Potty-mouth Pep comes out swinging for Clásico III

On Tuesday, it really did feel as if the respective camps participating in the toddler-esque festival of bickering between Barcelona and Real Madrid simply weren’t trying hard enough, worn down perhaps by the requirements of producing gallons of dribble and drivel on a daily basis.

The best that Marca and AS could come up with was to suggest that UEFA was under the thrall of Barcelona – as per the Spanish FA – with the appointment of Wolfgang Stark for Wednesday’s Champions League clash, an official who once expressed the shock opinion that Leo Messi was a good player.

Pep’s Dream Boys had had their way apparently when Guardiola joked on Saturday that his counterpart José Mourinho would be happy with a Portuguese referee for the semi-final encounter at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“In the end, a fan of Messi will be the ref,” complained Marca, with their pet ex-official Rafa Guerrero let out of his pen to grump that Stark is “arrogant and has no dialogue with the players” (which LLL thought is as Spanish as tortilla and creating conspiracy theories, and thus perfect to the game). “UEFA listen to Pep and a German will be the ref,” huffed AS.

“Madrid put pressure on the ref!” was the complaint from Mundo Deportivo, who were noting that Madridistas were noting that the German official had failed to give Madrid a penalty for a Yoann Gourcuff handball in the team’s last-16 tie against Lyon.

However, an interchange divided by a period of five hours between Mourinho and Guardiola soon perked up journalists on both sides – and guaranteed the headlines on Wednesday would not involve the now-discarded topic of Wolfgang Stark.

“SuperPep!” screamed Mundo Deportivo! “Mourinho-ised!” trumpeted AS! “Laura Manzanedo gets naked in the street!” promised current affairs magazine Interviú!

The tale began when a mischievous José Mourinho, with no sense of shame whatsoever, noted that there used to be two groups of managers: those who never spoke about referees and those who only mentioned them when mistakes were made. The Special One put himself in this second pot with an admirably straight face.

The Madrid boss was referring to a comment made by Pep Guardiola that Barça could have won the Copa del Rey were it not for a couple of centimetres and an attentive linesman – an observation Mourinho appears to have taken as a sarcastic jibe, something that Sergio Ramos managed to do too. Then again, that’s not wholly surprising as the flamenco-loving defender is probably spending much of Wednesday having the concept of the away goals rule patiently explained to him.

"Don't tell him I said this, but..."

“We now have a third group and that’s him: someone who criticises correct decisions by the ref. It’s something I’ve never seen in the world of football,” said Mourinho, perhaps forgetting his complaints about Raúl Albíol’s perfectly legitimate sending off against Barcelona in El Clásico I nearly two weeks ago.

Guardiola is normally the sensible type to ignore this kind of nonsense but this was a step too far for the follically failing Barça boss. He conceded that Mourinho had won “the game off the field. He’s been winning all year,” but that it was going to be very different at 20.45 in Madrid.

“In this room, he’s the f***king boss, the f***king big guy, the cleverest man in the world. I don’t want to compete with him even for just one moment,” said Pep. After calming down a tad, Guardiola explained in English towards the end of the press conference why his reaction to yet another provocation from Mourinho was met with such force and vigour.

“It’s the first time he’s said ‘Pep’,” explained the Barcelona manager. “‘You did this, you said this’ so afterwards I have to respond. Normally there’s talk in general about a club, a team, a coach. It’s the first time he’s said ‘Pep’.”

“If he continues to say ‘Pep’, I’ll say ‘hey José!’” joked the slightly calmer coach.

"I know you are, but what am I?"

The response in the press is suitably divided with the Madridista world suggesting that Pep had lost the plot, although Marca did try to be a grown-up for once with the editorial castigating both coaches for their performances in front of the press. “The sorry sparring of Madrid and Barcelona managers... has robbed the attention from what’s most important of all: the ball.”

Feisty Barcelona paper Sport came out in strong defence of Guardiola’s potty-mouthed tiff with Josep María Casanovas arguing that “the reaction of Pep is understandable, laudable and human.”

“Mourinho has spent the whole year criticising the referees, attacking colleagues, making accusations at opponents and disrespecting his superiors – and the result is that Guardiola is the bad guy of the film,” complained a disbelieving Joan Vehils.

LLL thinks that it will be a shame to ruin all the pre-match fun with a game of football. But sadly that’s what’s going to be happening in the Santiago Bernabeu in a match where fisticuffs both mental and physical must surely be on the cards. And that can only be a good thing all round.