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Double standards?

Does criticism of Spanish football betray arrogance or prejudice?

Guillem Balague - Guillem Balague Posted 27th January 2012 view comments

As you can imagine, there's been an awful lot written in the Spanish and global press about the fallout from the double Clasicos of the past fortnight, covering everything from Jose Mourinho's future, team selections, tactics, politics and footballing strategy.

Fans in the UK have had a fair bit to say on the quarter-finals of the Spanish Copa del Rey as well and, thanks to Twitter, I've been kept well informed about what really gets them going about Spain's two biggest clubs.

El Clasico: prompted a frenzy on Twitter

El Clasico: prompted a frenzy on Twitter

It's not only Lionel Messi's brilliance, the technique of Xavi Hernandez, the composure of Xabi Alonso, the positioning of Cesc Fabregas or the merits of an attacking or defensive midfield line-up away from home at the Camp Nou that fuels the obsession.

What really gets people tweeting is the belief that cheating, foul play, violent conduct and anything outside the realms of 'fair play' was invented by the Spanish. And that now it is being fine tuned into an art form by Barcelona and Real Madrid who are "shamelessly polluting the global game with their antics" (as one of the more polite Tweets put it).

When similar incidents occur in the Premier League (Mario Balotelli?), the individual is to blame and it is perceived as a reflection of his own personal character, morals, temperament and flaws. When it happens in La Liga, an entire nation is judged

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Pepe's stamp on Lionel Messi's fingers - an attempt by one player to injure a fellow pro - provoked as much revulsion and unreserved criticism, in Madrid and Barcelona, as you would ever have found following an incident in the Premier League.

In fact, I would go as far as saying that the universal condemnation of Pepe was far more widespread and unequivocal, even in Madrid, than similar incidents in, say, Manchester or Liverpool have ever provoked in the English media.

For once, there was no partisan defending of Pepe's actions. Not once did his nationality ever come into it. There was no suggestion that his being Portuguese ever had anything to do with it. Questions of national character were left to my friends on Twitter...


It wasn't just Pepe's nationality that prompted a Twitter frenzy. There was an avalanche of messages saying that all Spanish football is a disgrace; that La Liga is an abhorrence and that a great many are sickened by the challenges, theatrics and cheating to such an extent that they cannot bring themselves to watch any more.

Now here's where I'm going to need your help. I'd love to understand this obsession and constant desire to judge and label another country's entire culture and morality based upon the actions of individuals but only when those incidents take place in a foreign culture.

When similar incidents occur in the Premier League (Mario Balotelli?), the individual is to blame and it is perceived as a reflection of his own personal character, morals, temperament and flaws. When it happens in La Liga, an entire nation is judged.

The term cultural relativism is used to describe the fact that different societies have different moral codes and this concept challenges us to consider that there is no objective standard that can be used to judge one society's code better than another.

Now nobody - anywhere - is suggesting for one moment that stamping on another player's hand should be excused because of cultural difference. But the reactions to Pepe's behaviour at the Bernabeu are indicative of an increasing desire to launch into a vilification of another nation's footballing culture.

Why is that? Does it make people feel better about themselves? Honestly, I don't know and I want to know.


I do know that defining others - other nations, other individuals - is something we all engage in to help us formulate a more cohesive idea of what we are like as individuals and as a nation.

But shouldn't we at least try to come to terms with the fact that the moral codes of our own society have no special status. They are merely one among many - especially when so many of those moral codes simply don't make sense or are contradictory.

For example:

a) Could someone please tell me the difference between cheating and gamesmanship, other than the former being what foreigners do?

b) What is the difference between a player screaming for another player to be booked or a coach siding up to a fourth official asking why a player wasn't shown a red - and an Italian shrugging his shoulders and using his hands to gesture that a card could have been shown?

Apparently, getting in the ref's face and screaming obscenities and demanding action shows passion. Whereas waving an imaginary card is a most disgusting, heinous foreign practice that actually puts people off watching the game and should even result in a suspension should anyone think of tarnishing the British game with such theatrics.

I'm not judging, I'm asking.


