Football

The blessing and curse of the pantomime villain

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The football world doesn’t always know what to make of Luis Suarez and Diego Costa: celebrate the nasty edge that makes them so lethal or criticise it? What’s certain though is that Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, which meet at Camp Nou on Sunday, can’t do without them

Sometimes you wonder why football is played as it is — a ‘contact’ sport with rules designed to stop much of it. And then there’s the way teams are set up: the strikers of one side seldom confront those of the other, effectively ruling out some tasty battles.

It’s a pity. For, when Barcelona hosts Atletico Madrid on Sunday, two of football’s most volatile characters will prowl different areas of the turf: Luis Suarez from the blue and garnet corner and Diego Costa from the red and white.

Don’t get us wrong, we are not condoning physical violence. But the strong possibility of Suarez and Costa — footballers who could be mistaken for pugilists, or, at the very least, street fighters — not even eyeballing each other is a bit of a downer.

Sure, there is a lot of talk about jogo bonito, the beautiful game. But not everyone can be a Messi, a Maradona, a Cruyff or a Zidane. For every god out there, there has to be a Costa or a Suarez, a fallen angel to balance out the football universe. Not that the afore-mentioned gods have been blemishless. Double standards, anyone?

Costa’s physical presence and antics in the rival area resemble a terraformer hacking his way through a forest rather than an artist sculpting a masterpiece. Suarez prefers the dark arts and theatrics worthy of an award this Oscar season, his histrionics against Girona this week moving everyone but the referee. But effective they are with the football at their feet!

They also bring to the field a certain character, a bite of gumption, gutsiness and spice that would be sorely missed if it were a sterile environment.

Out there for them, there is a battle to be won, each day every time. Maybe it was the rough and tumble of the street football of South America that made them the way they are, but considering that others from the continent have succeeded sans such ‘talents’, it isn’t a complete explanation. They are like that because, well, they are like that.

Or as The Guardian’s Spain correspondent Sid Lowe wrote recently, “[Costa] has helped make Atletico more atletico”. Coach Diego Simeone acknowledges as much. For, Costa is very much a player in Simeone’s mould, and Atletico’s recent up-trend after the disappointment of the Champions League owes a lot to the feisty forward.

On the coast in Catalonia, Barcelona, though it has Messi, breathed a lot easier once Suarez was back among the goals after a barren start to the season.

For Suarez and Costa, the end justifies the means. If it is role models you want, they might argue, there are other sportspersons to look up to. The last anyone checked, Suarez and Costa are contracted to score goals, not win the Fairplay award. And what would the coach, the team and fans prefer — to play beautifully and probably win or just win, ugly or not?

We might not agree with their behaviour, but as long as they are held accountable by the laws of the game, fairly and consistently, there’s little to complain about.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 7:40:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/the-blessing-and-curse-of-the-pantomime-villain/article22912160.ece

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