Maybe no two clubs in the world have received more disdain from neutral fans, sparked more debates, and generated more media coverage over recent years than Real Madrid and Manchester City. As fans, we can become so caught up in these stories, debates, and the overall circus that we allow it to overshadow the simple reasons of why we fell in love with the game in the first place. Sometimes we require the pure spectacle of football played at the highest level to bring us right back to that place of simple awe. It both justifies the entire circus and renders it completely irrelevant — luckily on Tuesday, we had Real Madrid and Manchester City looking out for us.
Some kind of cruel joke, or maybe UEFA corruption and collusion, had left the two juggernauts together in Group D of the UEFA Champions League and meeting in Estadio Santiago Bernabéu on the first real day of the competition. The debate over the fairness of the winner’s of the three best European leagues, and arguably the two best clubs over the course of the previous season, playing together in what was most assuredly the Group of Death eventually gave way to the sheer power of hype. The Club of the 20th Century against the nouveau riche. King Juan Carlos I against Sheik Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Los Galacticos against The Noisy Neighbors.
The questions surrounding both sides early in their seasons only intensified the anticipation. Is Mourinho losing control of the club? Can City replicate their domestic success in European competition? Why is Cristiano sad?
We prepared to sit through an underwhelming, conservatively played, scoreless draw, so that we could break it down and create new questions to fuel our debates. For the first 68 minutes the game held scoreless while we continued to ask questions. Why is Ramos out of favor with Mourinho? Can Mancini make adjustments, when necessary? Why did Real Madrid buy Luka Modric only to sit him on the bench?
Then, in the 69th minute, we shut up.
Yaya Toure won the ball in is own third, strode through the center of the park, and laid it off to Edin Dzeko. 1-0 City.
7 minutes later. Marcelo with his seldom used right foot. 1-1. It’s on.
85th minute. Kolarov free kick. 2-1.
Benzema’s equalizer in the 87th minute was pure class and the moment of clarity. The questions no longer mattered. We didn’t care about the validity of the Spanish monarchy, wealth distribution in the Arabian peninsula, or the means in which the two clubs were assembled. If Liam Gallagher sacrificed Claudio Reyna in Manchester’s Albert Square to put together City’s roster, it wouldn’t have made a difference. We had two unbelievably talented sides slugging it out with the whole world watching. And it was just too much fun to watch.
By the time CR7 scored that nasty dipping winner in extra time and Mourinho went sliding onto the pitch on his knees, we couldn’t summon the snark to make fun of the manager’s celebration. We wanted to be right there too, getting grass stains on our fine tailored suit pants.
When we wake up on this side of the Atlantic, skip work or school to navigate the far reaches of premium cable and first hear “the chaaaaaampiooooooonnns leeeaaggue", games like these are why we get excited and why we love football — and to think it was only the opening game.