El Clasico's guard of honour - Looking back on a 'broken tradition'
Barcelona's 4-2 win at Deportivo La Coruna last weekend confirmed the long-foreseen news that they are Spanish champions and, according to tradition, are due to be welcomed on to the pitch in their next league game by a guard of honour - or pasillo. Fittingly, next up is El Clasico at Camp Nou.
While Deportivo's decision to give Barca a pasillo - for their Copa del Rey triumph - was seen as a mark of respect and awe, for Real Madrid it would likely be perceived the ultimate ignominy. After all, there is a fine line between showing respect and being humiliated, and for some that line runs right through a guard of honour.
Given Zinedine Zidane's recent comments, Madrid forming a one looks unlikely, yet it has still been the hot topic ahead of Sunday's clash, which has strangely little riding on it this time around.
Yet, for all of Madrid's antipathy, Zidane's side would be far from the first team to form a guard of honour in El Clasico and they even received such a privilege in May 2008.
El Clásico mode pic.twitter.com/eMDEAvKrDh-- Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) May 3, 2018
"THE PARTY OF THE CHAMPIONS"
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 deny Madrid from claiming the title, setting things up perfectly to complete the ultimate humiliation of their nemesis.
"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 were as gracious as you could expect them to be.
"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 has been fair champion."
FROM A PASILLO TO A PASTING
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 lines either side of the halfway line, the cameras of the Bernabeu crowd flashing incessantly and gleefully.
Meanwhile, Bernd Schuster watched on as his Madrid side triumphantly walked through that red-and-blue-walled corridor, twenty years after being a part of the last guard of honour Barca organised in El Clasico, wearing a Blaugrana jersey.
Captain Raul led Madrid on to the Santiago Bernabeu turf, shaking hands - like the majority of his team-mates - with Rijkaard, before going over specially to Xavi and Puyol, followed closely like an easily-influenced puppy by Sergio Ramos.
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 guard of honour.
But looking back, the guard of honour was the least embarrassing part of the whole night for Barca. What started with a pasillo ended in a pasting, as the visitors remained on level terms from just 12 minutes - Raul rifling Madrid into an early lead.
Arjen Robben headed in soon after, before second-half goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Ruud van Nistelrooy wrapped up a convincing win, with Thierry Henry's late effort a mere consolation. Madrid won 4-1, but it was a scoreline that flattered Barca.
A BROKEN TRADITION
Despite Jordi Alba's insistence Barca deserve a guard of honour, nothing in the build-up to this match has suggested Madrid will actually go ahead and salute their hosts.
It essentially all comes down to their Clasico meeting in December, when Barca refused to give Madrid one after they had won the Club World Cup.
Barca's rationale on that occasion being that a guard of honour is only formed if the two teams had both participated in the competition which the other won. The Catalans did not take part in the Club World Cup, therefore they felt they were not obliged to recognise Madrid's success in such a formal manner.
Zinedine Zidane eluded to this situation, giving little room for manoeuvre: "Barcelona broke the tradition."
Any wavering from that point of view will surely indicate an order from upstairs and perhaps that chagrin is what Madrid need to give themselves a kick up the backside against a side that has been far superior to them all season in LaLiga.