Commentary

Barca taking high road with Mourinho

Updated: August 23, 2011, 3:24 PM ET
By Graham Hunter | Special to ESPN.com

Jose Mourinho
Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty ImagesIt remains to be seen what kind of sanctions Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho will get from the Spanish federation.

This has been a turbulent summer. Around the world there has been revolution and bloodshed in Syria and Libya. The bombings and the assassinations in Afghanistan continue. London burned while rioters looted; the urban violence spread around England. And in Norway a lunatic murdered innocent kids.

It would be nourishing for the soul to think that those who play, support and run our favorite sport have noticed that the world is an explosive place and tailored their actions appropriately. But when football returned in Spain, we had the bus carrying the Barcelona directors and players' wives badly attacked with bricks and stones near the Santiago Bernabeu stadium before the first leg of the Supercup, following a similar assault on the Real Madrid players' bus in Barcelona in November.

And in the return leg of what was an outstanding Supercup -- won 5-4 by a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona -- we were treated to a mass brawl, during which Jose Mourinho took the cowardly action of sneaking up behind Tito Vilanova and poking his finger in the eye of Pep Guardiola's assistant.

While he was surrounded by mayhem and punishable actions, Mourinho's was the act of the emotionally incontinent and the professionally irresponsible.

Amid two matches of absolute beauty, these were all deeply unsavory incidents.

So let's salute a moment of rational, thoughtful intelligence from Barcelona's president, Sandro Rosell, this week. He admitted that the natural instinct is to vociferously and aggressively demand justice.

Rosell -- who very nearly broke off diplomatic relations with Real Madrid over the past few months because of repeated accusation and counter accusation between the two clubs -- confessed that there is a sector of Barcelonismo that is howling for formal protests against Mourinho's action with the dual aim of punishing and humiliating the Special One.

One year ago we wrote about Mourinho, warning that he is no Harry Potter. One season on and, to some, he has become Voldemort.

Matters are running out of hand, and while I personally believe it would be innately wrong for Mourinho to escape without sanction, either from the Spanish federation or his own club, I admire Rosell's attitude, mindset and declarations. Addressing an annual gathering of Barcelona's fans, this is what he said: "Natural instincts ask for one reaction, but common sense for quite a different one. It's time to reduce the tension. It's time for someone to avoid putting more fuel on the fire. I saw such hatred on the faces of the people who threw stones at our bus that it made me stop and think. If we keep on going this way then we will end up killing each other on the streets, and that couldn't be further from the values of the sport we love. What Mourinho did has been seen worldwide -- public opinion has judged him. If the Spanish Football Federation has the statutes to proceed against Mourinho then they will -- that is not our business. It is for them to decide and for Madrid to sort out their problem."

The cynics among us might wonder whether Rosell's Mother Teresa reaction might possibly be influenced by the "Round up a posse and let's hang him"-style declarations from his presidential predecessor, Joan Laporta, a few days before. The relations between the two men are such that if one says "The grass is green," the other will argue that "Grass is a gold-colored, highly treasured precious metal."

Whatever.

I worked for some years in a city where innocent people could go to a football match, then fail to return home because they had been killed. Efforts are being made to reduce the tension between supporters of Rangers and Celtic in Glasgow, too, but I well remember muggings, stabbings and murders associated with their matches.

So what Rosell alluded to is not fanciful. Not at all.

Hats off to his sentiments and to his words. Let's hope that both sets of coaching staffs and their players draw some sense from his theme.

Rosell immediately won extra credit for his position when, one day later, the Spanish federation followed natural justice and opened a charge against both Mourinho and Vilanova. The Madrid coach, if convicted, will be banned from between four to 15 games. Vilanova faces a sanction of up to four games for what appeared to be shoving Mourinho back.

The picture was clouded by a dramatic turn of events when a Spanish TV station claimed to have a text message from Mourinho's personal spokesman, Eladio Parames, indicating that Voldemort -- sorry, Mourinho -- feels a lack of backing from Real Madrid since the Supercup and was mulling over quitting. Parames then attempted to scotch the story, claiming that while the phone was once his, he no longer uses it, and he denied sending the text.

The words "Pandora" and "box" spring to mind.

Nevertheless, there are ancillary issues in play.

At the end of this past season, I expressed my belief that the Spain team would use old intra-squad alliances and a thirst for continued victory on the international stage to patch over the wounds caused by the sequence of four Clasicos in April and May. The team's imperious performance against the United States and the general mood on that brief tour seemed to indicate that the analysis was correct.

But now it is harder to tell. During the Supercup I saw old friends not only abusing each other, but also turning a hard, cold face to situations that needed calming down. The quality of football that Real Madrid, Barcelona and Spain are giving the world is of the 24-karat quality. For the sake of this golden era, it would be admirable if Rosell's words began a process of reducing the aggression levels between the two clubs from outright rabid to the way we normally like it -- bullish and bellicose.

The players' strike

At a time of international economic strife, the mega-wages of superstar sportsmen and -women are further than ever from our realities.

However, in Spanish football there is a breed of player who earns a pretty bog-standard working wage; who trains, plays, takes a mortgage on a property and who wants the same health and security for his partner and kids as you or I do. Yet many of them are routinely cheated by their employers who, for one reason or another, refuse/forget/omit to pay them each month.

In some instances, a club struggles to meet its wage bill for legitimate reasons. In other cases, what happens is that a club -- with the same impunity as the irresponsible bankers, politicians and stock traders who have screwed up and left all of us in a bind -- makes a mess of its business and finds that not paying its most lowly players or foreign signings is the simplest way to staunch its economic hemorrhage.

So the current La Liga strike, which has robbed us of one weekend's football in Spain and still threatens to cancel more, is not about the mega-rich and famous.

Perhaps players are paid too much. It might well be time for the sane members of the football tribe to negotiate some pay-scale reductions, but once a club contractually agrees to a salary with its footballers it must honor those commitments.

But here is the mentality they are dealing with: At the height of the tense negotiations, Getafe president Angel Torres commented about players such as Carles Puyol, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Llorente and Iker Casillas, all of whom back the strike. "They have no shame," Torres said. "If they want to solve the problem they should dip into their own wallets and contribute financially to solve things. They will pay dearly for what they have done. Striking like this is a show of deep disrespect for the public."

What a joker. The clubs stop paying the players, but expect that the players keep working. No disrespect there?

The clubs, largely, cause their own problems because they are badly run and accede to players' wage demands that they cannot ultimately meet. So now they want the most successful players -- who are La Liga's key money-making machines in terms of television sales and worldwide image -- to pay for the mistakes the clubs have made.

Torres' attitude is shortsighted, pathetic and unhelpful. If other presidents think that way, too, then Spain is headed deep into a crisis and a conflict that may do its game enormous harm.

All because clubs refuse to accept a basic law: Those who work deserve the pay they are promised.

Graham Hunter is a Barcelona-based freelance writer for ESPN.com who specializes in La Liga and the Spanish national team. You can reach him on Twitter at twitter.com/BumperGraham.

Graham Hunter

ESPN.com freelance columnist
Graham Hunter is a Barcelona-based freelance writer for ESPN.com who specializes in La Liga and the Spanish national team.