I'm after a debate as to why we are so quick to judge others while overlooking such inconsistencies. I'd love some genuine insight into many practices and attitudes we think so natural, yet are really only cultural products.

Deep down, everyone without exception believes his own native customs and opinions to be the right way of doing things - me included.

But it's clear that those shouting and tweeting the loudest aren't really saying anything about the target of their abuse, but reflecting the prejudices of their own society.

I'd love your thoughts so that at least we can try to get some insight into the way others might think. Then we might find it easier to avoid arrogance, prejudice and attain an open mind.

Join in the debate... fill in your comments in the comments box below

You can also follow Guillem Balague on Twitter

Comments (210)

Rob Madden (Manchester United fan) says...

There is no doubt that technically a Barca vs Marid game produces a much higher standard than any Premeir League game can at the moment, they are fantastic to watch. However, the main issue here is how often the diving / play acting / cheating occurs and im sorry Guillem but in La Liga, and especially in El Classico games, it happens far too often. The likes of Di Maria, Busquets and Pepe are some of the worst cheats to ever play the game and its only getting worse in that respect

Posted 13:09 2nd February 2012

Joseph Connolly (Chelsea fan) says...

I think it is not just Spanish football that is played with diving, but most football in Europe. I live in NZ and in our NZ/Aussie league, yes there is some diving, but nothing compared to what you see in the European games I watch. Even in the world cup, you see the countries like NZ, Aussie and all the likewise seem to have a lot less acting, and more playing determination. It may not be at the same skill level as the bigger football countries, but all the players show a respect for the game you don't always see.

Posted 11:13 2nd February 2012

Anthony Morris (Manchester United fan) says...

richard moneyi wrote that cheating is not diving because if you clip why stay up then that is not diving lol there is contact and its a free lol diving is when there is no contact and you go down lol but i agree with guillam here, pepe should be judged on who he is not nationally because he has done this type of thing loads he is a dirty player while other portugese people rnt and its true barging the referrees face to get a player booked is the sme as doing the booking hand signal and there is foul play everywhere its just the way in la liga its always the sme players so it makes it seem worse cause they are all the sme country but it doesnt mean that the country is divers or cheats, everybody is a diver even rooney has dived and hes english

Posted 10:59 2nd February 2012

Paulo Garando (Swansea City fan) says...

Where people live in a nation with a tier one league (Italy, Spain, England), they feel less of a need and simply don't have time, to engage enough in another country's league in the depth required to really understand the teams, players and difference in tactics. Because of that, people have to resort to stereotypes - the Spanish league being technically superb but full of divers and prima donnas, Serie A as a league being defensive- minded, slow, emotional and only a few flare players lurking in the big teams. Then the Premiere League... We know it, love it, live it . We read about Swansea being the 6th best passing side in Europe, we care about Norwich City and unless you support them, we hate Man United.The difference is the detail and knowledge of our understanding of different leagues. In fact Italy is probably the most competitive league in Europe with a more even spread of talent than La Liga or the Premiere League. la Liga shares many characteristics with the EPL, it's fast, aggressive and skillful but the teams still are varied in style and ability. The major difference is only at the very top. barca and madrid have the best players in the world, many of them are Spanish and therefore the national team is also great. We used to have it with Becks et al at United, but we've been through a bad spell of producing players in the last 10 yrs. But we'll regain it... With an England team of Hart, Walker, Dawson, Richards, Gibbs, Wilshere, Ox-Cham, Johnson, Parker (maybe), Rooney and (insert a good striker), the future is starting to improve. Everything is cyclical, our time will come but now it's Spains time and we should enjoy it. We are coming to the end of the Ferguson / Wenger / Redknapp era and it'll mean a whole new set of stereotypes for those looking in....

Posted 10:24 2nd February 2012

Chris Fury (Liverpool fan) says...

