In football, as in religion, we think and feel in dichotomous terms
The duel between Atlético de Madrid and Manchester City has not disappointed. The stands of the Wanda Metropolitano were singularly effusive and the fans who gathered in front of the television were infected by the emotional intensity that was experienced both on the pitch and on the benches. Normally, Real Madrid matches are followed by many more viewers than Atlético matches. For example, more than 800,000 people sit in front of the screen to watch Mallorca-Real Madrid. When the colchoneros face the Balearic team, viewers do not reach 350,000. The same thing happens in Champions League matches. Meringues always have more pull.
However, in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, the audience has been similar. The meetings between ‘citizens’ and Atléticos have aroused almost the same interest as those that the madridistas have played against Chelsea. The theory of a French anthropologist with the name of pants —Claude Lévi-Strauss— is useful to understand the unusual attraction that the clash between the teams led by Simeone and Guardiola has caused. Lévi-Strauss realized that many societies are organized in two halves. And that, everywhere, cultures generate myths and stories in terms of opposite pairs: high/low, raw/cooked, dry/wet. It seems that dichotomous thinking, that is, the tendency to classify the world into pairs of irreconcilable elements, constitutes what anthropologists call a “cultural universal.”
Simeone and Guardiola represent two opposing poles in terms of what they order their pupils to execute: the strong defense, the intense game and the counterattack against possession of the ball, the triangulations and the commitment to attack. In the second part of Atlético-City, the English had to give up their usual way of playing and resorted to tricks that normally constitute the watchword of cholismo. But in the first match of the tie, the confrontation between two styles that recreate and update the controversy between the followers of Bilardo and Menotti was perfectly staged.
According to the theory, for rivalry to ignite passions, enemies must recognize each other as opposites and, at the same time, as equals. That is to say, on the one hand, they must be differentiated in some central aspect, if possible each one becoming a symbol of some polarized and controversial issue. But, on the other hand, a certain equality of forces is also essential, so that the spark is lit.
Centuries ago, the Franciscans realized that, if in each locality they encouraged not one, but two more or less equal religious devotions, the fervor increased with the competition. In the small village of Berrocal, in Huelva, every spring, on the occasion of the Cruz de Mayo festival, the town is divided in two. If your wife is from the other brotherhood, you go to live with your mother for a few days.
In Alcalá del Río (Seville), Holy Week renews each year the clashes between the brothers of the Brotherhood of Vera-Cruz and the Brotherhood of Soledad. The devotees of the first take the town on Holy Thursday, the others the following day. Rivalry is less in those localities where there is a large number of brotherhoods. But where two brotherhoods stage our most archaic dualism, hostilities are served. Every year new controversies arise. The most varied aspects are the object of scrutiny and criticism of the antagonist brotherhood is almost more frequent than expressions of exaltation towards their own. In improvised gatherings or ballads, the rival is torn to pieces.
These days, the brothers alternate their dimes and diretes with no less heated debates depending on whether the devotee entrusts himself to Pep or Cholo. It is logical: everyone understands passion in his own way.