It was an iconic celebration. Lionel Messi had just decided a Clasico clash with a superb goal deep into added time, his 500th senior strike for Barcelona, and held his shirt aloft in front of the fans at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Most of them were furious, but Barcelona's fans loved it. For them, it was confirmation of what they have long known — that Messi is there (and theirs) when it matters most. But Madrid have found themselves on the receiving end of his genius far more often than they would have wanted.
Ronaldinho was given a standing ovation by many Madrid fans following a match-winning performance at the Bernabeu in 2005 (which, coincidentally, was Messi's Clasico debut), while Andres Iniesta was applauded off the pitch by madridistas when he was substituted in Barca's 4-0 win in the capital last season.
Going back further, Diego Maradona also received a similar tribute from Madrid's fans after a wonder-goal in a Clasico clash at the same stadium in 1983. So why not Messi?
Perhaps because he has hurt those supporters so much. In his very first Clasico at Camp Nou, the Argentine attacker hit a hat-trick as Barcelona came from a goal down three times to claim a 3-3 draw. And even though Madrid ended up winning the title that season, Messi has denied Los Blancos on so many occasions since — in La Liga, in the Champions League and in the Spanish Supercopa.
Instead of recognising his greatness, however, many Madrid fans resort to cheap insults when discussing the five-time Ballon d'Or winner. "He looks stupid," some say. "He can barely speak properly," others add. And worse still, those same supporters have directed a cruel chant at the Argentine in recent years. "Messi, Messi, subnormal."
The English definition of that last word is "retard" or "mentally handicapped" and it is one of those chants that has no place in a football stadium. It is a despicable way to treat any player, let alone perhaps the finest footballer the game has ever seen.
Of course, Cristiano Ronaldo is subjected to similar stuff when he plays at Camp Nou and it is that rivalry with the Portuguese — stoked up by Spain's rather radical and partisan sports media all year long and especially ahead of a Clasico or in the lead-up to the Ballon d'Or — that has made Madrid fans love their man and hate his adversary. And in Barcelona, vice versa.
On top of that, the matches between Barcelona and Real became incredibly tense during Jose Mourinho's time at the club and an incident in one of those games made Madrid fans dislike Leo even more.
In the dying seconds of a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu in April 2011, Messi was chasing down a pass that was going out of touch and, perhaps in frustration as he was unable to reach it in time after an indifferent 90 minutes, he blasted the ball into the crowd. It provoked an angry response from fans and also Pepe, who squared up to the Argentine and pointed at his head. "Are you crazy or what?"
On the late-night Spanish sports show Punto Pelota (now El Chiringuito) known to heavily lean towards Real, the analysis started. "Did Messi deliberately kick the ball at Madrid's fans?" "Who does he think he is?"
A few days later, Madrid beat Barca in the final of the Copa del Rey at Mestalla. But back at the Bernabeu exactly a week on from that, Pepe was sent off and Messi scored two wonder-goals past Iker Casillas to set Barca on their way to the Champions League final. And there was no way the fans were going to applaud him.
Ahead of Sunday's Clasico, many Madrid fans delighted in the fact that Messi had not scored past their team in the previous six matches. But they should have known better than to write off a player who had already netted more goals in the famous fixture than anyone else. And given the nature of the defeat in the 92nd minute, again the supporters were in no mood to celebrate his tremendous talents.
And that is a shame because his magnificence merits recognition — even from rival fans. It is unlikely to happen any time soon, however, and even though most Madrid fans will tell you after a little insistence that they do think he is a great player, it is a grudging admiration. Having endured his brilliance at their team's expense so many times over the years, the reality is that they cannot wait to see the back of him.
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