Having watched last night's derby between Valencia and Barcelona I'd like to ask the British fans to name me one, just one, English centre back, who could do The Zidane Dribble not just once but twice, as Pujol did. Actually you could name a midfielder or an attacker in the mix while you are at it. In my previews post I spoke of mediocre English attackers, but I have to say that Rooney is good and is the only who could make it into the big two teams in Spain. By the way, how many teams in Spain have English players to depend on, and how many teams in England have Spanish players to do so? And if La Liga is so bad, how come that apart from Beckham and Owen, everyone else who moved there from England actually improved as player?

Posted 08:44 2nd February 2012

Steve Johnson (Crystal Palace fan) says... 6.50 mins. Embarrasing. Every single el classico this happens soo many times. Let the ref make a decision. Overshadows the great players they have in spain.

Posted 03:15 2nd February 2012

Himanshu Joneja (Barcelona fan) says...

I am a Barcelona fan and completely agree with everybody saying that Busquets is a cheat but for the ones pointing out at he getting Ramos sent off in the last El Clasico are wrong. There was contact and a similar challenge was made by Pique on Pepe in the first leg which resulted in a booking. So that's called consistency! Pepe is a disgrace to football and should be banned for life and as far as the theatrics and drama concerned, it's worsened after the arrival of the Self proclaimed Special One. Why is it always a clean game against the likes of Manchester United and AC milan but not when it's a team led by Mourinho. You need to look at some of the matches played in the past between the two teams when Rivaldo and Zidane played for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, this never happened. Why go that far, look at the matched when Madrid was coached by Manuel Pellegrini with Ronaldo, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo in the team. It is Mourinho who is the culprit, he might be great at man management but the same can't be said when it comes to facing a team better than his own.

Posted 17:55 1st February 2012

Jamie R (Liverpool fan) says...

what makes la liga less interesting than the premiership the fact that from the 1st game of the season only barca or real can win it? i might be wrong, but i watch lots of spanish football and find lower league games less exciting than in the prem.. plus i even get a bored watching barca sometimes these days as they keep the ball around the back 4 for so much of the match, it looses the excitement of competition. id rather watch end to end quick football, even if that means the technical standard is lower. teams like swansea, blackpool, norwich have kept the league exciting. and teams like everton, aston villa, stoke, fulham, newcastle are of a lot higher standard than the equivalent teams in spain. that said... the level of the spanish footballers themsleves , is miles ahead of the the standard of british footballers, our sytle/systems of training our youth are totally outdated.

Posted 16:36 1st February 2012

Alex Woodcock (Everton fan) says...

No the difference is....when balloteli does it his own players pull him away and tell him to stop being a fool. In spain all the players join in and dive, act, cheat. Far to frustrating to watch

Posted 15:11 1st February 2012

Neville Dalmedo (Manchester United fan) says...

All these prejudice exist, because the Spanish lige has never been diplomatic. If I can mention the era of Franco, that should not be mentioned, how could such a dictator have such a grasp on a sport and we (Europe allow so much arbitrary behavior) please not I was born in spain and know a lot about the past. It also goes with out saying that a certain club in Spain has more power (for lack of a better word) than others. Above was mentioned pepe stomp on messi hand, due to certain involvements, the high judge of Spanish football, did not even think to sanction pepe and maurinhos for last weeks actions. How can a country and sit idol to such discreprencies. Then we have the likes of 'punto pelota' saying that barca have "special protection" from referees. I think a ban should be put on clubs and players openly speaking on referees etc, and fins imposed. And a professional body much like the high standards of the uk for football the fa put in place in Spain so that some form of clarity and professionalism is kept. I am still shell shocked at the ban on ballotelli for a similiar tackle to Parker, the fa intervened, and this is what Spain need to do. Not hide in Madrid and allow Madrid to control hat ever they can. Florentine Perez has too many friends and uses them too wisely can no one see this? Guillem your a star, but you should stop supporting Madrid, there a better, and more professional teams in la liga.

Posted 13:54 1st February 2012

Dave Witt (Manchester United fan) says...

