The inaugural War Room event saw the panel of Dave Farrar (host), Philippe Auclair, Jonathan Wilson and Michael Cox convene for the first time, against the backdrop of a typically tempestuous high-stakes clasico.
The stage at The Florence, Islington was well and truly set for a technical and tactical feast of the utmost succulence, the panel tucking in their respective napkins with relish as a hundred curious audience members took their seats. If the game was spectacular, however, it was for many of the wrong reasons, representing as it did a triumph of gamesmanship over showmanship.
Much was made of the ‘good versus evil’ narrative surrounding the clásico in the media, wherein Barcelona tend to be perceived as embodiments of the Corinthian spirit in sharp contrast to José Mourinho’s cynical spoilers. In truth though, the Catalans are as accomplished with the cloak and dagger as any side, a point made by Philippe Auclair before kick-off and rather starkly borne out throughout the match. Tactical fouls, imaginary cards and hysterical kettlings of the referee littered the match, threatening to reduce one of the most glamorous games on Earth to a bickering, face-clutching skirmish.
Tetchiness and animosity spilled freely between pitch and dugout, as exemplified by the red card shown during the half time break to Barca’s sub ‘keeper José Pinto. Pepe would follow him down the tunnel around the hour mark, but then, if Pepe were to last a clásico without collecting at least a booking and several warnings, you’d perhaps feel that he wasn’t really doing his job.
Revelling in the space vacated by the Portuguese destroyer, Lionel Messi stepped up to provide the customary dash of magic, making it extremely difficult to avoid using the word ‘slalom’ with the second of two goals without reply and putting the Catalans firmly in control of the tie. The opening of that crucial pocket of turf, in which Messi was free to receive passes and turn to run at Real’s defence, did not escape the piercing surveillance of Messrs. Cox and Wilson and thus became the inevitable focus of later discussions.
It seemed a shame to have to wrap the night up by the end, with Dave fielding questions from a lively floor and the air thick with opinion. But wrap it up he did, to warm applause for a great performance from the panel, and that was that: a solid if particularly gritty debut from the War Room.