It’s not often that Real Madrid come across as the good guy, but Sunday’s derby with Atletico was one of those rare occasions.
As Carlo Ancelotti’s Los Blancos left the Civitas Metropolitano with a 2-1 victory, there was no doubt that they were the better team that day.
But, strangely for a game of such magnitude, the actual football was sadly almost a sideshow as the problem of Spanish football’s racism returned once again.
Through no fault of his own, Vinicius Junior had been at the center of the preparation after Pedro Bravo, an agent who appears on Spanish football show El Chiringuito, made a racially insensitive comment on television.
Referencing Vinicius’ harmless tendency to celebrate goals with a little dance, Bravo suggested the Brazilian ‘respect his friends and stop playing monkey’, comments which unsurprisingly drew criticism from across the world from the soccer.
It was heartwarming to see how many people rallied around Vinicius following Bravo’s ridiculous outburst. Many of his international teammates and Brazilian great Pelé sent messages of support urging him to dance.
Vinicius himself made a statement promising to keep dancing, and Arsenal star Gabriel Jesus dedicated a similar celebration to his colleague earlier on Sunday.
That should have been the end of all unnecessary debate about whether the celebration is disrespectful or not (it clearly isn’t), but sadly it wasn’t.
As Atletico’s ‘ultras’ lined up to enter the stadium before kick-off, offensive chants targeting Vinicius were sung by hundreds of fans. Not a few, hundreds, and video footage drew attention to the scenes on social media.
What makes these chants even more disappointing is that few people would have been extremely surprised. Atletico ultras have a habit of dishonoring their club. In 2018, 30 of them were apprehended in Bruges for making Nazi gestures, according to Marca; and as recently as April they were hit with a partial stadium closure in the Champions League due to similar fan behavior against Manchester City.
The Ultra Frente Atletico group were banned from the club’s former stadium, the Vicente Calderon, in 2014 after clashes with Deportivo La Coruña fans resulted in the death of ‘Jimmy’, a member of the latter’s Riazor Blues, who was attacked and thrown into the Manzanares River.
Despite the ban, the group’s attitudes were never completely banished, and Sunday’s pre-match scenes were a stark reminder of Atletico’s failure as a club to root out ideologies of extreme right within his fanbase.
Luckily, Vinicius is a brave young man who wasn’t about to suppress his personality and mentality to appease some Neanderthals.
As the pre-match chants foreshadowed, Vinicius’ first touch was booed by Atletico fans. But the Brazilian responded in amusing fashion with the most extravagant six-yard pass he could think of, snagging the ball with his right foot before flicking it down the flank towards Ferland Mendy with his left in a single motion. Essentially, it was as close to dancing as he could have gotten at the time.
It wasn’t long before he was dancing for real, though. Vinicius wasn’t even involved in the goal as Rodrygo produced an emphatic finish off Aurelien Tchouameni’s magnificent pass – the goalscorer then rushed to the corner flag and started strutting.
Vinicius quickly entered the scene, spinning with added exuberance as Atletico fans threw objects onto the pitch around the celebratory Madrid players, most of whom embraced the former Flamengo talent with more vigor than Rodrygo .
However, there was no doubting Vinicius’ influence just after the half-hour mark. The winger left Marcos Llorente in his dust and rushed to the left side of the penalty area before pushing an effort towards goal. It fell nicely on Federico Valverde, who crashed at close range.
The Atletico players gave Vinicius some rough treatment, perhaps predictably as their biggest attacking threat in the absence of Karim Benzema, although he continued to play his natural game, playing with Llorente on several occasions and even attempting a daring rainbow. Axel Witsel, which certainly irritated home support.
In the end, he never quite got the moment of personal jubilation that many might have hoped for, with Atletico spending much of the second half on top as they tried to produce a comeback.
But Mario Hermoso’s late goal was only consolation as Atletico failed to seize the opportunity, with Madrid holding on firm enough to continue the excellent start to their title defence.
The action, and even the result, however, will not be the post-game focus. The vile scenes from earlier today will be what this game will be remembered for – Atletico’s response to this is far more important than how they ultimately react to this loss.