Several Madrid-based media organizations, including Punto Pelota, Marca, and AS, have reported that Leo Messi insulted Alvaro Arbeloa in the parking lot after the cup match between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Barcelona-based publications, including Diario Sport, have categorized these reports as a "smear campaign." Who is telling the truth?
El Clasico has evolved past a battle fought on the pitch, or even in shirt sales or TV deals. It's obvious to anyone that there are fewer and fewer unbiased publications in Spain. Diario AS and Marca are pro-Real Madrid, and Diario Sport and Mundo Deportivo are pro-Barcelona.
The pro-Madrid media is pushing a story, until this moment supported only by Real Madrid players and staff, that Lionel Messi waited in the parking lot to insult Alvaro Arbeloa. There is also an allegation that Messi spat at the Madrid bench, and that he called Real's assistant coach Aitor Karanka "Jose Mourinho's puppet."
Alberto Pereiro, a Madrid-based journalist for Onda Cero, described the scene on his program Al Primer Toque thus: "Messi is walking towards door of the bus when Arbeloa is driving his car. but Messi does not stop. There is no conflict of any kind."
Is it possible the press is just overreacting to sell newspapers?
In a word, yes. Please remember that it was Madrid's President Florentino Perez who held a press conference to basically call Marca liars, and that's ostensibly the publication that supports his team. Imagine the misinformation they could cook up about the opposition.
Not only are there people spreading misinformation, but the language barrier makes it harder for English-speaking fans to understand what is truly happening.
Goal.com's misleading quote of Jordi Alba just added to the confusion. "I didn't see anything wrong with the car park incident. Messi was just annoyed," he was quoted in the popular website. This makes it seem as if an altercation did take place, and Alba just saw nothing wrong with it.
In fact, looking at the video itself, Alba says something which can be more accurately quoted as. "Messi was calm and relaxed. Well, a bit annoyed, just like all of us... but I saw nothing out of the ordinary in the parking lot."
The "spitting" claim is almost laughable. Messi is so far away from the bench, that there was clearly no chance of it reaching the opposition. Neither the bench nor the Madrid crowd reacted at all at the spit, which probably landed safely on the field.
It's not the first time a publication has pushed a borderline ridiculous attack, and it won't be the last. This is applicable, by the way, to MD and Sport, who are just as sensationalist.
MD and Sport have said Marca are trying to damage Messi's reputation to try to seal the Ballon D'Or award for Cristiano Ronaldo, or to play down the more worrisome story that Daniel Alves was racially abused at the Santiago Bernabeu. (Real's forward Jose Callejon's claim that Madrid are the only team to ever be insulted by opposing fans was absurd.)
The more pedestrian explanation works just as well though: the Clasico was relatively civilized and that didn't sell enough papers. Sid Lowe, who works for the English paper The Guardian, summed it up best when he said, "It seemed a relatively calm Clasico, but there are some - and they are many - that do not want it that way."
At the press conference, a member of the media asked acting Barcelona coach Jordi Roura about the alleged parking lot altercation. "We talk about football, not other things," Roura replied.
If only, Jordi. If only.