To me football has a general set of rules of how to play and how not to play that is universal, the same in every country. If you look at how it was 10 years ago there was no diving or getting in a refs face because the pressure wasnt the same as it is now. The teams at the top need to win so they look for the extra advantage and alot of the time they get away with it or are even encouraged like mourinio has be known to instruct his players to do so and when other teams see the ones at the top the ones winning do it they will follow if they think it will help. This dosnt make it right though. Im a Manchester United Fan and i hate seeing my players run at a ref complaining, they have the skill so quit complaining and get on with it, if they cant win with their skill they dont deserve to. Same applies for Messi, i love to watch him glide around a pitch but its pathetic that just because the game isnt going their way they resort to underhanded tactics instead of upping their game or admitting on the night they wernt good enough. The teams at the top Madrid/Barcelona, Man U/Chelsea often forget they are role models to not only future players who are still children but also the teams below them they should lead by example. On a final note english players may chase a ref down a pitch but they get hammered for it by the media and supporters every time its nasty to watch, to my knowledge most of the play acting in spain is encouraged only when it goes to far is it not, thats why English people have the view they do.

Posted 13:44 1st February 2012

Malik Young (Arsenal fan) says...

What a load of nonsense. How can any of you disagree with Guillem's comments? This is as accurate a post by any journalist (not only in football) I have read on these shores in my lifetime! It just goes to show how arrogant and foolish these people really are. To comment on the Rooney sending off against Portugal as "Ronaldo getting Rooney sent off" just shows the degree of the double standards in this country and this goes across the board and even your sorry excuse of an organisation known as the F.A. Rooney stamped on a fellow player's private parts which was a straight red card offence in any country but of course it's always a different verdict when it's an English/Scottish/ Irish person committing the offence. I don't hear anybody saying Scot Parker or Harry Redknapp got Ballotelli suspended but if wenger or any other foreign manager had done the same post-match interview as Harry after the game then a bunch of you airheaded blinkered morons would have criticised him including your retarted pundits. It only reflects the lack of basic IQ which I have to say is rife in this nation, especially in football and guess what, this is already an established fact everywhere around the world!

Posted 13:32 1st February 2012

Daniel Elston (Chelsea fan) says...

It just about says it all about your opinion on football when you're from England but support Real Madrid or Barcelona over and English team or the club where you are actually from.

Posted 13:30 1st February 2012

Dano Kearney (Manchester United fan) says...

Just to get this straight I totally agree that both Barcelona and Real Madrid ar on much higher level than any team in the world fact!!, however I will condemn the spanish league because I feel that it is possibly the most boring league in the world in terms of atmosphere at games etc. can anybody actually truthfully tell me that they look forward to watching a Granada v real betis match etc. I went to a villareal v barcelona match a year or 2 ago and let me tell you i can honestly tell you it was the most boring game of football I hav ever been 2, I heard no singing and I felt no passion at all from fans at all!. if you ar a barcelona fan go to an away game against villareal or real sociadad etc and compare it to an away game as a united fan to goodison park or to the Brittania ect. at these stadiums on a Saturday or Sunday u will not get a better or more enjoying experience in football in my opinion and u will certainly not look 4ward to the final whistle of which I was at the Villareal stadium!. La Liga is centred around 2 teams Real Madrid and Barcelona if you took these 2 teams away from that league all you would hav is a league that is similar to the mexican top division!, Barcelona and Real madrid ar goin away from home most weekend and they ar winning by 4 or more clear goals!, I really feel they wud not find this task as easy goin to an Everton, A Stoke or a Fulham etc!, so I believe without doubt that the English Premier league is a more exciting and a more competetive league and also has the best atmosphere of all leagues in europe and thats a Fact!

Posted 13:21 1st February 2012

David Mcalorum (Aston Villa fan) says...

I agree with basically everything you wrote in this article. Love the part about asking for cards and the premier league screaming in the refs face. The fact is both shouldnt be done but as you said it shouldnt label a whole nation or culture on these incidents. I love the premier league but there is a reason why the best players in the league played or currently play in la liga, in saying that still love the prem. Keep up the good articles

Posted 13:17 1st February 2012

Jack Winter (Tottenham Hotspur fan) says...

