The Hairdryer

Sizzling Sociedad shatter misconceptions of Barcelona and Spain

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A large number of football fans would have taken a quick glance at the scoreline "Real Sociedad 3-1 Barcelona" on their mobile apps, rolled their eyes, placed their phone back into their pocket and made some sort of small talk later that night in a local bar about how they noticed 'Barcelona slipped up against a nobody team" earlier.

It seems that the stereotype outside Spain of La Liga being a playground for Barcelona and Real Madrid, which without the two powerhouses would be a domestic top flight around the same calibre as that of a Scotland or Switzerland, is an extremely sturdy one.


Who knows? Perhaps if more fans had happened to watch Sociedad’s victory over the reigning champions, such ridiculous perceptions within this sport wouldn’t have such tremendous backing.

People can talk about the busy week Barcelona have had, or of the line-up they fielded on Saturday, but the important thing is that Sociedad didn't care about either. Nor did they care about perhaps the greatest footballer of all-time, Lionel Messi, who stylishly levelled the game and had many adamant that normal order had been restored.

They did what nowhere near enough teams have done over the last five years when playing Barcelona, or in a national equivalent, Spain. They displayed blatant disregard for the ability or the status of their fancied opponents, and they played their way.

And despite what you may read or hear about the ‘other’ teams in Spain, Sociedad’s way can create some captivating football of their own.

This wasn’t a 'heroic' effort mixed with a rub of the green. This was Sociedad outplaying Barcelona.

It should have been 4-1, at the very least, when they gave Messi and co a taste of their own medicine and batted the ball back and forth around the visitors’ box, somehow being denied that fourth by the woodwork.

It will serve as an additional kick up the backside to Manchester City, too. All the signs have been there over the last few years that as good as Barca are, you can neutralise them and defeat them if you do not listen to those mis-informed voices floating around that say Spain is ‘planet Clasico’.

I recall being at a party just six months ago, where football was the hot topic of a particular crowd of five blokes nursing a bottle of beer and plate of barbeque food apiece. At the heart and soul of this grouping was one particularly opinionated ‘expert’, laying down the law about world football.

The unrivalled gem of his cloth-eared monologue was that, and I quote, “we could gather up 11 lads from this party and we would probably beat the teams in Spain, other than Real and Barcelona”.

This mysterious beacon of evening sports chatter had already let on that he was a Manchester United fan, who would head all the way up from London to Old Trafford for as many home fixtures as possible, and again I quote him, “unless they were being s***”.

It seems that one of those times he gave OT a miss was when Athletic Bilbao rolled into town just a couple of seasons ago and skilfully sent the Red Devils crashing out of the Europa League.

While there is currently a three-horse race for the Spanish title – admittedly a mild upgrade from the usual two-horser – the three sides providing the most excitement for those who claim to seek great football are Sociedad, Bilbao, and newly-promoted Villarreal.

Granted, many fans deem the star power of the likes of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as their primary measuring stick. That’s fair enough, if so.

We all have sports we like but do not wish to watch every possible minute made available to us, and tracking down the big names is the best way to do so without being disappointed. Many of us would have only really devoted our full attention to Winter Olympics events over the last fortnight, for instance, if a renowned star or someone from our own nation was on.

But until, hopefully, the Barca-Real-Atletico title hunt heads to a tight climax in the final games of the season, the actual match quality hasn’t quite been the standard you’d expect from such star power.

It seems as though there are always two or three sides per Liga season that are the ones to watch, if you’re a lover of pure, exciting football action.

Evidently, that’s a problem for the league’s global reputation – because it’s not enough to convince the casuals that the above perceptions aren’t true, and that Liga football really is worth a closer look on non-Clasico weekends.

So, what must be done to change this?

Clearly, results in Europe won’t be enough. Examples such as Sevilla’s UEFA Cup dominance, such results as Bilbao v Man United and the convincing victories for ‘lesser’ teams against the likes of Barcelona aren’t budging the majority of casual fans.

Perhaps the shameful financial situation would be a good start – while the Premier League and other top flights can often be accused of being lop-sided, none of them thrust their income as unfairly as La Liga.

It has been a source of protest in Spanish football for many years, and rightly comes back to the fore whenever stories such as Barcelona’s alleged tax fraud in signing Neymar – one of the world’s most sought-after talents – hit the headlines as it did last week.

Of course, the simple solution is the one which is the least likely to happen – those who haven’t watched La Liga outside of keeping one eye on a Real or Barca game, could just not flap their gums about something they possess very little seasoned knowledge on.

If someone is going to only casually follow football, is there really much harm in just admitting as such and that we're really not interested in whether there is or isn't quality beneath the Liga title race?

If the likes of my conversational preacher from six months ago kept his face in his plate of sausages and wholegrain mustard instead of running through the tired ‘troll’ comments he had seen a bunch of negative nellies spout on Twitter, perhaps more teams will do what Sociedad did on Saturday and give Barcelona reason to defend their deity-like status in football.

One day, the football community may just possess more fans of football itself than of status quos and easily-recycled one-liners.

Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter @liamhappe

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