coaching staff to give the players a pasillo instead at full-time.

Had Sergio Ramos still been at Madrid, one might have been expecting a similar arrangement for Sunday.

'Party of the champions'

The only other time this century that the pasillo has been such a contentious subject was in 2008, when Madrid did receive one in El Clasico.

The 2007-08 season was a dire one for Barca. Not only did Madrid win the title comfortably with 18 points more than their great rivals, but Frank Rijkaard's men also finished 10 points adrift of second-placed Villarreal.

 

Although Barca crushed Valencia 6-0 leading up to the Clasico clash on May 7, 2008, they were unable to prevent Madrid claiming the title, setting things up perfectly for the ultimate humiliation.

"The party of the champions", read the front page of Madrid-based daily newspaper AS on the morning of the game. Notoriously pro-Madrid Marca went with "Barca is here", accompanying a picture showing where the visitors were due to form their guard of honour. And Catalan publication Sport highlighted the other side of things, saying, "the pasillo that suffers alone", and adding, "Barca fans do not deserve to have to see the pasillo".

Despite the shameless nose-rubbing of the Madrid press and the intense humiliation that was about to befall them, Barca gritted their teeth. "Although it hurts, we will do it," Rijkaard said.

Club captain Carles Puyol sang from a similar hymn sheet: "As an athlete you have to recognise the champion, and we will do that. They have won it on the pitch. Real Madrid have been fair champions."

The emotions of the two coaches that night could not have been more different. Rijkaard slowly ambled out and took his position, hands together behind his back, before the Barca players jogged out and formed two columns either side of the halfway line, the cameras of the Bernabeu crowd incessantly flashing with glee.

Meanwhile, Bernd Schuster watched on as his Madrid side triumphantly walked through that red-and-blue-walled corridor, twenty years after he was a part of the last guard of honour Barca performed in El Clasico, wearing a Blaugrana jersey.

Some, such as Pepe, Fernando Gago and Wesley Sneijder walked straight down the middle, seemingly preserving the thoughts of a true rivalry by refusing to thank their counterparts for the degrading act of a Clasico pasillo, but looking back, that was the least embarrassing part of the whole night for Barca.

What started with a pasillo ended in a pasting, with Barca flattered by a 4-1 defeat in which Madrid were utterly dominant.

Atletico will at least avoid one form of humiliation, but considering the contrasting fortunes of the two teams on the pitch this term, it's hardly a given that Diego Simeone's side will prevent a mauling.

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