The reason that people think the EPL is the best is because it's so close each year. Everyone beats everyone, bottom beats top. Real and Barca are the best teams in the world, yes, not many people are arguing that. But 99% of their games are played against horrible teams (except sevilla and villareal.) El Clasico aside, La Liga is pathetic. The English Equivilent would be sticking Man U + City in League 1. Not because I'm English - the EPL is the best, closest, most exciting league *consistantly* in the world. Even though players like Ballotelli are ruining it....

Posted 13:09 1st February 2012

David Warwick (Newcastle United fan) says...

Hi Guillem, I have followed Barcelona for about 2 years now, and I see with my own eyes that Barcelona are the worlds best football team. Week in week out I watch and all of this so called outrageous 'cheating' is almost non existing (excluding maybe Sergio Busquets) with the exception of a classico. The reason English fans are judging is because spanish football probably doesnt appeal to them unless it's Barcelona v Real Madrid. So they watch the game and see a bit of play acting and dirty tactics and instantly assume this is what goes on week in week out. But it's not, in El-Classico both teams pressure the referee for cards, over react to small fouls, and use other tactics, considered 'cheating' by English fans, in order to gain an advantage over eachother. I dont believe theres much difference at all in the so called 'cheating' in Spain, and in England, every team does it, I just believe it is something for die hard English fans to use to try and demote the Spanish league, as it is ever growing more and more popular, and in my eyes as far as entertaining goes, I would watch Spanish football over Premier League football. Unless its Newcastle United.

Posted 13:01 1st February 2012

Ashley Weir (Liverpool fan) says...

HA! A Man Utd fan saying diving isn't cheating, im sure you say that on a saturday when a player 'dives' without contact and wins a free-kick / pen whatever. i think not!! To the matter in hand, i dont think its spanish football as a whole, there isnt a great deal of diving by the national team, ok they do dive maybe more than other european teams, but i think it is more la liga and inparticularly the el classico what is at question. I have watched the last 4 el classicos and have been embarrassed by both teams play, stamps, diving all over the place, card waving, and alot of ganging up on the ref to get decisions. This is all cheating. the first time i saw their new boy Sanchez playt against Real he scored a fantastic goal but to his detriment he was mounthy, a diver no doubt and can tackle as adequately as paul scholes!! It does seem to be these teams that do it mostly against each other, barca more so against others aswell! But i would say individual players are watching and thinking ' if ronaldo can get away with it why cant i?' which is understandable but sad really. Seeing Gerrard dive to win a penalty against Athletico (correct me if im wrong) was a massive low point for me as a LFC fan but you can see why they do it. And Guillem, you pick Balotelli as an example for this kind of behaviour in the prem!? C'mon that boys an uncontrollable moron! but is as exciting to watch as Gazza was. If your going to compare look at Liverpool v United, United v City, Chelsea v Arsenal there was none of that rubbish going on in these sort of top team battles. I'm sorry but your wrong in terms of foul play and cheating Barca and Madrid bring La liga down! Name one team in England that dives / cheats as much as either of them two, i challenge you. im pretty sure you cant! I'm by no means saying none of this happens in the prem im saying it happens in both, Spain more so and i do believe La Liga got the ball rolling imo

Posted 11:07 1st February 2012

Kevin Hughes (Manchester United fan) says...

Hi Guillem, People always say 'the league table never lies' and until now I have never questioned that theory to a great extent. However, if and it is still an 'if'' real manage to win la liga this season surely the league table will be conning is all. Its clear to see Barca are the superior side to Real and any other side in fact. The head to heads are further proof. Real are simply stronger than the other sides in the league and surely this creates a dangerous enviroment in which the league table will be telling tales?

Posted 09:31 1st February 2012

Tyler Clarke (Arsenal fan) says...

The reason I don't watch Spanish football isn't because of the theatrics and gamesmanship, it's because there are only 2 good teams and the rest are utter rubbish. 3rd place in Spain wouldn't last half a season in England against the likes of Stoke, Blackburn, etc. and certainly not against the top sides. The Spanish league is a monopoly and should be boycotted until the money is fairly shared out and other teams are given a chance to compete properly.

Posted 09:24 1st February 2012

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