Most often, when two great rivals meet, be it in sports, politics, music, or the two class toppers in high school, it is best not to pick a side, for, being neutral has its own benefits. Sure, I support Manchester United and go absolute nuts when we win against Liverpool or Man City, but what when United lose? What if we lose by five goals at home to City? Those are the times that a neutral has nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain.
Much like when we fans of English clubs watch Spain’s two greatest clubs locking horns in the second (just to be clear) greatest football rivalry in the world. When Barcelona chastened Real Madrid by five goals at the Camp Nou, the neutrals enjoyed witnessing Barcelona’s stylish passing play. However, when Cristiano Ronaldo dinked in the winner for his team at the same venue late last season to help Real Madrid end a three-year league drought, the neutrals didn’t break down and weep; we were delighted to see the downfall of a club that took so much pride in their players’ ability to win over match officials in a second.
Of course, I must admit I am slightly inclined towards the side of the capital of Spain in recent years, but that is mainly because they haven’t denied us in two Champions League finals. But this is not to imply that I worship Real and have posters of the team pinned on my wall. And this is the case with so many other young followers of football in India and beyond. Even in Spain.
We already know the disadvantages of being a neutral – one can’t take your shirt off and whirl it like an idiot when your team scores, can’t have a party all night when you win the title, and so on. But at least you don’t have to shoulder the burden of making pathetic excuses when your team loses. You may not revel in the ecstasy of your club captain lifting the cup, but you sure as hell don’t have to put on a gloomy, funeral face when your rivals beat you to the glory.
The El Clasico is an excellent case in point. When Barcelona and Guardiola called the shots for their three-year long reign in Spain, we appreciated the way they played and left the whining about the referees to the Real Madrid fans. When they frustrated Real in Clasico after Clasico, we simply took pleasure in swaying to the beat of the tiki-taka of which Xavi Hernandez was the orchestrator and Leo Messi delivered a virtuoso solo performance. We didn’t bother calling Sergio Busquets a cheat, a diver and an absolute disgrace to what is called ‘a beautiful game’, until he employed his shameful tactics against the clubs we supported.
Last year, Real Madrid lifted the trophy despite losing 1-3 to their Catalan rivals at the Bernabeu. Was it a deserved title win? Had they done enough? Had Cristiano Ronaldo been the decisive factor? Was it because Barca were not upto the mark and dropped crucial away points?
Did we care? Not at all, we had no complaints whatsoever when Barca beat Real to knock them out of the Copa Del Ray or when they lapped up yet another Spanish Super Cup, and neither did we whimper when Real beat them to the Spanish title. Instead, we happily watched all of those games with a neutral’s carefree view. And in return we were awarded with a fantastic contest between possession play and the dazzling counter play of Real. It isn’t unfair to add that we enjoyed the games more than the ones who supported either of the two giants, because we looked upon the bright side of every game, rather than that of those which were won only by one particular club.
Of course, it is a much more difficult task to do the same with English clubs, at least for me, personally. And there are many others just like me who passionately want Southampton to remain in the Premier League, unlike in the Spanish League, where we don’t give a hoot if Mallorca are relegated or if Villarreal are promoted or if Levante finish eighth. But once a person acquires the neutral’s point of view, he will start to appreciate the game more than ever and learn to find the good qualities in clubs that he used to despise before.
And trust me, I know. The Manchester United crest will remain imprinted in my heart even centuries after it has stopped functioning, but now I honestly couldn’t care less if Inter Milan win the Milan derby or if Juventus beat Milan to the Italian title race, as long as they produce good football. Unless they face United in Europe, then it gets personal!